Anything But Joey
Anything But Joey spent the past year packing local shows to the rafters and expanding its teenage fan club beyond the region. The Kansas City quartet also released a new EP, Necessary But Not Cool. In addition to four sprightly new tunes, Necessary includes a generous helping of demos and live cuts that underscore the group's trademark wry lyrics, soaring harmonies and melodies that stick in your brain like bubblegum on the bottom of your Nikes. (www.anythingbutjoey.com)
The Belles' recent full-length clocks in at just 28 minutes, but Idle Hands hasn't led to abundant leisure time. The skewed-pop drum-and-guitar duo has been canvassing the club circuit and racking up voluminous van mileage while recruiting instrumental assistance onstage from an additional guitarist and a bassist during its shows. And singer-songwriter Chris Tolle found a forum for the tunes that didn't make the Idle Hands cut, playing acoustic every Wednesday night in a no-cover-charge matinee showcase. (www.thebelles.com)
The Get Up Kids
The Get Up Kids returned to rocking in 2004 with Guilt Show, a peppy effort that recalls the Kids' halcyon days. Though Guilt doesn't quite match the youthful wail of earlier material, it shows that the group has found a new sense of purpose. The area's most beloved (and despised) band spent several weeks on the road, crisscrossing the States on a package tour with Dashboard Confessional and Thrice and playing a few solo dates in Japan -- just because it could. (www.thegetupkids.com)
The Golden Republic (formerly the People)
It's been a year of moniker massacres for the People, er, Populist, um, Rabbit Fighter, wait, Golden Republic. The group made a name for itself at South by Southwest in March, then decided to change that name several times before arriving at its current handle. The inventive rock-and-keys band signed with Astralwerks, which shredded its share of press releases and promotional stickers after the group decided to go Golden. If the Republic stands, a release under that name should drop by the end of 2004. www.thepeople rock.com, (www.thegoldenrepublic.com)
What makes something pop? Is it melody? Memorable hooks? A killer name? Whatever it is that makes songs resonate, Kansas City's Namelessnumberheadman takes it, turns it on its side, shakes it a few times, drops some ransom-note poetry on top, then sprinkles in drum-machine flourishes and ethereal keyboards. The result is the finely crafted breed of music found on the trio's latest album, Your Voice Repeating. Simply put, it's futuristic, thinking-man's pop. (www.namelessnumberhead man.com)
The New Amsterdams
The New Amsterdams finally moved beyond side-project status with the release of its finest record to date, Worse for the Wear, which earned numerous plaudits, including a four-star review from Rolling Stone. Fronted by Get Up Kids singer and guitarist Matt Pryor, the Amsterdams enjoyed high-profile successes, including a slot on Late Show with David Letterman and tours alongside Evan Dando and Guster. (www.newams.net)
The Appleseed Cast
Following years of record-company woes, things were finally looking up for the Appleseed Cast. The Lawrence quintet inked a deal with indie stalwart Tiger Style and issued Two Conversations, a record that replaced much of the band's trademark far-out appeal with melancholy poems about relationships gone awry. But Tiger Style went awry as well, going on "hiatus" just as Conversations was taking off. Undeterred, the Cast persevered, touring the United States and Europe and promising to return (once again) on a new label. (www.theappleseedcast.com)
After enduring comparisons to the Strokes -- fair or not -- Conner found itself with its debut full-length, The White Cube. The album was recorded on reel-to-reel tape, making Conner's sound refreshingly raw in an era when any dorm room with a Pro Tools rig is considered a working studio. And Cube was good enough for CMJ to weigh in with a positive review that predicted big things for the Lawrence quartet. (www.connermusic.com)
Getaway Driver spent the year digging deeper into its sonic treasure chest for a sound it could call home. Recent demos suggest that the Lawrence quartet -- formerly a Jimmy Eat World clone -- has matured, adding cinematic pop flourishes to its once mathematical approach. The usually hard-touring outfit spent less time on the road this year but made an impact when it did get onstage, including at Kalide, a one-off experimental show in which local musicians and filmmakers collaborated. (www.getawaydriver.net)
It's been awhile since Ghosty's Five Short Minutes EP first captured local college radio. Since then, the group has recorded a batch of imaginative demos and undergone dramatic lineup changes. But with recent shows in New York City and a full-length debut near completion, the revamped Ghosty, led by singer and guitarist Andrew Connor, seems to have a new lease on life. (www.ghostymusic.com)
The Hefners make sweaty, sleazy garage rock. The band has been inspiring hipster dance parties (never an easy feat) for years with its swaggering, raw, "three chords and three shots" songwriting, most recently put to wax on the band's Through the Night full-length. Garage before garage was cool and hyper as hell, the Hefners are the musical equivalent of, say, ten Red Bull and vodkas followed by a cattle prod. (www.thehefners.com)
Reggie and the Full Effect
Reggie and the Full Effect unveiled its ambitious Lord of the Blings trilogy earlier this year with typical theatrical bombast. The emo-pop adventure appeared on a reissue of the group's first album, Greatest Hits '84-'87, which also includes a geeked-lightning cover of Slayer's "Raining Blood." In 2003, Reggie released Under the Tray, an uncharacteristically polished, if still garishly goofy, collection of sweet-toothed songs that translated into amusing new extremes onstage when the group toured in support of the album. (www.reg gieandthefulleffect.com)
