Yo, Kansas City! It’s time to rock the vote!
This is all for you, baby.
What, you think we’ve been busting our asses all summer researching, writing and editing, gathering band photos, booking, promoting, hyping and wrangling sponsors to pay all the bands performing at the Showcase and awards show this Thursday and next Friday, not to mention counting all your votes and having trophies — trophies, man — made for the winners … you think we do that just because we have nothing better to do? Or maybe because we have friends in these bands? Ha! (OK, I do owe Mac Lethal for that time he saved me from being ravaged by a herd of chimpanzees hopped up on Viagra.)
See, folks, you are the reason for the season. Musicians come and go like cells generating and dying in any living organism (and most of the sons of bitches never even read the Pitch). But the body of Kansas City’s scene remains, which means that folks like you must be fed a steady, diverse diet of good music, lest you wither into boredom and despair and move to someplace like Des Moines and listen to nothing but smooth jazz for the rest of your short, miserable life.
But that’s just me being cynical.
What I’m really excited about is … the excitement. Look at the lineup Thursday. I can’t wait to hit Westport at 9 p.m. for the first sets by the Wilders, Forrest Whitlow, Millage Gilbert and Olympic Size, then run from club to club — the Beaumont, the Hurricane (two stages, one inside and one outside), McCoy’s and the Dark Horse Tavern — encouraging people to drink and vote and drink some more, until the last drop of sweat falls from the noses of Abileen, Paul DeMatteo, the Litigators, OnJaLee and the Gaslights and it’s time to find the one musician who rocked the hardest and take him home and trap him in a giant glass jar with holes poked in the lid and listen to him play, letting him out only when his jar needs cleaning real bad.
But that’s just me being insane.
That’s kind of what the nightlife in this town’s been doing to me since I became music editor here at the Pitch back in March. I’ve become a fan. Several lifers from the scene — reliable sources all — tell me that in all the years they’ve lived here, never have so many good musicians been active all at once. And by the way, I’m the first to admit that not even half of all the good bands in this town and Lawrence made it onto the ballot.
But trust me, everyone who’s on the ballot is deserving, and the important thing is just for you to rock the motherfuckin’ vote. A vote for any of these artists is a vote for them all — and that’s not just me being precious. Any local music scene absolutely thrives on fans who are willing to go out and partake.
So I’ll see you at the show.
Then I’ll see you at the other show, the one at the Uptown Theater next weekend.
At 8 p.m. Friday, August 12, we all get to see whom you’ve deemed worthy of our annual Pitch Music Awards. And we get to enjoy sets by Flee the Seen, the Supernauts, Roman Numerals, Ron Teamer & the Smoking Guns, and others who have been nominated but have no guarantee that they’re going to win anything. That depends entirely on you. (Make sure you turn in your ballot by the end of Showcase night — OK, early the next morning, before you leave the clubs.)
And despite cover boy Brodie Rush’s plea that you vote for him, the Be/Non frontman (and host of the city’s most outrageous karaoke night) is not a nominee this year. Rather, he’s the MC for this year’s awards ceremony. But like we said: A vote for anyone is a vote for everyone.
Contributing writers: Robert Bishop, April Fleming, Geoff Harkness, Jason Harper, John Kreicbergs, Aaron Ladage, Megan Metzger, Andrew Miller, Lorna Perry, Sarah Smarsh, Andy Vihstadt, Mike Warren.
(Special thanks to Sheri Parr for allowing us to photograph Rush at the Brick.)
Teamer’s recent win in the KC Blues Society’s annual Blues Challenge this past November — the day after Democratic voters began singing the blues of four more years of fear and loathing in the White House — was a remarkable feat. By making potentially depressing national news seem like a fairy-tale sing-along in comparison with his home-brewed brand of blues, KC born-and-bred Teamer proved that he could turn even the cloudiest day from gray to black — the hallmark of a bluesman who knows his craft.
Scotty Boy’s Steady Rollin’ Band
Alas, this, the incarnation of the Steady Rollin’ Band that brought cool, peppy jump-swing blues to Kansas City over the past year, is no more. Top-billed harp player Scott Daniel and drummer Jerry Riccardi have parted ways with fellow Steady rollers, and all we’ll say about that is even blues bands get the blues. Fortunately, upright bassist and singer Bill Morlan and ax slinger Mark Rollings have teamed with former 12-bar grinders from Shannon and the Rhythm Kings to make sure the band keeps rollin’ on. (www.steadyrollin.com)
Billy Ebeling and the Late for Dinner Band
Veteran music man Billy Ebeling’s career spans three decades and much of the globe. The Lawrence native’s foot-stompin’, genre-hoppin’ catalog has roused audiences in Hong Kong, Fiji and Australia. From rollicking zydeco to traditional R&B to children’s folklore, Ebeling has churned out 12 albums and shows no signs of stopping. The world-weary guitarist and singer-songwriter hangs his hat in KC for now, where you can catch him just about any night either as a soloist or with the band. (www.billyebeling.com)
Last summer, Millage Gilbert was named “Living Heritage Tribute King” of the Kansas City, Kansas, Street Blues Festival. With a 40-plus-year career as one of the city’s premier blues guitarists (and one of many to have played guitar with the late Little Hatch), there are few on either side of the state line more deserving of recognition for a lengthy, lustrous career. Gilbert’s tours in Europe have been winning new fans of his Delta-meets-Kansas City blues concoctions, and he still floors blues fans each week at Club Paradox gigs in KCK.
