Naturally, we've been trying to adhere to this drink schedule since getting back to the United States -- especially during the week, when inconvenient things like, say, showing up for work in the morning are kind of imperative. So when we heard that Knuckleheads Saloon had an earlyish Wednesday-night rockabilly scene with the Rumblejetts playing from 7 to 10 p.m., we figured we'd pop on over and get home before midnight. Of course, our plan failed miserably. The Night Ranger and Research Assistant Cece got there near 10 and missed the Rumblejetts. This being KC, where bars do not close at 11, we went out afterward for some obligatory post-drinking drinks, which ensured that the NR would be logy the next morning and would get to work late.
But the trip to Knuckleheads was worth the hangover. Located in the East Bottoms, near railroad tracks, this roadhouselike joint under an overpass struck us as a very downscale version of Harry's Country Club -- it has kind of the same vibe, but the place is definitely not as swank. A washboard and an American flag hang from bars on the windows near the stage, the walls are covered in wood paneling, and the side room has an aluminum ceiling. An old McDonald's "Playplace" sign hangs over the stage out on the patio (which is surrounded by gravel). Owner Frank Hicks pointed out an auxiliary stage outside and told us that in the summer, he'll set up two bands so that there's nonstop music. He also talked about the drink list. "If it has more than two ingredients, we can't do it," he said, somewhat jokingly. "We're a simple bar -- no froufrou drinks. But if you tell us what's in it, we'll make it."
Which was all very cool with us. We got our $2 bottle beers (Corona and Bud Light) and had a great time listening to the other band, the Two Timin' Three. The crowd was pretty small, but the people-watching was stellar, thanks to the guys with pompadours and the women rocking the '50s dresses who got up to swing dance. (Lessons are offered from about 5-ish to 7 earlier in the night, and it's $5 a person.) We spotted a cute guy rocking out in a corner with his quasi-pompadour (i.e., it wasn't slicked back), so we went over to chat. Carlos, 36, was talkative and amiable, and he threw out the term cats quite a few times, which amused us.
"I know everyone in the rockabilly scene. I know all those cats," he said, pointing to a group that included the lovely Lynne G., the host of KKFI 90.1's Rockabilly Mood Swing.
"So, is rockabilly more a lifestyle or a look?" we asked.
"Well, in Kansas City, it's kind of more the look," he answered. "On the West Coast, it's more a lifestyle. There are more bands. It's a little more hip. There's more selection. Kansas City sort of comes and goes, you know what I'm saying?"
We asked him what a rockabilly lifestyle meant to him. "There's more of a selection of music, so more people [on the West Coast] go out more to enjoy the music," he said. "Here, the selection is limited. There are different scenes everywhere you look out there, too. There's not enough of an audience for it here, but they're hip to it. Plus, everybody [here] grows up and has kids." Yep, that's typical KC; damn our breeding ways!
Speaking of kids, we soon got into an unexpected discussion about Michael Jackson with John, 38, who's friends with one of the staffers. He told us how he directed "Thriller" at Knucklehead's Halloween street party last fall. "I wore the red outfit and did the skit. We got a picture in Wide Open."
"Uh, what's that?" we asked. The name sounded dirty, so naturally, we wondered if it was some sort of porno mag. Apparently, it's a motorcycle magazine. (The bar is next door to Fog Cycles.)
Anyway, John, who is a choreographer at Funkytown and Woody's, said that his "Thriller" re-enactment -- complete with backup dancers -- was performed in front of a garage across the narrow street from the bar. "The garage door opened, there was a cemetery set inside, and we had smoke coming out. It was neat to do it in the street -- it was just like the video," he said. (What's also neat is this clip, which re-creates the "Thriller" video using Lego figures: koreus.com/files/200408/legothriller.html. Awesome!)
"Well, since you've walked in Michael's shoes, so to speak, what do you think about his trial?" we asked.
John vehemently defended his idol. "I say it's all a money thing. This is coming from a fan, so I'm a little bit biased. Because celebrity's like that -- the public puts you on a pedestal, and they try to bring you down. People know his love for children and find his weakness."
Right, but what about the (ahem) sleeping-in-the-same-bed thing?
"Well, it's not normal to share a bed with a child," John acknowledged. "But he doesn't think he does anything wrong, though. He tries to help children so much and he's never done anything to harm them." (We have absolutely no interest in M.J.'s trial, but the one detail that skeezes us out is about how Michael had his hand down Macaulay Culkin's pants as he held him up to play a video game. Which definitely gives new meaning to the word joystick.)
To clear that unpleasant image from our minds, we had to drink some more. We also resolved to return again on another Wednesday night. Next time, we'll try to do as we did in London and at least start the boozing earlier in the night.