Best Male Vocalist
Andrew Connor (Ghosty)
Ghosty frontman Andrew Connor doesn't hit you with breathless emo posturing, Cookie Monster growls or angst-ridden moans. Instead, he uses subtle humor and intelligent wordplay to score points quietly. One listen to the intricate, Pet Sounds-like harmonies on Ghosty's recent output is proof that Connor is a budding musical alchemist. The Lawrence troubadour also plays the occasional solo gig, offering devotees a more intimate glimpse into his strange, wonderful world. (www.ghosty music.com)
Brandon Phillips (the Gadgits, Architects)
Brandon Phillips has always seemed to have exactly the right pipes to pull off whatever musical tangent his band happens upon. He could handle the pissed-off dance anthems of the Gadgits' soulful ska stylings, and he kept pace as the band evolved before rising up as the Architects. Whatever direction that band takes, Phillips' big, scraping voice has a big enough scaffold to hold every jagged edge. (www.thegadjits.com)
Matt Pryor (The Get Up Kids, the New Amsterdams)
Fronting an internationally acclaimed band demands respect. Fronting two of them defies logic. But double duty hardly slows Matt Pryor, the creative force behind the Get Up Kids and the New Amsterdams. Pryor managed not to run his earnest voice into the ground even as both bands released albums and toured this year. But one listen to the Amsterdams' Worse for the Wear provides ample evidence that the area's best-known vocalist is also among its finest. www.newams.net, (www.thegetupkids.com)
Steve Tulipana (S2R, Unknown Pleasures, Roman Numerals)
Steve Tulipana is following the Perry Farrell career arc, moving from the metal-edged darkness of Season to Risk to experimentation with the Roman Numerals and Unknown Pleasures before settling comfortably into his role as DJ and sage of the Empire Room. Appearances with groups such as Onward Crispin Glover and Reggie and the Full Effect also make it clear that Tulipana has gradually earned a reputation as a godfather of local ambition, if not innovation. (www.seasontorisk.com)
Lester ³Duck² Warner
Louis Armstrong was one of the first to show that jazz horn players know a thing or two about turning a phrase, and Lester "Duck" Warner carries on that tradition. A local legend as both a trombonist and a trumpet player, Warner is primarily lauded for his smooth baritone voice and impishly youthful charm. Both gifts are even more remarkable when you consider that they've been entertaining area audiences for more than 40 years.
Best Female Vocalist
Megan Fitzsimons (Hot Children)
Megan Fitzsimons' singing voice is an in-heat yowl that works perfectly with the Hot Children's throbbing electro-rock. She vamps through the verses and screeches during the cacophonous choruses, adding orgasmic accents to instrumental passages along the way. A slave to the rhythm, Fitzsimons is not always held captive by tone and pitch concerns, but this ain't American Idol. She proves that some frontwomen can make their marks through charismatic performances and smartly complementary vocals rather than melodramatic melismas. (www.thehotchildren.com)
With her third solo release, Poetry of Love, Angela Hagenbach remains one of Kansas City's true jazz sirens. Whereas many contemporaries do everything they can to widen the scope of the standard songbook, Hagenbach remains introspectively involved in mastering its contents. Combine that approach with a voice that hearkens back to the heyday of torch singers and dangerous divas, and Hagenbach is a quickly maturing musical force. (www.amazonrecords.com)
Liz Nord (Sister Mary rotten crotch)
As the vocalist for Sister Mary Rotten Crotch, Liz Nord has gone from ferocious scene leader to respected older sister for a new breed of young, angry scenesters. It's a natural flight pattern for a gradually maturing punk star who has always kept standards high. Nord's stage domination carries the implicit promise that someone this outraged really does care, and her voice still hits like a hammer in a world increasingly accustomed to tiptoeing around controversy. (www.sistermaryrot tencrotch.com)
Shay Ving (Von Hodads, Silver Shore)
Shay Ving encompasses several personalities. She was Gayle Warning -- a martini-chugging torch singer who throttled heartbreak numbers with throaty aplomb -- during her stint with the now-defunct burlesque troupe Rushin' Roulettes. Now Warning fronts the Von Hodads, a saucy surf-rock juggernaut with a soft spot for standards, and her own jazz trio, whose performance at the Camel-sponsored Chakra opening was hot enough to ignite nicotine. Finally, Ving chills out with Silver Shore, her icy tones adding somber sparkle to that group's dark-wave depth.
Krystle Warren is a captivating study in the art of simplicity. Belting out the Beatles at Prospero's Books or crooning Billie Holiday at the Blue Room, Warren's voice can switch from a whisper to a shout in a single passionate moment. Some mistake her for a neo-folkie caricature, but look past the surface and you'll find that Warren, who has continued to play frequent hometown shows since relocating to New York, and her talent are much too big for such labels. (www.krystlewarren.com)
Best New Act
Best New Act
Ad Astra Per Aspera
Ad Astra Per Aspera has spent years crafting some of the most complex bursts of sonic chaos ever to inflame all-ages stages. But the band still has little more than ten songs to its credit, an amount some local groups with less stringent quality-control might concoct during a given week. Ad Astra finally announced its arrival this year with the enchanting Cubic Zirconia EP and several memorable live shows, including a Halloween appearance at The Bottleneck complete with costumes, free cookies and jack-o'-lantern lighting.
