Gutter punks in sweat-stained, ragged threads stand shoulder-to-shoulder to watch a shirtless frontman spazz out on a bullhorn. There’s no PA system, so the guitar sounds like it’s playing through a pile of dogshit. Paint’s peeling off the walls, and a dude who got a little overzealous with his pogoing has punched a hole in the ceiling with his fist. It’s a gazillion degrees, and you can’t open a window — there aren’t any. You’re in a fucking basement, young squire, which is exactly where you won’t be on your 21st birthday. That lucky number gets you out of the basement and into the bars, where there’s room to breathe, a proper sound system and booze, glorious booze.
DIY shows — short for do it yourself and associated with the punk movement — are one way for underage music lovers to see bands, often in run-down houses or dank lofts. But for 26-year-old booker and musician Laszlo Toth, who operates www.kcdiy.org, it’s the only way.
“I’ll take a sweaty warehouse full of screaming, stinky punk kids over a smoky, air-conditioned bar with the newest Pitchfork-hyped band any day,” he says.
Back in June 2000, Toth booked a pretty Pitchfork-worthy bill himself. The Rapture, the Faint and angst poster boy Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes fame) played a memorable gig at El Torreon right before those same bands started doing things like playing late-night talk shows and sleeping with Winona Ryder (at least in Oberst’s case).
Toth doesn’t expect the more subversive acts he promotes, such as Hairy Belafonte (a gonzo collective featuring Toth and members of Ad Astra Per Aspera), to blow up the way that those bands did.
“Hairy Belafonte Versus Cowboy Masturbation” (fan footage from what looks like a basement show, May 2007) by Hairy Belafonte:
“Who the fuck wants to hear one of my bands on the radio when you can hear some sweet pop songs by Styx or that new T.I. joint?”
Toth, who hails from North Kansas City, has been around the local music scene since 1999. Since then, notable DIY clubs the Daily Grind, the Fusebox and the Sleeper Cellar have closed their doors.
“The DIY punk scene in Kansas City is very unstable. We don’t have venues that last longer than a couple years,” he says.
This past summer saw the closing of the Anchor, an all-ages punk venue in the West Bottoms that spent a little more than a year booking Sunday afternoon punk shows. Former owner Ricky Reyes, the 33-year-old guitarist for cowpunkers the Big Iron and old-school hardcore band We’re Fucked, always dreamed of operating a successful all-ages music venue. Unfortunately, mounting costs, building repair and inconsistent attendance forced the Anchor to close.
“I was tired of losing my ass,” Reyes says.
He now lets the building out as practice space for local bands, which covers the rent. And just because the Anchor’s ship has sunk as a viable DIY venue, Reyes hasn’t given up hope of running a club again someday.
Local underground venues open and close more often than Henry Rollins flexes his neck. But right now, there are plenty of folks with their doors open to hard-traveling bands and the kids who love them.
On the home — as in house — front, the busiest parlor in Kansas City is probably inside the Pointless Forest. This midtown residence has hosted high-profile acts such as Montreal inde-rock band Shapes and Sizes and Olympia, Washington, electro-punkster Joey Casio. Over in Lawrence, the Haunted Kitchen continues to lure bands that range in genre from folk to metal.
If watching music in a stranger’s cramped living room isn’t your bag, check out the Pistol Social Club in the West Bottoms, a loft that caters to the indie-rock crowd. For youngins who prefer their T-shirts black and their music hardcore or screamy, there’s the Main Street Café and El Torreon. The Solidarity Revolutionary Center, a small, anarchist-run space in Lawrence, celebrates its sixth anniversary Friday with live music from Texas punk band Girl in a Coma. (All of these places can be found on MySpace. Duh.)
And if this list doesn’t satisfy, find more underground happenings on Toth’s site.
“I’ve heard from touring bands that folks in bigger cities really take what they have for granted,” Toth says. “DIY isn’t going anywhere. It’s always going to exist in some form.”