I can't remember a year more universally despised than 2016. Between a host of dead musical iconoclasts and the high-profile political catastrophes, 2016 made few friends. The forty or so people that gathered at Davey's Uptown Ramblers Club on New Year's Eve were not there to welcome in a new year, or celebrate the completion of the last, but rather to say (quite literally and often) "Fuck You" to 2016. With a fist raised in one last defiance to 2016, I pulled open the door to the club at 8:45 and joined my rabble.
The evening began quite punctually with Dead Ven. On this night, Dead Ven was Ven Smith, his acoustic guitar, a fair amount of stomping, and some audience help on the harmonies. The band roster swells and contracts on occasion, but mandolins and banjos aren't necessary as Smith's quickly-strummed open chords and desperate vocals tell the whole story. Smith confesses that he writes songs about only three things: drinking too much, working too much, and dying too young. True to his word, the audience got a fair sampling of each in a 30-minute set of passionate and charged DIY folk punk.
A quick set change brought up Mr. Deadly. I'm always reticent to write about a band the first time that I see them, but I suppose it's a hazard of the hobby. So, quickly, this rock & roll quartet is fronted by Nick Evans who provides the vocals, acoustic guitar, and raspy crooned vocals for the act, while "Damage Dave" tacks on the defining blues licks from his lead guitar. Each band member looked as though he were plucked from another band from a disparate scene as mirrored sunglasses, top hats, cowboy boots and vests all shared the stage. The band's loyal (and sizeable audience) were similarly varied from the dolled and dyed scene girl to the Raytown rural — each, however, singing along to the band's amiable set. Still, five-string basses terrify me, and as a precaution I soon retired to the back of the room where I could converse with friends, and keep a safe distance from that abomination of an instrument.
Although scheduled to follow Mr. Deadly, the members of American Dischord (often marked as AMDX) were in no hurry to take the stage. In fact, I stood blithely talking to guitarist/vocalist Tyler Temple long enough that the soundman had to interrupt, asking if Temple was going to load his gear on stage. After a few "yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm getting to it"-s Temple and his band mates sprang into action. It was 10:45 — still plenty of time left to debase 2016.
Before I say anything else about American Dischord, I should note that this band is the most smiling group of motherfuckers I've ever seen. No band has ever had this much fun. As is tradition, Temple started the set by warning the audience that the performance would be a train wreck. As has been my experience, however, that is never the case. Instead songs are ripped through with hardcore intensity and a rock & roll sneer. Particularly noteworthy is the bass work of Dalton Elliott; it is adventurous and bold, rattling and loose, never clinical. Hardly the train wreck the audience was warned about. So maybe it's between songs where Temple thinks things go to pot.
These breaks are filled with long expanses of jocular banter directed at each other, and at friends in the audience. On this night (and what I understand has been a regular occurrence as of late), Elliott and drummer Nick Talley bedeviled Temple with bouncing country rhythms as he attempted to teach the audience the words to the next song's anthemic chorus. If that went too smoothly, later a friendly member of the audience pelted Temple with mini corndogs. And while Temple couldn't catch any in his mouth, he certainly ate the corndogs rescued from the stage floor. Temple doesn't let food go to waste. Later in the set, someone graduated to throwing corn niblets at the band, triggering Elliott to wonder why someone was carrying "straight up corn." When things went wrong (or right), the band announced itself as The Architects, even attributing a mighty Misfits cover as a Gadjits original. American Dischord is a party, not a train wreck, and while that party would most certainly kill me, I'm always delighted to be a spectator.
The Architects began the homestretch just before midnight with a couple of covers (including Operation Ivy's "Knowledge") in an attempt to delay its proper set until after the calendar's flip. But soon frontman Brandon Phillips found himself stalling for time before he haphazardly decided it was time for a very apathetic countdown. There were no Champagne toasts, noise makers, silly hats, or sentimentality at Davey's — just 12:00am, an end to 2016, an opportunity to begin a new year, and a set in earnest.
The band's set was as it always is — intense, energetic, sweaty and satisfying. The three Philips brothers (vocalist/guitarist Brandon, drummer Adam, bassist Zach) have been performing together for over twenty years, learning to anticipate each other without being tentative, or more often not, knowing when to get on with a straightforward rock & roll rager. As expected, the stage show was full of photogenic jumps and sincere audience interaction, though Adam Philips' off-the-cuff aside welcoming lead guitarist Mike Alexander back into the band felt particularly intimate. Sure, The Architects will always be the Philips brothers, but Alexander is the perfect addition to the band of nice guys, scene veterans, and lovers of working class punk built from verses that punch you in the gut, and choruses that pick you back up.
At the end of the band's nearly-hour-long set, Brandon Philips collapsed onto the stage in a spent slump. There was nothing left in the tank for an encore, and this audience knew it. The Architects plays its share of big shows to foreign audiences, but this gig wasn't like that. This was a show with old friends raising their voices and glasses in a midtown dive bar — which coincidently, is also the best recipe for surviving 2017.