The event is different in name only from the Pitch-sponsored Klammies of the past five years. Why change now? Well, first of all, we just like the straightforward name better. It's classier, it's more self-explanatory and, as Bad Brains fans, self-help gurus and high-school athletes everywhere know, its acronym, PMA, also stands for "positive mental attitude." Second, we're admittedly caving in to pressure from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which is cracking down on any and all Grammys soundalikes (look out, Press Your Luck reruns!) with the same sort of ferocity NARAS president Michael Greene displays when he pillories Napster. And third, if Jam's Mike Metheny asks, the change reflects increased sensitivity to jazz musicians, since a "clam," in jazz jargon, is a sour note -- something that obviously shouldn't be rewarded.
In a few other significant changes this year, we've separated pop from rock, keeping melodically minded acts apart from heavier-hitting hellraisers. And we finalized the divorce between punk and ska, which have long been estranged; the change leaves ska's local delegates to shack up with the world-music crowd. This year's new category, Best Live Act, celebrates artists who make each concert a unique experience, thus rendering superfluous the already weak argument for skipping area gigs by esteemed local acts. ("Ahh, they'll be back next week.")
The pages that follow include profiles of all of 2002's Pitch Music Awards nominees, who were picked by a select panel of club owners, promoters, record-store staffers, music writers and radio personalities. But Kansas City music fans get the final say, whether they vote online at pitch.com, send in ballots from Pitch issues or vote at the five showcase venues on April 4, the final polling day. We'll announce the winners during an April 12 ceremony at the Uptown Theater.
Among the candidates are some familiar faces, but none of these artists coasted onto the ballot by reputation and past accomplishments alone. Perennial rap-category winner Tech N9ne justified the voters' love with AngHellic, a concept-driven dynamo that might be KC's best-ever hip-hop release. The Get Up Kids and the Anniversary toured with indie-rock royalty and treated fans to new discs. Kristie Stremel and Season to Risk contended last year on the strength of their unreleased gems; in 2001, they finally, and effectively, translated their sets into coherent records.
This year's comeback crew includes Ultimate Fakebook, currently spitting pure rock fury at the major label that did it wrong; Creature Comforts, who grabbed numerous awards three years ago before shrinking from view, then triumphantly returned with high-profile engagements with the Strokes and Tech N9ne (at Spirit Fest); and Coalesce, a cloud of noise that rained productive side-projects (members play in the Get Up Kids and Casket Lottery) during the three-year calm before its latest storm.
First-time nominees range from 85-year-old Myra Taylor to 19-year-old Danielle, from stage-destroyers Last of the V8s to majestic scene-setters Namelessnumberheadman.
Voters get to check out a diverse cross-section of the talent themselves at the Pitch Music Showcase (don't play the acronym game with this one), now in its second year. On April 4, no fewer than 25 bands will play sample sets within easy walking distance of each other at five Westport clubs.
The showcase offers a small-scale springtime replacement for Kansas City's now-defunct Blues and Jazz Festival, with the legendary Taylor and saxophone standout Bobby Watson -- among other luminaries in both genres -- making rare Midtown appearances. And the Showcase always manages to resurrect one or two left-for-dead bands; this year, the members of Big Jeter and Go Generation set aside their crippling artistic differences for at least one hour to give their groups festive funerals. Almost half of the groups performing on Showcase night are newcomers to the ballot, meaning that many of these musicians will be counting on first impressions to sway curious concertgoers. And no direct competitors share time slots, meaning that, say, a novice jazz fan could become intimately familiar with three of the genre's local masters in one night.
The Showcase provides a last stand for candidates from each of the fifteen categories, but it also stands alone as a premier entertainment event, serving up 25 outstanding acts in one dizzying five-hour fling. April 4 brings the end of Music Awards voting, but for many showcase-goers, it marks the start of a new appreciation for area artists -- an unqualified victory that's as important as the kind that results from tallies and tabulations. --Andrew Miller
The table was set for the Anniversary to follow the lead of so many promising local bands that recorded a great album (1999's Designing a Nervous Breakdown) and promptly faded into obscurity. But while the group did lay low for a while, preferring to tour incessantly before writing new material, obscurity was never in the cards. In fact, with its cohesive 2002 release, Your Majesty, the Anniversary one-ups Nervous Breakdown. Rolling Stone calls it "goofy" but says it works; we call it hard-working power-pop goodness.
If this award recognized the band that epitomized the Midwest's sound, Creature Comforts would win by a landslide. But that's not its function, so the quartet will have to bank on the hummable merits of its prairie pop. Still, you've gotta like the group's chances -- it won three Klammies for its debut disc, The Politics of Pop. On record number two, Teaching Little Fingers to Play, the Creature Comforts maintain the melody count while slowing down occasionally so frontman Christopher Tolle can show off his ever-maturing songwriting chops.
The Get Up Kids
It was a very good year for the Get Up Kids, who opened two of 2001's most prominent tours -- Weezer's and Green Day's -- and capped the year with a series of sold-out shows in December. The winter romp toasted Eudora, a nifty compilation of B-sides, smirky covers and assorted rarities issued in November to tide over the faithful. But the effort was no throwaway: Songs such as "Up on the Roof" and "Central Standard Time" packed a bubblegum wallop, underscoring the group's keen ability to deliver hooks by the dozen without resorting to formulaic, paint-by-numbers songwriting. The band's upcoming Scott-Litt-produced effort (previewed at an unbilled gig with Kill Creek last May) might be the Kids' most solid to date, filled with crackling forget-me-nots that bristle with rock's electric energy while adhering to pop's most basic precept: It's the song, stupid.
