I knew Robin Powell could sing, but I didn't know how well. Not until roughly 8 p.m. last Thursday, when her high-plains nasal drawl began creeping through the rafters at McCoy's as her band, the Last Call Girls, helped kick off the 2008 Pitch Music Showcase.
Nominated for the first time in the Country/Bluegrass category, the Call Girls are a perfectly cast four-girls-one-guy bunch: the glamorous but edgy fiddler; the pint-sized, mischievous lead guitarist; the raven-haired, tough-looking bassist; the tattooed drummer dude; and the elegant Powell — heartbreak queen, rodeo sweetheart.
After the group finished its second song, a command came from the sound guy. "Down on vocals?" Powell replied and nodded in assent.
"Who said that?" came an outraged voice from the front row of the crowd. It was a young woman, only half joking. "How dare you!" echoed her friend.
But no sooner than the time it took to chug another beer and catch part of the next song, I was off, racing to catch the next of the few acts on the 34-strong evening bill: local hip-hop newcomer D/Will at the Dark Horse Tavern.
Joined by fellow MC Les Izmore, D waved a green towel and led his audience in the chorus chant from his Kanye West-referencing "Midwestiz": You know what the Midwest is?/Young and restless/Young and restless. The two MCs stomped and twisted around the small bar's floor like it was crawling with spiders.
Soon, I was on the move again, this time to pay witness to country band True North, another first-timer on the ballot. As I rounded the corner by One80, I reflected on how cool it was to see a hip-hop act sandwiched by two country bands. I hope some of the 2,000-plus people in attendance over the course of the evening thought the same thing.
Fronted by dad-jeans-sporting medical doctor Gary McKnight, True North plays catchy, clever, heartfelt country in the more contemporary vein of grown-up acts such as Dwight Yoakam and John Hiatt. It pleasantly reminded me of my West Texas childhood, where that Nashville-influenced style was inescapable. But I had little time to reminisce — there was hardcore punk to be had at the Beach Club.
"I'm stoked about seeing the ACB's! I've had a boner all week," raved punk bassist William Mallott from the outdoor stage. "And the Rich Boys are playing here. I'm gonna steal all their fucking money!"
Sweaty and feral, Best Punk nominee Bent Left ripped into a vicious, machine-gun roar that sent a Black Flag waving high over the beach volleyball courts and the tiki bar.
Tired of running around catching only the ends of sets, I stayed at the Beach Club, watching the biggest crowd of the night I'd seen so far build up for the next act, CES Cru. It was only 10 p.m., and I was already regretting missing a few bands — the Roseline, Namelessnumberheadman — but that would become the evening's theme. Well, that and minor acts of drunken delinquency.
With Beatbroker on decks, the two MCs in CES (plus cohorts Dutch Newman, Stik Figa and Mac Lethal) put on a party-rocking set. Meanwhile, inside the Beaumont, the ACB's were winning converts with a particularly awesome display of their pop-rock chops.
The evening proceeded much in this way — triumph after triumph on the part of the bands. Except, that is, for American Catastrophe, which had lost its drummer temporarily at the last minute and decided to put dressed-up mannequins onstage and play a CD over speakers. I won't go into details except to say that the unattended dummies fell victim to marauders, and humanoid casualties were sustained.
The only other casualties sustained the rest of the night were my eardrums, which were marvelously ravaged by Metal nominees Hundred Years War and Live Act nominees the Pink Socks, both within the Dark Horse's small, beer-soaked confines.
By the time things rolled to a close after 2 a.m. with the Beautiful Bodies shimmying and skronking riotously onstage at the Beaumont, I was soaked in sweat and blowing on a harmonica procured from the Socks.
I don't think anyone was as impressed as I was by my harp skills, so I promise not to play harmonica at the Pitch Music Awards ceremony Sunday night at the Uptown Theater, when we'll hand out trophies to the winners in each of our 16 categories.
But of course, as always, the real winner here is Kansas City.