Fear and Loathing in the Grand Emporium
We were somewhere around the bar stools on the edge of the Grand Emporium when the music began to take hold.
There weren’t any flying manta rays. No dead grandmothers with knives clutched in their teeth. But onstage we had an R&B singer. A folk duo. A rap battalion. A soft-pop group. A metal contingent. An eclectic quintet. The lineup comprised a whole galaxy of multicolored uppers, downers, screamers and laughers. Not that we needed all of that for a Tuesday night at the Grand Emporium, but once you get locked down into a serious music collection, the tendency is to push it as far as it will go.
Which is precisely why promoter Jim Kilroy spawned the Metro Music Showcase. He has vision, if not restraint. The man responsible for Club Wars, Westport Meltdown and the Kansas City Rock and Metal Fest has finally outdone himself with his most ambitious project yet: for seven shows spread over seven weeks (what started on January 18 runs until March 8), 42 virtually unknown acts playing music across the spectrum.
We can’t stop here, can we? For there is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than Kilroy in the depths of an audio binge, right?
You can turn your back on Kilroy, but never turn your back on one of his creations. Especially when it’s waving a razor-sharp hunting knife in your face. The Metro Music Showcase may be a little ambitious, a little absurd and — depending on the show — a little surreal. But that is exactly what makes it fanfuckingtastic. Kilroy is a genius — or at least that kid in first grade who hammered the square peg into the triangle hole, genre ghettoization be damned.
Call me sadistic, but during the showcase’s third installment, it was refreshing to see Shane Beckwith nearly soil his brown pleather pants when he took the stage as the first act of the evening. He was visibly nervous. And it was wonderful to see acts getting their first real opportunity — house parties and open-mike nights don’t count — to showcase their purported talents.
Beckwith was a solid enough hunk of white chocolate, crooning R&B covers and delivering lines like Ahhhhhh, I wanna get freaky with you and Baby come inside, turn down the lights with reasonable aplomb, considering he seemed capable of fainting at any moment.
At least the next act — Smith and Jones — had stools to prop them up. This was the acoustic duo’s first public appearance. And though “Smith” is a member of the rock band Storybook Lies (which plays the Metro Showcase Tuesday), this was his first voyage into the world of (cough) singing.
“I was really, really nervous,” Smith (Ryan Trussell) told me later. “I couldn’t get enough water. I came in expecting the worst, and it wasn’t that bad. I had fun playing up there. I know my vocals weren’t what they are in the car or the basement … but I tried.”
And failed. But not terribly. The pair knocked out a respectable version of “Imagine,” though Trussell and his father were candid about Trussell the Younger’s turn on the microphone.
“Oh, boy, he sang a little flat,” David Trussell said. “I’m his dad, but I’m not going to lie.”
The Runnin’ Mates couldn’t really sing (or rap) all that well, either, but they had sheer force of numbers in their favor, jostling with the microphones to holler, Fuck my baby mama, ’cause that bitch is always hatin’.
The subtlety was lost amid the bludgeoning bass and the chaos of 11 people — or was it 12? — sardined onto the Grand Emporium’s stage, but the Runnin’ Mates had their most inspired moment at the end of the set when they shouted, Midwest! Midwest! Midwest! repeatedly.
Keep things simple, fellas. It works for Lil Jon.
Caenum — a polished hard-rock band from Omaha — was likewise earnest. The band provided a reasonable facsimile of Metallica, if not for its soaring rock anthems then for a seasoned stage presence that suggested it was playing for thousands at Kemper instead of a handful at the Grand Emporium.
The pop-rock Evan Deas Band put in some catchy guitar riffs and harmless melodies easily recognizable as something you might hear on One Tree Hill. Deas seemed a little distracted, though, that his primary fan base for the night was a Runnin’ Mate in a black Kangol who cradled a gin and juice, danced and shouted, “This is how we do it!” as if he were watching Trick Daddy rather than Gilmore Girls.
With a bit of luck, Deas’ life was ruined forever, always thinking that just behind some narrow door in all of his favorite bars, men in black Kangols are getting incredible kicks from things he’ll never know. But the juxtaposition was a little too jarring for some.
“I knew I should have learned those Tech N9ne covers,” Ryan Trussell said. “I don’t know that rap and Evan Deas go together. I think the showcase is a great idea … but I think tonight was just a little too diverse.”
Clearly, Trussell and I did not see eye to eye. Our vibrations were getting nasty. But why? I was puzzled, frustrated. Was there no communication in this bar? Had the eclectic lineup made us deteriorate to the level of dumb beasts?
Perhaps. Which may explain why Tabla Rasa — the last act and arguably the only Metro Music Showcase band anyone has heard of — put in the night’s most pedestrian puka-shell performance.
But going out like a lamb didn’t tarnish this gloriously surreal February night in Kansas City. And before we knew it, the show was over. There it went. One of Kilroy’s own prototypes. Some kind of high-powered mutant never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live and too rare to die.