Moaning Lisa's most-recent full-length came out in 2000, but its title, Wonderful, better describes the band's 2001. The disc's cover, depicting frontman David George's significant other strolling naked across a bridge, was the indie-label champ among Playboy magazine's sexiest-album-cover contenders, trailing only the mass-distributed likes of Sugar Ray and the Urge. George displayed his range with a series of solo acoustic sets, while the full group had the honor of putting out the fire at the Pyro Room, playing the short-lived venue's memorable final show. Wonderful makes easygoing listening, provided that listeners aren't counting money, operating heavy machinery or engaging in any task that requires a degree of focus rendered impossible by inescapable hooks. Live, however, Moaning Lisa delivers an all-out rock show, complete with poses, trick guitar playing and pumped-up volume.
10 p.m. at the Hurricane
Onward Crispin Glover
Onward Crispin Glover plants four of its eight feet in pop and the other four squarely in rock, straddling the line wearing an indie kid's knowing grin. Whatever the joke is, the band is in on it. After all, OCG's Web site is OCGSucks.com, and the chorus to "Marshall, Will and Holly" (a choice nugget from its hook-impaled debut, The Further and the Faster) name-checks the inept rubber villains of TV's Land of the Lost. Sure, it's easy to lament the loss of the bands from whose ashes this supergroup arose -- TV Fifty, Frogpond, Exit 159, Rocket Fuel Is the Key, Lushbox -- but halfway though an OCG set, mourning no longer seems necessary. And the group's jittery namesake is fine with the band's chosen moniker -- OCG paid actor Crispin Glover off with a T-shirt.
The past few years have been difficult ones, professionally, for everyone's favorite pop-rock trio from Manhattan, Kansas, by way of Lawrence. But after Ultimate Fakebook parted ways with Sony, the group went back to doing what earned it major-label attention in the first place: giving rabid fans the pure rock and roll they so desperately crave. The boys not only took their trademark high-energy show on the road but also headed to the studio to capture that lightning in a bottle and released it under the name Open up and Say Awesome. This album, the group's third and best to date, argues that if UFB deserved a Pitch music award at the Klammies' inaugural ceremony five years ago, it certainly deserves consideration for another one now.
The Appleseed Cast
No area band put in as much overtime last year as the Appleseed Cast, who issued three epics: an EP from guitarist Aaron Pillar's Hundred Hands side project and Low Level Owl: Volume I and Volume II, a pair of full-length Cast efforts that eschewed garage grunge in favor of studio exploration. Billed as "experimental" work, the twin Owls offered a continuous 26-song cycle of far-reaching rock. AC expanded its instrumental oeuvre as well, reaching for everything from moody organs to clip-clopping sleigh bells. Fortunately, the Lawrence quartet didn't forget to slip a ton of great tunes between the sonic lines. Tracks such as "On Reflection" and "Mile Marker" disguised irresistible melodies in the sheep's clothing of gizmos and gadgetry, grounding the stratospheric material with subtle pop structures.
The Casket Lottery
In basketball, it's called hang time: that moment when time and space collapse and the world moves with the slow-motion thickness of poured molasses. Then, as suddenly as it begins, it's all over, and the hyperspeed of normal life comes crashing back to reality. No local group has done as much with hang time as KC's the Casket Lottery, a band that takes its muscular rock and rams it through a warped pop kaleidoscope. Notes float in the air, as if the band were deciding on the spot what musical path to follow. Long considered the baby-brother band to area acts like the Get Up Kids and Ultimate Fakebook, the Lottery's latest effort, Survival Is for Cowards, finds it obliterating the learning curve and moving directly to the top of the local rock heap.
It isn't often that musicians can completely reinvent themselves and get away with it, unless your name is David Bowie or Ziggy Stardust or Tin ... you get the picture. Brandon Phillips and the Gadjits sound little like Bowie; in fact, until recently, the Gadjits' sound came closer to that of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones' Dicky Barrett. Now, though, the group does something completely different, and its unprecedented turnaround has given life to a whole new element of Kansas City music. Sure, other folks play rocking R&B and call it garage, but few do so with the fervor and the feeling that the Gadjits' members pour into their soulful songs.
The Last of the V8s
In a musical landscape increasingly filled with bands that clutter up the rock, the Last of the V8s serves up heaping dishes of it à la carte with the surly attitude of the world's grumpiest short-order cook. The members of this five-piece manage to sweat out nearly every drink they consume onstage, which is no easy feat. Ryan Mattes doesn't sing so much as yell with crazy conviction about key issues such as the devil and drugs, while ex-Cretin 66 guitarist Jay Zastoupil shreds away with furious abandon. In 2001, the band released its debut record, It's On!, the title of which is also an emphatic declaration. The Last of the V8s' songs are loud, dirty and unsuitable for public listening, and that's exactly why they rock so hard.
11 p.m. at the Beaumont
Kansas City has a strange habit of supporting musicians and athletes well past their prime: If you hail from the metro and once scored a hit song or smashed a hit single, there's still a nearby stage or stadium for you to call home. So when casual observers spot scene veterans Kill Creek on the ballot for Best Rock Band, they might assume it's another case of automatic support for a great, lovable lost cause. Well, Kill Creek is great, and its members are by all accounts lovable, but by no means is this group lost. In fact, it is one that knows exactly where it's going -- nowhere. And that's just fine. There are no illusions about making it big or signing with a major. Kill Creek plays for the love of the game. And it's Kansas City's gain: Founding members Scott Born, Patrick Grassy and Ron Hayes, along with new drummer Matt Gilhousen, still create heartfelt anthems.
For most rock bands, the timeline is fairly simple: Youthful energy results in a few years of genuinely glorious noise followed by a long, slow decline as former garage rockers morph into glasses-wearing artistes whose every utterance is fodder for some confused heal-the-world vision. Eventually, yesterday's snot-nosed punks churn out highfalutin crap that wouldn't fly as a Paul Simon outtake. KC's rock veterans Shiner sucker-punched local fans with its fourth effort, The Egg, an album that flipped the formula and boldly proclaimed that the band's best years were still ahead. Bold and visionary without being pretentious or obnoxious, The Egg scores with the purple, bruised majesty of such sweeping numbers as "The Truth About Cows" and "Andalusia." Shiner will not age gracefully. It doesn't need to.