The Blues Notions bill themselves, with increasing inaccuracy, as “the Midwest’s best-kept secret.” If anything, this five-piece, formed in 1987, might be Kansas City’s best-known active blues band. It earned three invitations to the annual International Blues Challenge, most recently in 2004. Tom “Trashmouth” Baker boasts a unique delivery, alternately smooth and gravel-addled, and horns and keys bolster the group’s juke-joint tunes. Though they’re capable of sounding roadhouse-rough, the Notions don’t want any trouble — they’re only here to party. (www.bluesnotions.com)
Best Country/ Roots/Bluegrass
When we say the Wilders are old-school, we don’t mean George Jones; we mean Ma Carter, mountain music, Dobros — the musical teat that Loretta Lynn was weaned from. Oh, for Betse’s fiddle and Ike’s gruff yodel on a clear spring day. God help us, is this not a great country? In times when it’s hard to be proud of our nation, there is the sound of the Wilders, more upright and American than a holler full of George W. Bushes. (www.wilderscountry.com)
Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys
The data would have us believe that Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys are “alt-country,” mainly because they released three albums on Chicago alt-country label Bloodshot Records. We hate to get into semantics, but we think Tim McGraw and the lot of modern Nashville should be called alt-country and Rex should just be called, well, country. His music is true honky-tonk — reverent but original. And damned if he don’t look a little like Merle. (www.rexhobart.com)
Split Lip Rayfield
If you were lucky enough to catch this fierce foursome’s unique brand of bastard bluegrass at Wakarusa this year, you witnessed one of the last appearances of mandolin player Wayne Gottstine with the group. Unable to cope with a grueling touring schedule, Gottstine is leaving the band, rendering the title of the quartet’s 2004 release, Should Have Seen It Coming, oddly prophetic. We hope his remaining co-conspirators will find a way to forge on in his absence. (www.splitliprayfield.com)
The Saints’ image is hard to pin down. At last look, the band appears to be made up of two hipsters, a rockabilly and a lumberjack, though rumor has it the lineup may soon change because guitarist Mike Alexander and bassist Nate Harold are full-timing it in the Architects and Kelpie, respectively. For now, the Saints form a sound that is indeed a little hip, a little rock and lot of country woods that grow dark and alternative. Which might be why we detect a hint of Nick Cave in the Saints’ divine “Off Her Rocker.” (www.buffalosaints.com)
Can a band be a little bit country and a little bit pop without sounding like Donny and Marie? The Gaslights can, and with authority. A heavy dose of jukebox country styling and twanged-out vocals from singer and guitarist Abigail Henderson give the group its early-Nashville feel, and Chris Meck kicks out the guitar-rock jam. With a full-length on the résumé and shows from here to Texarkana, the Gaslights are sure to set fire to every honky-tonk they play. (www.thegaslights.com)
As the area’s premier dance-music promoter, Bill Pile books superstar house, techno and trance DJs. There’s not enough national talent to fill every date on the calendar, so he also takes matters into his own hands, spinning at several clubs as a weekly fixture. He hosts Essential Wednesdays at the Grand Emporium, moves to the Point for Friday-night fun and commandeers Kabal’s lower level on Saturday evenings. Billpile, to use his stage handle, has been spending his summer Sundays at the Westport Beach Club, soundtracking a swimsuit-model search. No wonder he’s so popular. (www.umove.net)
Scratching, blending and beat-matching his way into area hip-hop spinning royalty, Lawrence’s Corey Aguilar is a walking handbook of DJ skills. As Sku, he, um, skews the notion of DJ-as-selector (i.e., dude with a good vinyl collection and a couple of record players) by laying both hands to the wax and showing his ability to take just about any two records (e.g., Rush and Jimi Hendrix) and seamlessly mix them into a battery of butt-movin’ beats. While other area DJs work to bring in the big namers, Sku supports the underground, throwing house parties and inviting aspiring wax champions from all over the Midwest to test their mettle against our city’s top set destroyers. (www.hiphopkc.com)
When Edwin Morales isn’t bringing in national DJs and hip-hop acts for Downplay Productions, he’s warming up their audiences as DJ Konsept. Responsible for keeping bodies moving at weekly events such as the ’80s flashback Neon at the Granada and both the Dirty Boogie and Mass Appeal at the Gaslight Tavern, Konsept gets his hands on more wax than a Yankee Candle outlet. Whether he’s spinning fresh dance beats or old-school hip-hop, this turntable artisan can accommodate any crowd.
As the resident Saturday-night DJ at Kabal for as long as anyone who goes there can remember (granted, that club does tend to contribute to memory loss), Paul DeMatteo is responsible for more calories burned in the River Market than all the exercise equipment at nearby Scott Fitness. But just because his name has shown up in digital-techno lettering on DJ fliers across KC for years doesn’t mean DeMatteo isn’t capable of getting a party bumpin’ at the Winter Music Conference in Miami whenever duty calls. (www.pauldematteo.com)
If handling vinyl causes cancer, Steve Thorell is a dead man. One of the area’s — if not the country’s — relatively few undiminished rave-era survivors, Thorell knows how to work a Kansas City room like a natural-born con man, reading body language (especially the ladies’) and mixing his music to subtly seduce. Though he DJs almost every night of the week, Thorell pulls out all the stops Friday nights at the Point, where the crowd, like an eager lover, is more open to experimentation.
