Today, Lowry doesn't preach about anarchy or rant about smashing the state -- in fact, he stays silent on nearly half of Paseo's tracks, letting the group's smooth, jazzy improvisation and rattlesnake percussion communicate his ideas. The only clues come from the song titles: "Voodoo Chile"-style wakka-wakka guitars speak of a "Relationship," polished guitar-and-bass passages shine from "Too Much Varnish," a gently melodic lead shouts "Whooh!" Though Lowry's musical message is now more mature than the simple sentiments he shared with Dirty Steve and Smokehouse, the blues-based outfit with whom he served refried standards between 1996 and 1998, not all listeners are able to interpret and appreciate his new songs' instrumental subtitles.
"A lot of crowds don't get what we're doing at all," Lowry admits. "We haven't gotten to the right audiences yet, but we're building up our fanbase little by little." To speed up this process, Lowry frontloaded Paseo with overwhelmingly upbeat numbers. After hooking ears with the opening title track, which pairs growly vocals that turn on into rrrron with stop-and-start bursts of slow-punching funk, Paseo gradually drifts away from accessibility, a voyage that ends with a jarring hidden cut that comes complete with a sampled conversation about martial law and a series of grotesquely juicy belches.
"That's [bassist] Mike Moellman," Lowry explains. "He does a lot of experimental stuff, recording random noise and friends when they're not paying attention." Moellman, a free-form jazz enthusiast, pushes the band's songs to extremes, while straightforward guitarist John Johnson, steady percussionist Bryan Winkert and Lowry keep them tethered to some sort of tangible structure.
Because of band members' steady grooves, which surface even in their most adventurous compositions, and sprawling song lengths, Lowry fares better with hippies than with hipsters. Lowry admits that "the jam crowd will move to what we do," but he balks at lumping the band in with that set, primarily for semantic reasons. "I really like the scene, but I don't really like the word 'jam,'" he says. "It limits what the music's trying to do, the open-mindedness of what it is." Also, Lowry's tunes, expansive by most standards, seem slim compared with the thirty-minute epics conjured by the jam circuit's leading lights. "We don't want to get stuck doing an endless boogie," Lowry says.
Lowry already has shared area stages with jam-masters the Samples as well as with links to neo-Deadhead royalty (Jerry Joseph, who has written songs for Widespread Panic, and Blueground Undergrass, who taught Phish all its pickin'-and-grinnin' tricks). Band members' dream gigs include the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and Medeski, Martin & Wood, bands whose fans could be expected to understand instrumental-heavy sets. Lowry also names Paul Simon and Dave Matthews, hinting that there's a part of him that might like to inject a heavier singer/songwriter element into his band's approach.
"I have a library of words that I've never used," Lowry says. "But there's three other people in the group, so I have to find a nice medium." This wasn't always the case -- three years ago, Lowry the band was simply Lowry the man, with a bassist and later Winkert on hand to flesh out the tunes for his double-disc debut, Spent Movement. The group's sound has changed radically since that release, thanks to Lowry's enrollment in jazz classes at UMKC as well as to the influence of the band's new members.
At Lowry's CD release party for Paseo on Friday, May 3, at the Hurricane, the group will perform the album in its entirety as well as a good chunk of Spent Movement. A few covers will also be in the mix, including a funked-up version of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five." But just as the Foo Fighters don't crank out Nirvana hits, even given the immeasurable crowd-pleasing appeal of such a stunt, Lowry won't be digging into Dirty Steve's back catalog. "We sounded like shit," Lowry says of his early project, "but everyone thought it was cool back then."
Even promoter Jim Kilroy's harshest critics must give him credit for this: his Club Wars is no Tournament of Rock. Club Wars has already completed eight of its scheduled rounds, with musicians getting paid all the way. On Saturday, May 3, at the Beaumont Club, top-seeded Barphyte stares down Audio Kombat Arsenal, Kingpin, Organic M and Scapegoat. Previous bouts were decided by distribution of preshow discount coupons, but the grand champion will be selected through audience ballots and a judging panel's input. The winner gets a $2,000 recording package with Woodland Music Recording Studio. Second place scores a $500 gift certificate to Guitar Source in Overland Park. The other finalists will each receive $200 -- or there will be hell to pay. In an odd innovation reminiscent of the game between the NFL's third- and fourth-place teams that briefly followed the Super Bowl, Club Wars' eighth- through twelfth-place finishers (Soulitify, Substance, Six Percent, Green Means Go and Stonewalk) perform at the Hurricane on Wednesday, May 8. But whereas pairing football teams with nothing to gain translated into games that made the Pro Bowl seem riveting, Club Wars' consolation round should feature energetic performances from hungry heavy-rocking outfits with nothing to lose.
Though nearly all the remaining Club Wars contenders fall under the metal umbrella, most are of the new, relatively nonthreatening variety -- nary a pentagram-emblazoned drum to be found. For those looking for a jarring dose of old-fashioned Satanic shock value, visit Davey's Uptown on Monday, May 6, where Electric Hellfire Club will be hosting its unholy séance. This industrial electro-evil quintet will be reading from its latest dastardly work, Electronomicon, featuring such cuddly concoctions as "Sons of the Serpent" and "I Dream of Demons." Seraphim Shock, fresh from an appearance on the vampire-influenced compilation Music From the Succubus Club, and the mysteriously mild female-fronted Goth outfit Tapping the Vein open the show.
On the other side of the spiritual spectrum, Starflyer 59, one of the premier acts on the cornerstone Christian label Tooth & Nail, plays Wednesday, May 8, at the Bottleneck. The band's latest album, 2001's intelligently melodic Leave Here a Stranger, steps out of the distorted haze of its early work, but a headlining set will leave Starflyer 59 plenty of time to gaze at its shoes for old-time's sake. It's worth catching opening act the Elevator Division, but don't arrive too early, or you'll be forced to watch major-label mistakes Lefty and Showoff shill pedestrian pop-punk to an all-ages audience that doesn't know any better.