BY SAMMY LOREN
When telling people that I am back in Kansas City after a year in Paris, the most common reaction has been pity. "From Paris to old KC," they say incredulously. "Boy, why on earth would you come back here?" That question, full of disbelief at my misfortune, is answered with three responses: the world's most plentiful thrift stores, the best coffee shop ever (YJ's, baby) and the surprisingly inventive and sanguine music scene. Last night's DIY-folk show featuring Margo May and the Honeybabes, Chicken Little!, and Henry Daags at the Crossroad's Info Shop on Troost Avenue proved my trifecta right once again.
According to her Facebook status the day of the show, Margo May, singer, guitarist, and songwriter of the Honeybabes, is at her, "happiest and the most free" while performing. That was a curious post, in light of the fact that by and large Miss May sings of doom.
I was, however, almost fooled by her sheer charm: that sunshine innocence that glows from any suburban kid who straps on an Stratocaster. And standing before the glare of Kansas City's tattooed cycle-anarchists, well Miss Margo May looked downright cherubic.
But then, without much warning, she sneaked into her first number, "All the Highways," a lonesome rumination on love gone sour. While the song's infrastructure imagery - highways, streets, cul-de-sacs - could suggest the freedom of the open road, the longing in May's falsettos kept conjuring up windswept post-apocalyptic impressions of isolation and misery: think the film Mad Max or The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
Whether it was the urban blight anarchist crowd or just her music is unclear, but throughout her much-too-short eight-song set, I couldn't shake that original gloom.
The melancholy continued as she pulled out a new composition. Though "I Don't Know You" could have been tweaked a bit before being played live, her vocal style again infused a cheery chord progression with doubt and hesitancy. Her pronunciation almost deconstructs entire words - ty-eeer-da (tired), wy-eeeerrrr-da (wired) - as if she couldn't trust her own lyrics, indicating that maybe beneath these very unassuming words lie more ominous meanings. Her taciturn electric guitar playing added to the caginess.
Her choice of closing the set with a cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" seemed fitting. An ode to an ex-lover, it straddles the line between bubblegum catchiness and emotional uncertainty. There is something tragic about never being able to let go of people, whether sung by Ms. Parton, Ms. Houston, or Miss May.
Don't get me wrong. Margo May and the Honeybabes are a pop-folk act whose songwriting conventions cast a wide net. It's no coincidence that Margo May herself was a contestant on American Idol. Her vocals are euphonious, and her songs are catchy.
Yet as her show last night on Troost made clear, it's no wonder American Idol rejected her. Because beneath it all there is complication in her music: substance.
All the Highways
I don't know you
Time After Time - Cindy Lauper Cover
I Will Always Love You - Dolly Parton Cover