Typically introduced around these parts as “the legendary Joc Max,” this vinyl aficionado and producer extraordinaire has earned more than just local fame over the years. Joc is best-known for his work with De La Soul, Das EFX and DJ Spinna, and he’s spent the past year putting his mark on national releases from Truth Enola and Mr. Complex. Pushing dance floors to capacity with his funked-up sets, this former Basement Khemist continues to operate needles with surgical precision. (www.jocmax.com)
Most electronic music has a penchant for the tiresome and inane. Not Superargo’s. Computer-whiz Adam Jeffers recalls the strongest act of the genre, Aphex Twin, with his multilayered and methodical dance tracks. Live performances feature fellow mad body mover Skullface and self-made video footage that provides visual interpretations of the instrumental scratches and beeps. Past shows have paired Superargo with compelling national acts such as Tracy and the Plastics, El Guapo and the Unicorns. Jeffers, a prolific diarist, also shares his constantly updated entries on Superargo’s Web site. (www.superargo.com)
Though this is Apollo 13’s first Pitch Music Awards nomination (following a few for its earlier incarnation. the Band That Saved the World), the Lawrence-based electro-groove quartet boasts one of the area’s most impressive trophy cases. “Hero,” a spy-movie-style composition from its debut disc, Brave New World, topped 11,000 comers in the International Songwriting Competition. “Hero” also won the grand prize in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Best of all, though, a paintball-themed video game will feature two Apollo 13 tracks on its soundtrack. (www.apollothirteen.com)
Much has been made of the logistically complex shows that Namelessnumberheadman puts on, which involve instruments both digital and material and midsong switches, and which require a degree in electrical engineering simply to set up. However, that would be nothing more than wankery if the trio couldn’t back it up, as it ably does by arranging atmosphere and melody to make uniquely warm, futuristic pop, documented on 2004’s brilliant Your Voice Repeating. A follow-up is in the works. (www.nameslessnumberheadman.com)
A million wee messiahs? That’s one for nearly every beat the box-headed, robe-wearing duo crams into some of its tracks, all jackhammer drum machines and melodies alternately fragile and warped. Conceived in 1997 and with a handful of albums and film scores to its credit, Onemilliontinytinyjesuses narrowly escapes classification as IDM (intelligent dance music), thanks to the inclusion of titles like “Mr. Snot” and “Pooping on Your Briefcase” on its untitled release from earlier this year. The faithful can expect another full-length, Commit to Nothing, this fall. Amen. (www.onemilliontinytinyjesuses.com)
Calling Pat Nice a veteran of the house scene is a woeful understatement. This DJ played his first gig in 1990, rose to the top of local rave culture (becoming a mentor to the boys who founded DeepFix Records), and then went on to become quite possibly the area’s most sought-after spinner. His stamp here is so big, no one seems to have noticed that Nice moved to Chicago more than a year ago. In the meantime, while honing his hip-hop skills, Nice has claimed a spot on the relatively short list of DJs who actually produce and release records, building up an impressive list of his own singles, EPs and remixes that are finding their way into the collections of the country’s top DJs. In short, Nice is way more than a DJ — he’s practically an industry.
Best Female Vocalist
The Silver Shore, Shay Estes’ moody dark-wave outfit, played its final show in June, closing one of local music’s most lamentably abbreviated chapters. Fans of Estes’ seductively husky vocals can still see her at jazz joints such as Jardine’s, belting out torch songs with a piano-and-percussion backing band. Her standards-heavy set lists, which include Nina Simone and Tom Jones, showcase her playfully dramatic stage presence and expressive delivery. Estes’ daring renditions might forever replace the originals as the default reference point in listeners’ memory banks. (www.myspace.com/shayestes)
Kristen May (Veda)
See New Act.
Kirsten Paludan (Olympic Size)
Kirsten Paludan has one of the purest, most unaffected voices around — a voice that got her a guest spot on Melrose Place a few years back. A veteran of the stage and the thankless wedding-singer circuit, she’s also been in Bellweather (on indefinite hiatus) and an early incarnation of the Stella Link. Paludan now croons with the acoustic Metropolitans and with Olympic Size, a gloomy, bedroomy combo whose first album, Set Free, came out earlier this year and gained the band a following among the indie scene’s many sleepwalkers and night owls. Paludan is due to release a solo album shortly — a preview listen at the Pitch offices revealed an autumnal cabaret of seductive balladry.
Kim Anderson (Flee the Seen)
Heidi Phillips (Abileen)
Abileen’s Heidi Phillips has been a local star since her band Frogpond hit it fairly big in the ’90s. (Interesting factoid: Another amphibious band, the Toadies, was all the rage in Abilene, Texas, about the same time Frogpond took off.) Phillips has said that her fast rise and fall with Frogpond left her a bit burned out, and that’s almost how her new band sounds — but it’s a romantic, diner-by-the-desert-highway kind of burned out. With Abileen, the coffee-voiced Phillips continues to steam, brewing up a moody, rambling product of the parched prairie. (www.abileenmusic.com)
Best Folk/ Singer-Songwriter
Hail a taxi in Lawrence and there’s a chance you’ll find yourself in the company of one of the area’s most prolific singer-songwriters. The release of Room #4 last year, the cab-driving Arthur Dodge’s fourth with his backing band, the Horsefeathers, further cemented his rep for crafting the sort of songs that could be born only from late nights and odd fares. (www.arthurdodge.com)
