After a few months touring midsize venues as an opening act for Thrice and Acceptance, Veda looked comfortable on the spacious, brightly lighted Madrid stage. Kristen May maintained eye contact with the audience, wavering only when she leaned her head back during passionate vocal passages. She strummed rhythm riffs aggressively, using a one-arm push-up motion that made up for the way her Fender Stratocaster looked enormous on her small figure.
Stylistically, guitarist Brian Little resembled a budding Thurston Moore: When he turned his back to fans, his peculiar, spaced-out tones became all the more mysterious. His younger brother, Drew, operated the drum kit with limber dexterity, tapping out complex but restrained rhythms and making it clear that he could easily execute much more difficult maneuvers. Bassist Jason Douglas, the band's most concert-savvy member because of his extensive touring experience with the now-defunct hardcore outfit Saved by Grace, banged his head with theatrical flair and started the audience-participation clap-alongs.
Veda's set evolved from subtle hooks to cathartic choruses, ending with a stunning flourish that involved a sustained drum roll and a squealing, kneeling solo from May. It would be a tough act for, say, Franz Ferdinand to follow, let alone keyboard-emo also-ran Wakefield, the band behind question-mark-emblazoned Door No. 2.
Leaving Wakefield in its wake, Veda prepared for its second April 24 show, this time at the Lenexa outpost Jerry's Bait Shop for its weekly Homegrown Buzz showcase. Immediately before Veda played, the venue hosted a deeply disturbing lap-dance contest, during which ostentatiously amorous couples bared far too much flesh. The crowd might have been stunned into silence by this overzealous display of undergarments, but it snapped out of its collective trance when, after a virtual reprise of its Madrid performance, Veda again nailed its Big Rock finale.
Double-header duty is just one of the ways this ambitious band has earned Kansas City's affection after only a year on the scene. A chance connection also accelerated its rise when Veda met the Get Up Kids while recording at Black Lodge, then ended up with a pivotal slot on that group's high-profile, live-album-recording bill in January.
Veda is also known for luring some bystanders at bar gigs with its frontwoman. "The fact that we have a girl front-and-center causes people to say, 'What's this all about?'" says May, sharing a speakerphone with the rest of the group at an Indianapolis tour stop. In terms of attracting attention, though, May's talent matters more than her gender. She attended Velmont University in Nashville for classical voice, but her technical training doesn't stop her from spiking melodies with primal screams and Cyndi Lauper-style midword hiccups. She's always completely in control of her awesome vocal arsenal, elevating her volume and intensity without sacrificing tunefulness or taste.
Veda packages its standout material in a regionally familiar format in which feedback clouds obscure but never eclipse hazy melodies. Though acquainted with the originators of the Kansas City sound, the group prefers its more recent practitioners.
"My older brother showed me Shiner and Molly Maguire, but I never really got into it," says May, who, like all of Veda's members, attended high school in the Blue Springs area. "I'm more influenced by the Life and Times and Stella Link. When we go on the road, everyone wants to talk about Casket Lottery and Coalesce. We're known for rock and roll in Kansas City, and I'd say that's pretty badass."
Within its borders, Kansas City also is known for taking its state's Show Me slogan to extremes, embracing its own acts only when they've achieved national acclaim.
"Bands like the Get Up Kids told us they really had to fight and spend a long time on the road in order to get recognition in Kansas City," Little says. "It's really exciting that people are already warming up to us."
At El Torreon in early April, Veda played a sold-out show, its first local gig after an inaugural two-month stint on the road. "That's our best concert ever," May says. "Kids were so excited to see us back at home." Veda rewarded its enthusiastic following with the first hometown demonstration of its climactic conclusion, a technique it developed on tour.
This summer, Veda will release its debut disc on Second Nature Records. In support of that album, the group will likely embark on lengthy road trips and play a few more multiple-set evenings. Unlike many young bands facing that daunting itinerary, it can't wait to get started.
"Second Nature didn't know if we'd be willing to be out on the road, and we told them we'll be out all year and play a show every single day," Little says. "It's something I've always dreamed of doing."
"I'd say it's far exceeding our expectations, and not just because of the amount of kids at the shows," May adds. "Just meeting all those amazing people and being somewhere different every day. I thrive on that."
As much as she enjoys life on the road, May anxiously waits for the band's career to develop. It's moving at a relatively steep trajectory, but she won't be satisfied until it shoots into the stratosphere.
"Sometimes I'm too intense about the band," May admits. "I lose sleep over it. I have to step back and say, OK, calm down, everything is going to fall into place. But we definitely want this more than anything."