by Jeff Milo
Before, Kyle didn’t care much if you missed one of his shows
After 15 years of band-life, scribbling songs and screaming his head off on stage, he long ago realized that there’s always another show and there’s likely always another band.
But this time there’s no other show.”
Troy Gregory with his band
December 12 – PJ’s Lager House –
This is “
the Last Show.” When Kyle says it, the capitalization, or at least an italicization, is implied in his glowing, squinty eyes, leaning forward.
Just earlier, Elton John’s voice piped through the speakers, singing about someone who “lived their life
like a candle in the wind
” I waited in the coffee shop for Kyle McBee to show up and say his peace before he leaves “
McBee’s a singer, songwriter and performer whom you may or may not have ever seen, met, played-with, recorded-with, fought, friended or unfriended over the last fiery decade or so of his time breaking into the scene and subsequently breaking himself up quite a bit.
“Mike Anton, Troy Gregory, Ian Pinchback
” he’s ticking off his fingers as he scrolls through the names of his nearest and dearest. "There's Greg Aubry (of Superbomb) and Steve Gamburd and Nick Marshall..." He could go on. He speaks very highly of Troy's wife Laura and sees something of a torch-passing going on with the works of Jennifer Pearson in Tinder Tiger.
“It’s never just me
I’ve always had the luxury of playing with the best. And that’s the only reason I have the reputation that I have, cuz I’ve played with the best. I mean, Matt Luke, Gene Strobe, Scottie Stone, Brandon Frye
He was some kind of “apprentice” of sorts to the scene of songwriters just a couple years ahead of him who soundtracked The Gold Dollar days from the turn of the millennium, like Troy Gregory of The Witches or Mike Anton of the Mantons, and more. Contemporaries might remember him from an all too brief post-punk outfit called Black Lodge.
McBee is memorable because he has been so erratic - in the best and worst, most inspiring and discouraging ways, all at once. On stage, he conjured the live-wire wiggle rages of Iggy, but off stage, there were numerous personal struggles that hindered his social life considerably.
“There’s positive memories here,” he says, a shade under 30 and cradling a new outlook on life as he prepares to move to California. “
a lot of negative memories too. I’m even happy for the negative experiences and not in some schmaltzy it all happened for a reason way
He paused a lot as he thinks it all through. There’s a lot to look back on: a dozen or so music projects or half-realized writing escapades. He, like a lot of us, has never lived outside of state before.
“I’m not tortured or haunted by the Metro Detroit area, it’s like
a cousin-of-being: haunted. What makes a place home is not the buildings or even the bands or culture or history of the place. What makes any place home are the good people . It’s not driving past the goddamn train station or the Spirit of Detroit or down 6 Mile or seeing street art and vandalism and closed up venues
it’s the people who filled all these places that I passed by and through
McBee may not be ready to say he’s “haunted” entirely, but he’s definitely got some demons. He’s very frank about his debilitating, near-suicidal bouts with depression. His affability in conversation can drop to a chilling starkness when he explains why he hates wintertime and Christmas. “Because
I found my father outside, in the snow. He was dying.” McBee was only 10-years-old. And you can see him struggling with a kind of guilt over leaving his friends, but most of all, his mother and sister. Berkley, CA is calling.
But, then, McBee can bring you back up just that quickly, warming up the conversation conjuring those “hippie-dippie” feelings felt during the night he stayed out until 5 in the morning on a first date with the woman who stole his heart, enough at least, it seems, to convince him out to California with her.
The plan is to move permanently, thus, leaving behind a throbbing-skull’s worth of unmanageable memories burned in by wicked bands, by glorious and horrendous shows, and from sharing the experience of music, making music, and, ultimately un-making many a band in the process,
all with all these “people” that he now regards on a day before he leaves.
It’s a foggy morning and winter’s about to set on in Michigan. McBee, blinking a lot, looks like he’s only just now waking up
And not because it’s his last sip from an extra large coffee.
