Not to take anything away from that venerable Westport establishment, which has enjoyed a resurgence in recent months because of its decision to make room for some of the city's cutting-edge rock bands (Big Jeter, Proudentall, Casket Lottery) on a schedule that had become cluttered with pathetic '80s hangers-on, limp cover bands and DJ-only nights. But Kansas City needs a club outside the Westport radius, a place with the potential to revive a mostly dormant neighborhood on weekend nights. And the Pyro Room, the hip two-story club at 1809 Grand, is the most exciting addition to Kansas City's live-music-driven nightlife in quite some time.
Last year's big story was El Torreon, the converted warehouse that filled the city's gaping all-ages void and celebrated a stellar 2000 with a wildly successful New Year's Eve bash, serving alcohol (the club obtains a temporary license for such special occasions) while popular popster band the Revolvers lamentably said its last goodbye. Pyro picks up where El Torreon leaves off for older patrons, staying open until 3 a.m. seven days a week and pouring drinks at an upstairs and a downstairs bar, both boasting stylish rising-flames countertops. These venues should attract the same types of bands, and because their relationship is cozy (El Torreon manager Brian Saunders occasionally runs sound at Pyro), we'll likely see repeats of a recent twin bill, during which pub-punkers The Tossers played an early set for underage fans at El Torreon before performing a nightcap at Pyro (although it's improbable that any other group will consume as much alcohol during the interval between shows).
Like those at El Torreon, Pyro's early crowds have been generated by word of mouth and grassroots efforts. The venue opened on New Year's Eve, giving the club a month to build buzz as curious patrons dropped in and left with flyers announcing Pyro's first show on Friday, February 2. With no other advertising, this concert, featuring the always explosive Shiner, outstanding Minneapolis-based quartet Houston and intriguing KC newcomer group Sinatra, drew a surprising turnout. Members of other local bands, such as Season to Risk and Moaning Lisa, looked on with interest as the club's sound system (a rented rig operated by Shiner bassist Paul Malinowski) capably handled each group's complex output. Houston temporarily lost its vocals on two occasions, but such opening-night mishaps are inevitable, and Pyro's speakers vividly captured the subtleties of the band's effects-pedal-enhanced, time-signature-hopping compositions.
While the volume remains suitably loud for fans close to the stage, Pyro's layout allows patrons on the opposite end of the floor to carry on conversations without shouting, and it offers upper-floor sanctuary to anyone more interested in socializing than listening to music. The well-furnished lounge offers comfortable, plush seating and two pool tables. Dividing enthusiastic fans from the just-there-for-the-beer crowd is a blessing for the bands, because looking out at a sea of disinterested drinkers can be a downer.
"Even if there's just twenty people by the stage watching, it's intimate," says Season to Risk vocalist Steve Tulipana, who played in front of a considerably larger gathering at Pyro on Saturday, February 3. "You could feel it. It's a great club. I dig it."
The two-level design is part of Pyro's plan to be both "musician-friendly and public-friendly," says the club's director of promotions, Tex Houston. By providing an asylum for fans who want to stick around for the headliners but decide they don't enjoy the opening act, the second floor saves groups from hecklers while keeping patrons happy. This allows the venue to safely book dissimilar bands, as when the trippy rockabilly outfit Big Iron opened the Season to Risk show. "When Big Iron was playing, a lot of the Season crowd went upstairs, and then when they finished, the crowd switched," Houston reports. Pyro also does a service to musicians and spectators alike by delicately dousing them with flattering lighting; blue upstairs, red downstairs. "Everybody looks good under blue and red lighting," Houston assures.
For the next few months, Pyro will concentrate on offering another forum for the increasingly vibrant local rock scene. Big Iron will play again on Thursday, February 22, and gloom punks Robico and the Death Ray Angels head the bill on Friday, February 23. Preliminary reports indicate an encouraging amount of support for area bands. Parlay's February 4 show drew roughly eighty people (an impressive total for a Sunday night show), and Onwardcrispinglover's set on Friday, February 9, lured another large crowd despite ghastly weather and treacherous roads. "Lately, there's been a lot of energy and interest in bands," Tulipana says. "I think people are really wanting to experience some decent live music again, and there's a lot of musicians who are trying to do something different, like Big Iron. They were a great, pleasant surprise. There's a lot of great bands in town that are just trying to get some people out to see them, and I think having more clubs isn't going to hurt."
However, when the touring-band schedule starts to sizzle in late spring, Pyro should be prepared to host some big-ticket bands from out of town as well. "Once our name gets out there, I'm pretty sure that we'll be doing some bigger shows," says Tony Davis, who books for Pyro. "I've got high hopes for the place." Houston, whose musical tastes are evident in the club's hot-rod decor (flames and automobile accessories everywhere), says booking rockabilly acts will be a priority but that Pyro will welcome "everything from punk rock to tango."
The still-pristine venue might get its first battle scars this Saturday night at what could be dubbed "Pyro Mania." After an opening set by hook-heavy pop-punkers National Fire Theory, whose name only evokes images of flames, the always-shocking Pornhuskers will produce the real thing, along with the usual array of sure-to-be-disturbing visual stimulation. Given that El Torreon's Descension-headlined evening of entertainment figures to let out just as the 'Huskers take the stage, daring fans should have the opportunity to subject themselves to a not-for-the-faint-of-heart demonic doubleheader.