The sound of guitars, bass, drums and keyboards would be enough for most bands to get their point across. New KC outfit the Klangs does a little more to help the audience visualize the scenes in its songs about robots and alien wars. For the second show of its CD-release weekend, the band has set Crosstown Station's main stage with neon-green boom boxes, lamps with see-through mannequin-head shades, and an artist's easel.
At precisely 8:19, a synthesized voice croaks out a mouthful: "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Khorky Custer Khrusty Presents the Klangs."
That heavily alliterated title is the name of the Klangs' new album, which the band will perform straight through. The Khrusty reference is a nod to the Khrusty Brothers, who are playing second tonight and with whom the Klangs share two members — singer and guitarist Greg LaFollette and drummer Billy Brimblecom Jr.
As the Klang experience begins, the bulbs inside the mannequin heads flicker to Brimblecom's beat, the rest of the band sings na na na na and, over in the stage left corner, artist Robert Henry Thompson starts swabbing paint to discordant guitars and a refrain of Everyone must die. Drippy blue and pink soon covers his blank canvas. It's the first of four abstract paintings that he'll create over the next three hours.
The influence of the music is sometimes direct — when the Khrusty Brothers go on, bandit masks hiding their eyes, Thompson paints the same on the face of a bunnylike creature.
The only other time I've seen live painting paired with music was at a Sound Tribe Sector 9 concert, where dready heads dominated the dance floor and, for some, the light show intensified the trip. The 100 or so folks at Crosstown Station are slightly older, slightly bohemian, yet rather clean-cut — probably not the type to show up on hallucinogens. As if to compensate, the Klangs provide 3-D glasses.
A couple of songs into the set, a young man in a silver suit indicates that it's time to put them on. Then he walks through rainbows in my direction and shakes my hand. He's "Robert," a character in this confusing sci-fi rock opera that sounds like so many campfire songs. He reappears throughout the show, dancing erratically. According to the story told in the songs, Robert is a Vietnam vet from the Bible Belt who gets called away from his wife and son to fight a new war in Denmark against a race of "red and green, big and mean" creatures called the Klangs.
There's one of those here tonight, too. Resembling a Power Ranger in a skin-tight red body suit and a big-eyed alien head, the Klang slinks out of the women's restroom hallway to engage in mimed battle with Robert.
The fight gets heated during the surprisingly poppy "The Battle of Josephine." The Klang comes out swinging its own papier-mâché Mini Me, which Robert promptly beats with his gun. When the piñata bleeds multicolored glow sticks, the war is over, and the Klang crawls backstage.
But the lyrics of the final song, the sweetly harmonic "My Father's Name Was Robert (Robot)," reveal a twist: The silver-suited protagonist was really a robot all along! Robert helped to eradicate the human race before the Klangs invaded Earth.
That detail is supposed to leave the audience feeling a little unsettled for having sympathized with Robert — and I'm pretty sure there's an Iraq War metaphor in there somewhere. Frankly, though, I'm not sure that anyone who hadn't already listened to the album had figured out the whole plot. (Come Monday and my deadline, I am also grateful to the band for providing a concise summary in the press release.)
Considering the Klangs' emphasis on spectacle, the soundtrack to the epic tale is pretty tame, especially compared with the Khrusty Brothers, who blend classic rock, blues, beatboxing and a hint of spirituality into a gritty smoothie of postmodern rock.
With their grim reaper and thrift-store preacher costumes, the Khrusty Brothers are also no less — and maybe even more — visually dynamic than the Klangs.
Musically, the Klangs' rootsy, guitar-based rock reminds me a lot of the Get Up Kids, minus the hooks. The young band has potential, though. Things get a little ambient at times. It's just that with my 3-D glasses on, I find myself craving something more experimental and spacey.
The songs are about extraterrestrials, after all.
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