I have an admission to make: the 2010 Pitch Music Showcase was my first rodeo. Was I prepared to catch all 35-plus acts that we, The Pitch, had packed into Westport in this single night of rock? Maybe.
Duly caffeinated and armed with notebook, pen, camera, and weathered Chucks, I believed I was ready to take whatever some of Kansas City and Lawrence's finest local musicians could whip my way.
I am music journalist. Hear me roar.
I may not have seen it all last night - truly, who can? - but as I threw my crumpled itinerary to the wind, I found a fiercely rich cross-section of Kansas City and Lawrence's music scene throbbing in the heart of Westport, aching to be heard. And hear, I would, indeed.
Pitch photographer Paul Andrews caught some less crazy action at the music fest. Check out locals rocking out in this slideshow.
Margo May, who stood within feet of the event's entrance, stretched high on her tip-toes to peek at the gathering crowd in the parking lot between McCoy's, the Foundry and the Riot Room. The folk singer's evocative, child-like voice echoed hauntingly throughout Westport even at this early, light-laden hour, and her unadorned, ambling guitar was a fresh, unrefined appetizer to the night's headier dishes to come.
With headphones askew, Sam Billen's candy-colored, translucent melodies floated over slick instrumental arrangements as he strummed inside the air-conditioned respite of McCoys. His MacBook-backed live show spoke to the bedroom-pop composer's love of Ben Gibbard, but also to his meticulous dedication to detail. Either way, the full family chomping on fries to his left -- who were unwittingly getting a solid education in local music -- seemed to love it. "Did you like that? Was that too weird?" he asked the crowd, smiling. I gave him a thumbs-up. Too weird? No way.
I hoofed it back to the Riot Room, where a foot-stomping, tambourine-rattling frenzy was shaking down. The Grisly Hand imbued country twang with fiery fiddles, bass-thumping beats and the sheer force of Lauren Krum's voice: a piercing howl, edged with feminine delicacy. The cloying, clammy, skin-crawling heat that festered inside the Riot Room all night long was powerless against the Grisly Hand's infectious energy, of course. "This song is about drinking at work," said Krum, before shaking down her sweaty hair and intoning under her breath, "Fuck it."
Weaving, slipping and elbowing my way through the Riot Room's back patio gave me a quick glimpse of Dutch Newman's set, whose rabid attack on the mic had hips bumping, hands in the air and a bunch of high-heeled girls taking shots. Lookin' good.
It's quite a feat to successfully pen "adorable" pop music that doesn't stray into the dangerous territory of "saccharine-sweet," or worse: "cute." Hidden Pictures' set toes the line delicately (and masterfully). The band served up a series of tunes that were chock full of gleeful two-part harmonies and effortlessly catchy melodies, courtesy of front couple, Richard Gintowt and Michelle Sanders. "We're all jacked up on Roaring Lion," joked Gintowt, before giving two members of his band "Winners" medals -- it was the last show that they'll play together. Sadly, my journey led my Chucks astray; but, I heard "Anne Apparently" echoing over the chatter of McCoy's patio later, and found myself singing along absent-mindedly. That's powerful stuff.
Sneaking back inside offered a glimpse at the tail end of 77 Jefferson's set, where a throng of glittery girls and polo-wearing dudes threw up devil horns between each sunny, ganga-infused reggae jam. (Peering into the crowd, I also spotted a bespectacled Howard Iceberg clapping his hands along to a couple tunes, too.) The band nailed it: "Not bad for a bunch of white guys playing reggae, right?"
Here's something I didn't know about Oriole Post: the local folk band is full of pretty people. On top of having exceptionally awesome bangs, the band's lead singer, Rachel Bonar, has a voice a bit reminiscent of the sweet, quavering vocals of the Be Good Tanyas. Though the band's set was marred by a few microphone squeals, it was an up-tempo jaunt into bluegrass-inflected folk reminiscent of Jenny Lewis' finer moments in her solo career. It was a band that I'd love to see again without worrying about elbowing someone eating a sandwich, or standing in the way of a harried waiter.
"I think I missed the vein," I overheard a kid say, holding out his bruised arm to his friends, as I slipped out the door.
Next up: Latin indie pop act, Making Movies. The first part of the set, as to be expected, was spent ooh-ing and aah-ing with the rest of the Beaumont's female population over Enrique Javier Chi, who tugged at our collective heartstrings with every swing of his dreadlocks. (Perhaps that's a bit much; but, the band was captivating, with or without an attractive frontman.)
Most of the latter part of the set was spent watching a couple - she was tall, he was short, both were drunk - swing-salsa dance. At the end of Making Movies' "Libertad," he fell on the floor backwards, splaying his limbs outwards. This, unfortunately, was a feeling I could identify with. Between the cavernous swirl of sound that the Beaumont created, the dark lighting and godsend of air-conditioning, I was fading fast; and so, it looked like, was the crowd: a mass exodus followed Making Movies' set, leaving a sparse - but devoted - crowd to witness Rooftop Vigilantes' punky pop rock.
What a better way to kill the night than to hear one of Lawrence's legendary live bands kill its set, though? Though the Beaumont's walls created a Twilight Zone of muffled sound, the Vigilantes' fast and furious tunes were the perfect cherry on top of the schizophrenic sundae of sound that I'd heard all night.
Well, actually, that's a lie. The cherry was the snapshots of Kansas City I saw while trailing the sidewalk back to my car -- like hearing a woman yell, "Don't leave me alone. Come fuck me!" Or the dozens of people drunkenly munching on slices of Joe's Pizza, slumped against walls and sidewalks. Or a chick giving a guy a high-five, saying, "You're a Gemini! That's why we're best friends!" Or a couple, taking pictures of themselves making out on the roof of their Ford SUV, with all of the doors open. Kansas City, you can be such a shitshow. I love you.