Shari Elf already had a taste of the big time, generating a substantial following in Los Angeles with junk-art gems that turned car-window glass into shimmering sequined dresses. One fan turned out to have music-industry connections, and after a few wheels spun, Elf, who had never released an album or even played a paid gig, earned a shot with Interscope. The demo stalled when label turnover produced a president who "didn't get it," but Elf took away $2,000 and two professionally recorded songs, the foundation for a record that's been fifteen years in the making.
I'm Forcing Goodness Upon You glimmers with rainbows, silk flowers and pink Styrofoam hearts, all of which Elf describes conversationally over twinkling backdrops. It's either a love letter to humanity from an optimist who makes Pollyanna seem jaded, or a sharp satire of such folksy idealists from an artist who knows better. Her live shows, which use sewing machines for percussion, tend to harden the opinions of observers on both sides of that debate.
Elf hasn't completed any songs since the release of Goodness. She has no plans to tour, though she plays here regularly; her next gig is at Davey's Uptown on Saturday, October 26. Although her former peers in the City of Angels might see life in Kansas City as an unwelcome exile, Elf enjoys the slower pace. "In L.A., everybody wants to be a rock star," she says. "Here, it's comfortable."
Minds Under Cover, meanwhile, created extreme discomfort for the first seven discs of its twelve-albums-and-counting career. In industrial-strength techno-rap tunes, the group discussed sex both foul and fowl, developing a focus that was more penile-obsessed than mass junk e-mailings. Not surprisingly, such tunes got the group banned from several venues.
"We decided we're not a family restaurant type of band," singer and guitarist John Bersuch says, recalling an epiphany he reached after being booted from the Tribal Grill.
With lyrics such as Rough sex with the creature/Duct tape on your feature, Minds Under Cover still won't be welcome on the Applebee's circuit. However, Bersuch has toned down his content. MUC's musical makeover has been even more massive. Its latest disc, Posturepedic, is its most accessible, with tuneful vocals, springy bass lines, falsetto funk and chilly new-wave keyboards. Live, the sextet throws in everything but the kitchen sink, including blenders and egg beaters, all of which provide percussive assists. This instrumental arsenal will be on display at Recycled Sounds at 6 p.m. on Friday, October 25.
As the drummer for the late, lamented performance-art juggernaut Big Jeter and the alt-country quartet Trouble Junction, Bersuch can testify to Kansas City's market for off-kilter outfits. "At first, we couldn't get anyone to listen," he recalls. "Now, people are starting to seek out anything different."
Mark Reynolds has for more than twenty years provided one-stop shopping for anyone straying from rock's beaten path, serving in dozens of outlandish outfits such as Chicks With Dicks and Formaldehyde 5. His solo career has been no less fascinating. After baffling listeners with minimalist electronic albums, Reynolds moved to acoustic instrumentals, then produced last year's slightly damaged folk album Baby Doll. He managed to upset audiences even with this accessible fare, playing with a backing "band" that soundlessly pantomimed while he sang along with his disc. "People looked at it as a fraud," he recalls.
Supporting his new EP, Heartworm, Reynolds will play with a real group called Blow alongside former F5 members Kyle Hudson and Git Hagan. The trio, which performs at Westport Flea Market on Monday, October 28, dusts off Reynolds' hook-impaled anthems, but his sample-heavy freakouts remain on record only.
Making uncompromising music might not be a viable career choice, at least not in Kansas City, but Reynolds doesn't mind. "I don't want it to be a job," he says. "I play music because I really like it."