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Tuesday August 23rd, 2011 at Record Bar in Kansas City, MO
The Cute Lepers, Something Fierce, Hipshot Killer, & The Puritans
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I love an early all-ages show. Ask anyone. Just love them. But not on Tuesdays. On Tuesday evenings I play soccer. I come home tired, very sore, hungry and in need of a good soak. As a result, for the second time in three weeks (both Tuesdays), I have no information on the opening act. So to both The Puritans and their fans, I apologize for the slight.

Although the evening kicked off with The Puritans at 8pm, Kate and I didn't arrive until a bit after 8:45. By then, Kansas City trio Hipshot Killer was already onto its second song. The core of Hipshot Killer should be familiar to any longtime Kansas City music fan – vocalist/guitarist Mike Alexander and bassist/backing vocalist Chris Wagner made a name for themselves in the late '90s and early '00s piloting the pop punk band The Revolvers. While Hipshot Killer retains the same energy as the duo's former band, there is an urgency in this new effort. This desperation, combined with a new broader pallet, has done wonderful things for the duo's music, and particularly for Alexander's guitar work. In Hipshot Killer, his leads are sharp and bold, he's able to buzz through choruses in a most pleasant early Foo Fighters sort of way, and his verses sparkle enough to melt the heart of any Jawbreaker fan. Wagner's bass work never blends into the background, and is frequently called upon to cover the melody when Alexander solos. The drumming of Brad Wicklander is the glue that binds the trio together. It's not flashy, but there's not much room for dazzle in the band's tight compositions.

Between songs, I took a moment to survey the crowd. There couldn't have been a dozen patrons and most of them were members of the other bands. Alexander addressed the audience enough to be polite, but had enough stage experience to know that getting the crowd to stand up and watch the set was all the engagement possible. A cover of Naked Raygun's "Surf Combat" did seem to snap a few dazed audience members' attention back to the stage, but by 9:20 the band had finished its last number and was quickly removing its equipment from the stage.

After only a ten-minute turnaround, another trio – Houston, Texas's Something Fierce – had already begun its first song. The band is led by guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Steven Garcia backed by bassist/backing vocalist "Niki Sevven" and drummer Andrew Keith. Garcia is a curious frontman, who shyly hid behind a mop of curly brown hair on stage. There was no flash to his performance, and if he addressed the audience at all, it was purely perfunctory. His guitar work was similarly workmanlike, with no solos nor inspiring riffs. This left Sevven with a heavy burden that she simply could not carry. Although her short bass runs had lots of bounce, and she danced in her Converse throughout the set (reaching a peak in the last number when she danced on the monitors at the front of the stage), no one could describe the band's performance as "energetic."

When a band can't muster excitement about its own music, it certainly wont be able to move an audience. This is a terrible shame, because Something Fierce has written some incredibly interesting post-punk material. The song "Future Punks" should have had the audience entranced by its Clash-like combination of jabbing guitar and funky rhythms, but the band played the track without any explosion or call to action. Only when Sevven would yelp her backing vocals did anything from the stage reach into the audience.

The Record Bar began to fill in a bit during Something Fierce's set, but the turnout was disappointing by anyone's standards. Despite being an all-ages show, I don't believe there were any minors present. Instead, the bar gathered a small assemblage of twenty-or-so midtown regulars, including street punks, crusty punks, skinheads and even a mod. For most of the night, the concertgoers sat at tables, watching from the dimly lit back, but when The Cute Lepers took the stage, drinks and pizzas were abandoned as patrons became fans standing at the front of the stage.

The Cute Lepers is a Seattle sextet that further combines late 1970s US power pop with the UK punk rock of the same era. If this sounds like a delightful sweet spot to you, then we should trade mix tapes. "Steve E. Nix" provides lead vocals and guitar, with co-conspirator "Stevie Kicks" providing bass, occasional lead vocals, and constant "oh-ah" Buzzcock-styled backing vocals. But Kicks isn't alone in this endeavour with both Meredith McGuire and Amzeah Smith providing constant backing vocals and Motown-moment synchronised dance moves from behind their respective microphones. The newest member of the band is the sharp-dressed Brian Yeager who provides lead guitar, and you guessed it, additional backing vocals. Only drummer Dain Hudson was without a voice. A full stage, dancing, tambourines, lots of bleached hair, smart pork pie hats, some very silly faces from Kicks, and an affable and comfortable frontman made this performance very different from the earlier bands on the bill.

For me, the highlight of the show was the power-pop gem "Head Over Heels" played during the band's three-song, unplanned (but happily obliged) encore. Although based on the intensity of the dancing, shouted refrains, and pumping fists, the rest of the audience was much more fond of "Terminal Boredom" – a snotty punk affair that borrows generously from 1950s rock & roll. Regardless of individual audience members' bents, everyone left knowing they'd seen a great show, and a good portion left holding a CD, 7", and a t-shirt.

Too Much Rock / 4027 Locust Street / KCMO 64110