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Friday July 28th, 2023 at Howdy in Kansas City, MO
Miles Luce & the Cowtippers, Telethon, Brady Rowland & the Missle Kidz, & Screen Door Submarine

I'm not versed in the deep magic of all-ages booking, but I know when Kansas City doesn't do a touring band right.

The night began with Screen Door Submarine. Incarnations of this local act have been around for two years, always plying its trade in basements and other ask-a-punk gigs. It flew under my radar for most of that time, only entering my field of vision two weeks ago when I saw the band listed on a flyer for a gig at a basement DIY that I've never been to. Curiously, that gig was for this same night. Later I saw the band listed on a flyer for this show and assumed that it had graduated to Howdy. That was not the case – the band intended to play both gigs. Most of its fans then, presumably, went to one gig or the other.

Screen Door Submarine currently lines up as Zach Bloomfield (vocals/guitar), Raymond Little (bass), and Jordan Supplee (drums). They're a wiry trio of kids who bounced about the stage like a pop punk act. The handful of friends they drew to the gig were similarly wiry, similarly bouncy, and enjoyed an energetic and playful push pit – except for the one song where they all staged a die in, littering their sweaty bodies across the dusty floor. The band, however, are not pop punk. Bloomfield has a lovely hoarse scream that recalls vintage Tim Kinsella. His guitar is often jagged and punctuated by finger taps and false harmonics further cementing a Cap'n Jazz comparison and ensuring my undying devotion. There are moments when the band is straight forward punk, but when things get hectic, they get interesting. Second wave emo interesting. Little provided lots of energy, occasional backing screams, and a vibrant mop of red hair, but his ¾ scale bass seldom pierced the din around him. Supplee was a fun drummer, beating his kit, and smashing his cymbals. After the first song, he removed his shirt, demurring that if his kick drum sounded weak, it was because he was suffering through the heat. The band's set ran just short of 30 minutes, including songs from its debut EP (which sounded better live thanks to a more aggressive live guitar tone), a cover of a Squirrel Flower song, and a preview of the band's next single, "ACAB." The band announced they had one more but then…

But then the band handed over its instruments to three members of the audience. Members that comprise Brady Rowland and the Missile Kidz from Sedalia, Missouri – a touring band whose name I'd seen on the top of the flyer for Screen Door Submarine's other show that night. That band ripped through one song that showed why the two bands were simpatico – punk rock, a little hardcore, a little heady chaos. They could be interesting.

Milwaukee's Telethon were next. Surprising. I mean, it's not odd to sandwich a relatively unknown touring band in the middle of a bill, but I thought Telethon were bigger than that. In fact, I thought Telethon were bigger than Howdy. I guess they're not, but they should be.

Telethon are a five piece led by vocalist (and occasional rhythm guitarist) Kevin Tully. He has a clean and clear voice with a hint of drama to it. Something like an early Ben Folds. He's flanked by guitarist Jack Sibilski. Sibilski makes a lot of faces, marches around the stage like Angus Young, and plays lyrical guitar solos. There's a Thin Lizzy badge on his guitar strap, and you can hear the twin leads in Telethon, but instead of Brian Robertson, Telethon has keyboardist Nate Johnson ("Gene Jacket" to fans). He plays synth, piano, and glockenspiel. Like his bandmates, he's an active performer, always dancing behind his station, and exaggerating his mallet strikes and key presses. His buzzing synth lines sometimes carry the melody, but more often just up the joy quotient – think blue album. Bass comes from Alex Meylink. He looks like a hardcore kid pulled from the '90s and moves about the stage like one, too. His backing vocals join Sibilski's, adding oohs and aahs as well as more subtle harmony parts around Tully. Drummer Erik Atwell leaves space for his compatriots until he's tasked with building the entire band up to pounding anthemic moments. Explosions happen. Pop explosions. Or "hard pop" explosions as the band prefers to label itself.

The band moved quickly through its half-hour set, stopping only three or four times to praise the space, recognize the dancers in the crowd, and to introduce the members of the band. Finding the perfect balance of showmanship and intimacy is tough in a room with only a dozen people in it, but Telethon found it. It's nine-song set was culled from its most recent four releases, drawing most heavily from Swim Out Past the Breakers released by Take This to Heart Records in 2021. Find it and then work your way backwards so you can come out and sing along when the band returns to town.

The fifteen minutes between acts ushered in a world of difference. The first two bands left with what remained of their audience to head to the other show. The third began packing up their van. I considered going next door to Howdy's sister venue Farewell to catch some of that show. Maybe someone did. Then the house lights that had stayed up for the other acts came down, leaving only two lightbulbs glowing on the floor. The band pulled out chairs and placed them in the middle of the room facing one another. Instinctively the remaining six fans sat down in a semi-circle around the band. An entirely different vibe. Maybe an entirely different show.

The headliner was billed as Miles Luce. You're never sure what flavor of performance you'll get from Luce. He's noted for fronting the most recent incarnation of Lawrence, Kansas emo act Midwest Telegram, where he's moved that band from its genre-tied roots toward singer-songwriter territory. In fact, Midwest Telegram performances have occasionally just been solo Luce performances. Shows billed explicitly as Mile Luce offer no greater guarantees. It could be a solo folk-leaning show, or it could include a sprawling alt-country performance from Luce and his backing band The Cowtippers. Or it could be a quiet western affair that rests between the two. This is what Luce (vocals, guitar), Jack Bryan (drums), and Nolan Debrincat (lap steel) would give the Howdy crowd.

Luce sat down and began by thanking those who remained. Then, as a sort of preface, he explained that he didn't see any differences between emo and country music. With that forewarning, the young troubadour then sung his whispers into a microphone and slowly strummed his acoustic guitar. Seated across from him, Bryan kept time, tapping his brushes on a snare drum, occasionally splashing a cymbal. The act's plaintive songs blended into each other, forgoing distinguishing vocal wails or stomping dynamics. Only Debrincat's lap steel spoke up, adding its lonely cries that became the de facto focus of the seven-song set.

For a half hour, the red light that sat on the floor created shadows on the trio's faces that flickered with their movement. A few saguaro cacti, a whinnying horse, and a sky full of stars would have completed John Ford's vision, but even without them, I swore I could smell beans bubbling in a tin can over a mesquite campfire. The unfamiliar atmosphere made for a fun diversion and provided an intimate introduction to Luce's latest vision – one that everyone can experience when the full Miles Luce & the Cowtippers album, I Cry Cowboy Tears, is released August 13th – but it was an odd choice to cap a bill that began with energic punk bands.

But like I said, I don't know the deep magic, so I can't say why so few showed up to the genre-spanning gig – I only hope that Kansas City can do Telethon better next time.