Before getting rescued by a bookstore job, I spent six months unemployed, interviewing for positions I knew I wasn't qualified for and leeching off my parents while my wife took out student loans to facilitate my escapist Sun Fresh shopping binges. I spent my days in the dust-mite-ridden isolation of our midtown apartment, developing various stress-related syndromes over my inability to doggedly pursue the life of a short-story writer. I'd always relied upon the medicative property of music, but rather than going out to catch some of it live -- say, the blues for which my new home was so famous and that my sad life was so full of -- I subsisted on a drip-fed diet of free Internet radio, sometimes spending entire afternoons watching 2-inch-tall music videos on my Apple laptop.
A particular favorite was a video for a song by the underrated Britpop band Elbow, whom critics (the swine) have dismissed as "the Coldplay it's OK to like." In the mini-movie for the sweepingly melancholic "Fugitive Motel," the band's nondescript singer plays a send-up of Richard Kimble, rambling about the countryside in a suit, toting a Walkman and a plastic bag. At one point, he hitches a ride and sits in the back, peering suspiciously at the hyperactive couple in the front seat. After plunging into a swampy pond for no apparent reason, he ends up in a field at sunset under a cirrus-streaked sky, absently munching on an apple. It's a video Camus might have liked -- man confronted with the absurdity of reality and all that. For better or worse (and probably worse), the figure of this aimless, absurdist wanderer in black suit and tie became a kind of therapeutic role model, an imaginary friend to my displaced soul. Needless to say, I wasn't a particularly warmblooded chappy (much less husband) during this period.
But one night in the midst of this emotional blight, I finally did go out to a concert.
My blood rolled to a boil in the thrall of it, and I remembered that, just as music can be useful as a sedative, it also can serve to strike the capital-s Self like a mainline of PCP to the nervous system. I already knew this, of course. Back in college, I'd elicited plenty of warnings to turnthatshitdowngoddamnit by blasting punk from my stereo; I'd even experienced the rapture of performing onstage with a bombastic indie space-rock band in Dallas. But it took two Kansas City bands -- two obvious and, in fact, rather ordinary groups -- to begin the reaction that would eventually supernova me into the realm of the true believer.
It happened on the night of the 2003 Pitch Music Showcase in Westport. This was back when the Pitch was nothing more to me than just a buncha know-it-alls who wouldn't give me a job. My wife and I walked from our apartment to the Beaumont Club to see this Irish band I knew nothing about. We ordered some Shiner Bocks, a taste of home, and watched the two-stepping permawaves scoot about the floor while the Elders plugged mikes into their hide drums and fiddles. Then, within minutes of the first Celtic gut yell, I was calling a friend back home, screaming into his answering machine about the wonder of this reckless, fist-through-a-window group of over-the-hill white guys plowing through song after song like a drunken heavyweight prizefighter on a Dublin pub rampage.
Next, we found ourselves at the foot of another shamelessly crowd-pleasing act, the Band That Saved the World, on the woefully underused stage at McCoy's. (What's with that, anyway -- y'all afraid of live music?) The Lawrence funksters were holding services for a congregation of barhoppers who -- regardless of their varying levels of inebriation -- were unable to resist the invitation to shake ass. At one point, John Belushi-like co-lead singer Shannon Savoie said something to this effect: "Hey, you don't have to worry about anything. We're the band that saved the world. We got it taken care of."
As we rocked on bar stools at the back of the tiny, throbbing dance floor, both of us with eyes closed as the men onstage shoveled coal into their engine of sound like deranged engineers, I knew that the Band That Saved the World had, in fact, saved me.
Since then, I've seen local bands with way more hip cred and devastatingly less talent than the above-mentioned acts. I've also seen bands for whom I'd dump my two saviors like a bag of rotten crab shells. But all in all, Kansas City has a truly promising music scene, one that could send a humbuckers-and-turntables-fueled sonic boom across this fragmented country.
When it comes to live music, I've been a pretty fickle bastard -- just like you, I expect. But now that I have this card-carrying media job, I have some responsibilities. It's time for me to remove my peril-sensitive sunglasses and don the shades of critical acumen -- and abandon all hope of getting away with such a narcissistic column again. Thanks for indulging me.