Center Of The City Fest 2013 went down last weekend from April 5th to 7th at The Black & Gold Tavern in midtown Kansas City. The festival featured almost 40 local and regional acts in total and alternated between full band performances upstairs in the main room and acoustic performances downstairs in the bar which provided for non-stop music all 3 nights. This was the second year of the festival, an event conceived to provide a platform for outstanding local and regional artists, particularly punk artists, who have been overlooked in the huge Kansas City and Midwest music scene.
The opening night of the festival got off to a brisk start with fast-paced high energy sets from The Protesters, Four Arm Shiver, Dismantle The Virus, and Dead Deer. Dead Deer (Emporia, Kansas) is a band that must be seen to be experienced, wild and frenetic in energy, reminiscent of the best of classic hardcore. The high-energy fast-paced music continued throughout the evening with The Donner Diaries, The Shidiots (Omaha, Nebraska), The Rackatees, and Wiseguy. Opening night of the fest was like a bomb going off, excellent job from all of the bands with a non-stop juggernaut of energy unleashed upon concert-goers. The final performance Friday night in the main room was the return of Documentary. Documentary is a unique band stylistically, nobody else in Kansas City sounds quite like them. The music shifts from doom and sludge metal tempos to fast-paced hardcore punk, often within the same song. There really is no other band I can think of who manages these terrains in quite the same way as Documentary, the band that strikes me as somewhat similar would be the Winnipeg band Ken Mode, however, Ken Mode tends to switch tempos from song-to-song, whereas Documentary often does this within the song.
Friday night also brought us some excellent acoustic performances downstairs. Beaten Down Bastard gave an outstanding, gritty performance with excellent songs that provided a truthful realism in lyrics. BDB is a solo artist (Josh Anderson), he used some amplification on his guitar, however, it was very minimalistic, allowing the listener to concentrate on the songs and words, reminiscent of early electric blues such as early John Lee Hooker in volume, combined with the melodic sense of street folk. Another acoustic performer was A.J. Gaither OMB. “OMB” stands for “One-Man-Band” and, although there are a number of performers these days who are doing a one-person-band act (Molly Gene, Bloodshot Bill, etc.), it is still a very rare thing to see and makes for an amazing performance. At times, A.J. will be simultaneously playing a guitar, a foot drum, and alternating between vocals and harmonica, he really does create a full band sound on his own. Another interesting aspect of A.J.’s music is that he is using mostly homemade instruments, such as a cigar box guitar, and he also had a homemade guitar that resembled a metal pipe for the guitar neck. A.J. had this particular device hooked up to some amplification and feedback as he played it, how he was able to manipulate notes and bends out of that, I am not sure, almost surreal like magic. Friday night acoustic performances were rounded out by some great stripped-down acoustic guitar sets from Mike Alexander (Hipshot Killer) and Paul Gibson (Donner Diaries).
Saturday night’s festival night was kicked off with more great high-energy punk from The Hemorrhoids, 5-Star Disaster, and Itching Regret. Itching Regret is especially known as a good-time band with a great sense of humor and I recommend them for adults only (provided that they aren’t too mature). In an interesting turn of events, at the beginning of one of their songs, Itching Regret tossed porno DVDs to the crowd. Later I noticed that someone had propped one of the DVDs up against the back shelf of the main room, turned around so that film highlights were visible. Following Itching Regret was Dead Ven, a very unique band on the Kansas City punk landscape. Dead Ven combines street folk with punk rock, including accordion on some songs with fast-paced good-time tunes that primarily address concerns of working people, although they are also apt to throw in a great old-school style drinking song, specifically about Kansas City’s Boulevard Beer. Following Dead Ven were KC punk veterans Bombs Over Broadway, always explosive and high-energy like a bomb going off, they definitely brought the heavy artillery to the concert-goers. The high-energy punk continued for the rest of the night with sets from American Dischord, Smash The State, Hipshot Killer, and Red Kate as the closer, with Red Kate combining punk with good old-fashioned Kansas City rock n roll, rough-and-tumble all of the way.
Saturday night acoustic performers included David Snyder (of the great McPherson, Kansas band Get Jonny), Steven and Tracy of Deco Auto, Scott Eggleson, and acoustic performances from members of the great KC punk stalwarts Bent Left. David Snyder’s songs mixed the personal with the sociopolitical, excellent and thought-provoking. Scott Eggleson delivered a great performance of personal, reflective songs with outstanding harmonies. Steven and Tracy from Deco Auto gave a minimalistic amplified performance, some of the songs just had electric guitar and vocals, others were also accompanied by Tracy on bass. They performed a combination of Deco Auto originals as well as some covers. The cover version of Del Shannon’s “Runaway” reminded me of how The Jesus & Mary Chain might have done the song if they had recorded it for one of their B-sides or for their John Peel Sessions album. The Bent Left acoustic performances were squarely in the classic tradition of protest music, very challenging and thought-provoking in the sociopolitical commentary of the lyrics.
Sunday night’s festival lineup included a mixture of punk rock along with some garage, surf, and ska. The Big Iron kicked of the night with great straight-ahead punk n’ roll, they are KC music veterans and have that classic KC sound, much like Red Kate, Cretin 66 or The Architects and older bands like Parlay, Buddy Lush Phenomenon, or Sin City Disciples, definitely rough and tumble just like the real Kansas City is itself. The Big Iron were followed by Mr. & The Mrs., a great two-piece husband and wife band who combine garage, surf, and punk into a stew mixed with some grunge and noise influences reminiscent of bands like Mudhoney or Sonic Youth. Mr. & The Mrs. were followed by an excellent horror punk/surf-punk band from Hutchinson, Kansas, The Terminals. Following The Terminals was another great high-energy punk act, Stinkbomb from cross-state in St. Louis. They were followed by The Electric Lungs, great rock n roll with some new wave influences and keyboards, and by new wave I am not talking about wimpy new wave but the good stuff like Split Enz or The Kings. The Electric Lungs were followed by The Uncouth, and man, these guys rocked the joint, they were on fire! Following The Uncouth was a ska punk band The Plug Uglies, with three horns (a trumpet, trombone, and saxophones). I have always loved brass instruments in rock n roll music, helps add textures and gives things a twist and The Plug Uglies really did a great job of it, had the crowd dancing and getting down. The night was closed out by The Zoids, a late addition. I had never seen The Zoids before, I enjoyed their sound a lot, a combination of fast punk with some noise-rock elements with fuzz bass mixed in at times. Listening to them live, they reminded me of some of the latter-day CBGB New York “No Wave” type groups such as Bush Tetras, Destroy All Monsters, or Teenage Jesus and The Jerks.
Sunday night acoustic performers included Bike Power (Kent Downing), Cosmic Kid (Sean Richey), Dukes Of KC (Este Leon), and Evan Ryan Marshall (formerly of The Tards). Kent Downing (under the moniker of Bike Power) has an interesting style, sort of a mixture of flamenco guitar with street folk and very unique stream-of-consciousness lyrics. I particularly enjoy the song “Neighborhood” that is like a “cinema verite” documentary of observing a typical day in Westport/Midtown Kansas City, if you live in this part of the city like me, you will definitely relate to the lyrics.
I really enjoyed attending the festival and participating in it. On my radio show on KKFI, I had special segments on the March 20th and April 3rd programs dedicated to the festival and a number of the performers stopped by for acoustic performances and to talk about the festival and their music. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the performers and thought the festival went smoothly, especially considering that it involved nearly 40 acts total over the 3 nights, however, things moved along relatively hassle-free all 3 nights, a demonstration of what people working together can accomplish on their own.