Music Review: Red Kate's 'unamerican activities'

Jun 7, 2016

Red Kate
unamerican activities (Black Site Records)

As an impressionable teenager with blue liberty spikes, I cut my teeth on the Kansas City punk rock scene, practically living at El Torreon on the weekends. I was the chick in the pit, dodging elbows and mashing around with steel toes. It wasn't an evening if I didn't have a new bruise.

Fast forward to last year at an Agent Orange/Architects show when I decided to revisit those glory days. Now in high heels, I tore into the pit and was having a pretty great time until I felt my arm stop between two stocky dudes, heard a pop and weaseled my way off the floor to collapse in a chair with a dislocated shoulder.

I might be too old for the pit, but I’m not too old for a damn good punk record. And with unamerican activities, Red Kate has packed in all the nostalgia with none of the pain.

Together since 2007, the members of Red Kate know precisely what they’re doing on this polished record, its second full-length release and first on Black Site Records. The album incorporates elements of blues, classic punk and street punk to create a fresh, sophisticated sound.

Red Kate sets the tone with the workers’ anthem “Take It Back.” Andrew Whelan opens with spry eighth notes, which L. Ron Drunkard quickly coats with a fist-making bass line. Guitar feedback bleeds spontaneously over the uniform bass and drums. That's a classic move, but good punk is all about building anticipation, and after about 25 seconds the lead guitar and bass line mesh like blood and sweat in a bold, catchy compliment to Drunkard's vocals, which are Danzig-ish but richer in tone, with a more mellifluous range.

Listen to "Take it Back":

Most of the record deals with similar class struggles. Songs like “Punch the Clock,” “Better” and “You Don't Speak for Me” are anthems for card-carrying union members, their frustrations with the labor system clear in repeated choruses and screeching yet controlled guitar entries.

As in life, politics alternates with unrequited love in “Waited,” “On My Mind” and “She Doesn't Need Your Love,” a punk 'n roll corrido about a tough girl who's seen it all but “still she can't/ she won't/walk away” – an emotional reminder of how hard it is to leave the things that hurt us the most.

unamerican activities closes out with “Heart of the City,” in which the singer “has no place to go” and “just the shirt on my back” but manages to lean positive, as the drum beat and a Clash-like rhythm guitar keep time on his jaunt around the city. When the lead guitar’s not ripping out sharp riffs, Drunkard's vocal style harkens back to Lux Interior, breathy but punchy.

Red Kate's record brings back all the good, sweaty memories of being a kid at a punk club and filters it through the experience and knowledge of being grown-up, such as knowing when the time has come to let a new generation of pit queens get nosefuls of armpit funk.

Monique Gabrielle Salazar is a Kansas City freelance writer, artist and producer. She can be reached at mgswrites@gmail.com.