Everyone knows that sometimes the planets align and provide us with a perfect night of enjoyment. This just happened to me on Thursday night at the Record Bar in Kansas City. I had arrived to review an indie band called Empires and really knew nothing about them or the other acts they were playing with. They were the starting act for a line up that would also include My Gold Mask and a very interesting act that goes by the name Mark Mallman.
The bar was, unfortunately for the bands, not at capacity for the show, but it was a relief to the few of us in there due to the exhausting heat wave Kansas City has been under. As I referred to it that night, we are all living in Satan’s asshole here in Kansas City, so to have some elbow room in The Record Bar was much appreciated.
Shortly after 10 p.m. Empires took the small stage and as if out of nowhere, fifteen to twenty women instantly swarmed the stage. This was a band that could easily ride the waves to the top on their good looks alone. Lucky for them, they are actually quite talented also. The quartet played a diverse set of songs that distinctly gave off a Bruce Springsteen feel. This must be something that only shows in their live shows. When researching their sound online a couple of days before, never once did Empires and The Boss become entangled thoughts. In fact, after hearing one of their songs, I thought of them more as a heavier version of The Airborne Toxic Event. I am apparently not alone in this live-show, Bruce-conjuring theory, as the guys in the band told me that they have actually been hearing this comparison a lot lately. In fact, after hearing this comparison on more than one night, lead singer Sean Van Vleet started listening more closely to The Boss himself as if by way of high fidelity he could summon the talents from that stage to his own.
The Chicago natives played an abundance of songs that will be on their new album, as soon as they decide on a title for that album and a release date as well. They also played a few older songs from their EPs Howl and Bang. I was already a fan of the song “Bang” and I believe the song gained a few more fans that night. Their stand out song for the night, however, was “Damn Things Over”. Their set had managed to keep me moving but when this song was performed I found myself wriggling in my seat much more than before and succumbing to the heavy bass that the song catapulted over the crowd.
The band, collectively, works well together and with strong vocals by Van Vleet, no one fades into the background. There was so much energy on that small stage, I was amazed that these were the opening guys for the night. The set ended too quickly, I thought, but all had a great time while they performed. I will definitely be tracking these guys down to see again soon. For a list of their tour dates, go to their website here. And until they decide to stop hoarding their new album for themselves, you can get some of their older stuff here: http://www.weareempires.com/music/
After that raucous set, next up was the two person act known as My Gold Mask. Fronted by Gretta Rochelle with a standing drum set acquired over the years from previous people leaving a kick stand here and a tambourine there and also providing very powerful vocals, she and Jack on Guitar were all that was needed to provide a little soul in the room. I’ve always had an affinity for female-led bands. I’m not sure if it’s just as simple as the vocals being more enjoyable to sing along to or if it’s something more complicated. Maybe it’s because females always seem to have less ego on stage than men. No offense to the men performing this night. Gretta just seemed to really enjoy being on stage playing her own music. She and Jack were enjoying themselves as much as the crowd was.
Whatever the reason, I really enjoy the heavy, yet simplistic drumming mixed with her powerful vocals. One of their most exciting songs is “Violet Eyes”. It’s as if her voice is breaking the rules on octaves she should be hitting, but you really want to sing along with her. The duo provide an eerie tone with “Violet Eyes” that feels like they are conjuring the dead in front of you. You will be amazed at the sounds that come out of this tiny woman.
My Gold Mask has been around for a couple of years and it’s time that we all give them a listen. Their website can provide you with all the tools to listen, purchase and stalk the band. This is yet another act that I will claim myself a “band-aid” for. For tour dates and more, go to http://www.mygoldmask.com/
Rounding out the night of perfection was another duo known only as Mark Mallman. A native of Wisconsin now living in Minnesota, this guy has a story to tell. I first noticed Mark as just a tall man walking amongst the patrons of the bar and never removing his sunglasses. I immediately thought something to be very odd about him and assumed he was in one of the bands tonight. Well, fifteen seconds into the first song of the set and the glasses and popped collar were all justified.
Imagine seeing Elton John on the Record Bar stage with all his enthusiasm, only his music would fit with something a little closer to The Killers. But scrap the seriousness of Brandon Flowers on stage and insert the humor of Weird Al Yankovic. Mark is all of these things and more. He showed off his talents in one song by changing the lyrics to instead sing to the bands before him about his non-envy for their lack of air conditioning in their van.
Not only is he quite a personality on stage to behold, but if you listen to the lyrics, it all tells a story, whether it be a short story or something that deserves to be delved into a little deeper. I have to admit that it was hard to follow his lyrics at times as I was simply enamored by his flexibility on stage. He was climbing all over his keyboard and putting his face in the spotlights for a more dramatic effect. His biggest talent, however, lies in his keyboard skills. He was so fast at times I wasn’t sure if he was even playing anything. Mallman is a raw talent that will always play music because that’s what he was born to do. Do him a favor and pay attention to him, it will surely only add to his dramatic stature. To listen to Mark Mallman, go to his YouTube page: http://www.youtube.com/user/mallmanfan#p/u/0/q1wN99B2tdM
Another advantage to seeing this show on a slow night was the opportunities it provided to meet each of these acts after the show. Everyone was equally appreciative of the support and happy for the lineup. Collectively, we all decided that this lineup should definitely be brought together again soon. Until that day is upon us, let these pictures and music videos hold you over.
photos and story by Angela Davis