A harmonica plays in the darkness like a lone man stuck on a desert, thirsty and isolated.
A triple percussion attack comes from all sides like a tribal beat from the altar of a sacrificial ritual.
A saw lets out a primal scream, screeching out of desperation.
And then there’s the 4-part harmonies. And the banjos. And the wailing guitars.
Those were just small samplings of the sounds heard at this year’s Middle of the Map fest.
After seeing 33 bands in a 3-day span, I wouldn’t be able to begin to sum up my entire experience. So… highlights.
New beginnings and reunions
The fest kicked off Thursday night at the recordBar with Schwervon!, a 2-piece indie rock outfit freshly transplanted from New York to Kansas City the day before. Though anticipatory of the crowd acts to come, the band was given a warm Kansas City welcome.
From then on, the night catapulted into a high-energy reunion with four Kansas City bands popular in the early to late 90s. Cher UK, the Esoteric, Season To Risk, and Molly McGuire. Melodic pop punk, hardcore, noise rock, and hard prog rock all in one room. Though I was not familiar with any of the bands’ material besides Season To Risk, I found myself fist pumping and headbanging with the raucous crowd.
Group of the Altos
Sometimes when you stumble upon a new band that you really enjoy, all you can really say is, “Holy crap.” And that’s what happened when I walked into a somewhat sparse Riot Room early Friday evening to see the 11-piece (though normally 12) band Group of the Altos from Milwaukee.
Too often, many musicians include unnecessary, unorganized sounds that add to the annoying “noise” factor. Fortunately, Group of the Altos created a well-orchestrated musical tapestry with their work. Layered guitars and ambient noises with a double bass, screaming violins, dissonant notes blending with heavy beats and ethereal vocals. Not to mention the horror movie soundtrack-hearkening saw.
Mates of State
If I haven’t mentioned it (and I have), I’m a sucker for great male/female vocal harmonies, and have been a Mates of State fan for awhile. The group (normally a duo of husband-and-wife team Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, also including a guitarist, and an overly excited trumpeteer/keyboardist/fly guy) played crowd favorites like “Get Better” and “The Re-arranger” beautifully, but lacked some of the chemistry and onstage presence I had hoped for. Nonetheless, a solid set that left a feeling of optimism afterwards.
Westport Street Fare
Okay, not a band, but a fantastic food truck situated in Westport. It’s worth a mention and a loud applause for providing my friends and I with an unexpectedly flavorful snack in between sets. Taco selections included Korean short rib, chicken confit, seared mahi, spicy pork, or crispy tofu. I’ll be back for the ramen when not running from venue to venue.
I decided to check out this duo after seeing them featured in this Paste Magazine article on 10 Missouri Bands You Should Listen To Now. Sleepy Kitty hails from St. Louis, exudes a whole lot of cuteness, and most importantly, knows how to pull off a fuzzy Sonic Youth-esque rock sound with only 2 individuals.
El Ten Eleven
Admittedly, I was looking forward to seeing El Ten Eleven more than any other act of the fest, though I had seen them at MidCoast Takeover not long before. I officially closed out my MoTM experience Saturday at the recordBar, watching this experimental post-rock instrumental electronic duo play to an eager crowd. Being consumed by these sounds was a musician’s dream. I stood in awe in front of Kristian Dunn’s massive pedal boards while he switched seamlessly between guitar and bass on his Carvin doubleneck, and gawked at Tim Fogarty’s smooth transitions between electronic and acoustic drums. Nerd rock eases my tangled mind.
Though many of the bands I saw were amazing in their own ways, and though the 1-in-1-out capacity of recordBar on Friday night and Riot Room & Beaumont on Saturday night was a little inconvenient, and though there were a few bands I would’ve loved to have seen but wasn’t able to get to (Thee Water MoccaSins, Murder By Death, A Lull, Telegraph Canyon), and though I seem to be getting too old to put up with all-ages shows, the entire fest culminated in a sense of pride and accomplishment, much like what I experienced at MidCoast Takeover. But this time in my very own town. Being able to wander around my regular stomping grounds and see venues packed to the brim was nice to experience, even if annoying to the selfish person in me who wants to experience a band on my very own terms. And even if some of that crowd was only out to see that one special band that they knew from the car commercial, they still likely got to experience some of the amazing local acts that a lot of us know and love.
After 6,000 or so attendees gathered around Westport to see some of these acts over the weekend weekend, hopefully it was able to prove something to the masses that many of us already seem to know: Kansas City is coming into its own as a musical destination.
*Other great acts not yet mentioned: Mission of Burma, The Life and Times, Mansion, American Catastrophe, Old Canes, Appleseed Cast, Olympic Size, Making Movies, La Guerre, Cherokee Rock Rifle, after-party at recordBar with Dirtnap.
Don’t forget to support local music and the Midwest Music Foundation!