REVIEW: Meiko (with special guest Buddy) at Knuckleheads in Kansas City

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“I want to introduce you to Buddy-from-L.A.” Frank Hicks, the owner of Kansas City’s East Bottoms blues bar, Knuckleheads, softly said to a meager crowd of 30, packed into a room that looked like my grandma’s basement. With a chuckle, Buddy softly replied to the room, “Hi, I’m Buddy-from-L.A.”

Knuckleheads couldn’t have seemed any further from Los Angeles, however Buddy fit in fine here. With songs reading like heartfelt confessions scribbled on unsent letters, every person in the room easily managed to identify with something flowing through the mic regardless of demographic or home address. His Hotel Cafe signature sound leaned far more towards blue collar working class than 4 minute pop song, and that above all, was what the room wanted.

It was evident however, that Buddy was far from home. Standing alone on the empty stage, he admitted he was usually backed by an 8 person band. He also appeared a little unnerved by this. However, overcoming the slight peaks of shyness, his voice eventually reached a level of franticness that illuminated his lyrics flawlessly. As he stepped away from the mic to address the 30ish in attendance, the room finally managed to see Buddy for what he was; candid. Ending the set unplugged and wandering through the crowd, Buddy reached out to shake the “pretentious feeling” of standing on stage alone. Above all though, he achieved a status in a show that will long be remembered.

Minutes later, Meiko took the stage and put to rest any questions posed concerning her studio voice. From the jumping off point, her vocal approach proved beyond doubt that she was no product of studio magic. She approached her songs head on, nailing every pitch and spike found on her two full length albums.

Opening with “Reasons To Love You,” Meiko put her charm right out there, slapping her tongue-in-cheek lyrics down on the table. She raised the pot by using a collection of “ohs” as an instrument while she awkwardly kept time by rubbing her right foot against the toe of her left. In a sheepish way, she won over listeners just as much by being unique as she did for her talent. This has a lot to do with the fact that both qualities outweigh those of most people in the industry.

Shifting to the first love song she ever wrote, Meiko busted into “Stuck on You.” With more of an alternative country sound that leans a little more in the direction of Jenny Owen Youngs than her previous cuts, the poppy single provided the crowd with a glimpse of just how much Meiko had grown since her self-titled release. The song obviously transported her to her happy place, and she sang with a shine in her eyes and smirks racing across her face. Not to imply that watching Meiko is generally a real downer, but something regarding this song brought a whole new light to the stage.

“Stuck On You” would not be the only thing about the night that seemed different regarding Meiko’s set. The evening also served as my first time experiencing her music backed by the band. The sound and presentation shifted completely with the support of the guys behind her. The levels and sounds were both complementary and comfortable with punchy guitar riffs meeting her sometimes bluesy style halfway. There was a bit of musical hand holding as they walked together through each tune. When she was tough and aggressive they were right there behind her, softening the blows. When Meiko unveiled her vulnerable side, her boys stood tall, propping her up. The band added layers I had never experienced while chasing Meiko around South by South West for her acoustic sets. They added depth to her heartfelt vocals and lyrics, and if her music served as the key indication, it would quickly tip anyone off that her band serves as one of the healthiest relationships she’s found. That stability was certainly tangible on stage.

This isn’t an indication that Meiko’s set was a drag, by any means. In fact her ability to see the bright side of life’s sick sense of humor was positively contagious. “How Lucky We Are” was one shining example of her positivity. Composed of a list of stumbles in life, Meiko presented all of the beautiful aspects of getting just past the junk that drags us down. Her positivity was to not be confused with her snarky outlook on life, which reared its head during her set. “Boys With Girlfriends” and “Under My Bed,” which closed out the set, painted a darker, passive aggressive side of the singer. Since she approached it with humor instead of anger however, Meiko showed her listeners why she could be both the girl you wanted to run away with and from.

Check out the track “Good Looking Loser” here.

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