New Year's Eve is a glamorous gala of streamers and noise makers and party hats and Champagne and tuxedos and sequined gowns and a bandleader that counts down the next year's arrival cueing midnight kisses, and an on-key and en masse rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" where everyone knows the words. I've seen it countless times in movies, yet in 50 years I've never experienced anything remotely close to it. Most years I pass the evening at a dive bar watching a local band fumble with clock management before walking home in the cold. I suspect my experiences are closer to reality than the movies I watch on TCM, but if it isn't, don't tell me. I don't think I could handle that truth.
The night began just after 10:00 with Saint Louis' Bruiser Queen. The guitar and drum duo used to come through the city at lot – enough to qualify as honorary locals in my book – but according to the twosome, it's been four years since the band's last gig in Kansas City. They were welcomed by a small but happy crowd appropriately tipsy for the holiday. Morgan Nusbaum must have been watching TCM too as she wore a plunging cocktail dress accented by deco flapper fringe at the hem. Partner Jason Potter wore a t-shirt and shorts to celebrate the unseasonably warm weather. The juxtaposition is common. The band is vaguely punk rock with forays into pop punk that get nearly to Go-Go's levels of radio friendly. Nusbaum can handle the pop punk, but she can also be brassy and soulful, as illustrated by the big vocal flourishes added to "Have Fun" from 2017's Heavy High. Her Gretsch buzzed from song to song with few breaks. "Crushing Out, "Drunk on the Internet," and "Nobody's Dream Girl" all proved the band has no shortage of hooks. Potter added occasional (and noteworthy) backing vocals and snapping drums, but mostly he got out of Nusbaum's way and let her run the show. Let's hope it's not another four years before KC sees the duo again.
By 10:30 the room had filled as much as it would. It wasn't a crowded affair – there was still plenty of room for the orchestra leader to show up to direct a big band and a stunning floor show. In a Brick sort of way, that's what happened.
In this case, the orchestra was Kansas City's The Bad Ideas, and it was led by both guitarist Britt Adair and vocalist Breaka Dawn – neither in a tux with tails, neither with a baton. The decade-old band is punk without the need for adjectives. It's defined by Adair's buzzsaw power chords, the rattling bass intros and solos from Matt Roberts, machine gun drums from Jay Willis, and Dawn's screamed lyrics revealing her annoyances with injustices both personal and global. The foursome's set was largely unreleased material that they are recording for a future EP, and during those songs the band had moments when it was tight – or at least the set avoided the song restarts that generally litter its sets. But then there were the covers. Loose as hell. The Dead Kennedys' "California Über Alles" was a wreck. Before the song started, Dawn told the audience it should sing along and offered up Adair's microphone. Adair took (minor) offense, waving off the suggested incursion into her space, and telling the audience, "You sing it out there!" Later the band offered up Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz." If it weren't for Robert's work on the chorus, we might not have gotten a lyric right in the entire song. Afterwards Dawn promised the crowd, "The next cover [for a future show] is going to be Blatz, and it's going to be perfect!"
The floor show was provided by the friends and neighbors and coworkers that had chosen to spend the holiday with the band. While not choreographed by Busby Berkeley, the crowd did move – just in a half time mosh, with five or six participants dancing through the pit as if it were molasses. Our inebriated hoofers chuckled as they exaggerated their slo-mo arm-flailing side-to-sides, and pushed each other affably. Looking at the crowd, no one would confuse this for an all-ages show, but there were plenty of scene veterans who have given Kansas City joy throughout the years.
The band finished its set at 11:48. Although Adair tried to get the crowd on board for an early countdown to the new year, the audience rightfully refused to go along with the heist. What it wanted was an encore, and the band didn't have one to give. After someone on stage said, "We don't know any more," Dawn quickly corrected them, noting, "We know more but they would suuuuuuuck." I believed her and moved to the back of the room to grab my coat and start my walk home in hopes of making it in time to watch a repeat of the ball dropping on channel four. Then something magical happened. Something that might have just saved the whole of 2023.
As if summoned by the bat signal, Bruiser Queen stepped back onto the stage, commandeered The Bad Idea's equipment, and launched into a ten-plus minute, rockabilly-tinged version of "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'." There was plenty of vamping, and lots of charisma from Nusbaum who proved she knew what needed to be done. When the fateful time came, the instruments dropped low, and the band led the crowd in the prerequisite countdown. There was no Champagne toast, though plenty of drinks were raised. I saw a lot of midnight kisses, though my 2023 started off dry once again. There was no "Auld Lang Syne" but we would have gotten the lyrics wrong anyway. And if we're being honest, confetti is just such a mess to clean up. Instead, I offered a smile and a wave to the bands, pulled my hood up, and walked home. At least it wasn't cold this year.