Best Male Vocalist
While a lot of singers are content to find their voices and stick with them, Shiner frontman Allen Epley continues to search. Epley has a flexible singing style that flows naturally from bellow to whisper to whine to roar, often within a few stanzas. On The Egg, the 2001 disc that cemented the group's nomination in the Best Rock Band category, Epley centers Shiner's wooly-mammoth roar on his glass-gargling, nicotine-stained voice rather than throwing in the vocals as an afterthought. This process brings out previously unheard nuances, among them the bleak, morning-after beauty of "The Top of the World" and the roller-coaster phrasing of the album's near-brilliant Egyptian-flavored title track.
It's been 51 years since vocalist/pianist/composer Luqman Hamza recorded his first release, "When You Surrender," at age 19, but Hamza's voice still has all the lightness and yearning of an infatuated teen-ager. Born in Kansas City as Larry Cummings, Hamza's musical calling took him to St. Louis, Chicago and tour dates across North America. But he came home during the '70s, much to Kansas City's benefit. Since then, Hamza's expressive tenor has graced his favorite haunts (including the Blue Room and the Club at Plaza III) with countless songs of love and loss.
Kansas City bar owners probably hope Rex Hobart never gets off the sauce. Not that any of them wish the man ill health, mind you; but if Rex takes the twelve steps as seriously as he takes all the missteps he sings about, he'll drag a lot of faithful bar patrons onto the wagon. After all, if he's not the man who drove them to drink, surely his honky-tonkin' nods to the beer-stained beauty of a broken heart have kept them on barstools longer than they anticipated. Is this laying too much blame at the cowboy boots of the evocatively voiced Hobart? Perhaps, but as the man says himself in "Point of No Return," I could blame the liquor, but it's now my only friend/I could blame my temper or my rage/I could blame almost anything, but the truth is finally clear/I have locked myself inside this cage.
Midnight at Mill Creek Brewery
Over the years, Season to Risk's Steve Tulipana has put his voice through hell. He's shouted for duration, with the perverse sense of accomplishment of a kid holding his breath until his face turns blue; he's screamed at unequaled volume -- into a megaphone, no less; he's distorted his vocals until they weren't recognizably human, or even passably android. But on 2001's The Shattering, the veteran group's best outing, Tulipana just lets it breathe, and the results are remarkable. Alternately melodic and menacing, Tulipana's delivery gives this mechanically minded album its human soul.
Duck Warner's trumpet, flugelhorn and trombone skills have enhanced countless ensembles and taken him to every major city in the United States. Now he's letting his own voice be heard. Warner's soon-to-be-released solo CD, In a Quiet Way, highlights his communicative vocals. "I believe it's the heart and soul of me," Warner says of his singing. "It's the best way I know how to express myself to people."
8 p.m. at Blayney's
Best Female Vocalist
Tawni Freeland has a résumé that would impress even the most grizzled area rocker: Frogpond, Exit 159, Star 80 and the Glitter Kicks are but a few of the local bands that have been graced by Freeland's kittenish presence. Though Freeland didn't always play a starring role in those outfits, her latest project, the Thornbirds (formerly the Tawni Freeland Four), finds her front and center, cooing, crooning and bewitching all in her path. "I actually have a really hard time listening to myself sing," the Lawrence-based singer/songwriter/guitarist said recently. "It sounds overly young and wimpy to me when I hear it recorded. I want to be rock and roll, but my voice just wants to be pop." Sadly, Freeland's fourth nomination in this category might be her final area accolade: Later this year, she's leaving home for Los Angeles, where she hopes to find greener musical pastures and a new batch of music fans to seduce.
10 p.m. at McCoy's
Anywhere there's a jazz and blues festival, you'll find Lisa Henry and her band (pianist Everette Freeman, bassist Tyrone Clark and drummer Mike Warren -- not the Mike Warren who writes for these pages). Although her rich voice and scatting ability have taken her around the world with the Thelonious Monk Institute and as a United States Information Agency International Jazz Ambassador, Henry really swings at home. Her 1999 CD, Live!! From 18th & Vine, recorded at the American Jazz Museum's Blue Room, proved Henry could bring KC sparks to standards; she's still smoldering three years later.
When most people think of singers to nominate as Best Female Vocalist, their minds might wander to that strange and mystical place where anomalies of nature such as Mariah Carey and Liza Minnelli reside. Apparently, the members of the Pitch Music Awards' nominating committee don't have minds that wander to that spot -- or if they do, they're smart enough not to admit it. Besides, anyone thinking along those lines would have overlooked the talents of Sister Mary Rotten Crotch songstress Liz Nord, whose vocal stylings, though not traditional, show that sign of true talent, doing something few others can do. Sure, we can all scream at the top of our lungs, but are the words audible, the emotions effective? Probably not. To put it another way, would you be scared if Mariah Carey told you, If you wanted it tight, you shoulda brought a bigger dick?
10 p.m. at the Beaumont
For a while, Kristie Stremel was Kansas City's best-kept secret, playing unreleased songs to loyal gatherings at hot spots and dives throughout the metro. But in 2001, Stremel went national, signing to regional powerhouse Slewfoot Records, releasing her rollicking debut solo full-length All I Really Want and touring with label-mates such as Duane Jarvis and the Domino Kings. She also re-established herself on the local scene, fronting a rocking quartet after finding a new rhythm section to fill out her band. But she still found time for solo acoustic concerts, the most emotionally effective setting for her alternately mournful and inspirational material.