Kasey Rausch is notorious for writing songs that inspire her audiences to bust out and sing along (something they do often), and she has the talent to make local spots such as Parkville seem just as romantic as her own East Texas roots. Still, she’s no mere folkie. Rausch also deserves props as a fan, an organizer and a constantly enthusiastic presence who has worked far beyond her music to build an area folk scene that’s more vibrant than it’s been in 20 years. (www.kaseyrausch.com)
Even though his recent work has been closer to deranged, electric slacker rock, Forrest Whitlow is still best-known as the rather eccentric folk singer who brought his smooth tenor and finger-style acoustic from Kentucky to Westport a few years back and roped area freaks E. Clarke Wyatt and John Bersuch to form his backup band, the Crash. Speaking of which, Whitlow’s Web site claims that the Crash is on hold “but will likely reconstitute itself in some unrecognizable form at a roller rink in the south of France on a random Friday in 2081.” Just in time for this prolific songwriter’s 478th album, we predict. (www.forrestwhitlow.com)
Jerry Dowell is a folk dreamer with his head in the clouds and both feet planted firmly on the Kansas prairie. Equal parts traditional, country and guitar rock, Dowell creates his own sound without ever abandoning deeply entrenched musical heroes like Neil Young and Stevie Ray Vaughan — and every lick on any of his three full-lengths reinforces his roots. Now playing a handful of local shows, Dowell is also working on his second book, On Some Passionate Night, a collection of prose that brings his lofty ideas down to Earth. (www.jerrydowellband.com)
It’s been a year since Old Canes’ Early Morning Hymns came out on Kansas City’s Second Nature label, but there’s still nothing too old about the Canes. Led by Appleseed Cast frontman Chris Crisci and fleshed out by members of Minus Story, Casket Lottery and a bunch of other underground ragtaggers, the Canes — though silent of late — remain among the vanguard of young folkies (In the Pines, Drakkar Sauna) who aren’t afraid to reinvent the American music traditions that gave Bob Dylan a reason to pick up a guitar in the first place. (www.oldcanes.com)
The Esoteric has survived just about everything that can be thrown at a hardworking metal group — lineup changes, record-company headaches and, most recently, a house fire that destroyed nearly all of the group’s equipment. Fortunately, the Lawrence metal unit rallied and turned tragedy into triumph. The Esoteric’s summer road trek (including 11 East Coast dates on the Warped Tour) packed venues from coast to coast, and the band’s latest opus, With the Sureness of Sleepwalking, can only be described as incendiary. (www.the-esoteric.com)
Eyes of the Betrayer
It’s already been an award-winning 2005 for Eyes of the Betrayer. The group dominated February’s Heavy Frequency Awards, taking honors for Best Hardcore/Metalcore Band, Best Frontman (Dustin Albright) and Album of the Year (for Recovery). Betrayer also performed at that event, proving that it deserved every accolade. Albright, a self-assured showman, prefaces crushing breakdowns with improvised jokes and non sequiturs — people actually stop midmosh to catch his latest quips. The group just embarked on its longest-ever nationwide tour in support of the Los Angeles group (and Recourse Records labelmate) Winds of Plague. (www.eyesofthebetrayer.com)
Singer Waylon Callahan has just announced his departure from Moiré, citing frontman fatigue and a desire to get a day job that doesn’t suck. But he insists that this isn’t the end of Moiré (Paul Kelley, the band’s electro-whiz, may take over vocal duties), which is a relief because, with a lot of hardcore, a touch of industrial and some clever electronic samples, the band draws a diverse crowd — including a 2-year-old who reportedly attended a show sporting ear plugs and a shirt that read “Forget the cookies and milk, where’s the titties and beer?” Now that’s metal. (www.moiremusic.com)
The James Dean Trio
As of press time, rumors of the James Dean Trio’s demise had not been substantiated. If true, though, this hearsay would be bad news indeed. Of all the bands in the area that play progressive thrash metal under flesh-peeling vocals, the James Dean Trio (a quintet, actually) is the most accessible for people who aren’t crazy about hardcore. Chalk up the band’s appeal to its kitsch-free appearance, whimsical math-jazz breakdowns, and the lead singer’s Jack Black-on-crack charisma. (www.myspace.com/thejamesdeantrio)
Chloe Bridges concerts don’t look like metal shows — not with Kansas City’s most attractive MySpace members in attendance. Groups that value technical riffs and aggressive intensity haven’t always drawn a hearty female following, but fashionable yet brutal bands such as this Kansas City quintet have made screamo stylish. Chloe Bridges gigs prompt actual dancing as well as frantic pits, another sign of the times. Its inaugural full-length, The Black Heart Empire, long delayed by the band’s perfectionist tinkering, should emerge later this year. (www.blackheartempire.com)
Adayafter lasted only eight months, but it clearly left an impression on those who happened to wander in front of its metal maelstrom. Comprising multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Nathan Church, a singer named Burns, Cameron Fitzmaurice on drums, Krista Julius on bass and Phil Mitchum on guitar, Adayafter collapsed when Church and Fitzmaurice moved on to create the machine-gun-guitar metal of Sicadis, which has already met in the studio with M. Shawn Crahan of Slipknot, who produced the new band’s first demo track.
