I've not been in Kansas City much over the last year, and when I am, it's in one day and out the next. Friendships are hard to maintain, and impossible to begin. Luckily there's punk rock. For over thirty years I've relied on it to build bridges no matter where I've called home. Like most subcultures there is canon, and uniforms, and some of it is superficial and some is embarrassingly deep. There are startling few degrees of separation — I always know someone in some band that was someone's roommate during a hot summer in Chicago or a cold winter in Philadelphia. We all share the experiences of long drives to cancelled shows, embarrassing mohawks, taped Converse, and tattoos memorializing the moments that we couldn't let slip away. Punk rock is just as valid for a kid of fifteen as a kid of fifty — even if few of the fifteen-year-old kids could ever imagine that. It's punk rock that connects everyone at the show. No matter where that show is. No matter what bands are playing. On this night it was good to be back home. Sure, in Kansas City — but mostly at a punk show.
The Uncouth kicked things off with its latest single "Madness." Its band members don't quite span a generation, but it's close. Still, time is passing and even the baby face of its frontman has started to show signs of age. Styles are also shifting within the band. The boots-and-braces uniform is less important, and the oi-by-the-numbers song writing is also fading. Two new songs made their way to the setlist. The first, titled "My Lai," ignores the long-established oi formula of big riffs and bigger sing-along choruses. There's a churning guitar building tension in this one. There's something subtle and post-punk about it. Of course, this is nothing new; oi poster boys Blitz took a similar exit in 1982, but this is new territory for The Uncouth. The other new song (and even some of the older ones) were played with a rough edge. Hard rock as much as punk rock. Something might be brewing with this band. As much as I love the band's working class oi anthems, I'm certain they can make a statement no matter the subgenre. But will fans still pump their fists?
Hipshot Killer followed. The first five songs all bridged together. Each a bigger anthem than the last. Pop punk maybe but also post hardcore and emo and just enough rock & roll to speak to the soul. Drum fills were rapid, bass lines strong, and the buzzing guitar only gave way to fleet-finger leads. Staccato rhythms escalating to '90s-era false stops provided the only respite until the band had made it halfway through its fifteen-song setlist. Even then there wasn't much banter, just a lot of intensity from a trio with a musical history that goes back decades. There's a "we jam econo" chip on the band's shoulder. And the band proves its value every night. If Hipshot Killer is not the most underrated band in Kansas City, I'd like to meet its better.
The night culminated with The Lillingtons. It's easy to pigeonhole this venerable foursome. To slap a "best by" date on its fast and clean pop-punk. Candied Ramones-core like so many others of the era. The soundman knew this when he played The Queers over the PA before the band took the stage. But The Lillingtons are somehow darker, less frivolous than their songs of aliens and cavemen would imply. Frontman Kody Templeton set the mood as soon as it climbed on stage and sipped from a chalice from a makeshift altar to Baphomet. From there the band offered no levity and no banter. Instead it marched purposely through a setlist designed by fan. A fan that really liked the band's 1999 album Death by Television. As the night wore on, the band's stoic exterior faded. Jokes happened. Requests were honored. The divide between band and audience disappeared. This erosion — more than bondage pants or bullet belts — defines punk rock.
It was a little after eleven o'clock when The Lillingtons ended its set. Templeton warned the audience with disdain that there would be no encore. I admire that. Then the show dissolved. Band members stepped off the stage, blending into the crowd as they had all night. The audience's attention turned to friends, the merch tables, or the exit. I stayed around for a bit. Visiting. Basking. No need to rush off anywhere — was already home.