Conner began to take shape a couple of years ago, but it wasn't until the release of its debut full-length, The White Cube, that the group really came into its own. Packed with scuzzy garage nuggets in hard-pop shells, Cube became a sleeper hit on local college radio and a guilty pleasure among local trend watchers. The band capitalized on the attention, playing a number of in-your-face local shows and taking its brash garage rock on the road to places like Denver and San Francisco. (www.connermusic.com)
The Hot Children have become a little too hot. The group recently relocated to San Francisco, having released a dazzling debut (Drunk Surgeon) and having performed mesmerizing shows during which its betrothed members strutted, pouted and rocked out. Singer and programmer Megan Fitzsimons and guitarist Marc Tweed, also of the Hearers, improved at such a rapid pace that, unfortunately, their future recorded work might only return to town as a hip indie-label import. (www.thehotchildren.com)
Hot Fruit is version 3.0 of a core group that has evolved from the jagged punk of Red Letter to the catchy chops of Moxie while outpacing its predecessors with inspired ax work. "West of Eden," a track from the group's late-2003 demo, wraps a catchy casing around one plump sausage of a solo. This all-female trio closed out the night at the Beauty Slays the Beast benefit in June, perhaps the group's highest-profile slot of many headlining appearances over the past year.
The Life and Times
The Life and Times, led by singer-guitarist Allen Epley, rose from the ashes of Shiner by releasing an acclaimed EP (The Flat End of the Earth), only to stall after the original bassist and drummer left the trio. But after a short hiatus, the Life and Times has returned to fighting form with a revamped lineup: Epley, bassist Eric Abert and drummer Sam Hoskins (from the Elevator Division). Word is, several songs have already been completed for the band's upcoming debut full-length release. (www.thelifeandtimes.com)
The Band Scramble -- a competition of musicians thrown together to create three-song showcases -- could have been a train wreck. Instead, the local contest delivered some of the year's most entertaining and eclectic bills. Silver Shore pooled the talents of Stella Link and Von Hodads members to create a winning mix of morose melodies, intricate instrumentation and the occasional death-disco number. But lest the quartet be considered a mere novelty, the group's intriguing post-contest follow-ups have proven the band's worth.
Best Live Act
Best Live Act
Who needs Slipknot when you have Descension? Drowning in ghoulish face paint, encased in black leather and glittering with steel spikes galore, the scary six-piece makes every show a night in hell. In November, the group released Twilight in the Hall of Visions, a project that managed to make Celtic flutes and string sections sound like a Godzilla-sized foot up the ass while providing more than enough six-string action to satisfy the staunchest metal fan. (www.darkdemons.com)
Live rap shows are usually pretty stale. A few guys pace the stage, imploring audience members to wave their hands in the air like they just don't care. Problem is, we don't. But it's Mac Lethal's live shows -- not his heralded verbal skills -- that make him dangerous. Mac is passionate even when he's making fun of himself, telling ghost stories, flirting with the ladies or offering milk and cookies to his audience. And then he hits you with the dazzling wordplay. (www.lethalville.com)
Reggie and the Full Effect
Reggie and the Full Effect records can be a lot of fun, but the true Reggie experience is found onstage, where the band redefines the concept of over-the-top. Known to don everything from dubious hairpieces to Viking costumes, Reggie (the Get Up Kids' James Dewees) and his ever-evolving Effect know how to get a party started. So much so, in fact, that Dewees will moonlight as keyboardist for New Found Glory after finishing Reggie's follow-up to 2003's Under the Tray. (www.reggieandthefullef fect.com)
Salt the Earth
Few local bands pounded the nation's pavements as diligently as Salt the Earth this past year. And when the band wasn't on the road, it found time to release The Process of Breaking, an EP that found the aggressive quartet expanding its sound without softening its attack. STE also endured lineup changes well enough to play the Warped Tour in July as the band continued to toil on its anticipated sophomore album. (www.salttheearth.com)
Unknown Pleasures loves Joy Division (ahem) to death. Which is why the group lovingly resurrects its idol's ringing riffs, creepy keys and booming bass lines while delving into the catalog to unearth rarities alongside classics. Singer Steve Tulipana channels Ian Curtis' sorrow-smothered delivery and his robotic, march-of-doom dance moves. But the band's live shows are a jolt of Joy Division without the nagging guilt that comes from watching Curtis and company produce danceable inspirations by dangling above the suicidal abyss.
