When I moved to Kansas City, Missouri, about seven months ago I sought out to find the best greasy spoon diner, the best dive bar, and the best local band. I quickly found the best greasy spoon and dive bar, but I was at a loss when it came to the best local band. Word on the street was that The Republic Tigers were my best bet so when the West Bottoms Collective hosted a party The Republic Tigers were going to play at I was in like Flynn. But wouldn't you know it; the police came and ended the party before the band could even play a single note. I decided to just mark my calendar for the band's February 29th show at the Record Bar and hope the 5-0 wasn't around that night.
With no police in sight, I made my way into the Record Bar on Friday night and immediately noticed it was a packed house. The Jen Say Kwahs from nearby Lawrence, Kansas, had just taken the stage and already had the crowd moving. This quartet has a tight rhythm section, an infectious energy, dual-guitars, and the occasional lap steel. The vocals reminded me of Tim Kasher (Cursive, The Good Life) without all the anger, and the band as a whole knows how to create a catchy song and then go off and create ten other catchy songs that all sound unique.
The Jen Say Kwahs left the crowd in a good mood and most people in front of the stage stayed there to watch the next act, two brothers from Youngstown, Ohio, who go by Gil Mantera's Party Dream. During a quick sound check Gil Mantera and his brother Ultimate Donny looked like typical hipsters drinking bottles of Miller High Life and wearing saggy ass jeans and dirty shirts while testing mics. But when they took the stage to perform their look changed, and suddenly I was gazing at luche libre electro madmen. "The Party Dream", as they like to call it, is like watching two brothers rock out in their underwear to electronic songs on a YouTube video. They are completely uninhibited. Their set began with beats that thumped so hard I could feel it in my feet, and was layered with; keyboards, guitars, and vocals that are either straight into the mic or through a vocoder. The crowd by the stage - a mix of art students, indie kids, and 18 year-olds happy to be at a show that let them in the damn door - ate up the set. The crowd at the back of the Record Bar, however, wasn't feeling it. I quickly learned that the most hetero of men are not interested in partying with The Party Dream, and this is a shame because gorgeous, fun girls are all up in the party. A girl helping this band with merch who explained "The Party Dream" to me is, hands down, the hottest person I've ever seen handling band merch. The hetero men shouldn't let the underwear and electro beats hold them back, because a good party is a good party.
While the brothers left the stage and The Republic Tigers set up, I decided to kill the time by playing Hipster Bingo in my head. G, Ironic Mustache. Got it. O, Miller High Life. Why yes, it's everywhere along with; G, Pabst Blue-Ribbon, N, That '70s ski vest, O, 4-foot tall girl, and B, Circa 1968 Mick Jagger haircut. BINGO!!!
The Republic Tigers started their set with the exceptionally beautiful song "Buildings and Mountains." I've heard this song quite a few times and I was pleased that it sounded just as fantastic live as it does recorded. "Weatherbeaten," the second song in their set, sounded off but it seemed to come from the board rather than from what singer Kenn Jankowski was putting into the mic. I noticed him gesturing towards the sound guy a couple of times during the song trying to correct the problem. The questionable sound continued to show itself off and on throughout the set. This is a shame, because one of the things that set this band apart from other acts is the layered vocals. It would have been great to see the band with spot-on sound, although I did get a hint of their vocal perfection when Adam McGill and Justin Tricomi joined in on harmonies.
Keep Color is the name of The Republic Tiger's forthcoming album on Chop Shop Records and the band's set list on Friday was filled with songs from the album. This was my first time hearing quite a few of the band's songs and what stuck out at me the most was the lyrics. This band will trick you if you let them. You can listen casually to their songs and be impressed by how they manage to layer electronica, acoustic guitars, happy beats, and vocal harmonies, and deem it fantastic indie music that makes you feel good. Or, you can listen closely to the lyrics and let them take you through a dark and pensive gutter where some dude is kind enough to give you a swig off a bottle of whiskey and pass on some observations and words of advice. Beneath all of The Republic Tigers' perfectly balanced musical layers and harmonies, there are some deep thoughts going on. After I noticed this, I found myself far more impressed with what they were doing up on the stage. Its one thing to create lovely songs with hooks and harmonies that get stuck in a person's head, but when a band can do this while also making a person really stop and think about what it is that you are actually conveying...well, then you're really on to something.
The Republic Tigers' are on to something. They convinced me of this on Friday night. Musically, their entire set was tight and if they can bring forth the same vocal quality to their live performances that they offer on their recordings they won't have any problems convincing a lot of other people as well. I look forward to buying Keep Color and shifting between enjoying their sound and contemplating their lyrics. Oh, and yes, I have deemed them the best band of Kansas City.
"Buildings and Mountains"
"Feelin' the Future"
"Give Arm To Its Socket"
"Stranger To The Eyes Of A Child-Man"
Photos by Jefferson Thomason