It’s a Saturday night at Davey’s Uptown, and a white sheet is tacked on the north wall, catty-corner to the stage, a makeshift projection screen. The crowd is busy at the bar fending for the bartender’s attention as the night’s third band clears out. Next up are Wick and the Tricks, celebrating the release of their first record with a music video premiere.
The four members of Wick and the Tricks step up to sound check wearing gray cloaks with pointed hoods and flashing fishnet-covered legs. Hearing Wick test the microphone levels over the PA, older punks, lipstick femmes in pin-up dresses, ‘80s glam rockers with long scarves flowing from their back pockets, art-school hipsters and definitely someone’s grandparents wander over from the bar and fill up the area in front of the stage.
“Everyone, my coworkers are here!” Wick exclaims into the microphone as a bespectacled, middle-aged woman, flanked by four or five others in casual office wear, waves jazz hands back from the floor.
The band exits the stage as the lights go down and the sheet on the wall eventually fills with Annie Thrax’s acrylic hot pink nails holding what looks to be a bloody, pulsating heart.
Jojo Tornado delivers a crisp, cheerful drumbeat for a few measures before Chris Stallion cuts in on electric guitar, his beginning strokes a touch hesitant. He launches into the full chords, his guitar distorted just below grating before Jane Asylum rocks out on a quick bassline echoing the melody.
“I knew right away the first time I saw you, a goddess is who I’d met,” Wick croons simultaneously, channeling a mixture of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop.
The video opens with news of Wick’s death by gruesome grizzly attack, with Annie Thrax as his mad scientist mourner in pink leather, hellbent on resurrecting her beloved. The film is a collaboration with the members of the Cannonball Roarers (known for screening what they call “unimaginably cool forgotten films across all genres” in secret places around town), who came up with the concept, then shot and edited the video. The video is visually stunning in its rich dark palette, comical and culty as Wick, with an electric shock from Annie’s machine, is jolted back to life from a coffin.
The song is “Tough as Nails,” which Wick wrote about Annie Thrax.
“I just remember she had these great pink acrylic nails,” Wick says later, recounting the first time they met.
It’s the last of four songs on Wick and the Trick’s debut release, “Not Enough,” on local Black Site Records. Infused with upbeat riot grrrl/punk attitude, the record marks a new direction for the person more widely known as Wick Thomas, who’s already earned a name around town as an activist.
Originally from Drexel, Missouri, about an hour’s drive south of Kansas City, Wick attended Paola High School, where, in 2004, they created a Gay-Straight Alliance, earning a Creating Change Award from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The Pitch has named Wick “Best Activist in Missouri” for their involvement in various causes such as community gardening and developing green programming for the Kansas City Public Library, where they worked as a teen-services librarian. A few years ago, when then-Missouri Governor Jay Nixon threatened library funding, Wick took groups of teens to Jefferson City.
These days Wick has a day job as manager of teen programming at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, but much of their previous activism energy has been going into the band.
He pens all the lyrics, then takes them to guitarist Stallion to develop melodies. Afterwards, drummer Tornado and bassist Asylum add the final pieces to create a sound reminiscent of Iggy Pop, Joan Jett and the New York Dolls, bands who inspired Wick to dream of becoming a rock star when they were sixteen.
“I had nothing to back it up,” Wick admits, until Wick and the Tricks formed four years ago.
“The album’s a little snarky,” Wick admits with a laugh, before also describing it as “angry” and “fun.”
Its songs are about relationships, from the idolizing to the abusive.
The first track, “Yr So Rad” is obviously the latter, an amalgam of Wick’s experiences in emotionally immature situations. While feelings of endearment untangle quickly into resentment when the relationship's confronted with bleak realities, searing lyrics tear down a trust-fund kid’s distorted ideas equating “hipness” with poverty.
“Love is different on minimum wage,” Wick asserts. “Hearts might melt but the struggle’s still there.”
At Davey’s, as soon as they get partway into the first song, band members rip off their gray cloaks to reveal intentionally ripped PVC pants, fishnets and bejeweled accessories. Jane Asylum’s bass gives flashes of her baby bump behind it. Wick struts the stage, keeping wide-open-eye contact with the audience.
“A lie you whispered becomes a storm,” they growl. “Original humans will act like a swarm.”
It’s the beginning of “Drama Queen,” essentially a call-out of social media call-out culture, with all of its finger-pointing and rumor-perpetuating.
Important topics are also on Wick’s mind in “Kansas City Bang! Bang!,” a short but powerful song about the city’s increasing violence.
“It all burns down, small city big town, guns and riots all through the night,” Wick sings, articulating a feeling that many locals can attest to, as well as the fact that it’s become unsettling to be almost anywhere in public.
The sentiments are resonating, Wick says, recounting another week on the road in May, when the band played three cities in Missouri, then raced from Chicago to Washington, D.C. and other points along the East Coast before playing their last date in Brooklyn.
“The place was packed,” Wick says, smiling as remembers the crowd going crazy when they sang, “I don’t wanna go to Brooklyn, I wanna go to Queens!” while flipping the audience the middle finger. “They loved it.”
Monique Gabrielle Salazar is a Kansas City freelance writer, artist and producer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.