Times of social or political unrest can inspire provocative music and art. They can also arouse activism. Friday night, several Kansas City bands gathered at two events to raise assistance and awareness for two issues and causes: domestic violence and refugees.
The first event started early in the evening at Mills Record Co. in Westport, where two bands performed to a crowd of about 150. The show was a benefit for the Rose Brooks Center, a domestic-violence shelter. A cash donation was taken at the door, as were donations of feminine products, a constant need at the shelter.
Katy Guillen and the Girls opened the show, delivering a set of about 30 minutes that showcased the trio’s invigorating and distinct blend of blues and rock, including “Can’t Live Here Anymore,” a track from their stellar “Heavy Days” album that ended with raucous and fervid instrumental that tapped into the mood in the room. The event was scheduled long before the presidential election, but the inauguration earlier that day was clearly on a lot of people’s minds.
Sister Mary Rotten Crotch, who closed the event, tapped even further into that mood, unleashing a loud, cathartic set of raw, hardcore, punk songs, the sound of militancy and defiance. The band includes drummer Amy Farrand, who organized the benefit. It has been around for 20 years, and it performs only occasionally, usually for moments like this, but it has shed none of its muscle and zeal.
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About the time the Mills Record show ended, another benefit started up at the RecordBar: Musicians for Active Justice: Get Loud, which raised money and supplies for KC for Refugees.
The lineup was loud but diverse. The Medicine Theory opened. It’s a hardcore post-punk duo comprising guitarist Jeff Irvine and drummer/vocalist Tyson Schroeder that sounds like a small army issuing squalls of guitar and waves of percussion and deranged vocals that manage to cling to an engaging groove.
They passed the baton to Hipshot Killer, an old-school punk trio that engages bright melodies with volatile, high-speed rhythms and vocals that express a mix of passion and rebellion.
Emmaline Twist followed Hipshot Killer, changing the flavor of music from punk to groovy ‘80s post-punk lacquered with fits of psychedelia and shoegaze. Meredith McGrade handles vocal duties, singing over the tide of Krysztof Nemeth’s inventive and provocative guitar play, conjuring music that sounds like Chrissie Hynde fronting a post-punk band with some Joy Division or Interpol in its veins.
The final act of the night was a fill-in for the Architects, who had to bow out at the 11th hour because of an illness. In their stead, Cantankerous with Ernie Locke and the Karmic Hillbillies, featuring Locke, who has fronted some of Kansas City’s best-ever bands, including Sin City Disciples, Tenderloin and Parlay.
Cantankerous picks up where those bands left off: burly, sludgy blues embroidered with the guitar work of Scott Mize and Locke’s signature blues harp.
Earlier in the evening, before Hipshot’s set, Sophia Khan, an activist who founded KC for Refugees, spoke to the crowd about the urgent purpose of the benefit, which was intentionally scheduled on Inauguration Day by its organizer, Sondra Freeman.
Khan started the group in April after helping some refugee families settle in Kansas City and realizing the vast need for supplies, clothing, furniture and other needs. She addressed an issue that arose during the presidential campaign: “The negativity going on in the media about refugees being dangerous people, especially the Syrian refugees.”
“To demonize people going through detailed scrutiny is very heartbreaking,” she said. “Most of the refugees I work with are very grateful that a country has taken them in and they have a chance to restart their lives. I have seen people who were very successful back home in their own countries and they come here with just two plastic bags of dirty clothes. Some of the refugees had businesses, they had multiple cars, they sent their children to private schools but when they left they couldn’t carry any of the stuff they had. So when they come here, there is so much a community can do for them.”
Friday night, on a day that signified change that many are nervous about, Kansas City’s music community stepped forward in a big way to help people, reminding everyone involved that in trying times, benevolence is also a viable means of activism.