Vibralux knows how to put on a show. Sporting women's clothing and enough face paint to stock an Avon convention, the stylish Lawrence quartet often spends hours preparing to take the stage. (Bikini waxes are time-consuming, after all.) But when it wasn't terrifying the Fred Phelps set, the Lawrence quartet took time to issue Trans Mission, a full-length effort with such over-the-top glanthems as "Fashionista" and "Space Fags." (www.vibralux.org)
DJNOTADJ includes, naturally, nary a DJ, but the electronic troupe has become known for concocting an alluring formula of old-school funk and organically grown drum-'n'-bass grooves. The group has weathered some lineup shake-ups since its debut album, Deep Roots in Shallow Ground, garnered attention. Now, with a new member (MC Jspitz) in the fold and a distribution deal under their belts, the mad scientists are back in the lab perfecting their latest offering, Bangin' by Numbers. (www.djnotadj.com)
Ed Hickey and Jeremy Goldstein are the pulsing heartbeat behind Quadrant 5 Studios, which uses the duo's synth-heavy creations as commercial music for everything from Diesel Jeans to the Kansas City Independent Film Festival. But when the two aren't paying the bills, they're compiling albums and plying their craft in clubs from London to Lawrence as E.V.A.C. And if that isn't time-consuming enough, Goldstein also contributed production work to the Get Up Kids' latest album. (www.q5stu dios.com)
Unplugged, the Hot Children might still rise above the run-of-the-mill rock masses. But when the group heats up its throbbing electro blasts, the Hot Children really get hot. Led by singer-programmer Megan Fitzsimons, the group released a solid debut album with Drunk Surgeon. But it was only a matter of time before the Children left for larger electro-rock playgrounds; they recently moved operations from KC to San Francisco. (www.the hotchildren.com)
Namelessnumberheadman is a music geek's wet dream. Musicians ogle the band's complex live show, a setup held together by a sprawling mess of cables connecting amps, keyboards and everything in between. But it's still just three guys who create the giant, polished sounds. Utilizing kraut-rock trance over driving rhythms or orchestral pop mingling with meandering ambience, NNHM seamlessly blends the organic and the electronic into a hybrid genre all its own. (www.namelessnumberheadman.com)
Adam Jeffers has performed in some incarnation of Superargo for almost 9 years, but his electronic act made a major breakthrough in 2003 with the incorporation of his new onstage sidekick, Skullface. Superargo's live shows, once humdrum affairs, now engage audiences with choreography, animation and cue cards that provide a form of closed captioning for lyricless songs. Superargo issued a self-titled full-length in 2003; its 2004 follow-up, Clap and Collapse, waits in the wings. (www.superargo.com)
The region's dance-music epicenter is Kansas City. The city's epicenter is the Kabal Nightclub. And Kabal's epicenter is Paul DeMatteo. A staple of the area's burgeoning house-music scene, DeMatteo is the spin master who presides over Kabal's Saturday-night mayhem and the go-to guy who frequently bats leadoff, opening for heavy hitters such as Dave Ralph and Astro & Glyde when the big names pay a visit. (www.pauldematteo.com)
Few area hip-hop heads command respect behind the decks quite like Joc Max. If you've been to house parties or basement shows in the last decade, you have probably been dipping and grinding to something he was spinning. But Max has also bobbed heads with the Basement Khemists, DJ Spinna, Jigmastas and Das EFX when he isn't lending his turntable skills, production prowess or ability on the mike to every fourth hip-hop artist in town. (www.jocmax.com)
Josh Powers (Scenebooster)
Every DJ is a crate digger, but few have the patience to painstakingly comb the vaults until they piece together a funk-laced hip-hop record just right. That is what Josh Powers did on last year's solid, slow-burning Sceneboostersoundsystem, Volume 1. The album was a testament to Powers' proclaimed influences -- everyone from Miles Davis to Gang Starr -- and proof that whatever Powers serves up on disc, at a club or on his KJHK 90.7 radio show, will go down smooth.
DJ Scsi Bunny
DJ SCSI Bunny -- or Mark Mathison, as he's known when not donning a pink, fuzzy, big-eared get-up -- knows how to accomplish the rare feat of getting indie-rock kids to dance. His secret: big, big beats from groups like the Peaches and Fischerspooner during his Monday night sets at Balanca's Pyro Room. Mathison, sans costume, also accomplishes the near-impossible at Buzzard Beach on Wednesday evenings, convincing members of the same tough-to-please crowd to appreciate such unorthodox party fodder as Quiet Riot and Ice-T.
Steve Thorell is a machine. He has been spinning in the area with workmanlike dedication since he got his start playing breaks in the '90s local rave scene. Not content with dropping house tracks in Vegas and New York alongside the likes of Carl Cox, Thorell grinds it out on the decks in the KC metro five nights a week, shifting styles and tracks on a dime to accommodate the mood of his audience.
The Malachy Papers never really have walked in step with the contemporary Kansas City jazz scene, and that can be a very good thing. On the group's recent collaboration with Eugene Chadbourne, The Wind Cries Malachy, this local foursome continues to bend local ears to the more experimental side of town, all the while posing the question: Why compete with the status quo when you can make your own? (www.malachypapers.com)
Bill McKemy has had a busy year. The former Malachy Papers bassist earned numerous accolades in support of his quartet's 2003 release, Om Nidrah, which showcased an aptitude for the avant-garde and an attitude for shrugging off the sterile expectations of traditionalists. After all, few bassists in town are better suited than McKemy to lay down the law when Prince's band shows up to sit in. (www.billmckemy.com)
Mr. Marco¹s V7
With the possible exception of the Rev. Dwight Frizzell, nobody creates local music quite like guitarist Marco Pascolini. With a rotating group of musical ringers and a penchant for drifting in whatever musical direction he wishes, Pascolini (also an outstanding roots guitarist for the Snakebite Orphans) presides over the creation of music that Sun Ra would have given a thumbs-up from the very first notes.
