Rally in the Alley

On the First Friday of last May, the sky was pregnant with jagged electricity and clouds the color of an angry bruise. Raindrops kissed the foreheads of local ska revivalists the Sex Police, who said “bully” to the perilous storm looming overhead and continued serenading a dedicated crowd with seductive island sounds. That Crossroads concert was in the small, roughly 40-foot-by-15-foot alley behind the Mercy Seat tattoo parlor. Between bites of jerk chicken, the indie rockers, hip-hop heads, ‘skins and little kids with their dads swayed back and forth to the rocksteady beat despite the light rain.

The downpour didn’t come until the Sex Police were loading their gear after the show. By then, the revelers had left the graffiti-adorned alley satisfied, if not a little damp.

“You should’ve been here in June,” says Mercy Seat manager Ryan Mattes, who moonlights as the mad, self-mutilating frontman for the Last of the V8s. On that First Friday, it rained buckets during the alley party. Luckily, the Seat had booked rappers Joe Good and Panic, who relied on prerecorded beats burned onto CDs rather than on full bands.

“It poured, and no one went anywhere. We just put a tarp over the equipment and kept going,” he says. “If it had been a band, we would’ve all died.”

You expect that sort of morbid humor from Mattes.

If you’ve seen a V8s show, you’ve seen him do things like rub glass shards across his chest, hang from the rafters and shout until his throat was raw. The guy lives dangerously.

Or at least he acts like it.

At the Mercy Seat, he’s all business. While he answered phones and worked the front of the house, we spoke about the First Friday concerts he’s been throwing at the Seat for the past few summers. The Mercy Seat shares a name with a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds song, and, like Cave, the room is smart, sinister and very good-looking. Little horned animal skulls are mounted high on the yellow walls. Directly below, KC graf-god Gear, the featured artist for June, displayed his wickedly absurd, politically charged artwork. Dark, wooden shelves are crammed with art books and music bios.

It’s how Professor Henry Higgins might’ve decorated his study had he been a total fucking psycho.

But the décor is perfectly sane for a tattoo shop. Especially for one that thrives to be something more.

Not that this is breaking news, but the shop is located in a part of town that’s had more attention paid to it in the past five years than it had in the previous 20.

Every First Friday, thousands flock to the Crossroads to check out art openings amid the booming downtown construction. The future is exciting but scary for the little businesses that helped reinvent this area. It seems obvious that the shops and galleries would want to band together to create a united front against invading franchises, but Mattes says the Seat has experienced the exact opposite.

“There’s a little snobbiness,” Mattes admits. “We get along great with Y.J.’s and Grinders [the music, art and food carry-alls located on opposite ends of 18th Street], but I feel like they might get the weirdness thing, too. We’re more off the beaten path. I guess we’re just outsiders.”

Maybe so. But as the Mercy Seat serves barbecue, unveils art and schedules back-alley parties on First Fridays into the indefinite future, it will welcome more than just tattooed bohemians.

“We have really good security to keep all the riffraff away,” Mattes says. “It’s the kind of place you can bring your kids to.”

July brings a shindig sponsored by local brewery Flying Monkey with art from Bryn Hughes, Maaren Hall and Taylor Triano, whose odd little dolls will be on display and for sale while down-and-dirty midtown rockers the Bleeding Hands play.

August will be a tricky month, with the Pitch Music Showcase on Friday, August 3. With most of the local music talent likely to be indisposed that night, Mattes says he might employ entertainment of a different sort.

“There’s this midget wrestler from KCK named Mad Max who’s expressed interest in bringing his guys down for a match,” he explains.

Hopefully, a little rain won’t keep the pint-sized warriors from battle.

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