Kansas Rock City

Quick, what type of music currently dominates Kansas City? Jazz? Not so much. The 18th and Vine area remains alive, but this neighborhood doesn’t drive the city’s social scene the way it did decades ago. Country ain’t king, neither. Despite breeding some damn-fine club-circuit country crooners, the area hasn’t produced any big-beef arena entrées.

Keep guessing. Hip-hop? There are plenty of talented performers in that field, but they’re struggling to get concert clearance from venues that seem to be fixated on a color other than the green associated with rap. Dance music? Its insular nature ensures that the majority of the city’s citizens don’t even know about the massive movement. Close, but no glowstick.

“The Kansas City sound”? Certainly an apt choice. Dozens of groups still build intriguing songs out of erratic guitar activity, hyperactive percussion and schizophrenic vocals. But those bands don’t generate the consistent crowds or radio play that the reigning-in-blood genre champ enjoys. Yes, Kansas City is now officially a hard-rock town, from its prodigal Puddle of Mudd poster boy down to its Club Wars foot soldiers.

Many local musicians will never accept this fact given the heavy stuff’s punch line potential. Those out-of-the-fashionable-loop clubs (Neiner’s and the Filling Station)! Those goofy band names (see the recent Fatal Candy Machine/Amenazar Thrush double bill)! The endless band battles that make Kansas City seem like heavy metal’s Gaza Strip! (For patriotic reasons, Club Wars protesters have remained silent during the current conflict.)

In a recent posting to the Zone’s Kansas City Area Music Forum, #### Spirit Fest, whose expletive-sanitized screen name establishes his contrarian credibility, opined: “KC isn’t known for its metal, it’s known for its sick-ass drum-oriented indie rock. Our metal blows!”

Well, “known for” is a tricky concept. Nationally, Kansas City is still best known for blues and jazz, even if the out-of-towners who recite that reputation can’t name a single active area artist. After that, KC is probably best known for producing a member of Puddle of Mudd, a highly dubious yet relevant claim to fame. Finally, we get to the Get Up Kids, the Anniversary and Shiner, bands that have never been allowed to graduate from college stations to local commercial outlets. Only relatively recently have the Kids and the Anniversary earned the opportunity to headline the area’s midsized venues; that opportunity didn’t come for Shiner until its final show, when it packed the Madrid Theatre.

By contrast, Club Wars shows draw a Shiner-farewell-gig’s worth of concertgoers every week. Hundreds of headbangers will show up to rock and root at America’s Pub on Wednesday, May 21, and Wednesday, May 28; Studio 24 in Sugar Creek on Friday, May 23; and Harleywood’s on Saturday, May 24 (see www.clubwars.net for band schedule).

It’s not only Club Wars gigs that attract major turnouts. On May 14, America’s Pub overflowed with witnesses to something called the Spring Annihilation. The winner wasn’t an individual band so much as it was local hard rock in general — this event was the top-drawing guitar-heavy gig of the night, nationals included. Thrust, perhaps the only band-battle veteran to have outgrown the format, now headlines big-time venues like the Uptown. Meanwhile, indie-pop titans such as the People and the Elevator Division draw double-digit crowds at the Brick and El Torreon.

That’s not to equate popularity with high quality (for a sobering reminder to avoid such folly, recall Home Improvement‘s ratings), but when seeking to scientifically quantify the impact of a particular genre, attendance and radio play are valid measures. On both counts, metal’s minions are decimating the indie-rock army.

Anyone who’s seen Verizon’s heavy-metal parking lots and heard the roars for the Scorpions songs at sports arenas knows this area could be for hard-rock bands what still-water swamps are to mosquitoes. And this genre currently lacks an instantly recognizable breeding ground, a Seattle for the post-grunge pack. Look at some of the top names on KQRC 98.9’s airplay list: Seether, Trapt, Finch, Chevelle, Shinedown, Revis. There’s no one city pumping out these puppies; they’re just stray mutts from various locales.

Some of KC’s highly decorated Club Wars veterans outrank these anonymous outfits. That’s the cause for which the area’s hardest-rocking warriors continue to fight. Bless you, Club Wars troops.

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