In 1989, Angela Hagenbach, inspired by the music of Sarah Vaughan, traded in her successful career as a fashion model to become a jazz singer. A fortunate swap given that her exquisite contralto voice has been heard from stages ever since. Renowned for her versatility, flawless pitch and vocal range, she is also known for her unique ability to take on both jazz and Latin ballads. Hagenbach’s sultry voice is only embellished by her commanding stage presence — a blend of poise, sophistication and subtle sexiness. (www.angelahagenbach.com)
As the director of jazz studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music, Bobby Watson could teach most local up-and-comers a thing or two. But make no mistake — checking out the alto saxophonist and composer live is about the furthest thing from sitting through a lecture. Having released Horizon Reassembled with his hard-bop quintet Horizon last year, Watson will school an audience at Lincoln Center when he travels to New York City and plays with the Julliard Jazz Orchestra in September. (www.bobbywatson.com)
It doesn’t take a highly analytical mind to figure out that three of this year’s nominees are either affiliated with or led by saxophonist Mark Southerland — or to deduce why. Though Kansas City’s taste for traditional jazz and bop will never diminish, the town’s appetite seems somewhat dulled for the same old noodly swing standards. Joc Max (see Best DJ/Dance), vibraphonist Mike Dillon (now on tour with Les Claypool) and master of keyboard disaster and local production meister E. Clarke Wyatt have all joined in the Malachy, making it one of the most free-spirited and accessible avant-garde acts in KC history. (www.malachypapers.com)
With a friendship that spans back to the early, heady days of local jazz-jam heroes and multi-Pitch Award winners the Malachy Papers, bassist Bill McKemy and saxophonist Mark Southerland continue to explore their mutual musical musings within the boundless confines of Snuff Jazz. In an improvisational setting where anything goes — and often does — McKemy and Southerland transform seven years’ worth of mutual respect and audacious interplay into a sound that is unique for the more traditionally oriented KC jazz scene. (www.billmckemy.com)
As of last spring, the TJ Dovebelly Ensemble is, regrettably, no more. Born from Crossroads District hangout Y.J.’s Snack Bar, the four-piece was a constant presence at local fashion shows, house parties and gallery get-downs. It is remembered most for its innovative tape-scratching and multitude of horn inventions, courtesy of Mark Southerland, aka Mr. Dovebelly. Southerland, a heralded force of the experimental-music scene, can still be heard blowing away with Snuff Jazz, Malachy Papers, Mr. Marco’s V7 and the Ssion. (www.tjdovebelly.com)
Proclamations can be dangerous, but when Son Venezuela’s members describe themselves as “the Kansas City ambassadors of Latin music,” you’d better believe it. For the past decade, this feisty nine-piece — which features musicians from as far away as Brazil, Holland and Venezuela and as near as Lawrence — has found fun and fame in bringing spicy songwriting, imported rhythms and a feverish live show to fans across the Midwest. If you don’t know how to dance before the show, you will by the end. (www.sonvenezuela.com)
Latin America has long been a melting pot of musical influences, a volatile mixture of its Spanish heritage, African influences and indigenous rhythms. Likewise, Ulises Torres and Grupo Muralla craft their sound from their proud ethnic ancestry and their kinship with Kansas City. History and lineage aside, this outstanding octet dedicates itself to inciting the furious footwork and sensuously swaying hips that make the KC salsa scene sizzle. (www.kcsalsa.com)
Descarga KC won’t be back until the next Día de los Muertos, for the band is no more. But don’t put on black just yet, grandma — percussion troubadour Pablo Sanhueza and some of the original members have rambled on to found Makuza, which will no doubt deliver the same reckless yet refined big-ensemble Latin music. We weren’t too worried anyway; Descarga passes its torch to Makuza at a time when the salsa-merengue scene in Kansas City couldn’t be much hotter. (www.kcsalsa.com)
Grupo Candela (Mambo Orchestra)
“El Mambo” DeLeon y su Grupo Candela — now called El Mambo Orchestra — is the latest salsa-mambo incarnation led by Miguel DeLeon, a veteran of almost 30 years in Latin music. The group’s all-star cast of Kansas City musicians (including several from Mambo-X, DeLeon’s previous group) includes trumpeter Al Pearson (of every big band in town), percussionist Pat Conway (BCR, NewEar Ensemble), sax man Carl Bender, keyboardist and composer Gary Nelson and distinctive vocalist Ramon Terrada. Other mambo bands may be bigger, but few have this much experience. (www.elmamboworld.com)
Best Live Act
Best Male Vocalist
There’s a reason so many fans of the Sound and the Fury know the band’s lyrics by heart. Jeff Wood, the band’s singer, actually sings. No angry, indecipherable gurgle here — the dude actually has a working set of pipes. (His weekly solo gig at Harpo’s, when he sings over the sound of roughly 137 sports conversations, has to help.) There are plenty of other bands out there with a Faulkner-inspired nom de guerre, but nobody else in town makes “loud and heavy” so articulate. (www.thesoundandthefury.com)
Matt Pryor (The New Amsterdams)
Matt Dunehoo (Doris Henson)
Jordan Geiger (Minus Story)
Ben Grimes (The Golden Republic)
Best New Act
In the Pines
For a band that’s still mixing its first album, In the Pines has already attracted a pretty big buzz. Maybe it’s the bizarre yet strangely cohesive stage set (two acoustic guitars, a violin, a viola, drums and a 1940s pump organ). Maybe it’s the local-supergroup status. (ITP features members of To Conquer, the Hearers, Federation of Horsepower and the Des Moines Symphony, to name a few.) Or maybe it’s just because it’s unlike anything else in town. (www.inthepinesmusic.com)
To say a band has exploded onto the scene is lazy cliché, but in the case of Veda it’s just plain true — an understatement, even, considering how the year-old band has already snagged a couple of tasty tours, not to mention opening slots for Hot Hot Heat and the Get Up Kids’ farewell-to-Lawrence show. But credentials aside, Veda’s sound consistently causes Kansas City’s audiences to swoon with ambitious, sweeping instrumental swells and Kristen May’s heartbreaking voice. A debut LP on Second Nature proves that Veda not only can grab fans but also write songs. (www.weareveda.com)
Flee the Seen
One of the first Lawrence bands to invade Kansas City’s heavy-music scene, Sidewise celebrated at the Beaumont Club in November 2004 after winning the fifth edition of Club Wars. A few months later, it released its debut disc, Digest the Moon, which contains some of the finest regional rock-radio-ready anthems in recent memory. Sidewise is already tooling around on new material, some of which it unveiled at a recent high-profile gig with Life of Agony at the Bottleneck. (www.sidewisemusic.com)
One autumn day at sunset, six young musicians were lounging on a grassy hill, passing around a bottle of bourbon, their best girls by their sides, when over the hill strode the departed spirit of Richard Manuel, resplendent in glowing abalone snaps and a halo of golden wheat. The young men — knowing that, despite the uncanny resemblance, the angel was the late pianist of the Band and not Jesus — sat bolt upright and bent their ears to the grievous angel’s command: to go forth and make divine, bluesy country-folk. The Afterparty’s true origins are far less supernatural, but the results have been about the same.
