Ask five Kansas City music lovers to name a favorite spot for live music, and you'll get at least five answers, enough to fill your calendar for a week. And I did just that: Solicited the opinions of a handful of local music veterans about the venues they love — the more under-the-radar, the better. (And, of course, one of the curses of being part of a music scene as compact as this one is that if you love a place, there's a good chance you'll end up working there — as you'll read below.)
The place: Black & Gold Tavern/Vandals
The talent: Britt Adair of the Bad Ideas
On a damp Sunday evening, Britt Adair, guitarist in the punk band the Bad Ideas, is on bartender duty at Black & Gold Tavern. If she looks a little casual for someone on the clock, it's because she does another important job here: booking acts into Vandals (the name that manager Michelle Wyssmann has given to the recently launched backroom venue inside the bar).
There's an impressive selection of not-so-low-end liquor on the shelves behind Adair, and as she pours a beer for an older fellow, I register a Jimi Hendrix song playing from the jukebox. Just at the moment, Black & Gold doesn't seem as punk as its reputation. Then I remember the grand reopening of the rebranded Vandals in March, and the more recent Center of the City punk and hardcore festival in April, and I get a vivid mental flash of the sweaty welter of bodies and the waves of unapologetic noise that filled the space.
"That was an awesome night," Adair says, referring to the March show, which her band played. But Adair's connection to Vandals is deeper than its new stage (which, she says, was built by the people who work here).
"This was the first venue I ever played a show at, back when it was the News Room," Adair says. "I was 18. They always gave us a place to play, even though we sucked."
She laughs and goes on: "Now, Vandals holds true to all the things that the News Room had. The venue feels like a basement. You feel like you're playing a house show, even though it's a venue. It's a really comfortable space, and it puts the band on the same level as the viewers, and everyone's just kind of hanging out. It's not intimidating. You play, and it's raw and that's what's good about it."
Adair peers at me over the top of her glasses. She's tall, with teased-out blond hair, wearing the ripped denim jacket with clusters of buttons that seems to be part of her daily uniform. Months ago, Adair told me that there was no replacement for house shows, but Vandals is shifting her opinion.
"I think Vandals is a place where anyone is welcome to play," she says. "We want to make the scene better, and we're artist-run — everyone who is involved here is about the music or into art in some way. We painted the walls. We made the signs. We did everything ourselves. We're all just a bunch of creative people wanting to help out, and we want to make sure the bands have a great time."
The place: Coda Bar and Grill
The talent: Jason Vivone, of Jason Vivone and the Billy Bats
Jason Vivone has been playing at Coda since before it was Coda. When we meet there for lunch one Wednesday, bartender Chris Tady and manager Clint Hoffmeier greet him warmly.
"Hey, bud," Tady says, extending a hand.