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Thursday August 10th, 2023 at Record Bar in Kansas City, MO
The Good Life, & Dan Jones and the Squids

I left my apartment a half hour before the first band, walking past the pungent dispensary, and through the Power & Light entertainment district. It was a Thursday, so streets were blocked off and sidewalks were full of visitors headed to Hot Country Nights – a weekly country music concert series that runs all summer. Every week it's the same ladies in boots, cutoff jeans, and small tank tops. Men in jeans with fancy pockets, embroidered western shirts, boots, and expensive Stetson hats. Or just shorts and tennis shoes – the guys never try as hard as the gals. I was wearing a shirt from Rob Crowe's doom band called Goblin Cock. It has a detailed drawing of a goblin king on his throne with an enormous, pierced phallus. We were all going to see live music, but I was heading further down the street to Record Bar.

Cat Piss from Omaha was set to open until something changed a few days before the show. Its surging post punk was missed, but local opener Dan Jones and the Squids was a capable substitute. Dan Jones is, well, Dan Jones. He sings and plays electric guitar. The Squids are bassist Steve Tulipana (Season to Risk, et al.) and drummer Matt Ronan. At least in Kansas City they are. Jones spent twenty years in Eugene, Oregon, so there's a whole other set of squids there, but let's not talk about that.

The band lives in a genre that has no name but all the best adherents. It's that era of '80s punk that outgrew hardcore but refused to smooth out its rock & roll tendencies to become alternative. It's the American underground of bands detailed in Our Band Could Be Your Life. And it's a mighty fine blueprint. So, the band's 45-minute set was chockablock with aggressive pop songs that balanced bop and grit. Well, maybe balance isn't the right word, as Jones' songwriting lists this way and that. Sometimes it's power pop – "The Hazards of Club Life" sounded great. Sometimes it's mod revival – "AARP Punks" was a mission statement. Sometimes it's darker, longer, and more complicated – "Frog in a Pail" stretched on with teetering extended solos. Most songs don't have solos though. Most of the time it's just Jones shifting a power chord up and down his guitar neck. In fact, Tulipana is more likely to solo. If sawing away at your bass is a solo. When not suffering that abuse, his bass pings or rattles, depending on the pedal that Tulipana has stepped on. He also provides backing vocals alongside Ronan. They had some lovely "Yeah yeah yeah" opportunities during "Just Enough Hours in the Day." When he's not singing, he's a lyrical drummer. The playing on one song seemed to be entirely fills, Keith Moon style. But Ronan plays with jazz grip and doesn't wash down a fistful of French Blues with a jug of brandy before going on. I don't think he does anyway. The sixteen-song set ended with "Blue Lights White" – a song that Jones called "Success Stories" when he cut it as a demo in 2021. That one really dialed up the '80s post-punk formula. Now I guess I'm already looking forward to the next album.

The headliner had already backlined its gear, so the stage turned over promptly. But then it sat there, dormant, lit in blue, while the PA pumped out hip hop. We waited a half hour. A fresh wave of fans came forward each time it seemed like the show was surely ready to begin. By 9:15, the area in front of the stage was packed. Then Tim Kasher made his entrance.

When The Good Life formed in 2000, it was to be a Kasher solo project providing an outlet apart from his work in Cursive. Over twenty years later, he's still surrounded by the musicians he collected to assist him them – bassist/vocalist Stephanie Drootin, guitarist Ryan Fox, and drummer Roger Lewis. The band started with "Everybody" from its most recent album, released in 2015. The lonely, remorseful lyrics are Kasher's, but the whole band had a hand in this chaotic indie rock tune. It's not so solo after all. "Some Bullshit Escape" followed. It's a song about a breakup. It's a little unhinged. It was an apt introduction to the set that would follow.

The band's current tour celebrates its 2004 breakthrough Album of the Year. It's a concept album that follows a couple from their introduction to their divorced estrangement. Without examining the album too much (there's plenty of contemporaneous reviews that do that well), our protagonist is hard to discern from Kasher, who was reeling from his own recent divorce at the time. After the two-song prelude, Kasher spoke to the audience. He asked about Hot Country Nights, he recalled playing both incarnations of Record Bar, and then he announced that the band would do a complete playthrough of Album of the Year. Through the audience's cheers, he admitted the album was a bit of a bummer. The tone in his voice made it clear that performing it again for this tour has taken a toll on him, but then he added that hopefully it's the album that the audience needs. Or maybe the one that they needed. Or maybe that they'll need next year. His theory was tested for the next twelve songs as the foursome delivered the emotionally devastating record.

The set moved as the album does. There are bounding pop numbers. There are slow swaying waltzes. There are quiet numbers and explosive ones. All of it is penetrating and some of it troubling, as all the couple's intimate topics are laid bare. The audience knew the album, and it sang along loudly. It roared along with "You're No Fool" and "You're Not You." Some of them cried mouthing the hymns, some of them shouted the lyrics defiantly, pumping fists and hugging friends. We're all in different stages of grief.

Throughout the set, Kasher moved between acoustic and electric guitars. He even traversed the stage to play keyboards where he delivered a histrionic vocal performance during "Notes in His Pocket." The rest of the night the keys came from Fox, though his most observable work came from the slide guitar that defined not-only "Night and Day," but gave so many other songs the unsteady atmosphere they required. Atmosphere that, in the studio, came from Mike Mogis' production or guest horns and strings. Drootin's bass had little work to do most of the night, as many songs were based entirely around Kasher's acoustic guitar, Fox's slide, and maybe the soft mallets of Lewis. She did have backing vocal duties throughout, and on "Inmates" she was tasked with the lead vocal. The monitors plagued her at first, and she motioned to the engineer to bring up her volume. The crowd mistook this for an invitation, and soon the happy accident had the crowd carrying the first verse of the climatic nearly ten-minute song. Kasher had his own spotlight moment three songs later during closer "Two Years This Month" – the album's woebegone coda delivered acapella.

After finishing the song, Kasher took several deep breaths and addressed the audience again. "We made it," he proclaimed. We did, and he was right, it was the album that I needed. Still, I was hoping to move on quickly, and was happy when he offered to play a few more as an encore. But if I was looking for a happy ending, I didn't get one. The songs that followed ("Your Share of Men," "Empty Bed," and "Keely Aimee") are all songs of heartbreak or tales of ill-advised relationships between wounded people. And then it ended. The night that is. After nearly 90 minutes, the foursome left the stage, the audience scrambled for the paper setlists, and I packed up my camera.

I had walked three blocks before I snapped out of my Album of the Year haze. Somehow, I was in the midst of the Power & Light District again. That band had just finished too, and now the crowd was divided between those still ramping up for a party, and those already collapsed on the sidewalk destroyed by too much sun and too many light beers. I had endured neither, but I was just as spent. I chuckled, thinking that while our uniforms were different, our music different, and our poisons different, we ended up in the same place.