Monday, November 30, 2009

Rock On The Range

Maybe it's something about the silence that seems to consume everything else around; So quiet sometimes that you can hear the dew freezing itself across the brown, Flint Hill pastures on frigid December mornings. Maybe all that natural silence leads to an inner desire to create a holy racket. If you are under the impression that the state of Kansas is nothing but a hotbed for redneck, gay-bashing, dinosaur-denying, right-wing, Christian Conservative, militia-forming-nut-jobs, well, you're not far off the mark. But there are a few nooks and crannies in the state, intellectual oasises for heartland ex-pats to hatch their secret-Muslim, socialist, public option healthcare-loving, takeover plans. The college town of Lawrence, Kansas could go toe-to-toe for in-the-know, tight-pants-hipsters, with the Williamsburg, disposable income kids. In Lawrence, Kansas City, and a few other freaked-out farm towns, kids go to great pains to rock the Great Plains.
For anyone who has ever wondered what the hell happened to Dorthy after leaving Oz and returning to Kansas, here's what I can tell you: Dorthy's all grown up now and she drinks PBR.

Here are the top 10 best bands from the Sunflower State.

10. Paw
For a second or two in the nineties it looked like Lawrence was going to blow up on the music scene. Rolling Stone Magazine went as far as calling the leafy college town 'The Next Seattle.' For better or worse that prediction never came true, but there's little in the way of explanation as to why bands like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden got huge and Paw didn't.

9. Minus Story
Beatles influenced, dreamy Kansans making some of the best indie-pop in the Midwest.

8. Ghosty
These guys have a record produced by Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk), shared studio space with The Flaming Lips, write perfect little Big Star-inspired pop tunes with a sincerity that rivals Death Cab for Cutie but tempered (thankfully) by a cool distance ala Pavement. The fact that they are not played all over college radio stations is a freaking travesty.

The Anniversary
One of the more successful Kansas bands in recent memory. Until their break up, The Anniversary spread their big anthemic choruses and guitar-heavy rock music around the world.

6. The Embarrassment
It came out of Wichita. The Village Voice once called these guys, 'A great lost American band.' But from 1979-1983 their blistering punk-pop (think a stoned-out, beefed-up Elvis Costello) wasn't lost on anybody.

5. Ad Astra Per Aspera
What started in a basement in suburban Kansas City quickly became one of the most exciting stage shows I have ever seen (and I've seen a lot of shows). A few years back Ad Astra was set to open for Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah but a few hours before the show Clap Your Hands abruptly told them they would not be opening up after all. Rumor has it that Clap Your Hands label, Wichita Recordings, was afraid Ad Astra would blow them off the stage. I'm inclined to believe it.

4. The Get Up Kids
Long before 'Emo' became a dirty word, The Get Up Kids (alongside Sunny Day Real Estate) invented the genre. You can't blame Nirvana for the existence of bands like Nickleback, just like you can't blame the Kids for pretty much all the whiny crap on the radio right now.

3. Split Lip Rayfield
This thrashy speed-grass band is a household name in the state of Kansas. Beloved by Jayhawks, Wildcats, farmers and hipsters alike. Sadly, one can't speak of Split Lip without mentioning the tragic loss of lead singer Kirk Rundstrum to cancer. Despite the loss, the band and it's music lives on in the hearts and iPods of bluegrass fans around the world.

2. Mates of State
Although this husband and wife duo have taken their candy-sweet infectious pop tunes out west to California, their music and their love blossomed in Lawrence. Despite the fact that they've graced the pages of the most read magazines in the world, back in Kansas they're still just Jason and Kori.

1. Appleseed Cast
Listening to the Appleseed Cast is like being in a tornado warning. You can see it coming from miles away, it's beautiful and threatening, sirens start whaling, the wind comes up and before you've reached safety everything around you is swirling and pounding against you; collapsing and breaking down. When it's all over, if you survive, there's nothing left but the most breathtaking sunset you've ever seen.

-Travis Hare


  1. I used to love the band Paw and when I went to see them at Hammerjack's in Baltimore in like 93 or 94, I was so disappointed I actually left early.

  2. Really? Were they terrible live?

  3. No Vitreous Humor or Panel Donor? Not even The Regrets, Drakkar Sauna, Everest, Butterglory, The Horsefeathers, White Whale, Fourth Of July or Bandit Teeth?
    Why not make The Get Up Kids, The Anniversary, and The Appleseed Cast one entry and take ex-pats Mates Of State off the list? And is there really a reason for Paw being on this list besides novelty? That'd free up some room...

  4. White Whale and 4th of July were on my short list. No way do the Get Up Kids and The Anniversary = the same thing as The Appleseed Cast!

  5. Yes, they the worst thing a band could be live, very quiet. It was weird and all the guys looked completely different then PAW, it felt like I was watching a PAW cover band.

  6. Solution!
    Replace PAW with:

    Resolved. :)

  7. Anonymous1/12/09 19:09

    I would also replace PAW with Kaw Valley Project. They were awesome! Travis, I know you are all into Indy rock, but geez, could you give no thought whatsoever to the original Kansas band, KANSAS? Yes, they are from Hutchinson, KS. Home of the great salt mines, and The Kansas Cosmosphere. An oddity even for 70's music, but a classic none the less.

  8. The Kansas Cosmosphere definitely rocked! That's what you meant right?

  9. I know I went to great pains to rock the plains! well written post. Did you know that Appleseed Cast is the inverse of Mates of State. I do believe that they are from California and moved to lawrence. I don't know why. I just read that somewhere. Maybe they got bogged down in some dangerous criminal activity in Cali and in a sort of personal witness protection program they moved themselves to Kansas. I would argue that Mates of State made it farther in the Music Biz than Appleseed Cast.

    Also, is it possible that your 10 list is a bit skewed on the last decade? Nice work for pulling up the info on The Embarassment. Are there no other commendable bands from Pre-2000? That could be a possible blog post?

  10. I wasn't aware that the Appleseed Cast hailed from Cali. Certainly Mates of State have achieve far greater success I just think AC is more interesting.

    There is in fact a 100% chance my list is skewed. I hereby declare your job, Adam, doing a piece on those older bands!

  11. I should have remained anonymous in my posting, that way I could have avoided this recommendation of a job.

    Oh, and I agree too that AC beats MS in battle, mostly due to their more diverse sound arsenal. Plus they also have(had) 4 band members as opposed to 2.

  12. Let me know when you have the article finished :)