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Monday May 20th, 2024 at Howdy in Kansas City, MO
Camping in Alaska, Guitar Fight From Fooly Cooly, Godfuck, & Heccra

This isn't what I signed up for. Or, rather, I guess, I didn't know that I signed up for this. Show announcements for Howdy pop up on Instagram without any indication of what sort of show it might be. The venue books lot of noise rock, a lot of hardcore for crowd killers, and a lot of power violence. None of that tickles my fancy. But sometimes it's a touring emo band with tricky changes and pretty twinkles. Now that makes my brain tingle. If it's a touring band that I've never heard of all the better. I prefer an unknown band over one that will sell out the small all-ages space. When Howdy is packed I get crammed against the wall unable to move the whole show. Not only is it uncomfortable but my photos are lackluster and that creates the opposite of brain tingle. Thinking Camping in Alaska checked all my boxes, I put the show on my calendar. If you're reading this, you already know how wrong I was. I, however, didn't figure it out until I arrived at 7:30 to find dozens of folks standing outside the club and their cars parked all the way down Bennington. Penitently I paid the cover and took my spot beside the "stage," knowing I'd be trapped there all night. Just my luck.

First up was Heccra. A one-man project. I didn't recognize the guy strapping on his guitar. He was little older than your typical local opener. He had on Stan Smith Adidas, Nike shorts, Adidas shirt, Nike headband. Allegiances divided. Backing tracks started the set. They were disjointed and confusing. Fast and skittery. His metalcore playing on a BC Rich was rife with fingers taps and quick hammers that were just as bewildering. His vocals waivered and wandered from slow bedroom emo to all-ages hardcore. He sung about his feelings. He jumped into the crowd kicking someone in the chest. He threw a folding chair into the fray. He changed to a second metal guitar in hot pink for a finale in an alternate tuning. Then he threw it to the ground when the song as over. He complained about the heat. A phantom Jesus radio program came through the PA between songs. None of this made sense. Turns out Heccra is a project that came about in 2012 and was done by 2014. It was just one unnamed kid screaming into the void by posting his songs on 4chan. It didn't make many ripples then, but recently the project has become a bit of a cultural touchstone for fifth generation emo fans. And so now Heccra is back. For the fan singing along at the side of the stage, this was an opportunity he thought he'd never have. Me, well I just stumbled into it. And it confused me.

It was hot in Howdy. Most everyone cleared out between bands. Maybe there was a breeze out there. Maybe there were just cigarettes. Maybe there were cold cans of Hamm's in someone's trunk. But I stayed put, guarding my spot.

Godfuck were up next. They're a threesome from Western Mass., and hardcore by the looks of them, and by the way they unplugged the only two lights that illuminate the Howdy stage. Frontman Ethan Crew announced the band had driven 22 hours to play the show then launched into a fifteen- or twenty-minute set. Crew plays guitar and sings, Pat Martell also plays guitar, Jimmito "JC" Camacho-Velez drums, and two samplers chime in with additional parts. Crew came with big energy, crashing into the audience. He often left his guitar behind. Martell kept his back to the audience most of the set. That used to be a thing. The audience sang along. Or screamed along. Post-hardcore more than hardcore. Emo from an earlier wave. The extra beats pouring from the sampler didn't come through loud enough to change the direction of songs, but they did provide interstitial music and intros before they were again buried by full force of the live band. I wondered if the band's recordings were just as chaotic or if that was just a feature of its live shows. But whatever fans had come to see, the band delivered it. Was I a fan?

Between acts venue owner Max Popoff poked his head in and looked at a thermostat. There was nothing to be done and the venue was a sauna. Still, I held my ground.

Guitar Fight From Fooly Cooly was next. I have no idea what that name is about. The four piece is from outside Chattanooga. Uri (Caleb Presley) provides vocals, Ryan Williams plays guitar, Sid Gatlin plays bass, and Kit (Isaiah Carson) drums, but the project seems to belong to Uri. The band is emo. There were the standard flourish and filagree riffs that delight. There were chunky parts that kept the audience moving. There were mathy stops and starts. There were unexpected melodic guitar lines that recalled The Pixies and Weezer. Uri bounced and thrashed around, delivering vocals that were usually just a shout above spoken, but could escalate to histrionic screams. Kit took his shirt off but left his cowboy hat on. The room only got hotter. The crowd only packed in tighter. Apart from one new track, the audience knew the songs. They knew when the shifts were coming. They knew when the screams would break through. I struggled with a videographer that pushed in front of me. He was intent on recording the whole show. After a seven-song set, the audience demanded more. The band obliged with an encore playing its namesake song from its 2018 debut EP. When it ended at 9:50 every bit of oxygen in the room had been used up. The room changed.

The next band sensed the shift. It set up quickly, taking the stage only ten minutes after Guitar Fight had left it. Still, much of the audience didn't return. It was a school night. It was hot. Guitar Fight had slayed. Of course, this was the band that had summoned me to the show. I was going to dance with the one that brung me. I stayed holed up at my station.

Camping in Alaska is emo quartet consisting of Austin Davis (vocals/guitar), Jacob Hill (guitar), Dani Fandre (bass/vocals), & Jacob Stewart (drums). They're currently out on an eighteen-date tour devised to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of their 2013 debut album Please Be Nice. I know, that math doesn't add up. The band started with "Insight." It's as much indie rock as emo. Davis shouts his vocals, allowing them to break as is the latter genre's burden. The two guitars made the band pleasing thick. Either doubling up for intensity or keeping the flow when one stepped out of the stream to provide those glorious twinkles. The rhythm section ensured that songs remained tight. The 40-minute set never slipped into chaos. There was still energy and emotion, but there was also control and command. The audience danced throughout the set – not the sort that results in kicks to the chest or fists to the jaw, but just some jostling. And pushing. And then there were the novelty crowd surfers. Three or four of them. There were fewer people in the room than there were an hour ago, but those who remained pressed close to the band. I didn't however. I got tired of trying to shoot around the videographer who again stepped immediately in front of me, waving his damn camera throughout the entirety of the set. I decided to retreat to the back rather than starting a fight wth young Sammy Fabelman.

You can't see anything in the back – not unless you stand on a chair or in the windows, and those spots had been claimed. So I just listened, enjoying the songs, and feeling the brain tingles. I didn't worry about how I had misjudged the headliner as an unknown band, instead I marveled at happening across a bill containing four bands that are cherished by fanatical audiences across the globe. Just my luck.