Midnight at McCoy's
At 85, Myra Taylor is just as spunky as ever, and her smooth, calming voice sounds as good as it did when she recorded her classic hit "Spider and the Fly" decades ago. Her career began in the '30s, when she entertained at the Sunset Club on 12th Street. The first lady of Kansas City R&B and jazz continues to perform and record. Last year, she dropped Night to Dream, a delightful, skillfully recorded album on which Taylor sings with playful soul and a dash of sass.
9 p.m. at McCoy's
Come close, and I'll tell you what Coalesce sounds like. A little closer ... a little closer ... YAAAAH! That's Coalesce, a blood-curdling scream into an unprepared ear, a tempting promise leading to a brain-jarring reality, a living, touring public-service announcement for industrial-strength earplugs. After revolutionizing the local heavy music scene (and making major waves nationally as well), Coalesce took a lengthy hiatus, during which its members explored melody (the Casket Lottery and the Get Up Kids) and theatrical, danceable performance art (Reggie and the Full Effect). Now the group is back, with extra bludgeoning power courtesy of Corey White, a guitarist on loan from the Esoteric. Did you hear all that? You did? Hmm, that first step must not have worked. Okay, come close again....
The black arts must have helped Descension nab this nomination, because the band should be ineligible, geographically speaking. Rather than admit they hail from KC, these heaviest of metal demons claim the unholy netherworld as their chief base of operations. Listeners fortunate enough to survive one of Descension's brutal attacks -- where riffs are thrown out like daggers, bodies are mercilessly bludgeoned by bass and the voice of evil is summoned seemingly from the pits of hell itself -- would be hard-pressed to doubt those origins. And Descension frequently sends one of its own to the electric chair during its shows. Yes, be afraid. But also be rocked.
7 p.m. at the Beaumont
There is no Esoteric, only Zuul! But the growly demon of Ghostbusters fame would undoubtedly adore the Lawrence-based band's barnstorming approach to all things metal. With a molten concoction of gear-grinding guitar work, warp-speed rhythms and hogs-breath vocals that could star in a remake of The Exorcist, the group has helped redefine the meaning of regional metal. It also set the touring standard for any local yokels worth their rock salt: In 2001, the outfit spent a great deal of time on the road, bringing its patented brand of mosh-worthy originals to the metallic netherworld of tiny clubs and basement venues. The Esoteric is prepping a batch of freshly minted material, recorded in recent months at Red House studios by master knob-twister Ed Rose, as well as a live set from CBGB's in New York. But the band's growing status was truly solidified when axman Corey White was tapped for the reunited Coalesce, proving that heavy music and credibility aren't strange bedfellows in the slightest.
Saved by Grace
Saved by Grace sounds like the name of a Christian band that's less subversive than Creed, and in some ways, that's correct. But heathens can enjoy this Kansas City-based hardcore outfit, too. Saved by Grace's members, who hail from local hardcore groups such as the Excuses and King Mob, came together to explore their shared love of melodic metal, much to the delight of like-minded Kansas City fans, whether they be Christian, straight-edge or hell-bent on venting their rage.
Season to Risk
It seems as if Season to Risk has broken up as often as it has released albums during the past decade, but like many of this year's nominated groups, S2R experienced a renaissance in 2002. Credit the presence of yet another skillful drummer or former Babe in Toyland Kat Bjelland's stirring cameo on last summer's stellar The Shattering or the addition of keyboards to the group's manic performances. Whatever the catalyst, Season to Risk came as close as it ever has to perfecting its psychedelic noise-punk vision.
Sonny Kenner Memorial Blues Performer Award
D.C. Bellamy has lived a life full of music. He grew up listening to half-brother Curtis Mayfield's practice sessions with the Impressions and learned to play rock and roll guitar as a teenager. He apprenticed with Chicago soul and R&B artists such as Betty Everett, Donnie Hathaway, Gene Chandler and Brook Benton. But Bellamy has come into his own through the blues. Moving to Kansas City was the impetus for his 2000 release, Water to Wine, a Chicago-style blues album that showcases Bellamy's gutsy vocals. Live, Bellamy's presence is so commanding that blues fans who usually shuffle on the dance floor stand nearly motionless, just watching the master.
11 p.m. at Blayney's
At age seven, Brody Buster began playing the harmonica. Before long, he became a harp-playin' fool who belted out traditional blues numbers as if he'd been vacationing at the crossroads. The Paola, Kansas, native's skills even impressed blues legend B.B. King, who proclaimed Buster one of the greatest blues harmonica players of our time. The seventeen-year-old hasn't buckled under the weight of such lofty praise, instead continuing to elevate his game by expanding his sound and becoming a better vocalist.
Midnight at the Beaumont
A worthy foil for fellow phenom Brody Buster, nineteen-year-old vocalist Danielle Schnebelen boasts a stage veteran's poise and a diva's range. Backed by the hearty, robust band Fresh Brew, Danielle belts out her own material with a natural conviction that betrays the blues in her blood. (Her father, the late Robert Schnebelen, was a well-known guitarist on the local scene.) Danielle's Midas touch extends to covers as well, especially her worship-worthy version of Al Green's "Take Me to the River."
A veteran performer who migrated from deep down in the Delta (Jackson, Mississippi) to Kansas City four decades ago, Millage Gilbert is handy with both the ax and the harp. With help from his red-hot Down Home Blues Band, Gilbert takes listeners higher than they ever thought they could fly with inspirational and life-affirming authentic blues tunes.
Lonnie Ray Fugett
Known at blues sessions around the area as just plain Lonnie Ray, guitarist Lonnie Ray Fugett has been a blues fixture in Kansas City since 1985, when he and his bass-player wife, Debbie, began playing the old Point. His trio, currently rounded out by drummer and vocalist Jaison Taylor, sweetens its traditional blues sound with every other style imaginable, from Louis Jordan to country. A Kansas City native, Lonnie Ray says, "Kansas City music got me going." He's been returning the favor for years.
