When Minus Six performed earlier this month at Augustana College, Kevin Carton was almost dancing as his fingers flew across the keyboard and his feet tapped beneath it, moving from the pedal to the stage floor and back again.
All four the members of the guitarless band — which isn’t quite pop, jazz, rock or Broadway, but some fusion of the four — were in motion as they performed “Anchorage,” a love song about a girl from the Alaskan city.
The packed patio applauded, Carton smiled slyly and said, “Thanks. This song is about the exact same girl, but in a different light.”
He started to sing “Walk Away,” which is still poppy, but faster, almost agitated, to convey the not-so-amicable ending of the relationship as if Carton was venting to the audience.
Both songs are off Minus Six’s third album, “Hidden Deep in the Garden,” which was released in 2006, having been recorded on Music Row in Nashville with producer Joe Hand, who has worked with Linkin Park and Matchbox Twenty.
Carton, Kameron Rummans on bass and Matt Sivertsen on saxophone have been together since 2003 when they were in high school at Rock Island Alleman. Rob Baner of Moline joined the band on drums in 2005.
Today, Carton, Rummans and Baner all are attending college in different cities, and Sivertsen has graduated and is in the working world. But they perform together almost every weekend, meeting in the Quad-Cities and traveling to the college or bar they’re scheduled to play at and then spending Sundays working on new material that takes on musical forms which are anything but the standard verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus.
“We’re playing songs that are longer and almost have more of a musical sound to them,” Carton said. “I’m excited because I feel like we’re maturing. We’re stepping into our own shoes instead of playing things the way everybody else does it. We’re trying our own attempt.”
One of their new songs, “Le Jongleur,” is about a traveling minstrel from the medieval period who convinces a queen that the peasants are planning an uprising in order to get the queen out of the castle so he can steal all her jewels.
“I love sitting down with these guys and working on a brand-new song,” Baner said. “It’s like going on a trip. You never know where it’s going to go or what kind of challenges are going to lay ahead of you for each song.”
In its new material, Rummans said, the band is stretching out to utilize each member’s talents, which is when being a guitarless band has its advantages. The lead can be picked up by Sivertsen on one of his four saxophones, Carton on piano or Rummans on bass, giving them versatility and a sound that even they have a hard time describing.
“I think it’s cool that we’ve ben able to put something together that is tough to describe,” Sivertsen said. “There are a lot of people that can answer that question in two seconds.”
But the piano-heavy sound has struck a chord and they’ve reached the point where venues are calling them instead of the other way around, and they see groups of people they’re pretty sure they’ve never met before, singing along with their songs in towns nowhere near the Quad-Cities.
“The reason that we’re playing out live and traveling is because we love to see the feedback,” Carton said. “When someone is out there and they’re smiling and having a good time and it’s a weekend and they’re leaving all their worries of the week behind and they’re singing the words to your original songs, that’s the best feeling in the world.”