Wild Women of KC
In a category filled with a mischievous roster of musicians inclined toward modernity, vocalists Mary Moore, Myra Taylor, Millie Edwards and Geneva Price -- the Wild Women of Kansas City -- represent the old-school flavor of Kansas City jazz. That isn't to say that these musical mavens aren't given to fits of their own brand of mischief -- with a name like theirs, they do have a reputation to uphold. Just don't confuse "old school" with old. These wild women are just getting started.
Though steeped in jazz sensibilities, this Lawrence outfit takes a decidedly funky approach to its craft. Peppered by the organ grinding of frontman Bradford Hoopes, the Yards concocts a fiery sonic soup stocked with everything from Cajun to soul. The band's recent output (including the vinyl-only single "Muchimoo Booogaloo") has found it adding even more flavors -- including a horn section -- to the mix as the group puts the finishing touches on its second studio effort. (www.theyards.net)
When it comes to raw metal mayhem, few area acts can stand up to the Esoteric. The popular Lawrence quintet is one of the few acts that attracts as many scenesters as it does headbangers, thanks in part to guitarist Cory White's forays with Reggie and the Full Effect and Coalesce. But it's the hard-charging offerings found on the band's recent 1336 EP that allowed the hard-touring powerhouse to spend the summer trekking across the States. (www.the-esoteric.com)
James Dean Trio
Hardcore music should be brutal. Abrasive instruments that sound like metal sawing through metal. Vocals that sound as if the singer ate shattered glass before he got on stage. And, most definitely, a frantic stage show. But whereas some hardcore strains spin out of control into light portions of melodic servings, the James Dean Trio keeps the fire alive for hardcore by serving up corrosive, mathy eruptions that will shake the change right out of your pockets. (www.thejamesdeantrio.com)
When a band declares that its influences range from Slayer and Poison the Well to Ani DiFranco and Dashboard Confessional, you gotta know that you're dealing with a different breed of hard rock. Majaedus manages to toe the line between the blistering heaviness of metal and the soul-baring emotions of hardcore. It's a combination that allows the quintet, led by singer Ryan Red Corn, to offer those in the mosh pit one shoulder to slam into and another to cry on.
Hardcore metal is a nebulous halfway haven for heavier-than-usual punks or long-haired rock-and-rollers. But there's no ambiguity about Moiré, a 6-year-old sextet that packs more metal than a scrap yard but also adds some industrial edge, thanks to programmer Paul Kelley, who joined the crew in 2002. At its shows, Moiré operates with assembly-line efficiency, sending spectators on a top-speed ride off the edge of a cliff. (www.moiremu sic.com)
Salt the Earth
Think you're hardcore? Try screaming your way through a set after being stabbed in the face. That's what happened to STE singer and guitarist Marty Bush when he took a knife to the chin after trying to break up an altercation at a Lawrence house party. A few stitches later, Bush was back to bringing the rock. And Salt the Earth -- stabbings, lineup changes and the release of The Process of Breaking notwithstanding -- emerged unscathed. (www.salttheearth.com)
D.C. Bellamy began life in blues-rich Chicago, but he has made his name known here in Kansas City. When the gregarious Bellamy isn't roaming the stage at Club Paradox or the Grand Emporium with his band, America's Most Wanted, or reviving old tunes with Windy City compatriots Bobby Rush and Abb Locke, he's raising the stakes for aspiring musicians in this town by keeping the KC blues flag waving at festivals nationwide.
The Blues Notions are nothing if not sturdy. If you've been at a blues event in the past year, chances are somebody from the Blues Notions was on the bill, no matter how big (or small) the occasion. A local fixture for 18 years, the band has featured a multitude of scene veterans. The current lineup represented Kansas City at the International Blues Challenge this year -- the third time the Blues Notions walked away with that honor, but the group's first nod since 1991. (www.bluesnotions.com)
Brody Buster Band
It's time to give Brody Buster his full-fledged adult props. Sure, middle-aged women in the front row often pull the youngster onto their laps and tell him he's cute, but now they mean something way, way different. Branching out as a singer and guitarist and continuing to blow a prodigious harp, it's clear that Buster -- and a band that features guitarist Robbie Brogen and veterans of blues festivals nationwide -- is ready to get up on the main stage. (www.brodybustermusic.com)
and the Late for Dinner Band
From his early days as a busker to his current whirlwind as an every-night bluesman, Billy Ebeling has devoted himself to getting people dancing in every part of the metro. The man and his band are equally comfortable with deep blues, Zydeco, country, bluegrass and even the odd Dylan cover. The group's newest album, A Thing For You, proves Ebeling is the rare singer-songwriter who has constantly managed to find new ways to hone his craft.
Millage Gilbert's commanding presence drew fans in fedoras to the Grand Emporium every Saturday afternoon for more than 5 years for the Royal Blue Matinee. Gilbert's sound hints at Delta blues of the supersmooth variety. Though known for both his singing and guitar virtuosity, one of Gilbert's greatest strengths lies in his ability to create that midsong moment of charged silence that makes an audience beg for more.
Best Punk Band
Ad Astra Per Aspera
Ad Astra Per Aspera isn't punk in the Sid Vicious sense. Band members don't sport mohawks, snarl anarchic vitriol or smash bottles on their heads. But when it comes to conventional musical structure, Ad Astra is as fuck-the-system as it gets. A song seemingly destined for shoegazing atmospherics can quickly descend into gloriously cacophonous (and calculated) tumult. With an actual record (the Cubic Zirconia EP) finally under its belt, the band has firmly established its rare ability to make chaos out of order.