The Go Generation
What makes a band punk? Tattoos, bad attitudes and garments held together by safety pins? If these accoutrements were part of this category's required dress, the Go Generation, whose off-kilter sound harks back to the days of skinny ties and new-wave hair, would be disqualified. But the trio's fresh, organic approach to Buzzocks-style power pop creates music like nothing else in Kansas City over the past year -- how punk is that?
11 p.m. at Mill Creek Brewery
Gruff yet melodic, bristling with revolutionary energy or slumming in apathetic doldrums, Kosher's songs present plenty of contradictions. Then again, the band itself proclaims "Death to Drama" while causing chaos nearly everywhere it plays, with its spare-no-one live shows and blunt, freely offered opinions. Other than getting banned from a couple of Warrensburg clubs, Kosher hadn't caused much of a stir in its five years of existence -- until 2001, when the California-based label B.Y.O. agreed to release the band's self-produced second disc, Self Control. Now, like the Get Up Kids, Kosher has finally made inroads at home after converting out-of-state crowds and record execs to its fanbase.
For a few years, mi6 has been one of the most maligned bands on the local scene, scoffed at by hipsters for its absurdly infectious tunes, doe-eyed enthusiasm and liberal borrowing from the Green Day and Blink-182 catalogs. But for a devoted throng of fans, those elements are precisely what make mi6 one of the most exciting games in town. Lunchbox, the Lawrence quartet's 2001 Kung Fu Records debut, is a masterpiece of boisterous, gum-snapping sneer-rock. Lyrically, singer and guitarist Ken Peterson takes the pen to his own throat, jumping at the opportunity to throttle himself for failed relationships ("Dominos"), conforming too readily ("Lunchbox") and being self-absorbed ("How to Be an Idiot"). Though the punk elite might never fully accept the band into its cool-kids' club, mi6 proves that underdogs can always find a way to succeed, a notion underscored by the group's recent tour of Japan.
8 p.m. at Mill Creek Brewery
Sister Mary Rotten Crotch
A hot-selling Guttermouth T-shirt at the 1997 Warped Tour offered a dictionary entry for punk, complete with part-of-speech identification and phonetic spelling. It defined punk as a loud, fast, often offensive form of rock music. If that's the case, Sister Mary Rotten Crotch is the most by-the-book group in this category. This quartet's songs conjure images of a safari gone bad: spooked, stampeding drumbeats; sharp, talonlike hooks; and an eclectic assortment of feline snarls and growls from Best Female Vocalist nominee Liz Nord. In 1999, SMRC opened for Le Tigre, giving Kathleen Hanna recurring nightmares about a raw brand of girl power she'd never imagined. Last year, the group needled a new target, hanging a sign that read "Please don't feed the emo bands; it will make them cry" on the chain-link fence that separated SMRC from its opponents at El Torreon's punk-versus-hardcore cage match.
10 p.m. at the Beaumont
A few years ago, Tanka Ray was a pure street-punk band, all rugged rock riffs and prickly attitudes. With the release of ... And So I Abide, though, this trio fused its tough talk with pristine pop songwriting. Tanka Ray is still pissed off, but now its members sound happy about it.
12 a.m. at the Hurricane
Biologically speaking, Fred and Greg Wickham are the only brothers in Hadacol. Get them onstage with bassist Richard Burgess and drummer Brian Baker, though, and it becomes evident that all four share an easygoing chemistry that most siblings would envy. In the studio, Hadacol takes it a little further, adding a couple of extras (such as Greg's howling organ) that make this year's sophomore record, All in Your Head, sound twice as big as the band's still remarkable debut, Better Than This. Regardless, in either the raucous live setting or on its more poignant studio takes, the Wickham brothers' Americana songs are easily as addictive as Hadacol's namesake, the heavy-on-the-alcohol cure-all that once sponsored Hank Williams' radio show.
10 p.m. at Mill Creek Brewery
Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys
Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys boys sing a mean version of "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights," but it's hard to imagine these guys, last year's winner in this category, wasting even a minute. It's easy to forget sometimes that almost every "classic" this band plays is original. That's especially true when one of Hobart's razor-edged, echoing tag lines -- Let's keep lying here or I'm not drunk enough to say 'I love you' -- comes soaring across the bar. Hobart and company release countrified Poison covers in their spare time, test new material at every opportunity and, most important, get better and more real with every show.
Midnight at Mill Creek Brewery
Split Lip Rayfield
Kirk Rundstrom, guitarist and vocalist for Split Lip Rayfield, describes the aura surrounding this acoustic maelstrom as a vortex that pulls in the band, its fans and everything else in the vicinity. Whether the group is tearing it up for diehard fans at a muddy rural-Missouri music festival or blowing better-known (only for now!) acts off the stage at bigger venues, Split Lip always brings its own festival in the form of its junkyard-style old-time tunes. Constantly touring, the band doesn't come around as much as it used to, leaving fans to take up the chorus (and title) of one of its best songs: Love, please come home.
When the Welterweights rock the joint, it's the inspired racket of a band that, as the title of last year's debut full-length Here Goes Nothing implies, has nothing to lose. The quartet manages to keep it all together, albeit often just on the positive side of barely. There's more than a hint of melodic twang here, which fits Nathaniel Williams' tales of down-on-their-luck losers such as a lonely soul whose "Little Red Light" on the answering machine never blinks.
8 p.m. at McCoy's
Sure, country fans in Kansas City would love to have the Ryman Auditorium here in town, with big ol' reunion shows and Ralph Stanley and Alison Krauss dropping by all the time. But we have something pretty close -- the Wilders, who host the Grand Emporium's weekly Monday night Rural Grit happy hours -- as a dazzling example of the ways in which bluegrass, honky tonk and old-time gospel music can cleanse the soul.
