Kansas City's young punks found their only concert hall too oppressive. Now they have to do it themselves.

Rebel Yell 

Kansas City's young punks found their only concert hall too oppressive. Now they have to do it themselves.

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Toth was among the sixty or so in attendance. Soon, Toth joined Saunders in booking shows at El Torreon. On June 28, 2000, Toth pieced together a Faint, Rapture and Bright Eyes bill that would likely pack a much larger venue today. With sounds ranging from new wave to spastic metal to sensitive songwriter material, it was the type of multigenre show that few other promoters would have tried at the time.

The next night, Galloway's band Syndicate played on a roster that also included Short Bus Kids, a fun-loving outfit that brought its own jumping box, on which fans could practice aerial maneuvers. At any club with bouncers, such a stunt would be impossible -- the box would likely be confiscated. But at El Torreon, when it came to creative choreography, anything went. The venue's rules were modified only slightly from the Outhouse's: Pay at the door and no alcohol inside. Here, however, there was no wiggle room: No drinking in the parking lot and no stepping out between sets.

These shows fared well, but many of Toth's other productions couldn't recoup their costs. Toth concentrated solely on booking groups he wanted to see -- often politically minded punk groups on minuscule labels without the slightest trace of mainstream buzz. To pay its bills, El Torreon required a $7 cover charge, but people balked at taking a chance on unheard-of acts.

Unlike Toth, Saunders would take a chance on almost any artist, regardless of personal preference. He booked the Insane Clown Posse offshoot Twiztid and was shocked to see its face-painted fans lining up outside at 10 a.m. on a bone-chilling day. He opened his doors to boastful local rappers who struggled to draw a dozen fans; to singer-songwriters who bitched about the distant yet distinct sounds of punk acts practicing elsewhere in the building; to emo acts that bored him; and to Anal Cunt, which appalled him.

Yet he wasn't the typical obsequious promoter, a smooth talker who would tell an awful group that it's great if it might create an opportunity down the line. A physically imposing figure with a gentle voice and a quick sense of humor, Saunders might be a big teddy bear, but he's a brutally honest one. When bands he disliked offered him T-shirts or CDs, he'd tell them, "It's not my thing. Keep them, sell them on the road and make money." He didn't hesitate to snap at kids who snuck in beer or started fights, putting the venue he'd worked so hard for in danger of being shut down.

Most of the rule breakers didn't appreciate his candor. Spurned spectators started spreading rumors about Saunders' leadership.

"I have no hair because I'm bald, but people will say, 'Don't play there -- it's run by skinheads,'" Saunders explains. "Or they'll say I banned them, when it's 'No, I didn't ban you. I asked you to pay to get in.' People complain that there's too much structure, but then they'll complain about some show where people are being assholes. Well, that's what I'm good for. I'm a big, old punk rocker who won't put up with that crap."

But purists also began arguing that El Torreon was too big to be a real punk venue -- it had a stage. (The complaint was ideological: a stage places musicians on a rock-star pedestal, but punk is about interacting on equal footing with fans.) And its staff told kids what to do and cracked down on drinking in the parking lot.

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