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Show review: Betse Ellis/Loves It!/The Depth and The Whisper at The Brick, 6.15.12

(Pictured above: Betse Ellis and Jason Beers)

The grit of Americana music is in the story. A person's entire life can be summed up in 3 of 4 minutes. The most joyous of moments, the inexplicably painful experiences, the randomly bizarre episodes, all wrapped up in a neat little structure of verses and choruses. Last Friday at The Brick, an attentive crowd listened as 3 different groups of songwriters took the stage with handfuls of stories to tell.

The night got off to a fast-paced start with a solo set from Betse Ellis, the fiercest fiddle player in Kansas City and likely beyond. With the talent, the material, and the personality to enhance it, a solo set from Ellis can be far more captivating than watching many full bands. As an original member of The Wilders, Ellis has the experience and the chutzpah to command a stage by implementing a mix of her own tunes and classics. Her set included songs from artists like The Doc Watson Family and John Hartford, along with a few originals. These songs ran the gamut of humorous ("Drunkard's Hiccups"), insightful ("It's A Hard Time in This World," a song she played on tenor guitar), yet always entertaining. Ellis closed out her set with a rendition of The Clash's "Straight To Hell" - a fine example of her rock influences tinged with a traditional flare and culminating in an amusing and accessible flavor.

Though Ellis set the bar high, Austin duo Loves It! took the show to another level. In the same vein as Ellis, they were able to connect the traditional with the modern, playing their blend of folk with hints of indie pop. At times, the interplay between Jenny Parrott and Vaughn Walters was lighthearted and whimsical, evoking stomping feet and bobbing heads. The duo's cover of NOFX's "Linoleum" stood up to Ellis's Clash cover with its boldness and quirkiness without the schtick. Other songs were heartbreaking stories with tragically gorgeous vocal harmonies, hearkening The Avett Brothers with the sincerity and intimacy of The Civil Wars.
The night wrapped with The Depth and The Whisper, a Kansas City group relatively fresh to the scene but complete with veteran local musicians (Dave Tanner, Albert Bickley, Troy Van Horn, and Kelsey Cook, filling in on drums for Go-Go Ray). Though this 4-piece band did not quite fit the folky mood of the evening, they picked up where Loves It! left off in terms of sincerity, and continued in the storytelling tradition with a fuller but controlled voice. With a subtle but heartfelt set, the group closed out the evening on a poetic note and tied together the honesty and clarity of the previous acts.
Though each act had different influences, different approaches and different energy levels, each had a way of recounting individual stories and honoring the others before them, invoking a special sense of musical community.

 --Michelle Bacon

Michelle is editor-in-chief of The Deli - Kansas City. She also has a weekly column with The Kansas City Star and reviews music for Ink. She plays with Deco AutoDrew Black and Dirty Electric, and Dolls on Fire. In her spare time, she has no spare time, but fantasizes of the day where she can sleep and eat and travel to places where she can sleep and eat some more.

Album review: The Latenight Callers - Easy Virtues (EP)

(photography by Todd Zimmer)


The Latenight Callers' latest EP, Easy Virtues, is a 21-minute exhibit of what you’ve been missing if you haven’t by now heard of them. It is full of noiresque, sinfully sexy music that will have you turning the lights down low in order to fully appreciate. Fill up your hip flask, dust off your fedora… it’s time for The Latenight Callers.

Track 1: "The Mad Season"

Ellen O’Hayer’s guitar intro is as unsettling as it is swank. It’s not until Gavin Mac’s painkilling bass line drops in like a velvet bomb, you know you’re going to be okay … or are you? “It’s over now. You had your mad season with me,” begins the tale of regret and revelation that lyrically hearkens to Nancy Sinatra. The patented Latenight Callers “Noir-a-Go-Go” sound enchants and hypnotizes. It’s like that distant radio, playing softly against your unwinding mind as you drift off to sleep after a couple gins too many. The track then shifts into a driving pop chorus that shows The Latenight Callers have a few more gears in the box than one might have expected. Krysztof Nemeth’s baritone guitar solo abducts your fear and bathes you with that rare sensation of letting yourself fall when you know it’s a dream. His seductive melodies, accompanied by O’Hayer’s sparkling hollow body strumming, could entrance a crazed gorilla. Julie Berndsen and Ellen O’Hayer’s harmonized vocals have the same tantalizing effect as a cobra swaying to his master’s flute. Except, with the femme fatales of the Latenight Callers, it’s no ruse.

