Two Saturdays ago, I saw the most promising local band that I've discovered so far this year. At a sports bar. In a strip mall. In Lenexa. Seriously.
Pet Comfort is a new five-piece indie-rock act that's better-suited to midtown stages. I missed a New Year's Eve set at Riot Room, but people who caught it raved about the band in the earliest moments of '09.
Upon hearing its debut EP, Paperdolls, I instantly understood what the fuss was about. Singer Drew Van Dyke's soft, high voice and songwriting strongly evoke Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard, particularly on the title track. And yet a definite post-hardcore influence comes through in the chugging guitar parts. The result is a pleasant blend of sensitivity and punch that rarely gets too angsty.
My favorite track is "The Sound of Your Voice," a sunny, wistful ode to a friend or sibling who has grown up and gone away: Pictures from our younger years/Captured smiles and hidden tears/In a shoebox in the closet/Makes it easier not to notice/All these dreams I've left behind, Van Dyke sings.
I certainly wasn't the only midtown rock-show regular that night at Danny's Bar and Grill. I picked out a handful of familiar faces in an otherwise decidedly suburban crowd. During Pet Comfort's half-hour set, the midtowners were rapt, bobbing their longhaired heads. Not that the show was entirely lost on the rest of the half-seated audience members, who ranged from college kids to middle-aged folks. A lot of the yammering stopped once the loud guitars kicked in. And I don't think it was just because people couldn't hear themselves talk anymore.
In short, it was worth the trek, especially considering that Pet Comfort doesn't have any shows booked beyond a January 31 gig at Crosstown Station. Playing out isn't a priority for this band.
"I don't think people see the way the industry is going," drummer Jason Trabue tells me.
Trabue, who doubles as the band's manager, has a vision for his unsigned group that turns the traditional band business model on its head.
His plan: Don't tour or invest in lots of merch. Instead, stay home to write songs and shop for a good publishing deal and a good, supportive label. And, in the meantime, harness the power of the Internet to spread the love. "It's almost easier to be a successful musician sitting on your ass than it is to go out and tour for, like, six months a year," Trabue contends.
It also helps if you're well-connected.
A career musician at 27, the Kansas City native had a Los Angeles address until recently but spent most of the past four years on the road in various capacities. He drummed for the country-pop songwriter Shevy Smith and the Charlotte, North Carolina-based post-hardcore band Hopesfall. Most recently, he did production and drum tech work for Chiodos, a high-profile Michigan band that's popular with the Hot Topic set.
Trabue will actually be out again on January 31 — Pet Comfort is getting a fill-in drummer so that he can do a monthlong college tour with local hip-hop/rock fusion act Scratch Track.
In spite of that and a few other projects on the horizon, Trabue swears that Pet Comfort is his number one priority. "I'm really gonna try and settle in KC for a bit," he says.
He has found a chemistry with his bandmates that plays to his strengths and business savvy. "I like writing music," he says, "but I also like writing music with people who can bring in a song that's, like, 90 percent done."
Van Dyke, a reserved and prolific songwriter — whom Trabue describes as a "borderline musical genius" — can do that. When Van Dyke first approached Trabue about the band, he presented demos that were virtually complete. He just needed Trabue to lay down drums.
The pair first met about a decade ago through Pet Comfort guitarist Luke Baker. Trabue says, "We used to play together in all kinds of these really horrible bands that played Christian coffeehouses all the time. That was before we figured out what alcohol was."
Van Dyke and Baker also played together in the hard-rock band Cruxed. Baker's sister, Anna Kemp, plays keyboard for Pet Comfort. Mike Graham plays bass.
The buzz is already starting. Trabue's reputation alone got mentions for the band on Web sites like the metal-forum lambgoat.com. He also says the cable channel Fuel TV has shown interest in licensing some Pet Comfort songs.
The band's music pleases without coming off as pandering. It's accessible enough for a suburban sports-bar crowd yet complex enough to intrigue people who live and breathe rock and roll.
Comforting both camps — now that's an accomplishment.