Saturday night at the RecordBar one could find a motley crew of Kansas City music lovers, listeners, and performers. It was not just another bill of local bands on this night, but a celebration honoring local radio personality Michael Byars’ 50th birthday. Byars, an announcer and coordinator for NPR satellite station KCUR, also runs local music podcast The Mailbox, with frequent contributor and music guru Chris Haghirian. The guest of honor seemed to be in good company, as the whole of the venue was filled with people in high spirits, laughing, drinking and cavorting about between bands, and Byars was rarely spotted without a drink in hand. A testament to the man’s dedication and influence, he received toast after toast from those that took the stage before and during performances.
Deco Auto began their set shortly before 10:00 and played an all too short 30 minute set of sugary sweet power-pop. The trio has only been performing together for about a year and have yet to even record a demo, but they have already built a steady reputation on a foundation of well-written hooks by guitarist/vocalist Steven Garcia. When I caught up with Garcia afterward, he admitted that he was raised on the timeless anthems of the Ramones, so he plays pop because it is what he knows. After seeing the band once previously shortly after forming, the rhythm section of Tracy Flowers and Michelle Bacon have become a tightly meshed companion with Garcia, playing a rigid melodic punk that is at once brand new and recalls the best eras of pop music that relied on simple harmonies and nothing more.
American Catastrophe, for lack of a better description, are the only thing imaginable when one is asked to picture Nick Cave playing apocalyptic country. In their 40 minute set, the band displayed a range of depth and gloom greater than many in our city these days, and seated front man Shaun Hamontree bellows into his old broadcast microphone with a force that can take an entire room’s attention in mere seconds. Hamontree has been playing Great Depression influenced Gothic Americana with multi-instrumentalist Terrence Moore since the experimental late ’90s band The Black Water, and their fusion of talents has only grown in the last decade. Add to that the bass work of eclectic musician (and host for the night) Amy Farrand and the sound becomes a booming timbre and an aural experience one must encounter first hand.
Local legends the Pedaljets began shortly before midnight and played a set largely made up of new songs. This is good news, as the band’s last release came out in 1989. Whether they like it or not, the Pedaljets are a part of regional music history, infamously destructing in the midst of being courted by a few larger labels of the day. In the early-mid ’90s, singer/guitarist Mike Allmayer found respite with drummer Rob Morrow in the MCA-released Grither, and the Pedaljets’ self-titled sophomore release and ultimate swan song had new life breathed into it in 2007 when it was re-mixed and re-issued. Rumors have been aplenty in recent months concerning if and when a new album will see the light of day, but as yet there is no definitive answer. In any case, the band seems to have mellowed in recent years, opting for a much poppier, but no less fetching cadence than was present in the occasionally abrasive sounds of the band’s first two releases from their youth.
Closing out the night was a reunion from local slowcore merchants The String and Return. The group has played a handful of times in recent years, but their most recent output is quickly nearing the decade mark in age. By this late into the night (or early into the morning, since it was just before 1:00 at the time they struck the first chords), the crowd had quieted down to a dull roar and seemed to be in admiration of the melodic, somber lull displayed from the gents on stage. The ebb and flow of music that came from the corner of the room over the course of the evening ranged from poppy to melancholy, and from baby-faced to new classic, but the general theme stayed fairly jubilant for the celebration at hand. If the toasts given were any indication, the guest of honor likely can’t remember much through the haze of the evening, and may very well still be nursing a hangover. Happy birthday, Michael Byars, and thanks for caring about what goes on in this town.
by Greg Stitt
Photos by Greg Stitt