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Smaller venues have bigger payoff, fans and musicians say

08/24/2014 4:00 AM

08/24/2014 9:00 AM

When it comes to live music, the size of the venue matters, and a prime example of that occurred earlier this month.

On consecutive nights, Miley Cyrus performed at the Sprint Center and the band the Baseball Project performed at the RecordBar.

About 10,000 fans attended the Cyrus show at the downtown arena, which has a capacity of 15,000 to 18,000, depending on the stage setup. About 150 attended the Baseball Project show at the venue west of Westport, which has a capacity of about 250.

The shows were equally satisfying but vastly different.

Cyrus’ show was an extravagant spectacle, a constant barrage of music, dancing, theatrics and antics, props, wardrobe changes and videos. Except for those closest to the stage, Cyrus was remote, under the spotlight but in the distance. Only the video screens brought her image close to those in the seats away from the stage. Yet she and her large ensemble of dancers and musicians aroused an enthusiastic mood in the arena throughout the two-hour show.

The Baseball Project comprises songwriters and musicians from several bands, including Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows; bassist Mike Mills, formerly of R.E.M.; and Steve Wynn, formerly of the Dream Syndicate. Most of them are accustomed to performing at larger venues, especially Mills, who played to full arenas when he was with R.E.M. Before and after the show, band members mingled with fans at the bar or merchandise table.

Two fans who were there said the size of the venue and mood in the room made it a better show.

“The Baseball Project was a near perfect show,” said Sherman Breneman. “Nice venue, engaged and attentive audience with a band that was happy to be there and giving it their all. I didn’t stick around too long after the show but loved how all of the members, even Mills, were signing autographs, taking pictures and just being gracious to their fans. It was a great night for music.

“There are very few acts I will even go see at an arena as the show is so far removed from the audience.”

“I did have a chance to talk with Mike Mills and Scott McCaughey at that show,” said Meshel Cook. “I’ve been friends with Mike since 1998. I’ve seen him play at outdoor amphitheaters like Sandstone and most recently at the RecordBar. The big venues hold their own dynamic sense of energy, but from my point of view a small venue is definitely more intimate and organic.

“There is something special about being so close and personal with talented musicians and you feel honored to be there with them.”

Several small venues have opened in Kansas City over the past year or so: Vandals in the Black and Gold Tavern; the Tank Room, which opened next door to the Green Lady Lounge, an intimate jazz venue; the Buffalo Room, a theater/music venue that opened recently in the Westport Flea Market; the Broadway Jazz Club, now open across the street from the Uptown Theater; and the Ship, which opened this summer in the West Bottoms and showcases live music regularly.

In addition to those rooms, there’s the Living Room (or Gospel Lounge) a 50-seat performance room in the back of Knuckleheads. And clubs like the RecordBar, the Riot Room, Czar Bar, Davey’s Uptown Ramblers Club and the Brick, which have capacities between 80 and 250, regularly book regional and national touring bands.

Smaller can be good for bands, too. The punk band Radkey, three brothers from St. Joseph, has played nearly every sized venue imaginable: in rooms that barely hold three dozen people and at festivals before tens of thousands of fans. Matt Radke, the brothers’ father, said big is good, but ultimately small is better.

“The guys really dig the small clubs the most because you can really feel the energy of the room,” he said. “It’s cool to play in front of a huge crowd, but there is just something special about those small rooms. They played a club in Cologne, Germany, called Stereo Wonderland that had a cap of 40 and it was one of their favorite shows of that tour.”

The Kansas City band the Beautiful Bodies, too, has performed in a variety of settings. Lead singer Alicia Solombrino said as a fan and a performer, she prefers smaller settings because bands also like feeling closer to their fans.

“I look at venues like a fan would: The smaller ones are better because they’re more intimate and that is something so special and rare,” she said. “I saw Lady Gaga at (South by Southwest) in a small venue, for her. It was incredible. So much better than seeing her at an arena.

“Beautiful Bodies had our EP-release show at Riot Room, knowing we could have done it at a bigger venue, but we wanted that connection with the audience.”

15 SHOWS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT

SMALLER VENUES

Sept. 19: Mudhoney at the Riot Room

Sept. 23: Living Colour at Knuckleheads

Sept. 29: Interpol at the Granada

Oct. 6: The Paul Collins Beat at the RecordBar

Nov. 15: Ida McBeth’s Living Room session inside Knuckleheads; Rhonda Vincent on the main stage at Knuckleheads

MEDIUM-SIZE VENUES

Sept. 26: Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the VooDoo Lounge

Sept. 27: Lykke Li at the Uptown Theater

Oct. 5: Robin Trower at the VooDoo Lounge

Oct. 21: Judas Priest at the Midland

Nov. 22: Loretta Lynn with Wanda Jackson at the Uptown Theater

LARGE VENUES

Sept. 17: Die Antwoord at Crossroads KC

Sept. 23: Demi Lovato at Sprint Center

Sept. 26: Dr. John and the Nite Trippers at Crossroads KC

Oct. 4: Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band at Starlight Theatre

Dec. 21: The Black Keys with St. Vincent at Sprint Center

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