Local metal and hardcore heads will remember that, back around June of last year, El Torreon closed its doors following a liquor license issue with the city; then came the rise and subsequent relocation (or two) of the Icehouse, or American Ice, followed by the melding of that venture with the El Torreon building (Wayward Son, June 29, 2006). Followed by a mysterious, biblical rain of Every Time I Die band merch from the sky.
Most of that was Beat Oven's doing (except for the rain, which was an act of the Holy Spirit). Label honcho Drew Burasco and company took up where original El Torreon owner Abe Haddad left off, eventually re-opening El Torreon late last year. And that's when the floods really did come, forcing an eventual departure.
"The main reason we moved out of that place was that it leaks like a sieve. It rains indoors. I had 10 buckets on the floor during one show," Burasco recalls.
Beat Oven's new home is a beautiful place. The theater books weddings and receptions several times a month, so the inside of the 350-capacity venue is nuptially appropriate: White fabric sheets hide walls and undulate across the ceiling. A hardwood dance floor supplies an unusually classy mosh surface. Most important, a well-stocked bar sits at the back, facing the stage. "The way the place is licensed as a theater, we can book all-ages shows and keep the bar open," Burasco says.
But what kind of rogues stand upon this altar? When I went last Tuesday and Thursday nights, I saw one good band and two that were wretched. On Tuesday, the PowerPlant, a math-thrash band from Fern, Iowa, thrilled with a fusion of experimental improv and hardcore. The local bands I saw aren't worth naming.
"Super Sonic" by Beat Oven band Six II Chaos:
What's more interesting — and crucial to the venue's future — is Beat Oven. Operated by half a dozen earnest scene supporters and backed by an eccentric investor named Jeanne Bojarski, a transplanted East Coaster who in '92 ran for the U.S. Senate on the libertarian bill. (This gal's a whole other story.) Burasco operates the label's studio, Hyde Park Recording, in the top floor of his house, and Beat Oven has basically churned out an album a month over the past year. With 14 bands on the roster — locals you've likely never heard of — Beat Oven will sign anyone. Burasco claims that he doesn't charge a band to produce an album. All he asks for is 50 percent of the album-sale royalties.
"I want to be to Kansas City what Sub Pop was to Seattle," Burasco explains. "They signed every band in Seattle. Then, when Nirvana took off, suddenly everyone in the country was crazy for anything plaid."
But he doesn't want to lose money. That's probably why you won't see too many El Torreon-style, all-ages shows (metal, emo, Underoath, Senses Fail, etc.). Those shows require guarantees that Beat Oven can't afford.
"Instead of trying to bring big bands," he says, "how about making the bands here big?"
How about picking better bands, Drew? The bands on Beat Oven's roster that Burasco describes as "growing" are pretty awful. Even the bands Beat Oven is proudest of — Six II Chaos, Rockesh and Burasco's own Tripp Algiers — are not, well, there yet. (Note to bassists: Fellas, you wouldn't slap a girl. Don't slap a motherfuckin' bass!)
But that's the asshole critic in me talking. As a genuine fan of the local scene, I watch with interest this Beat Oven experiment, and I do hope all goes well for them. That they make money, put on good shows, bring in good bands from out of town (despite the voiced strategy not to), and grow into something great. After all, the Mission Theatre's sosonice.