You see it in him, as he leans forward with some discomfort, that he's not completely changed yet. He speaks highly and warmly of his mother, his sister, and Courtney, and their support and encouragement over the last three years. But you can hear it in his voice, he's not saved yet or anything; he's not selling a - hey look at me, I turned it around, kind of story. He's telling, rather, a story his life in and with the Detroit area and the artists and musicians who populated it, during his time here.
McBee could be speaking for anyone when he admits the pain and inevitability of big changes. "If you don't change, you stagnate, you decay! You're dead! I've been treading so many of the same footsteps for so long; it's time!" McBee shows it, the way he leans over the table, that it hurts him to leave his friends and family. "But you carry them with you. From the friends I create music with today, to my father twenty years gone...I carry those people with me, and I always will."
Some of his bands broke up because each member was too busy. Others broke up because something else came along.
Other bands, like the short-lived yet still-remembered Black Lodge “
broke up catastrophically
“As a general rule, my behavior pattern was a self-destructive thing. There was an existential nihilism for me, psychologically speaking. But the edges are starting to smooth out now
At this, McBee grapples his shoulder and then gently glides his palm down the length of his left arm, mimicking sculpture. His awareness of classical art styles has only amplified these last few years with his studies at the College for Creative Studies.
Two years ago, when he got sober and fought through the wretches of withdrawal, it was art, be it his own music or the 3 hours he spent painting, drawing and torching up some encaustics, where he felt human again.
And that’s when he met her. Courtney. It was last autumn. She was visiting friends here, not planning on staying for very long. It turned into more than a yearlong stay, in which our starcrossed lovers had their courtship. And so, here we go. One last show!
Through Courtney, and through his painting, McBee found “moments of peace.” Reacquainting him with what it felt like to be a human being again. “Feeling alive again
” is something he’s experienced three or four times, we should note, throughout his 29-or-so years on this Earth
often stimulated by the live recitals of songs written by friends and influences such as Mike Anton.
But now, like only a man in love could say it: “I started listening with my heart.”
He followed his heart, then, as he sees it. And, cliché as this story might start to sound, it’s impactful if you consider just how dark the ditches were, through which McBee crawled in and out of this last decade, sometimes even willingly in a masochistic way.
“I always tell people that: I’m a work in progress
” Part of his dry wit and caustic charisma is his ability to laugh easily, and often at himself. At this, he chuckles
“Just as with Art School, I’ve followed my heart
When something feels right, it’s right. I’ve started to change. I’ve grown. I do what feels right and it’s led me to make a lot of big choices. Before, I was always afraid of success
.I mean, who knows what Black Lodge could’ve done?”
There’s a small tinge of frustration in his voice, almost like he’s tired from thinking that through for so long. “I believed my own hype a bit, in its moment. But, at the end of the day, it didn’t happen. It sabotaged. And, I played my role in that sabotage.”
Physical altercations. Bloody noses. But, man, still brilliant, brooding stuff! It was weirdly funky and wildly punky, it was a tall, dark and gruesome kind of rock, simultaneously a train-off-its-rails and a breakdancer always landing on point. Matt Luke, Steve Gamburd, Nick Marshall
and Kyle McBee. But who knows
“I was afraid to succeed, though,” McBee finally admits. “I was afraid of if
I was a big deal somewhere or if I was financially stable or
just being normal, or, no, not ‘normal’ but having a degree of normalcy
The coffee’s gone and McBee starts talking about the show, about the bands he has lined up, about trying to get himself ready to leave, to get ready for the last show.
“I’m not so afraid of all that, anymore. It’s just: figuring out how to do it. That’s the big difference. It doesn’t feel so different until you sit back and look at it
McBee admits that he might not make music anymore when he gets out to California. He’ll definitely continue with making artworks though. (He’s finished more paintings in this last year than he’s ever made in his whole life). “It’s gonna be different out there
“But I need different
"I love Detroit. I love its people, its music, its art, I will miss it dearly. I can think of no better way to salute it than one last waltz..."