Rabbit Run

On July 31, local indie-rock enthusiasts faced a dilemma: Should they welcome home Tim Dow, the former Shiner and Season to Risk drummer who’s now traveling in major-label style with Year of the Rabbit? Or should they celebrate the release of White Elephant, from Doris Henson, a promising new act with a Bowie-knife take on classic glam? Would there be time to catch both? These are the hard questions of which Kansas City summers are made, though choosing between high-quality shows certainly beats searching aimlessly for a single worthy option.

Playing the odds, doubleheader hopefuls began the evening at the Hurricane, where most rock shows start relatively early. Cardia, the penultimate band on the bill, tortured the early birds. Singer Ian Love had a whale of a voice, but he abused his blowhole, sending frothy gusts of overdramatic angst into the air with every chorus. Cardia mercifully beached at 11:30, and it seemed likely that fans could catch half of the bunny boys’ set before hopping over to the Brick without having missed much Elephant action.

Unfortunately, Year of the Rabbit had some surprises in store, including the installation of a smoke machine that produced a disconcertingly fragrant fog. It also arranged a blinding white-light show that illuminated never-before-seen corners of the Hurricane. All of this took about 45 minutes; even a portly tortoise could’ve lapped this hare.

After all this, Year of the Rabbit opened with a cover, a dubious proposition for any group, let alone one touring in support of its debut disc. Its crawl-pace rendition of the Cure‘s “Plainsong” felt ostentatiously luxurious — the musical equivalent of a yawning king being carried into a room on his throne. The already antsy subjects were in no mood for such regal excess, especially because Dow, an astoundingly inventive player during his Kansas City stay, had little to do during this elaborate exercise.

Lulled into dream-sequence mode by the somnolent pacing and walk-into-the-light flashes, I started picturing a coup: Shiner singer Allen Epley and Season to Risk‘s Steve Tulipana, both of whom were actually in attendance, would commandeer the mic, prompting Dow to return to showcase form. Then Bobby Watson, the local jazz guru who released an album called Year of the Rabbit in 1987, would stop by to contribute some free-jazz sax. When I snapped out of it, I realized Watson was nowhere in sight, and Tulipana was headed out the door. I joined him and about a dozen other fans in an early exodus to the Brick.

Doris Henson had already played several songs but was just starting a run of White Elephant tracks. Lacking the flamboyant, androgynous costumes of vintage glam, the Kansas City quintet compensated with carefully crafted compositions that eliminated the need for distractions. The band emphasized restraint, a foreign concept to the swaggering showboats that inform its music. From using horns tastefully to making eight songs that didn’t feel tedious, Doris Henson pulled off a number of rock rarities.

Doris Henson couldn’t match Year of the Rabbit from a production standpoint, though. The house lights didn’t flare during its crescendos, and the only smoke in the air was the Brick patrons’ Marlboro mist. The draw was decent but somewhat scant compared with the rapidly multiplying Rabbit pack. In many ways, the unsigned act put on the superior show: Doris Henson felt animated rather than androidal, expressing its energy with windmill strums and dynamic drums.

The difference between the shows underscores the folly of Show-Me showgoers who wait until an area act “makes it” before going to see a concert. Now, it’s great to see Dow go places. Great for Dow, that is. But from the selfish-spectator standpoint, it would be best if he had never entered the realm of cloud-coughing gadgetry and laminated tags.

Kansas Citians don’t usually grab onto ascending acts, stubbornly pledging support in hopes of keeping them accessible. But the next few months should provide plenty of opportunity for that, with Famous FM, Overstep and Stella Link, among others, hosting CD-release shows that promise to be riveting yet modest. But when it comes to getting the real local-band experience, bigger seldom means better.

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