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Show recap: Murder Ballad Ball 5 - The Verdict

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Show recap: Murder Ballad Ball 5 - The Verdict

(Photo by Sondra Freeman)
 
Another Murder Ballad Ball has come and gone, leaving a ghostly smile playing about the lips of those who attended that will be a source of puzzlement well in the coming week to those we come in contact who didn't attend.
 
Saturday night, The Verdict, was seven hours of music by some of Kansas City's best musicians performing at The Living Room Theater. The music got started at 6:00 with A.J. Gaither doing a one-man set playing his homemade cigar box guitars and a kick bass, doing mostly original material, except that gospel number he snuck in there because hey, the crucifixion is the most famous murder of 'em all, right?
 
Next up was perennial KC bluegrass favorite Loaded Goat, romping through a five-song set that had the crowd that was starting to trickle in and fill up the place on their feet and dancing from the first notes of “John Hardy” to the final notes of “Six Feet Down.”
 
Next up was David George and cellist Christine Gross doing a stripped-down six-song set of Crooked Mile tunes that had the crowd that was ready to ride off and rob the Glendale Train with Loaded Goat a few minutes before paying rapt attention so as not to miss any of his subtle turns of songwriting phrase.
 
The fourth act of the night was Damon Parker who did a solo-set—just him and his electric piano—reminiscent of Dr. John and New Orleans. His rendition of “Seven Spanish Angels” gave me goosebumps, and the strains of “Night Train” hung in the room long after he had left the stage and the next act was setting up.
 
Mikal Shapiro put together an all-star ensemble for her set, with the one-and-only Betse Ellis on bass, Amy Farrand on drums, and Chad Brothers on lead guitar. Her set opened with a version of “You Are My Sunshine” that my Nana never sang to me, moved into her original song “Technicolor,” followed by “Dublin Reds,”(her interpretation of Townes Van Zant's “Dublin Blues”) and they finished their set with the timeless Leonard Cohen classic “The Future.” Here's hoping we see more of this project in the new year—these musicians just jell when they come together. Each and every one of them is absolutely fabulous in their own right, but never has the phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” been more fitting.
 
 
Anthony Ladesich—Kansas City's answer to Steve Earle—was up next, and he played seven original songs, each one a narrative, and each one a true murder ballad. His set started with “To Vanish and Fade,” a haunting tale of a man who kills the banker who comes to foreclose on his home, then segued into the even more haunting “Down Bellfontaine,” about a serial killer stalking and murdering his first victim. The tune that stuck in my head was “In the Cut”: “we'll get in quick and get out quicker, we'll get high when we get done” about two guys who rob a liquor store, but it's a double cross, and one of them kills the other one—but he got high when he got done.
 
Kasey Rausch, who never disappoints, delivered a knock-out set with alternating supporting musicians. Her first song was “I Used to Love Her,” sang with her sister Kim Rausch McLaws; the sisters delivered some of the tightest harmonies you'll ever hear this side of the Ryman. She finished her set with the Rural Grit All-Stars doing another superb rendition of “Seven Spanish Angels.”
 
The Rural Grit All-Stars have been holding the fans of roots music in thrall for years. I worked for Roger Naber at the Grand Emporium when the Rural Grit Happy Hour got started, and when the news spread through the music community that he had sold the bar, the most common question I got was, “What's going to happen to Rural Grit?” (It has had a couple of homes since then, but it's still going strong, Monday nights from 6:00-9:00 at The Brick, and the cover is still only three bucks.) The All Stars performed their own set, and its various members performed with other acts throughout the night, especially Betse Ellis. She was, without a doubt, on the stage more than anyone else. It seemed like she played with more acts than she didn't; this is not a complaint, it is simply an observation, smug and self-satisfied in a my-town-is-better-than-your-town-for-live-music sort of way.
 
 
The Silver Maggies are always great, and always loud, and Saturday night was no exception. They brought their “A” game to the Ball and crushed it with a wall of sound.
 
 
The Philistines were the penultimate act, kicking their set off with the original number “Stygia,” then following it with a few covers, the first one ‘80s college-rock classic by Adam & The Ants, “Killer in the Home.” That was followed by Neil Young's “Revolution Blues. Cody Wyoming and Kimberly Queen, the couple that makes up the beating heart of The Philistines, are huge fans of ‘80s college rock, and they went back to that well for “Killing and Arab” by The Cure, and finished the set with “Para” by Calexico.
 
 
Since Murder Ballad Ball is the brainchild of Cadillac Flambe (pictured above) frontman Kristopher Bruders, they took the stage last and played until closing time, holding the rapt attention of the die-hards who were still hanging in there at 12:30. Once they got the technical issues with the piano resolved, they blew the roof off the joint. Havilah Bruders has a voice so powerful it can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up when she belts out a murder ballad, and no drummer has ever had more fun with a kit than Michael Payne, but bassist Dave Duly gives him a run for his money. For all intents and purposes, when they're playing, the Cadillac Flambe rhythm section is like kids at recess.
  
Much appreciation to The Living Room Theater for the use of the space and to their staff for putting up with a bunch of rowdy music fans, to the tireless efforts of both Rhonda Lyne and Sondra Freeman who work non-stop to make sure every Midwest Music Foundation event comes together seamlessly, to all the vendors who donated items for the raffles and silent auction, and to the talent for showing up and entertaining us and bringing us together for such a good cause...the health and well being of Kansas City musicians. As I like to say, before the country had Obamacare, KC's musicians had Abby Care.
 
--Tammy Booth
  
Tammy (AKA Blue Girl) also blogs for They Gave Us A Republic and Show Me Progress.
 

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