Track 2: "Electric Park"  

"Electric Park” begins with a familiar-with-the-80s synthesizer loop that you might hear some Face Value in ...  Suddenly, it slides into a smile inducing, hip swaying carnival rhapsody, showcasing more of Nemeth’s chiming, echoing, double agent guitar pangs—and another Latenight Callers trademark—the crooning of Julie Berndsen into a bullhorn. The trebly crackle of her amplified voice weaves a tapestry of lyricism, from stiletto heels to blushing schoolgirls. Graciously, The Latenight Callers know how to mix bullhorn vocals into their live and recorded sessions, pleasantly. No Al Jourgensen banshee wailings present here.

Track 3: "Calaveras"

Beginning with an old sample of Raymond Chandler reminding you that “anything can happen when the Santa Ana blows in from the desert,” saying “Calaveras” (“Skulls”) has noir soaked into it is like saying David Lynch makes strange movies. This track is the most serious in tone on the EP, though it remains ultra inviting. The hauntingly emotive vocal outro, harmonized between Berndsen and O’Hayer, is angelic; like the fabled capturing of a siren’s swan song. This is the 45 your subconscious spins while you drive down a lost highway during hours of darkness. Berndsen’s lusty vocals; Mac’s relentlessly groove-oriented bass measures; the patient hitman guitar arpeggios of Nemeth and O’Hayer; and the gentle backbeat conjured up by Nick Combs all would perfectly provide the score behind the iconic smoking ashtray scene in a black-and-white new wave film.

Track 4: "Wrecking Ball"

What would this EP be without a prominent organ part? You need not worry - here it is. “Wrecking Ball” downshifts into cerebral oblivion. By this fourth and final cut on Easy Virtues, you’ll blissfully feel like you have been doped by Jackie Treehorn. “It’s not about the way it tastes, it’s all about the way it feels…” This closing number begins to slip below the horizon and out of sight in the midst of a mournfully sustained violin, the distant whale song of a theremin, rich echoing guitars—and at the end of the tunnel—a few gentle finger snaps. Then it’s gone, leaving you all alone, where you’ll probably select track one, and start over.


Few bands can convincingly create such ambience. The Latenight Callers pull you from the everyday sphere, and send you packing, into that smoky parallel reality depicted in art-noir; where characters walk among the dark, seedy side of society. The Latenight Callers have worked painstakingly hard in crafting their own contemporary brand. The members have only been playing together as a unit for a couple years but they have earned the respect of Kansas City, in spades. Their shows always lend to a night to remember - I highly recommend catching them. It adds to the appreciation you’ll undoubtedly have for their albums. With that said, Easy Virtues is a must have in the music collection of any lover of the avant-garde.

You can catch The Latenight Caller's sultry noir live show at Nica's 320 this Friday, June 22 at 8 p.m. with The Blackbird Revue and Kentucky Knife Fight.

--Christian Anders Liljequist

Christian is a freelance writer. He will graduate from UMKC in the spring of 2013 with a BA in Communication Studies (Journalism & Mass Communication).


On The Beat with Bernie Dugan

This week's edition of On The Beat features multi-faceted drummer Bernie Dugan of The Brannock Device, Cher U.K., and The Quivers. He's a busy guy and a gear head. How does he do it? Catch the beat right here!

On The Beat is a weekly interview brought to you by drummer Sergio Moreno (of Hillary Watts Riot and Alacartoona), and features some of the many talented drummers in the Kansas City area.



On The Beat with Bernie Dugan


Bernie Dugan’s style is a lot like the many drumsets he’s collected through the years; rooted in tradition, warm in sound, steady in performance and most importantly, sparkly and fun. As the drummer for The Brannock Device, Cher UK and The Quivers, Dugan has swiftly become a staple of our local music scene.

The Deli: How did the drums find you?

Bernie DuganMy brother and brother-in-law both play drums. I started out playing on my brother's set. He is a lefty, so I would always have to rearrange his drums. I bought my own set in 1985, after saving up my money.

The Deli: Tell us about your collection.

BD: It is a slippery slope...You buy one, then another...and if you are not careful, you end up with more drums than room to keep them in. I got out of control in the late 1990s. I owned 12 drum sets and 40 or 50 snare drums. I just kept on finding good deals. I eventually grew tired of the size of my collection and scaled it down. Currently each band I am in has its own drum kit complete with bass drum art and I keep a kit in my practice space.

The Deli: What's up with vintage drums?

BD: I have a love-hate relationship with vintage drums. They can have a great warm tone that can't be duplicated with modern materials, but old drums have problems. Vintage drums were not made with the same precision that drums are made with today. Older drums have characteristics that you have to work around. Inevitably, parts fail and that can be a hassle especially when you are on stage.