As the driving percussive force behind the City Lights Orchestra, David Basse has played for presidents, toured Europe and recorded with some of the most respected jazz musicians in the world. With the release of both Strike When Your Iron Is Hot and Old Friends/New Point last year -- the latter a hard-swinging collaboration with saxophonist Bobby Watson and vocalist Angela Hagenbach -- the energetic bandleader and vocalist shows no signs of slowing down.
Midnight at Blayney's
Saxophonist Gerald Dunn and pianist Everett Freeman Jr. have played together for more than four years, perfecting what they dub "modern/straight-ahead." The duo injects enough freshness to make standards sound cool without damaging the integrity of the songs. Catch these cats as they demonstrate the rebirth of cool -- 21st-century style.
When a tourist pulls up asking what Kansas City does for jazz these days, sometimes it's fun to give directions to a Malachy Papers gig, then follow a few car lengths behind just to see what happens. What visitors hear from this band, last year's Best Jazz Klammy winner, might not be what they expect -- no "Goin' to Kansas City," and few standards that haven't been substantially deconstructed -- but it might be just what they're looking for. The Malachy Papers' sometimes lush, sometimes funky, rarely scripted and often fiercely skronking version of free-bop improvisation provides evidence that Kansas City has a jazz future -- and one version, at least, of future jazz.
Two years ago, alto saxman Bobby Watson earned a hero's welcome as he returned to Kansas City to join UMKC's jazz faculty. Watson spent a good part of his formative years in KC, but he made his jazz entrance in New York, playing with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, leading his own groups and proving his acumen in a wide variety of jazz styles, including swing, hard bop and free. Watson manages to escape academia long enough to play worldwide gigs with his hard-bop band Horizon, and last year he recorded the live album Old Friends, New Point with a troupe of local jazz artists.
9 p.m. at Blayney's
Claude Fiddler Williams
This pioneer has been a vital part of the Kansas City jazz scene since the 1920s. Claude "Fiddler" Williams, now 95 years old, still jams well into the night, still calls his violin a "fiddle" and still gets a sweet, swinging sound and a slight country whine out of his instrument. Williams has done for the violin what Charlie Parker did for the saxophone.
DJ Mike Scott
N'awlins native DJ Mike Scott can rock any crowd at the drop of a hat. Yes, he's nice on the wheels, but it's his ability to know what people really want to hear that makes him money. It's one thing to have an eclectic collection of wax in the crates -- which he does. It's another to know when spinning the correct record can create ecstasy on the dance floor. Diversity is DJ Mike Scott's strength, and he's mastered the ability to blaze it up in several different genres, blastin' lounges, ghetto clubs, hip-hop spots and college sets.
DJ Nitro spent the first six years of his rave-rocking career in St. Louis, but he fell in love with Kansas City's laid-back vibe when he moved here three years ago. Ironically, most of his gigs are out of town -- all over the upper Midwest, the East Coast, down to Memphis and across Canada. Nitro says he just tries to represent KC as best he can, spreading the message of what's going on back home.
9 p.m. at the Hurricane
DJ Roland is turning the Oxygen room at XO into the place to be, just as he did for the Hurricane's patio in his three-year stint at that club. He's had some setbacks, such as the closing of his after-hours venue at El Torreon, but Roland has used the past year largely to prepare for what's yet to come. He believes that the dance-music audience in Kansas City has ripened to the point where it can be taken to another level, and he's got a vision to help it on its way.
DJ Steve Thorell
DJ Steve Thorell likes nothing better than cultivating an eclectic vibe in a small room where listeners are willing to go with the flow, but he loves all forms of dance music and the freedom to pursue them. That's why he balances a tricky weekend schedule, playing at Jilly's on Broadway until 1:30 a.m. before heading down to the Empire Room until 3 in the morning. On Saturday nights, he plays Oldham Restaurant in the City Market. Thorell earned his rep in the rave scene, but he's into exploring different kinds of venues where, he says, "the focus is on the music, not shrouded in smoke and lazers."
11 p.m. at the Hurricane
If each DJ in this category represents a distinct, vibrant room at a frenetic warehouse rave, Namelessnumberheadman would be the chill-out space. This band isn't as lethargic as the ambient artists who usually play that part -- its songs definitely have a pulse, courtesy of persistent drumbeats -- but its material doesn't throb, driving listeners into a party-starting panic. Instead, its indie-rock undercurrents work up a mild sweat, then the group's ethereal keyboards cascade over its audiences like a refreshing misty breeze.
Brent Berry and his Roots Crew are as white as a GOP convention, and they live in a state that houses about as many Jamaicans as Democrats. But somehow Berry and friends make island grooves that sound straight outta Kingston. Mellow and melodic, gritty and groovy, Brent Barry and the Roots Crew add elements of folk and rock to its reggae base to create a mix that's as potent and addictive as the herb the band toust in its songs.
9 p.m. at Mill Creek Brewery
Black Crack Revue is a Kansas City institution, as much a part of the area as Bryant's barbecue and the Nelson. And an art museum just might be the best place for BCR's otherworldly approach to music. Combining improvisational jazz with tribal rhythms and bucketsful of nonsensical noise, the group lives up to the "diverse" label so readily applied to bands that rarely venture beyond a single concept.
Manhattan's Ruskabank has built its reputation through a regimen of relentless gigging and tireless devotion to the art of ska. Like a top-notch reggae band buzzing on a triple espresso, Ruskabank balances youthful exuberance and six years of experience whenever it takes the stage. It's been nearly two years since the group's stellar Noisesome Records effort I Don't Think You Hear Me, Though, but the band has continued to endear itself to local audiences with its raucous live shows. The 'Bank logged nearly fifty local gigs in 2001, taking its sonic circus to tiny towns such as Hiawatha and Salina as well as hitting all the usual hotspots. The group is home again in Manhattan, working on tunes for its soon-to-be-released third disc.
