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Thursday April 4, 2024 at The Ship in Kansas City, MO
The Marked Men, & The Whiffs

A month ago, a member of the opening band told me how excited he was to play this gig, so I dug out the only single I had from the headliner and gave it a reminder spin. Meh. A friend was also excited about the show and insisted I should get a different record and listen again, so I went to a record store and got the only record they had in stock. Meh again. The evening of the show another friend offered me a ticket. At that point I figured why fight it, the universe wanted me at this show. I thanked her, saved an image of her ticket on my phone, and headed over to The Ship.

The room was buzzing but not too crowded. I stole a table in the corner, hoping not to upset a waitress who would no doubt rather have a tipping customer there than me. Venues with table service give me anxiety, but I wanted a seat in hopes I could pull out my laptop and get some photo editing done. But then I saw a friend. And another. And another. In fact, scanning the crowd I saw very few unfamiliar faces. Those that weren't friends were people I follow on Instagram. But don't worry, I didn't dare cross that divide.

At 8:30 the four members of The Whiffs climbed on stage, wordlessly summoning 100 fans from the edges of the large room. They came in close enough to avoid the usual semi-circle of awkwardness without having to be told. I guess they were already all friends. I was close enough to see that the setlist was the same eleven songs that the band played a few weeks ago at Hillsiders. Most were from Scratch 'n' Sniff, a few from Another Whiff, and then the two unreleased ones that have been staples of the band's live set for a year. It was a pretty even split between songs sung by bassist Zach Campbell and those sung by twelve-string guitarist Rory Cameron. The first's voice is sweeter, the second's comes with a rasp. Each offers harmonizing backing vocals. Lead guitarist Kyle Gowdy has yet to reconstruct the three-part harmonies that were present when Joey Rubbish held that post – the microphone is always set up for him, yet still we wait for the goods. Even without Rubbish, the band's power pop bounces. The rockers and syrupy love songs alike have a frenetic energy thanks to the Cameron's strumming, Gowdy's quick leads, and the snapping rhythm provided by Campbell and drummer Jake Cardwell. The quartet used to be known for sloppy drunken nights, but not anymore – there's a regimen now. One that calls for a quick half-hour set of short songs delivered in rapid succession. One that winded Campbell as he confessed after "On the Boulevard." After other songs he thanked the audience for coming out on a weeknight and talked smack on audience member Derek Solsberg, who once played in Mouthbreathers with Campbell and Gowdy. It seems Campbell also knew everyone in the room.

Between acts Keenan Nichols DJ'd. Mostly he spun power pop without falling into any particular micro genre. Hearing "Looking for The Magic" it made me happy. I'm sure everyone in the room felt the same way. It was that kind of crowd. I don't know Nichols, but I follow him on Instagram. Someone in the crowd wore an The Only Ones t-shirt. I don’t know her, but I probably should have proposed on the spot. Just as I was planning to go out to my car to listen to "Another Girl, Another Planet," I saw the headliner was ready to go. Only twenty minutes between acts. Tight.

Dallas's The Marked Men are back from retirement. Or something like that. After calling it quits over a decade ago, the band has popped up from time to time for well-attended gigs and festivals. But this is a tour. Maybe it's the start of something bigger? Or maybe it's just an extended form of the irregularity. I had no preconceptions. As I noted, everyone I knew was amped for the band, while I was just along for the ride. And hot damn, what a ride it turned out to be!

The band started just before 9:30 and only played a half-hour set. Sixteen fast-paced punk rock, pop-punk, and power pop songs all piled on top each other. Thirty minutes of hooks. Thirty minutes of the audience singing along to every song. Thirty minutes of me learning songs by the second chorus. Thirty minutes of the audience bopping, shaking mops of hair, and occasionally pumping their fists for emphasis. I'd not seen an audience enjoy a show this much in a long time. I'd not enjoyed a show this much in a long time. I set down my camera and danced.

Lead vocals in the band were split between guitarists Jeff Burke and Mark Ryan. The former more garbled and punk, the later purer and more pop. Bassist Joe Aroub also sang lead on a couple. He's a big man with an unexpectedly high voice. Drummer Mike Throneberry even tossed in some backing vocals. There weren't mysteries to the band's compositions. No big tempo shifts, no loud/soft dynamics, tricky time signatures, or F# dim7 chords left unresolved to build tension. Instead, everything came quick, made its point, and then moved on. The set touched on everything from the band's early singles to its final (for now?) album, but most of the night came from 2006's Fix My Brain. This might be the golden period where strong melodies, perfect power pop tempos, zeal, and songcraft combine flawlessly. This is the album I was told to check out before the concert but couldn't find. My friend was right, "Sully My Name" is heaven-sent.

After the show I picked up a copy of Fix My Brain. A lot of people did the same. The band's fans were voracious at the merch table. I listened as they enthused about seeing a band that they didn't think they'd ever get to see. Now I was one of them. Now I understood what all the excitement was about. If you're on the fence, take this as a sign from the universe, go see the band.