I played vintage drums exclusively for years. Then one day, I had enough. Forty-year-old drums are not built to withstand the abuse I was dishing out at the time. I sold all of my vintage drums except for a snare drum and bought some second-hand, custom-built drums.

Some of the custom drum builders are making outstanding instruments. They tune easily, stay in tune and the modern hardware is so much more reliable. I played a number of custom kits for nearly 10 years and avoided vintage drums until I used the studio kit for the latest Brannock Device recording. It was a beautiful 1960s Ludwig Blue Sparkle kit. I was hooked. I never realized how much I missed that warm, woody tone. Shortly after I picked up the Gold Sparkle Ludwig kit that I use with The Quivers.

The Deli: Obligatory question: your favorite drummers. And why?

BD: I have too many favorites to list. My first favorite was Stewart Copeland. At the tender age of 14, he floored me. I couldn't comprehend why he sounded so different but I knew what he was doing was important. Ringo is on the list because he has style. Some of Ringo's beats will stick in your head like an ear worm. Max Roach is my favorite jazz drummer because he possessed all of the technical ability, yet had a very organic feel. Stephen Hodges is pretty remarkable, he has played on my favorite Tom Waits songs and my favorite Mike Watt songs.

The Deli: What's your process?

BD: The songs dictate much of what I do and I play what feels right to me. It is pretty simple, I don't try to analyze a song, I just try to feel it. I approach each band differently. With The Quivers, I have to keep it solid. I lock in with the bass and leave plenty of room for the rest of the instruments. I play what needs to be played while keeping it satisfyingly interesting. The Brannock Device is something completely different. It is about pushing and being shoved, but in a good way.

The Deli: Playing in three different bands, is it ever tricky?

BD: I just enjoy playing music and truly enjoy the people I play with. I consider my band members some of my best friends and would hang out with them even if we weren't in bands together.

Scheduling is the only real complication because, like me, most of my bands' members also play in multiple bands and/or have extensive solo performances.

Bernie is a busy drummer; if you haven’t seen him play yet, you will. Catch him live at recordBar this Sunday, June 24 with The Brannock Device (Sonic Spectrum’s tribute to The Minutemen) and June 30 with The Quivers (Sonic Spectrum’s Local Music Showcase).

 -Sergio Moreno

Sergio is a drummer drone for The Hillary Watts Riot and a contraption set buffoon with Alacartoona. He wishes he could get paid to practice meditation, do yoga, and drink white tea all day long. But in the meantime he earns his keep making greeting cards in Spanish.


Bernie Dugan
Bernie Dugan 


The Brannock Device
Into The Witness Chamber

The Quivers
The Quivers EP

Cher U.K.
She's A Weird Little Snack








Album review: Gemini Revolution - Other Side of Yesterday EP

“Can you picture the armada of Hello Kitty spaceships?” -Gen. Marsupial Takahashi

Someday, Japan is going to send people to Mars. It’s true. I’m pretty sure Gemini Revolution will provide the soundtrack while the astronauts will kick it during their long journey through space.

The Other Side of Yesterday EP is hacky sack music for Asian hipsters. It reeks of patchouli and mirin equally. This is the weird Asian record the Doors would have made had they lasted long enough. It’s kinda jammy, pretty psychedelic, and superbly spacey.

Gemini Revolution takes the Taj-Mahal Travelers playbook, cut out the boring extreme avant-garde randomness, and pop it up a bit. The slow building, eventually lush arrangements feature a mostly free-form rhythm section that provides enough randomness to contrast the layered cheap keyboards. The reverb-maxed vocals come and go sparingly, adding a textural component to music that is clearly focused on the other instrumentation.

The stand out of this EP is the title track “Other Side of Yesterday."  Reminiscent of Modest Mouse, the song goes through many variations of stripping down and being built back up. It also utilizes the vocals the best of any song in this batch, with a pleasant back and forth during the choruses. Mix in the melodic bass work, the Kenny G-esque saxophone keyboard doodling, and the random percussion introduced throughout, and you’re left with a song that tows the ADHD line, yet ends up accessible and groovy overall.

Some might say this sound is dated, but Gemini Revolution has a very specific thing they are going for. It is refreshing to hear a group of musicians just doing their thing, regardless of what is dictated by the musical trends around them.

 -Zach Hodson

Zach is a lifetime Kansas City resident who plays multiple instruments and sings in Dolls on Fire, as well as contributing to many other Kansas City music, art, and comedy projects.  He is very fond of edamame, treats his cat Wiley better than he treats himself, and doesn't want to see pictures of your newborn child (seriously, it looks like a potato).

Editor's note: Gemini Revolution released the follow-up EP to Other Side of Yesterday on June 14, entitled Sizuka. We'll have a review of this album to you very soon! 


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