Originality is a rare commodity in the world of rock, where imitators are spawned like rednecks at a NASCAR convention. But KC duo the Belles have innovation to spare, crafting simple pop songs that are crammed with clever sonic ideas and wry formula twists. Last year, the group mostly bypassed the United States in favor of heavy touring in Europe, where it has amassed a sizable following. The band is now prepping for a U.S. trek and putting the finishing touches on a full-length follow-up to last year’s Idle Hands EP. (www.thebelles.com)
The New Amsterdams
For five years, the New Amsterdams — a stripped-down, rustic footnote to the Get Up Kids — had to play the jilted mistress in Matt Pryor’s bizarre love triangle. Over the past year, Pryor nearly self-destructed during the Kids’ final tour, but he came out stronger and even a bit more settled, having decided to balance this side project with life at home with his wife and toddler son. But being the good emo forefather that he is, Pryor’s past pain has produced a few gems, including a New Amsterdams full-length in the spring, a five-song EP on the group’s Web site and even an upcoming children’s album under alias the Terrible Twos. (www.newams.net)
The Golden Republic
In a year fraught with breakups and meltdowns, the Golden Republic proved to be one of the region’s most refreshing success stories. In addition to inking a major-label deal with Astralwerks, releasing an EP and touring the country extensively, the group formerly known as the People found time to record a full-length that squeezed highly hummable pop into an uppity rock paradigm. Shrugging when critics labeled them “glam,” the Golden Republic gained the respect of fans, peers and critics by crafting music that didn’t compromise in the slightest. The brightest spark in the Republic’s sound is singer Ben Grimes, whose gravel-throated vocals give the band its sly lip-curl and swagger. (www.thegoldenrepublic.com)
Some bands explode onto the scene in a hailstorm of alcohol and brimstone. Minus Story took a quieter path, amassing a devoted audience with thoughtful albums and live shows that emphasized a layered “wall of crap” sound (the band’s own coinage) over boozy showmanship. The eclectic quartet also proved to be one of the area’s most prolific studio denizens, issuing a full-length and an EP in the last year and recording another album to be released in the coming months. The group’s sound is buoyed by the effervescent vocals of keyboardist Jordan Geiger, whose roller-coaster falsetto draws comparisons to Rufus Wainwright and Smiths-era Morrissey, minus the woe-is-me melodrama that can make those singers tedious. (www.minus-story.com)
In past years, Elevator Division began to make a name for itself in the emo-indie world, sharing bills with national acts such as the Faint and Pedro the Lion. The band’s sound is cool, melodic pop, swept up by buoyant guitar and vocals that crescendo before sinking to the dark and moody basement — which is where Elevator Division found itself earlier this year, when all of its members lost a family member in March. Add to that the departure of guitarist Jeremiah Gonzalez, and any lesser band would bow and exit, but Elevator Division bounced back, mounting the stage with as much electricity as ever. (www.elevatordivision.com)
Like the unknown comic-book heroes this band’s name conjures up, the Supernauts are fearless — faster than a speeding power chord and able to leap across ’70s glam and ’90s power-punk in a single bound. They’re even bold enough to take on Hendrix, whose “Spanish Castle Magic” is captured live on the ‘Nauts’ latest release, Medicine & Love — purely, it seems, to showcase guitarist Tim Braun’s fiery fretwork. The Supernauts wail on their own material, too, blasting through three-chord rockers and gliding over spacey ballads with equal confidence. If not in this galaxy, the Supernauts will surely be famous in another. (www.supernauts.com)
A band that might be fully appreciated only in the flesh, the avant-punk rockers in the Ssion are known for defying all preconceived notions of live music. Combining campy theatrics, fake instruments and plenty of animated eye candy, Cody Critcheloe and his costume-clad cronies have left audiences wondering what the hell just happened. With the recent release of the “World’s Worth” 7-inch, which includes a cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” fans eagerly await the forthcoming Glory Wound album and new, back-to-basics stage show. (www.ssion.com)
The “oi, oi” crowd in Lawrence and Kansas City has found its hero in Ironguts Kelly, a band named for an obscure M.A.S.H. character. Some would call Ironguts old-school hardcore, others ska or punk, but in the end it’s all spikey-jacketed fun. If you haven’t seen them, imagine the rasp of Tim Armstrong’s voice and throw in some NOFX-like ska-punk influences, a rubber-band bass, and a barroom full of big, tattooed bald men. (www.irongutskelly.com)
Flee the Seen
Whereas most of the mainstream hardcore scene spends its time dripping machismo, local fave Flee the Seen hasn’t been afraid to flaunt its feminine side, with more than a little help from bassist and vocalist Kim Anderson. On the band’s first EP, The Sound of Sirens, Anderson’s trademark voice — a husky, muted growl that seems more at home in the pit than at the prom — spits relentless vitriol over pounding breakbeats and squelching guitars. Think this isn’t hardcore? Try saying that to her face. (www.fleetheseen.com)
Skate-punk bands, while plentiful as wallet chains in the in this country, rarely appear on multigenre best-of lists. Alert Alert made itself an exception to this rule by playing tight, fast, ragged, no-nonsense punk — the kind that actual punks can get off on. You’ll see them at the shows, too: faux-hawked, mohawked and no-hawked, chains at their waists and shorts down to their knees, so skinny a dropped guitar from the stage could break them in half as Alert rips into a Black Flag cover. Don’t laugh, man — your daughter went home with one last night. (www.alertalert.com)
Ad Astra Per Aspera
Together since 2003, Ad Astra Per Aspera pummels its crowds with a huge sound full of scrambling guitars, intricate samples and mathematical drumming. The band’s lush sound and musical complexity have the ability to inspire mental imagery within the listener in a way that few other rock groups can. Singer Mike Tulley’s alternating fits of screaming and balladeering, strangely in harmony with the band’s carefully organized chaos, create the highly imaginative, focused take on rock that sets Ad Astra far apart from any act KC has ever seen. (www.adastraperaspera.com)