Hymns of Saturn
After weathering Menudoesque member turnover in its early years (the inevitable result of being a teenage band with transitional, college-bound talent), Hymns of Saturn finally settled on a solid lineup this year. Not coincidentally, the group's sprinting melodicore coalesced, and it graduated from playing house shows to scoring El Torreon and Spitfire gigs, where it often shared and survived bills with more metallic acts. The Hymns hope to release their first recorded effort later this year.
Pixel Panda embraces the punk aesthetic of peppering abrasive sonic attacks with sly humor. But don't take our word for it. Take theirs (from a press release celebrating the band's latest album): "The Nation of Symmetry is 14 tracks played hard, fast and infused with the politics of empire, Latin pop and the pixilated haze of this modern world ... Pixel Panda assails the audience like Tom Waits on fire, screaming, singing and swaggering in sweat-soaked Anna Sui and Prada." (www.thepixelpanda.com)
Need saving? Primetime Heroes can swoop down for the rescue in a blaze of pop-punk glory. The foursome formed in 2002 and released its second album, A Date With Destiny, earlier this year. The formula sounds familiar (strong but palatable guitars, sensitive vocals, and the hooks, Batman, the hooks!), but that is what good pop-punk is all about: primal energy mixed with enough emotion to connect with the masses. (www.theprime timeheroes.com)
The Ssion started as a basement group in Kentucky before evolving into a Kansas City Art Institute band that blends punk with performance art. The group has ties to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- for whom it opened a recent Granada gig -- and was named one of Alternative Press magazine's top 100 "bands to know" in 2004. The punk never gets too jarring, and the performances (zany costumes, zanier animation, cardboard instruments, etc.) never get too tame. (www.ssion.com)
The Brad Cox Ensemble
In the same way that sharks must keep swimming to keep breathing, it seems Brad Cox must fuse genres across various musical projects in order to stay afloat. His arrangements incorporate everything from chamber music and jazz to liturgical chant and blues. As accomplished as he is varied, Cox has collaborated with his Ensemble (featuring fellow PMA nominees Krystle Warren and Valery Price), Tango Lorca, the Kansas City Ballet and Jazzdischarge -- the wry, heavy-metal performance group Cox cofounded. (www.bradcoxmusic.com)
Do the math and you'll probably find that the Elders, the regional kings of Celtic rock, have been responsible for more pints hoisted per capita than any other local group since its formation in 1997. Fronted by the fiery Ian Byrne -- a native Irishman who perfectly embodies the raucous spirit of the band and its music -- and bolstered by the release of American Wake last fall, the Elders are always ready to get the hoolie started. (www.eldersmusic.com)
Since vocalist and guitarist Adrian Bartholomew relocated from Trinidad to Kansas City a few years back, RIVA has been blending the sweet, driving sounds of calypso with the blistering moods of guitar heroes such as Santana, Mark Knopfler and Stevie Ray Vaughn --which qualifies the group as the region's only Caribbean rock band. But in a town that has never been short of musical gumbos, RIVA has provided a brand-new recipe. (www.riva band.com)
It was only a matter of time before Kansas City's burgeoning jam-band scene -- batteries fully charged following Wakarusa this June -- would begin to offer up its best delegates to the PMAs. The eclectic Tabla Rasa has built its sound on a diverse lineup of guitars, mandolin, congas and timbales, rolling up rock and world beat into a heady combination that can only be described as the epitome of jam. (www.tablarasa.com)
Kansas City is stocked with band-battle veterans, but few competitive concerts boast prizes as exotic as a trip to Seville, Spain. Tango Lorca won that honor with an impressive showing at the International Tango Music competition this past May in New York. The tango quintet travels to Seville in March 2005, though it should be quite familiar with that city's architectural aesthetics, having gigged at the Plaza regularly over the past few years. (www.tan golorca.com)
Members of the Uprights have remained remarkably steadfast in their dedication to providing ska lovers with at least one local band willing to carry on the rock-steady beat. After the stunning death of singer Richie Restivo earlier this year, the Uprights carried on and scheduled the release of its first album, You've Got a Lot to Learn, even as the group worked to find a new identity without Restivo at the helm. (www.theuprights.net)
Approach went global this year with the re-release of his superfunky Ultraproteus EP, after it was snagged for distribution by underground heavyweight Coup d'Etat. The amiable MC stayed busy by touring Europe with Souls of Mischief, when he wasn't joining Sounds Good beat maker Miles Bonny to record as Al Japro, a collaboration that included a guest appearance from suburban superstar Murs. (www.daturarecords.com)
Since Public Enemy's reign ended, most hip-hop groups have tabled social agendas in favor of accessibility. Not Deep Thinkers, a duo that brings social consciousness to the fore without stepping onto a soapbox. Brother of Moses delivers politically driven lyrics that churn like a tornado over Leonard D. Stroy's experimental beats. The combination made Necks Move, the duo's second album, which will be picked up for national re-release later this year. (www.datu rarecords.com)
Underground hip-hop collective the Guild -- Amen, Vertigone and Clever Rev -- has made its name with lightning-fast lyrics and complex beats. Last year's ReCollection put inner demons and political philosophy on display and blended distinct styles into a collage that showed the whole of the Guild is often greater than the sum of its parts. Amen is leaving Kansas City for Brooklyn, but Vert and Clever plan to soldier on. (www.itstheguild.com)
