Canvas closed the 21st Annual Banzai Awards show with all the weight and energy necessary to finish off a crowd that had seen some of the strongest heavy bands in Kansas City. We're talking 9 Volt Junkie, Drek, promising "Young Turks" Cimino, hard-rock veteran Johnny Rocker and even the king of rock and roll himself -- in the form of Elvis impersonator Bobby Simkins, that is. (He pulled off a pretty wonderful "Burning Love," for what it's worth.)
Getting that "top of the bill" placement -- and driving the night home with such authority -- must have been particularly satisfying for Canvas, a band that emerged in 1995 around the close of the print Banzai era. From 1986 until 1995, Banzai was the Kansas City metal magazine against which any other start-ups were measured. And with the continued work of publisher Jim Kilroy as a local promoter, an online magazine and the awards themselves, it continues to be the premier brand associated with heavy music in this area. With a solid new three-song EP produced by Hourcast's Patrick McBride, Canvas used the show to announce that it not only has never left the local scene, but also that it is playing harder and thinking bigger than ever.
With its frenetic rhythms and often-rapped vocals, the '90s incarnation of Canvas was compared with contemporaries such as Rage Against the Machine, Biohazard and even Helmet, and played bills with everyone from LA Guns to Slipknot. But today's Canvas seems all the more solid for sticking closer to a more traditional heavy sound with a sensibility every bit as accessible as it is unrepentantly aggressive.
Take the night's opener, for instance: "Hidden Under," the last song off the new EP. As a red light pulsed over the band's skull-and-urban-warrior logo, singer Shawn Wayne leaped to the front of the stage and shouted, "I've been living a lie." This call shifted the interlocking machinery pulse of drums, bass and guitar into a new rhythmic structure. The band built space for Wayne's vocals and punctuated each call for an end to denial. Canvas can declare, "We're impostors" and make it sound like a kind of victory.
By the third song, "The Beckoned," Wayne's shirt was off as he prowled the stage between guitarist Pauly C, drummer D-Rock and bass player Ryan Riggs, most often returning to the lip of the stage to sing straight into the eyes of fans. The show was solid from beginning to end, but particularly noteworthy was the down-tempo shift of "Would I Cry" (a brand-new song set to be produced by Jim Allen of Puddle of Mudd). That ballad managed to delicately convey all the poignancy hinted at in its title.
The power of the new material was made IMAX-vivid when the band launched into "Dragstrip," the opening cut off the EP and the closing piece in the set. Guitarist Pauly C and Wayne exploded into a push-pull stage dance that complemented the song's snaky intertwining of vocal melody and guitar, pushed by the relentless forward march of drums and guitar. The song's chorus, "Such a long, hard road," answered by "Such a long, long way down," couldn't have sounded like a more authentic testimony from a band that has paid more dues than it ever could have imagined, and that still refuses to lower the stakes.
Critic's Bias: I like music that's played like it matters.
Critic's Notebook: The show was better than (a) any casino show should be, and (b) any rock show being attended by those who wouldn't go to hear metal.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Is that Tommy Lee Flood?" (Question answered when the Banshee frontman took the stage to give a special award.)
Overtake (bass guitar intro)
The Beckoned (needle nose)
Would I Cry