Sons of Brasil
As the de facto leader of the Sons of Brasil for over a decade, trumpeter and UMKC jazz pedagogue Stan Kessler has turned this sextet into a local institution on his quest to celebrate the unique, rich musical traditions of Brazil. Yet Kessler is far from alone in this endeavor; he has tapped the talent of bandmates Doug Auwarter, Danny Embrey, Wayne Hawkins, Greg Whitfield, and Gary Helm — all notable local players well-established in their own right. (www.stantonkessler.com)
Until their February 4, 2005, show was released as the Live at the Gem CD and DVD, locals just about had to travel elsewhere to get a swig of the Elders’ stouty Celtic rock. The hard-touring band spends quite a few weekends out of town, having earned a reputation as a draw on the Irish-festival circuit. This November, however, fans have a chance to join the Elders on the road when the sextet takes a couple busloads’ worth of people to go raise a pint together on a trip through Ireland. (www.eldersmusic.com)
From his beginnings as the classic Penny Lane record-store clerk to his current work at the Kansas City Art Institute and the UMKC Conservatory, the Rev. Dwight Frizzell continues to offer Kansas Citians the trickiest edges that art can offer. As a musician, he’s spent decades corrupting innocent youth with the subversive world-funk of the astronomically named Black Crack Revue. These days, with the NewEar Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, he’s debuting challenging new work by Krzysztof Penderecki. If it bends minds, the Reverend knows about it — and then he teaches us. (www.newear.org)
Kansas City native Jonathan Ramsey looks all of 23, but he has to be older, having debuted with Maid in the Myddle in 1993. Although his weekly Celtic marathons at Harling’s are, regrettably, over, a recording of his last show (in May) should be available soon, with a children’s CD and a Christmas recording fast on its heels. Whenever he drops by for an evening of folk favorites, fans raise their voices, slosh their glasses and just feel Irish for a while. (www.jonathanramsey.com)
AZ-One Reggae Band
Elisha Israel formed the AZ-One Reggae Band in 1990, and since then, it has become a fan favorite from the Lake of the Ozarks all the way to Minneapolis. Last summer, the band won the Midwest Entertainment Music Association award for Best Reggae/World Beat Artist, so a PMA nomination seems more than apt. AZ-One has turned on two generations of reggae fans to the heartfelt, socially driven message at the core of the best roots reggae, no matter where it’s played.
Made up of three of the city’s most verbally dexterous wordsmiths, CES Cru has attracted a strong underground following over the past year. Backing up their gritty performances with an exceptional debut, Capture Enemy Soldiers, MCs Ubiquitous and Godemis have held listeners hostage with their haunting, dark repertoire of battle-ready lyrics and panic-inducing beats. Showcasing their talents and unreleased material at events such as Minor Mixup and Major Meltdown, CES Cru has earned a place among the metro’s hip-hop elite. (www.cescru.com)
Channeling the chemistry of a buddy-cop action flick, Miles Bonny and Joe Good released a blockbuster sequel this year in Biscuits & Gravy. Working together like they came from the same crib, the two have kept audiences on their toes with a polished delivery of fresh tracks that are more dynamic, both onstage and in the studio. When Good isn’t working the microphone over Bonny’s innovative beats in SoundsGood or at the Peanut Downtown on Sundays, he’s passing it to the public Tuesday nights at the News Room for Rappin’ with Joe Good — two of the best open-mike hip-hop nights in the area. (www.yourfavoritegroup.com)
With the confessional bent and irreverence of Eminem and all the rage and bitter humor of Henry Rollins, it’s no wonder Mac Lethal appeals to rockers, gangstas and backpack kids alike. He’s in Minneapolis laying down tracks for his debut on indie hip-hop flagship Rhymesayers, so we won’t hear from Mac at the awards this year, but one thing’s for sure: Wherever Mac Lethal goes, people are going to hear about Kansas City. The short, bald, white MC is downright stubborn in his refusal to disown his roots or sell out, and because of that, the world of hip-hop needs Mac Lethal just as much as we here at home do. (www.lethalville.com)
Many hip-hop acts are content to rhyme about the trials and tribulations of everyday life, but KC duo Deep Thinkers takes a more enlightened approach. The group’s sound is based on the almost subliminal interplay between production-and-turntable wiz Leonard D. Stroy’s complex backing tracks and the impassioned sociological critique of rapper Brother of Moses. In March, the group’s sophomore effort, Necks Move, was picked up for national distribution by Coup De Grace, and the Thinkers’ numerous Midwest and East Coast shows proved that they had both hustle and flow. (www.daturarecords.com)
Lawrence’s MC Approach enhanced his national reputation over the past year, trekking coast to coast with his laid-back lyricism. In March, his disc Ultra Proteus (released locally in 2003) benefited from a worldwide distribution deal. On his rare days of, he worked on a slew of upcoming releases, including the brilliantly titled Magic vs. Bird (with Mac Lethal), The Muze (a solo effort with an ’80s electro-funk feel) and Will Do (with Oh No from the Stone’s Throw crew). (www.myspace.com/approach)
The only rap crew so far to dish up a mighty beef against this humble newsweekly, Empire continues to prove itself a force to be reckoned with. Members Grant Rice, Luna, SG and Panic have been spreading their names nationally for much of the past year, and a tour that kicks off here in late August will find the Hispanic MCs taking their chest-out barrio gospel and kicked-back beat as far as Hollywood. (www.empiremovement.com)
If you haven’t heard of the Architects by now, then you’ve missed out on 15 months of maximum R&B (in the Who sense of the phrase), which means: (1) the singer sings his ass off, (2) the guitarist rocks his ass off, (3) the bassist stays calm, (4) the drummer pounds his ass off, and (5) the entire band comes crashing down on the frontal lobe of the listener’s brain like a Pete Townshend windmill. The brothers Phillips (Brandon, Adam and Zach) and Mike Alexander cut their teeth early in life as the Gadjits, opening for Rancid when their peers back home were getting stuffed into gym lockers. Rather than make any overtures toward living normal lives, the boys got skull-and-crossbones tattoos and sold their souls for you-know-what.
