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Friday December 1st, 2023 at Turnsol Books & Coffee in Kansas City, MO
From Me, Small Victories, Deco Auto, Corey Dies in the End, & The Critterz

I'd intended to provide insight. To discuss Turnsol – the new collective bookstore (and soon coffee shop and soon café and soon record store) that hosted the benefit. I'd expected to talk about Hope House and the work the charity does for victims of domestic violence. I hoped to provide some real insight on the new bands playing the bill, introducing them to interested audiences. But that's not how it worked out. Instead, here are some quick observations:

The Critterz opened the night. This new band is stacked with scene regulars Shawn Stewart (guitar/vocals), Don Dawn (keys/vocals), Calandra Ysqueirdo (bass/backing vocals), and Alex Boyd (drums). In general, the band is a pop rock outfit with standard song structures and impressive three-part harmonies. There were lots of highs in the band's seven-song opening set, most notably the bubblegum of first single "La La Lu Lu Lu." That song's alt-pop sheen was tempered by both the garage swagger of the live band, and the shift away from the act's previous vocalist. Keep your eye on The Critterz as there's bound to be good things from this group.

Corey Dies in the End followed. The namesake of the band is vocalist/guitarist Corey Vitt. His singles have ranged from maximalist hyperpop to dark trap-laden emo to guitar-rich indie. And then there's the live version of the band that includes bassist Dan Ernstmann, drummer Jordan Horne, and guitarist Nathan "Slink" Slinkard, but the latter wasn't available for this gig. Per Vitt, Slink was on tour with Skid Row and Buck Cherry. "I wish I was kidding," he added sheepishly. The live trio stripped away all the studio electronics for a set that might be best described as emotional pop-punk. Sometimes languid and tugging, other times bouncy and hooky. I'd seen Vitt as a supporting member of other bands (Beautiful Bodies, Hidden Pictures, Rooms without Windows), but never his namesake project. With this makeshift line-up, I'm still not sure I have.

Deco Auto. The band has been around for as long as the automobile, and its seven-song set hasn't changed much since those days either. Give the people what they want. The band is both pop and a punk and yet somehow not pop punk. It's led by Steve Garcia (vocals/guitar) with a backing trio of Tracy Flowers (vocals), Marc Bollinger (bass), & Keith Howell (drums). The band's short set was professional and tight. Garcia's guitar was big, ringing throughout the bookstore with a nice, distorted hum as he ripped through riff-heavy choruses and anthemic structured solos. The feedback that occurred anytime Flowers touched her microphone was less appealing. Luckily that didn't keep her from pogoing and stomping through a cover of "United States of Whatever," or delivering vocals on the excellent power pop of "Turnaround" taken 2019's Another Great Decision. If you've not seen the band in a while, fix that soon.

The evening turned up a notch for the pop punk of Small Victories. The band is fronted by vocalist/guitarist Jeff Chitty, with bassist Richard Stone, lead guitarist Josh Parton, and drummer Matt Cook making the band whole. Chitty voice is scratchy and worn, and he sounds just like an old punk should. Stone's backing vocals add nice layering and occasional harmonies. The two are jesters while Parton stands in stoic contrast, nailing the leads and solos, and while hard-hitting drummer Cook calls out the tempo on his ride. The twenty-minute set included several hooky songs just recorded for an upcoming album that might have been the best songs of the night.

The benefit ended with From Me. The new trio is led by Logan Park (vocals/guitar) with Logan Gillespie (bass/vocals) and Nick Clark (drums) completing the line-up. Park's vocals sounded good and Gillespie's backing efforts bolstered them nicely. Gillespie also carried the melody when Parks opted to step back for strong solos. Parks blushed as the audience cheered him on. It was the band's fourth show, and its fans (mostly ladies their autumn neutrals and camel coats) danced and hooted throughout the band's 35-minute set. The alternative rock trio closed with a telling cover of Smashing Pumpkins' "1979." The song had fans bouncing, the rest of the room smiling, and it inspired the Turnsol staff to turn the area behind the cash register into a celebratory mosh pit.