Soft Reeds / Berwanger / Dark Satellites at the Replay, 2/8/13

Another Friday night, another show at the Replay. It seems the folks booking bands for the bar understand that people will go out on a weekend night to drink, no matter what, especially in a college town. Considering they can go most anywhere, it’s worth throwing a good show together to drag in a few extra folks.

Friday’s show was a particularly Kansas City affair — the wife and I saw few people we recognized, and Soft Reeds is a popular enough act these days to pull the crowd west down I-70 to see them. They’ve a new album coming out later this month, entitled Blank City, and the majority of the songs they played during their headline set drew from it.

Ben Grimes’ band has come a long way since they first debuted. Soft Reeds were once the red-headed stepchild to the Republic Tigers. In the wake of the breakup of the Golden Republic, the group which Grimes and the Republic Tigers’ Kenn Jankowski played in for almost a decade, the Tigers formed first and signed with an imprint of Atlantic rather quickly thereafter. Soft Reeds started as a Grimes solo project, and only worked its way into a full band later.

When I saw Soft Reeds last — almost a year ago — I compared them to Wire and Dismemberment Plan, and that’s accurate, but the group’s turned from a variation of the Golden Republic’s danceable pop into a darker, leaner thing. Whereas Grimes’ earlier work drew on Bolan and the boogie, Soft Reeds are rooted in Bowie’s post-Ziggy bleakness. Everything’s lean, mean, and focused. There’s a groove, but it’s more Gang of Four than anything else.

Openers Berwanger are rapidly becoming one of those bands to catch — an act you try to drag friends to see when they’re playing. Since I saw them open for Gentleman Jesse last year, they’ve tightened up and started to rock a little bit more on the pop edge. Someone mentioned after their set that it seems like the songs early in their set seem to be older, and they work through the songs as they go, ending with the newest material. I think that’s an apt observation — this is a group that’s made up of scene veterans, and they know how to write tight numbers that will grab your attention.

Tightness is not a term to apply to the evening’s first act, Dark Satellites. Their Dinosaur Jr.-inspired, ’70s-leaning guitar jams were loud and excellently full of riffs, and did a wonderful job of waking me up from a groggy haze. While loud and riff-heavy, however, each song went on a good minute longer than necessary. Never has a band announced “we’ve got two songs left” and had me hang my head so low, knowing that there was another ten minutes of jamming to be had.

Unfortunate, too — their songs, trimmed of the minute of dross and excess at the end of each, might be some monster pieces of guitar rock, a sound sorely lacking in the KC / Lawrence area as of late. Also impressive was Dark Satellites’ stage banter: “Look at all these beards. We’re not just a shitty band. We’re also a South Pole expedition waiting to happen.,” “These are all Spin Doctors covers, played at twice the speed.”

Seriously, these guys are witty. Come for the music. Stay for the banter.