As the big players in the music industry try to figure out how to survive the implosions around it, life at the other end is percolating nicely. If big-show ticket prices are too high for you or you prefer venues that are more intimate than an arena or amphitheater, your local music world usually has something for you, especially on the weekends. Saturday night was one of those nights in Kansas City.
The choices were several and varied, including Extra Classic (reggae/soul) and Tommy Ferrari & the Future Motor Machines (rock) at the Czar Bar; a Radiohead tribute at the Record Bar; and a burlesque revival at the Folly. All local; all worthwhile.
The evening's grand finale was at Crosstown Station, a few blocks south of the Power and Light District, where the Hearts of Darkness threw a birthing party for the 18-piece band's self-titled debut album. The room, which holds about 300 people, was nearly full by the time the main event arranged itself on stage. This evening, they had grown by one: bassist supreme and special guest Jeff Harshbarger stood in on electric guitar. Talk about gilding gold and painting the lily.
Their set lasted more than two hours and it showcased a band that presents itself as a fierce and fine-tuned machine playing a bristling and percussive mix of Afrobeat, jazz, funk/soul and hip-hop. Its founding influence is Fela Kuti, the father of Afrobeat, but throughout the night, they evoked and insinuated other sounds, genres and influences: James Brown, OutKast, Sly and the Family Stone, Tower of Power, Talking Heads. A friend suggested another: the Cuban jazz ensemble Irakere.
HoD's music comprises many moving parts, each with its own discrete design and purpose, yet its arrangements never get jammy or overwhelm the music's primal mission: to lay down a groove that will make a big crowd dance, seemingly involuntarily at times. You almost have to concentrate on not moving to prevent yourself from responding to the groove.
Saturday's performance showcased songs from the album "Hearts of Darkness." The album, recorded in analog, is warm, organic and dynamic. Live, those songs jump to another level of muscle, might and ebullience. This crowd was familiar with some of the older material, jumping in fervently on some call-and-response lines ("I want my mind back / I want my time back ...'). But even during the new songs, the enthusiasm in the room remained high.
Les Izmore, the band's rapper/lyricist, is the outboard motor that revs this band into a higher gear, with help from his three up-front backup singers/dancers, Rachel Christia, Brandy Gordon and Erica Townsend. Throughout the night, but especially on the two infernal closers -- "Shelf Life" and "Space Age" -- they and the seven-piece horn section shared and traded lines, executing an impressive choreography of vocals and instrumental riffs and lines.
It was easy to watch the entire two-hour show and feel like this is a band that could easily jump into some heavy regional or national prominence, one that could absolutely steal the show at a jam band festival, for example.
And until trumpet player Bob Asher thanked band members' families and significant others for tolerating all the rehearsal time, it was also easy to forget that HoD is a collection of appreciative local musicians with day jobs who do this for the love and thrill of it, surrounded by fans who are also neighbors. The big boys in the music industry ought to take note. Shows like this is where long-term loyalty begins.
| Timothy Finn, The Star