To anyone in attendance, the first night of Kansas City’s second annual Middle Of The Map Festival is on the books as a success. From my standpoint, I couldn’t have been dragged away from the RecordBar to see anyone else but those that were on the lineup. Laziness and wearing the most awful choice in walking shoes attribute to that as well.
I arrived fairly early to the venue, not sure if I should have expected a mass of people and a line down the parking lot. Entering the building shortly after 6, only a handful of people were peppered around, the usual crowd size for a poorly populated show or a trivia night. A current of excitement was permeating the air, stimulating the scattered bodies awaiting the opening band. The close to a never-ending workweek was near, and with it, the cathartic release made possible only by live music.
Brand new (as in, that day) KC import duo Schwervon! opened right on time at 7:00 with bubbly powerpop hinting toward garage without the distinctive schtick that so often comes with a membership of two. Drummer Nan Turner and guitarist Matt Roth faced each other while playing, connecting eyes while their vocal harmonies complemented over bare bones jangly riffs and simplistic drum beats. The former New Yorkers played a 30 minute set that started the night on a high note.
After a quick set change, the first in a series of local music veterans took the stage, as Cher UK opened with “Disaster,” the closing track from the band’s 1993 debut She’s A Weird Little Snack. Immediately following this was “Ba Ba Ba Ba,” a track from the band’s last release to date (from 2000). The set jumped around the bulk of their discography, and spanned the multiple punk influences that came from member changes, though it focused heavily on the previously mentioned releases. From the last full-length, Texas Vacation, the band performed “Retrofeeliac” and the speedy “One Nation,” dedicated to the GOP by grey-haired front man Mike McCoy with the same exuberance with which it appears on recording.
McCoy moved to Austin without ever officially retiring the band, and his return visits are usually graced with a show or two, though he has also stayed on the local music radar with the conceptual one-off Black Rabbits and country band Wood Roses. A new Cher EP is to be expected eventually, though little more than a few support shows will occur in conjunction with its release. The all too short 40 minutes the band performed was capped off by a few of their most potent power-punk anthems: “Kibbles ‘n’ Bitz,” “College Song,” and “Motocaster.” Here’s to hoping that new album is a priority for the group.
Metal stalwarts The Esoteric started their set late, the first of two taking place that would prove to be plagued by bass cabinet issues. I racked my brain during their reunion set to figure out how long it had been since I’d seen the band perform, and came up with the answer of roughly a decade (looking into it after, it’s been just under 8 years — and was at the El Torreon, no less). The band, like Cher UK before them, and the one that would follow immediately after, only play the occasional show every few years, the members’ lives filled with other music projects and interests.
Likely as a way to poke fun at the band as they were in their existence, Stevie Cruz came out wearing a mop-top wig, a hairstyle similar to what he had in his pre-Hammerlord days. The five members chugged through a deafening set, covering ground from a small amount of the early, vitriolic noise they played in the beginning, to the open chord, breakdown-friendly metallic hardcore with which they gained their popularity. This notoriety nabbed them a spot on the roster of Prosthetic Records, through which they released their final two albums, With the Sureness of Sleepwalking and Subverter.
By the time Season to Risk began, the RecordBar was shoulder-to-shoulder with people aggressively enjoying the band. While perhaps there was no all out moshing happening, a fair amount of close range shoving (which equated more to a small unison of people surging in one direction at once) and even a lone crowd surfer appeared. Steve Tulipana worked the room, often standing on the monitors at front or hanging from the projector installed in the ceiling, leaning over to yell at the audience through his microphone. As with most of the bands that evening, their setlist spanned across most of their discography, with key songs and former hits like “Mine Eyes” and “Snakes” getting the most audience reactions.
The band’s lineup was fleshed out by founding member and guitarist Duane Trower, David Silver on drums (a longtime player, but one of over ten drummers that have worked with the group), and Wade Williamson, who joined the band shortly before their final album was released over a decade ago. The night featured a special guest in bassist Josh Newton, who played on the band’s acclaimed post-major label foray Men Are Robots, Monkeys Win and has seen success in other nationally touring bands since. Final thought: my sinuses were thankful that the band decided to forgo the use of a smoke machine this time around.
The last band to perform on the RecordBar stage that night was from none other than Molly McGuire. It had been over a decade since the band performed together, when founder Jason Blackmore got the itch to piece the band back together and record some old songs for proper release. This led to an eventual series of live reunion shows, starting in California and ending in Blackmore’s former home of KC. The original lineup has remained intact, with Ray Jankowski on bass and Jason Gerken on drums, and rotating guitar spots from Scott McMillian, Seth Harty, and Toby Lawrence, each performing on songs from the era in which they were a member.
Though the rest of the band remained silent, Blackmore was audibly overjoyed to be able to perform songs that had been written 20 years earlier, and to be able to share the stage with who he described as some of his best friends. Set highlights include all of the songs that were written before their major label release Lime, including the great opener of “Sick,” followed by “With Passion,” both being the lead-in tracks on the far superior (and far grungier) debut album, Sisters Of. Molly is a band I was too young to have ever witnessed firsthand, but I’m glad I was given a chance to remedy this and hear songs performed live that I’ve been listening to for the last ten years.
By Greg Stitt