Mac Lethal earned a shout-out this year in a Spin magazine article on emo rappers, the next generation of MCs unafraid to express vulnerability and sensitivity. The 2002 Scribble Jam battle champ was quick to downplay the label, but there's little doubt that his prowess offers pure catharsis. Lethal also took to the streets with Sage Francis on the Fuck Clear Channel Tour, proving that Lethal's pointed social commentary and raps about swilling bodily juices can play on a national stage. (www.lethalville.com)
Conceived in the dorms of the University of Kansas, Sounds Good combines Miles Bonny's jazzed up beats with Joe Good's old-school lyrical approach in a way that is as innovative as it is true to its influences. When Bonny and Good aren't refining their precise production and party-style performances, they work on various side projects, keeping Lawrencehiphop.com afloat and tinkering to make sure their in-the-works second album sounds much more than merely good. (www.yourfa voritegroup.com)
The Band That Saved The World
The Band That Saved the World is a group as ambitious as its name. A funky big band; a jazzy R&B festival all its own; and a horn-driven, world-rock group -- often within a single song -- the Band is the local answer to Fishbone, Parliament, Tower of Power and every other group determined to make butt-shaking jams into something of their very own. (
Most rappers need ringers to maintain a balance between their songs' gritty verses and smooth choruses. Enter LeVar "Boy Big" Fletcher, whose soulful pipes have graced local and national releases aplenty. Boy Big was a featured guest on Gangstarr's "Nice Girl, Wrong Place" and has collaborated with Wu Tang Clan alums Raekwon the Chef and Ghostface Killah, both of whom returned the favor on Boy Big's latest album, The Playa, the Hustla and the Gentleman. (www.baby huie.com)
Ida McBeth is more apt to describe herself as a vocal stylist than a jazz singer, but her appearance in this hybrid category still captures only about half of what the dedicated performer and local sweetheart gives to her audiences every night. Overflowing with grace and style (two words that still somehow fall short in describing her effusive personality), McBeth remains one of Kansas City's most gracious musical spokeswomen. (www.idamcbeth.com)
There aren't many venues in Kansas City that host R&B, but OnJaLee, a rich-voiced neo-soul solo artist, grabs every available opportunity. She provides a sweet bridge between spoken-word spitters at Trago's open-mike nights, belts out the national anthem before boxing matches and asks for a chance to croon at every club with a microphone. She has more than twenty tunes in her songbook, but OnJaLee has released only a three-song promotional demo to date. A more comprehensive representation is still in the works. (www.onjalee.com)
Valery Price has some serious Pitch Music Awards connections. The sultry singer has heated up the Inferno with vocal stylings ranging from Motown and funk to swing and rock. Brad Cox has contributed to the Inferno, and Price, in turn, offers her soulful pipes to the PMA-nominated Brad Cox Ensemble. She also shares vocal duties in the Ensemble with Krystle Warren (nominated for two PMAs), and the pair of songbirds have joined forces themselves to turn heads at solo gigs.
3 A.M. has made waves with Past Your Bedtime, a full-length debut that mixes hot-stepping dance numbers and bedroom ballads. And though the Lawrence trio has yet to become a staple of area clubs, it's a regular on the college circuit, playing everything from frat parties to underground hip-hop shows. Being an anomaly -- the group focuses on its singing rather than on typical R&B hip-hoppery -- may pay off for the sporty unit by allowing it to stand out from the rest of the rap pack. (www.mrbilistic.com/lnl)
A little more than a year old, Descarga KC has deep jazz roots, thanks to founders Timothy MacBain and Pablo Sanhueza, and a range of players that includes local jazzman Bryan Hicks on bass. Descarga KC's repertoire features the kind of descargas (Latin music slang for jams), cha-chas, mambos, boleros and other Latin variations that many bands rarely even touch, let alone embrace. (www.descargakc.com)
The members of Grupo Candela are no strangers to the Kansas City salsa scene. Formed by percussionist and vocalist Miguel "Mambo" DeLeon and drawing from some of the area's top Latin music instrumentalists, the band mirrors the frenetic energy of its frontman. And although Grupo Candela can't help fans beat the heat during the caliente Kansas City summer nights, it always makes working up a sweat a lot more fun.
Kansas City native Ulises Torres (a veteran of Grupo Aztlan) kicked off Grupo Muralla a few years ago as a band heavily influenced by Torres' ancestry. (His grandfather played violin in a mariachi band in Mexico.) Muralla has found its niche by featuring saxophone riffs, sizzling percussion and even the occasional cello part as it blends merengue, cumbia rock and -- of course -- salsa to distinguish itself in Kansas City's thriving Latin scene. (www.kcsalsa.com/Grupo-Muralla.html)
Son Venezuela continues to be one of Kansas City's foremost authorities on summertime stress relief. From the group's home-turf haunt at the Westport Beach Club, this nine-man tropical hurricane ravages midtown on a regular basis with a flurry of calypso, merengue, salsa and cumbia rhythms. The music is always hot, but the crowds are typically hotter, making Son Venezuela's shows one of the area's best bets for bon-bon shaking. (www.sonvenezuela.com)
Whether preparing for an upcoming Celia Cruz tribute or simply polishing its regular set list, Yoruba Son is the premier group in town for lovers of Cuban music. With vocalist Christine Castillo's gorgeous voice and hefty doses of the island's traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms, Yoruba Son is one of the most danceable groups in a town filled with a wide range of sizzling Latin music.
Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys
Reigning champions Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys are still the area's primary honky-tonk heroes. This year has seen various Misery Boys branching out (into Mike Ireland's Holler, for instance), but Hobart is still writing new stuff, and the group continues to mature. If you want to see these guys play, get to the show early. (www.bloodshotrecords.com)
Buddy Lush Phenomenon
In the not-too-distant future, when rockabilly makes one of its periodic surges toward mainstream popularity, an ambitious indie label is going to release a Buddy Lush Phenomenon tribute album. Periodically re-emerging to dazzle crowds at intimate venues, guitarist J. Paul and company are among the few Sun Records types to call this place home. They play just infrequently enough to remain mysterious, but just often enough to remind their fans that they're around.
Bluegrass to the core, the Midday Ramblers' natural home is a Lawrence porch or, barring that, in the sunshine beaming through the Love Garden windows of mandolin player Kory Willis. The Ramblers are favorites for the title of "Best Music in the Style of Bill Monroe." They specialize in standards such as Mother Maybelle's "It's a Long, Long Road," which inform the group's original compositions. Either way, the Ramblers keep things pure, fast and fun. (www.middayra mblers.com)
Pendergast vocalist Tony Ladesich barks as well as anybody in town about lousy jobs, tough gigs in punk bands and plowing through whiskey, but it's a pro-labor singalong like "Union Man" that really puts Pendergast over the top. With a new lineup and the group's first full-length album, The Truth About Saturday Night, finally ready to hit the racks, the latest incarnation of Pendergast is ready to pave this city all over again. (www.pender gastkc.com)
Split Lip Rayfield
You can call the sound of Split Lip Rayfield a lot of things -- slamgrass, bastard bluegrass, psychobilly -- but nothing can really describe the manic energy of this foursome of musical outlaws. This isn't the sound that came moseying down the mountain a few years back. Instead, it's the sort of stuff that's been living in that abandoned shotgun shack down by the river next to the old still. And when these guys bring the hooch, you best take a big gulp.
The Wilders are a hootenanny as potent as any fueled by backwoods brew or rotgut whiskey. The group has proven as much on the old-time country circuit and in a recent appearance at the Kennedy Center. The group members are sticklers for detail, from their sharp outfits to their single-microphone choreography, but that hasn't prevented some wet blankets from wondering if ol' Hank really done it this way. But the Wilders and their audiences are generally having too good a time to care. (www.wilderscountry.com)
If you're Iris Dement, you don't have to have one of your songs covered by both Merle Haggard and country newcomer Joe Nichols to know you've arrived as a songwriter. Instead, this former coffeehouse darling earned her stripes one stunning song at a time. Kansas City is Dement's chosen home base, but she tours so extensively that it makes more sense to call her a nomad than a native. (www.iris dement.com)
On 2003's Prelude to Apocalypse, Jerry Dowell weighed in on military matters with "War Goin' On" and "Loaded Gun." But the prolific singer-songwriter has compelling reflections on current events at the ready through other avenues as well. The author, artist and musician recently assembled a ninety-page collection called The Art of Living and Dying and released the DVD Starlight Cowboy, which teams photography with its titular tune, a stark narrative from Dowell's 2002 record, The Ascending Masquerade. (www.jerrydowell band.com)
Whereas the Appleseed Cast has earned acclaim with its ornate artistic experimentation, AC singer-strummer Chris Crisci chose a relatively straightforward approach for Early Morning Hymns, the recent release of his side project, Old Canes. But this isn't just an earnest acoustic exercise in minimalism. Crisci handles everything from percussion to banjo to toy piano, Minus Story's Jordan Geiger plays horns, and Casket Lottery's Nathan Richardson adds driving drum work. (www.oldcanes.com)
Kansas Citians can lay claim to longtime Larryville singer-songwriter Julia Peterson. That's because she has resisted hopping that Greyhound to any of the big cities by the sea, instead choosing to remain locally active in this area's musical and philanthropic circles. And that whole "solo folkie" tag? Think again. Peterson has been spotted around town with a band lately.
Talk to Krystle Warren and she'd probably ask you not to use that f-word -- folkie. Instead, she'd prefer to just write her songs and let everyone else toss around labels until they're blue in the face. Now working through the biggest leap of faith of her young career -- she has spent much of the past year in New York living, gigging and trying to record -- it's only a matter of time before this songbird flies her Kansas City coop for good. (www.krystlewarren.com)
Forrest Whitlow is folk in the way that acoustic Neil Young is folk. The man's vocal charm is natural, but his vocal chords struggle to keep up with his expansive musical vision and lyrical complexity. Whitlow, a Kentucky native who's adopted Kansas City as his home, scours the musical scorched earth somewhere between Richard Buckner and Fred Eaglesmith. It ain't a happy place, but it's real. (www.forrestwhitlow.com)