11 p.m. at McCoy's
Punk and ska, once underground music's hottest couple, are now estranged, even at the Pitch Music Awards, where they once shared a category. However, the Sloppy Popsicles remain true to the defunct art form once known as skacore, following in the footsteps of the six-headed monsters who once called the Daily Grind and Gee Coffee home. Once essentially a punk band with horns, the Popsicles have painted over their sound in a checkerboard pattern, embracing Two Tone artists such as the Specials and establishing a link with ska's soulful tradition.
Continuing his exploration of cross-cultural influences in world music, Gerald Trimble recently released Celtic Cantigas, which features selections taken from the Cantigas de Santa Maria, 400 sacred songs compiled by King Alfonso X. At his frequent recital appearances, Trimble plays these tunes and a far-ranging assortment of other multicultural compositions, showcasing his unique mastery of period stringed instruments from around the globe. After September 11, Trimble found himself in high demand, playing numerous vigil and prayer services around the Kansas City area. His soothing mix of classical sensibilities and interfaith appeal provide reassurance, proving there will always be a place for artists who not only embrace the significance of cultural diversity in music but also celebrate it.
Best Rap/R & B
While many MCs pass their mic time chasing paper and talking trash, KC rapper Approach comes armed only with a trunkload of skills and a workhorse attitude. He's not here to tell anyone how bad he is; he's here to show people how bad he is. With a dazzling technique that draws from all rap's subgenres (while still paying tribute to the socially conscious end of things), Approach has been underground hip-hop's brightest local star for some time. That the MC has gained the respect of peaceniks and gangstas without uttering a single curse word just makes him that much cooler. With a long-overdue sophomore effort set for a 2002 release, Approach's head-spinning mental floss might finally get the mainstream recognition it deserves.
Hip-hop's conscious school includes artists such as Mos Def and Common, lyricists who, though they can boast with the best, temper their battle rhymes with a real understanding of the social issues that affect their communities. The conscious school has a local chapter, and the Guild's lyricists rank near the top of the class. Technically impeccable, ferociously clever and critical-minded, the Guild's members never rhyme for the sake of riddling -- it's all about their love of their art and their scene.
8 p.m. at the Hurricane
It takes guts to participate in a freestyle session, and young rhyme-slayer Mac Lethal has plenty. He's a suburban legend, a white kid who hangs out at hip-hop spots unafraid to battle well-seasoned MCs. The results haven't always been pretty, but Mac Lethal has honed his skills and developed a unique style of rhyming, one that blends storytelling and battle-rap elements. His next challenge will be to capture his razor-sharp wit, dangerously creative couplets and angst-riddled wordplay on wax. His EP Moon Thinker has been making noise underground, but it's his soon-to-be-released full-length that should really sound the alarm.
Few clubs in the area regularly book local rap acts, and even fewer radio stations play them. The Popper has managed to overcome these and other obstacles by paying plenty of dues the past six years, showing up with cameos on multiple efforts by DJ Fresh and the Veteran Click. All that work paid off with the release of 2001's aptly titled The Turning Point, a fifteen-song collection of street-smart soul and rap that's as smooth as KPRS 103.3's Sean Tyler in the mornings.
Far and away KC's most successful MC, Tech N9ne is the standard to which all other microphone masters are compared. With a ninety-mile-an-hour flow, unimpeachable verbal swordplay and genuinely frightening lyrical tales from the dark side, Tech has more than enough skills to justify the hype. Though his major-label debut, Anghellic, didn't line his walls with gold or platinum discs, local fans snatched it up in droves, drawn to the boisterous hometown shout-outs of the first single, "It's Alive." What listeners found when they got home was an apocalyptic concept piece that traveled through the dark tunnels of street life and into the light. Beginning in hell, moving through purgatory and eventually ascending to heaven, Tech took listeners on an unforgettable musical journey that was cinematic in scope and breathtaking in vision.
Arthur Dodge almost made himself ineligible for this award by moving to Nashville. And while Dodge might have been disappointed with his reception from short-sighted Music City execs, area fans couldn't have been more delighted to see him return. Nashville's loss is our gain, allowing local listeners to become reacquainted with his simple but well-crafted odes to the ethereal everyman. Like Cinderella sang, don't know what you got till it's gone.
Few local folk artists are more "local" than singer/songwriter David Hakan. His 2000 release, In Midtown, not only captures the essence of Kansas City's bustling heart but also serves as a chronicle of contemporary Midwestern history in the finest sense of folk tradition with tracks such as "Flood of '93." His 2001 follow-up, Dancing Now, is a clever continuation that, as the title suggests, folds more motion into the mix. Meanwhile, within Kansas City's intimate folk-music community, Hakan works to promote the scene and its young, aspiring artists through his participation in the Songwriters' Circle, which he co-founded.
10 p.m. at Blayney's
When pop-punk contender Revolvers called it quits just a few hours into 2001 at El Torreon's New Year's bash, head pistol Justin Petosa pulled a 180 and recoiled from the mosh pit, ditching electric-guitar fury for pursuits acoustic. It's a switch that suits him. True, he's endured a few "get off the stage, hippie" and "can it, Fogelberg" taunts here and there -- but they were invariably good-mannered heckles from jesting fans.
Considering her growing list of credentials, it's hard to believe that singer/songwriter Julia Peterson is only in her early twenties. As a mere four-year veteran of the Kansas City and Lawrence scenes, Peterson has already done the rock-band thing as the bassist for Minx and co-founded her own record label, Lone Yucca Entertainment. Counting John Lennon, Neil Young and Ani DiFranco as the strongest influences on her style, Peterson sets her sights high and aims for them with grace, poise and substance.
