Tony Ladesich is philosophical about the demise of his band, Pendergast.
"It’s the existential nature of what we do," he said. "You play gigs, you put out records, and eventually you go your separate ways."
The Kansas City-based band’s legacy includes "hundreds of shows" over six years and two exceptional albums. Its final performance is Friday at Davey’s Uptown Ramblers Club.
Pendergast’s gritty, raw, roots rock careens between earnest twang and punk-informed thrash. The band’s repertoire includes tales of romantic heartbreak, bleary alcohol-fueled celebrations, grim stories of economic woe and the small shards of salvation harbored inside jukeboxes.
"It’s just American music with roots based in rock ’n’ roll, country and early folk music," Ladesich explained. "But a little Rolling Stones swagger (is) thrown in."
Pendergast was more than just another band for many of their fans. Kansas City songwriter and performer Howard Iceberg is among Ladesich’s admirers.
"His songwriting is sharp, and he’s always working to make it sharper," Iceberg said. "He doesn’t pull any punches on himself or on anyone else."
Ladesich said: "I feel really lucky to have written songs that mean things to people and that help them through things. It’s an honor to have been part of a band that made songs like that."
Although a loyal coterie of fans and critics championed Pendergast, the band never attained the national acclaim of stylistically similar acts like Lucinda Williams and Drive-By Truckers.
"Money has never been a measure of success in regard to playing music, and it never will be," Ladesich said with a sigh.
Furthermore, the time demands of Pendergast began to conflict with his tandem career as the owner of film and video production company Mile Deep Films & Television.
"I’ve turned down thousands of dollars worth of work because I’ve had Pendergastshows booked that I’ve refused to cancel," Ladesich said. "Because to me the commitments were equally creative."
Among Ladesich’s film projects is a forthcoming full-length feature documentary about the Cowtown Ballroom.
"We have a really good story to tell," he promises of "Cowtown Ballroom ... Sweet Jesus!"
"While I still consider myself a professional musician," Ladesich explained, "my film work has become my primary focus."
Fans of Ladesich’s bristly songs and burly voice need not despair. He’s entering a new project that he promises will be "like the Band -- measurably swampy and huge."
"I look forward to writing better songs and making better records. Music is always something I’ll be passionate about. It’s not something you can turn on and off."
Still, disbanding Pendergast won’t be easy.
"There were very few things in my life that I got to do that were more fun than getting on stage with those guys," he said.
Ladesich personally selected the artists who will share the stage at Pendergast’s farewell performance. He spoke highly of Iowa’s Brother Trucker and Texas’ Macon Greyson.
"They’re kindred spirits, fellow traveling musicians and songwriters," Ladesich said with deep affection. "They’re people who believe in the redemptive power of rock ’n’ roll."
Ladesich’s passionate advocacy of music extends to his actions out of the spotlight. For example, Ladesich was one of the driving forces behind the benefit events on behalf of local musician Abigail Henderson in November.
"He stands for something," Iceberg said. "He’s a totally stand-up guy who is so solid for the entire music community. He’s always there to help. Tony is a real unsung hero and supporter of local music."
It’s fitting that Pendergast’s last hurrah will take place at Davey’s, the Main Street tavern Ladesich adores.
"They have an unbelievable sound system that’s perfect for that room," Ladesich said. "They have a really nice stage, and it sounds amazing in there.
"Davey’s has been a character in many of my songs. (The final show) couldn’t have been anywhere else. It wouldn’t have been right."
|Bill Brownlee, Special to The Star