Recently signed to DeSoto Records and currently warming up the stage for Billy Corgan, Doris Henson has come a long way since its sprightly singer-guitarist Matt Dunehoo booked a tour without a band. (It’s also surely the only indie-rock band in KC to use a trombone.) Doris Henson’s music is a blend of pop hooks that roar out of a soft and hypnotically smooth approach. Up for best vocalist, Dunehoo is always on, whether he’s working the stage like a pre-stardom Paul McCartney or posing for in-store billboards at Half Price Books, where he still has to work a day job. But with a voice like a perversely reincarnated indie-rock Doris Day, Dunehoo may not have to stock used vinyl much longer. (www.dorishenson.com)
The Stella Link
Even if you’re not familiar with the Stella Link, you’ve probably seen at least one of its members before. In addition to playing bass with the Link, Dave Gaumé runs sound at the Brick, the Hurricane and his own nascent all-ages club, the Black Door. It’s not surprising, then, that the Stella Link is quite possibly the most musically fastidious, energetic and mercilessly loud indie-rock quartet in town, known as much for obsessing over its sound as for combining the best elements of punk, prog and emo into a pummeling surge that could knock Rivers Cuomo’s glasses off at a hundred paces. (www.stellalink.com)
The Litigators don’t play rock and roll — they are rock and roll. Its triple nomination is evidence of how many jaded local heads have been turned by the sudden appearance of an expertly brazen group whose influences seem to start with Jerry Lee Lewis and end at the Small Faces. Misery Boys Tilden Snow (on bass) and Brendan Morris (on lead guitar) lend refined musicianship to the Litigators’ sound, but untamable frontman Jeremiah Kidwell, attorney at law, and cool-handed sideman Jason Conkright make sure that the Litigators uphold the reckless laws of rock. (www.thelitigators.net)
The Roman Numerals
If the Roman Numerals indicate the direction Kansas City rock is headed at the beginning of the 21st century — and they should, seeing as how the band’s résumé includes Season to Risk, Dirtnap and Shiner — then we’re headed for dark, sophisticated and eminently danceable times. Unlike the shameless retro revivalists that are all the pop rage these days, the Roman Numerals craft a raw but rich, disco-punk-infiltrating sound that actually seems to have come out of London’s club scene, circa 1978, via Ian Curtis’ more romantic nightmares. (www.theromannumerals.com)
Over the past ten years, the Vans Warped Tour has moved away from pure-punk lineups, welcoming power pop and even hip-hop. In 2005, it opened its traveling-summer-camp gates to Shots Fired, whose influences (Thin Lizzy, Drive Like Jehu) aren’t exactly Alternative Press cover boys. Drummer Billy Johnson (formerly of Frogpond and Onward Crispin Glover) pummels his kit like a boxer, but Zachary Aaron’s tuneful vocals keep the songs from getting too heavy. Its self-titled album, released last June, plays like sugar — sweet yet gritty. (www.shotsfired.net)
OnJaLee may be one of the most resourceful and accessible musicians in Kansas City. Her talents range widely to include spoken-word poetry and scatty, sweet soul. She consistently networks throughout the city and has been working for over a year with Tom Woosley of KC’s WooWoo productions on her first album. Kansas City definitely isn’t the easiest place for a soul singer to make it, but with her persistence, OnJaLee is one to wager on.
This quartet is going so many places that unless you’ve got the inside connection, you’ll be lucky to catch a whiff of its members’ cologne. The KC-based male R&B group recently caught the eye of Backstreet Boys producer David McPherson, and now it’s gearing up to jet to New York City and ink a deal with Sony. With their buff bods, matching outfits, sexy stage presence and soulful harmonies, the teenage hunks of E-Vent certainly aren’t the worst emissaries Kansas City could send out to the rest of the world. We just hope they’ll take time off to call home once in a while. (www.goodlifemusicgroup.com)
Ida McBeth has previously reeled in PMA nominations as Best Female Vocalist (four times) and Best Blues Vocalist (another four times). It’s an appropriate tribute to her versatility that this time she’s nominated as a soul singer. She has filled rooms in town for 30 years, most recently with her frequent gigs at Jardine’s. With her smile, her luscious voice and her famously vibrant personality, it’s impossible to listen to her sing and not think about her soul. (www.idamcbeth.com)
Acts such as Jodeci and R. Kelly pioneered the sound and look of gangsta soul, but LeVar “Boy Big” Fletcher takes the genre and runs with it. The KC-based crooner, who alternates between bed-you-down ballads and fuck-you-up street fare, made a name for himself singing the hook to Gang Starr’s “Nice Girl, Wrong Place” and trading guest appearances with members of the Wu Tang Clan. But it was Big’s 2004 full-length debut, The Playa The Hustla The Gentleman, that offered an extended showcase of his fluttery falsetto and soulful swagger.