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Friday March 1st, 2013 at Record Bar in Kansas City, MO
The ACBs, & Fourth of July
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While I may have been bitter about a $10 fee at the door, the advertised 7pm start time was a welcome respite from the all-nighters that I'd found myself covering recently. At 6:30, Kate and I sat down to eat while first The ACBs and then Fourth of July completed lengthy sound checks. While not exactly soothing, combining rock shows with vegan chow is a real time-saver. At 7:15 I paid our bill, then stepped toward the stage just in time for Fourth of July to begin its set. Dinner over, rock show on.

Catching Lawrence's Fourth of July on this side of state line has heretofore been a rarity. Thankfully, in anticipation of its new album on a new label, the band seems to be upping its presence in Kansas City. Aside from this gig supporting new labelmates, the band will return in April for both a set at the Middle of the Map festival and a CD release show at The Brick. Load your calendar up now. Here's why:

While the Fourth of July's line-up skittered about early in the band's history, it has now settled nicely into a quartet, pairing up two sets of brothers. Vocalist and guitarist Brendan Hangauer is an evocative songwriter, delivering lyrics that are both universal, and cleverly revealed. His indie pop compositions bounce along effervescently, disregarding rock posturing, and instead offering melodies so singable they often veer toward folk. The band's songs are cheerful, even when lyrics read as bittersweet. This lightness is achieved through Hangauer's interplay with fellow guitarist Brendan Costello. Costello's leads are small, yet essential. The rhythm section of drummer Brian Costello and bassist Patrick Hangauer add buoyancy, and rebound quickly to fill the spaces without weighing down the band's songs. Ultimately this is just honest music by four shaggy-haired boys from a Midwestern college town, and that speaks to audiences.

The band covered a lot of ground during its 40-minute set, ranging from "She's in Love" from the band's first album, to its just-debuted new single "Drinking Binge." In the middle, the band won the biggest praise of the night with "Tan Lines" from its 2010 album Before Our Hearts Explode! (Rangelife Records). Frontman Brendan Hangauer was ill at ease with playing such an early show, and even stopped to poll the audience for attendees under eighteen, or for those who could not have made a later show. While Hangauer and the rest of his band may be more comfortable playing after 11pm and a few more drinks, the several hundred fans that packed Record Bar proved that there is a demand for early shows.

Like its opening contemporaries, headliners The ACBs has had a similarly tumultuous history of line-ups, with only vocalist and guitarist Konnor Ervin surviving from the band's earliest incarnations. Currently, The ACBs is a wonderfully wooly indie pop four-piece that embraces its slacker attitude and revels in Ervin's ponderous falsetto. Lately Ervin has been joined by Ghosty's Andrew Connor on guitar and backing vocals, although on this night, Connor's other musical endeavours called him away. But never fear, the area's incestuous music scene quickly delivered solo artist and utility man Ross Brown (Full Bloods, Empty Spaces), who filled in admirably – including nailing the harmony parts in "Hold Phone" from the band's debut. Long-standing bassist Bryan McGuire also provides backing vocals, though it is his slinky fingered bass that garners the most attention. This was particularly clear in the set's ridiculously sexy closer "Lover Yeah." Drummer Kyle Rausch is a very tall man tucked behind a very small kit that he plays with aplomb. Sometimes it's hard not to gawk.

While I remember earlier incarnations of the band as tighter, with a focus on power-pop sheen, this set was delightfully rough and informal. Ervin's guitar solos were half-written, almost daring the audience to imagine how they might be completed. His high falsetto was jarring, sometimes verging on the otherworldly (particularly during "My Face"), yet it somehow tied the band's short pop vignettes together. Comparisons to The Shins and Vampire Weekend seem common, but I believe both miss the mark. If comparisons are necessary, look to Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, as both bands specialise in a no-pretence, Midwestern indie pop that seems unsure of its destination and happy to be along for the ride. The clanging guitar and clacking drums of current two-minute single "Record Store" illustrates this perfectly.

Ervin's stage presence was beyond relaxed as he casually mentioned to the crowd that this was the band's album release party, and that everyone in attendance could trade their ticket for a copy of the band's new CD (Little Leaves, High Dive Records, 2013). That explains the $10 door charge. And also why I now have multiple copies of the album. Expect a Too Much Rock giveaway soon.

Before playing its final number, the band announced that it didn't know any more songs. This was obvious ploy to sidestep the issue of an encore, but it didn't work. As expected, the audience called out for more, halting the band's exit from the stage. After a quick huddle with his bandmates, Ervin returned to the microphone, to announce that the band would try two more – one from the new album, one old one. He seemed apprehensive, and ultimately the two did contain their share of flubs, but the gregarious audience didn't mind. Soon after, both bands and fans alike moved en masse to another bar for what, by all accounts, was a raucous night that put the "party" in "CD release party." I was just happy to get home early for a change.

Too Much Rock / 4027 Locust Street / KCMO 64110