A member of the Kansas City Songwriters' Circle, Forrest Whitlow is also the cornerstone of the tightly knit 39th Street musical community, gigging at Prospero's regularly as well as at nearby spots such as the Westport Flea Market and the Westport Coffee House. His backing band, the Crash, features members of such slightly askew ensembles as Minds Under Cover, Big Jeter and Trouble Junction, but Whitlow works best with straight-faced subject matter. On his latest disc, Patches of Blue, Whitlow sings in a conversational tone, addressing agricultural themes with songs that resonate with personable warmth.
Best New Band
The Go Generation
One of the pitfalls of the Best New Band category is that recently formed groups are also the type that might break up at any moment. Though it has, in fact, dissolved in the past few months, the Go Generation seemed like a safe pick because it had been together for years. And 2001 marked the group's breakthrough, with a new name (it was once known as Bulldog Front) and a debut full-length (Downside Up). Perhaps the pressures of popularity drove the group apart, or maybe it was just a case of those nasty artistic differences. Either way, here's hoping tonight's special reunion show might inspire the Go Generation to reform.
11 p.m. at Mill Creek Brewery
Another seasoned group that proves "new" is a relative term, the Hearers have been recording for years, capturing its country-noir underground on a velvet canvas. The group's first release, issued by Seattle's Big Lie Records in late 2001, compiles an eclectic batch of songs penned between 1995-2000. Lonesome as a nomadic tumbleweed and intimidating as a Shaq-sized cactus, the Hearers' songs draw listeners near with their morose mystery.
9 p.m. at the Beaumont
Namelessnumberheadman's moniker doesn't exactly fit on the tip of the tongue, but nonetheless the group made quite a name for itself in 2001. Fans of intelligently catchy, keyboard-padded indie rock played its EP until its title, 100,000 Subtle Times, reflected their listening habits. Meanwhile, the NNHM's live shows set a new standard for low-key local entertainment; the group's members sat down on the stage to play while crowds slept standing up, their minds following the music's lead to an entrancing, lucid dreamworld.
Westport Art Ensemble
Saxophonist Josh Sclar, guitarist Jake Blanton, pianist/keyboardist Roger Wilder, bassist Gerald Spaits and drummer Todd Strait have a commitment to original composition that makes the Westport Art Ensemble a fresh addition to the local jazz scene. Its free-form explorations are grounded in sensitive improvisation, inviting unconventional melodies and creative rhythms. The group's two-set shows on the last Monday of every month at the Westport Coffee House now attract capacity crowds.
Best Live Act
One explanation for sluggish attendance for local musicians' shows is that fans might be hesitant to pay money to see the same group twice in a month, fearing they'll witness a too-familiar show. That already dubious gripe never held water where Big Jeter was concerned. These performance-artists/cowpunk rabble-rousers drew upon an ever-expanding songbook overflowing with unreleased material, unveiling dozens of fresh tunes at every concert and making room for topical material, such as a lengthy spoken-word diatribe about the Cheesecake Factory that brought one show at nearby Fred P. Ott's to a hilarious climax. Costumes were often involved, crowd interaction was key (fans wrestled with band members and offered their names for use in dirty limericks) and gifts were occasionally offered. Big Jeter split up late last year, citing creative differences, so it's sure to pack several months' worth of unexplored ideas into its one-and-done Showcase gig.
8 p.m. at the Beaumont
Doesn't it seem as if good live acts should be pretty easy to come by? Bands just have to give the people what they want: a high-energy show and singers who look like they know and/or care what they're singing about. But the grind can get to some groups, and some nights it's so much easier to go through the motions once more without feeling. Such temptations never corrupt the Gadjits' members, who turn in a dramatic live show whether they're playing a packed basement party or a half-full club on a Tuesday night.
The Last of the V8s
If you were lucky enough to catch one of the Last of the V8s' ribald performances over the past year, you already know why this has become the local band to watch. Young men with old-school hearts, the V8s' members tear into their music with unbridled passion and a steely will to power. No wimpy navel gazing or what-does-it-all-mean philosophizing for this teeth-gritted rock band, thank you very much. Instead, the V8s' alcohol-fueled mayhem is founded in the tried-and-true, three-chords-and-the-truth sandblasting that makes real rock so visceral. It ain't always pretty, but the little girls definitely understand, wooed by the shamanlike stage presence of vocalist Ryan Mattes. But local audiences aren't the only ones getting acquainted with the V8s' snakelike charm. In the last year, the KC quintet has completed a pair of successful West Coast jaunts, spreading its rock seed everywhere from Las Vegas to Canada.
11 p.m. at the Beaumont
Jaws dropped when Shiner unleashed material from its latest effort, The Egg, on an unsuspecting Bottleneck audience at a Death Cab for Cutie show a few months ago. Though the KC quartet has been a stalwart of the area scene for nearly a decade, few thought the group had the goods to deliver as it has in the past. Fueled by drummer Jason Gerken's astonishing technique, the band ripped and tore its way through a gritty set of cacophonous rock that was mathematical in all the right ways without being too smart for its own good. Midway through Death Cab for Cutie's set, half the crowd had split. The best live band of the night wasn't an easy act to follow.
Sister Mary Rotten Crotch
Converting stage presence into recorded material is a difficult proposition for any group, but it would seem to be nearly impossible for one as energetic and enigmatic as Sister Mary Rotten Crotch. Actually, the band's recordings do a surprisingly fine job of bringing Sister Mary into listeners' living rooms, but there is still absolutely nothing that compares with Sister Mary's live show. One part punk-rock communion, one part peep show, an SMRC set will make concertgoers feel guilty for never having sinned like this before.
10 p.m. at the Beaumont
Most rap artists struggle to bring their recordings to life on stage, but Best Rap nominee Tech N9ne commands the stage like no one else in hip-hop. Combining the manic energy of punk rockers with over-the-top heavy-metal-inspired antics and classic mic control, Tech ensures that there's never a dull moment during his performances. Kid can even bust dance moves, but he seems more comfortable diving into crowds.