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Sunday February 25th, 2024 at Record Bar in Kansas City, MO
Militarie Gun, Pool Kids, Spiritual Cramp, & Spaced

All-ages. Sunday. 7pm. Not exactly hardcore. Not really a matinee. But it was packed. A sold-out room for four touring acts and no regulars. That last thing should be illegal. But then again, so should five band bills. So I guess I should just shut up and share what happened because it was pretty close to perfect.

Spaced started the night. The band is a five-piece from Buffalo. Frontwoman Lexi Reyngoudt defiantly claimed the act was the only hardcore band on the bill as she worked the crowd. And she worked them hard, holding out her mic above their heads, whipping the packed crowd into a moshing fury, saluting the stage divers that appeared near the end of the band's eleven-song set. They were only following her lead. She bounced and jumped as the mid-paced hardcore bounced around her. Youth crew-styled hardcore. Revelation-styled hardcore. Something the label must have realized as it will release the band's upcoming album. There were double-time mosh parts, stanky half-time stomps, and chugging vigor between the two. A second guitarist added colors. Not quite as boldly has fellow Buffalo band Snapcase did, but that's the idea. Something for guitar nerds to do their nerding over while the rest of the room erupts. A twenty-minute set and a hell of start to the night.

The room was forced to wait between acts. Everyone caught their breath. Everyone kicked the smashed cups under the stage. More than one returned from the merch booth wearing a Spaced shirt. The energy sagged as the waiting continued. The brave pushed forward.

Spiritual Cramp hit the stage at 7:45. Another quintet lined-up the same way. The San Franciscan band is a curious assemblage. You know that "If the hardcore band's guitarist looks like this you're about to die in the pit" meme? Frontman Michael Bingham wore loafers with no socks. One guitarist wore pressed slacks. I wondered if I should get my affairs in order. Funny how that unnerves you and not the skinhead in front of you with his straight-lace boots and gingham shirt. I've been around enough to know it's always the ones you least expect. Turns out Bingham is a preacher. The sort that paces the stage with urgency and shouts to the heavens between songs looking for an amen. Like Gadjits back in the days. Like Nation of Ulysses. Like The (International) Noise Conspiracy. Actually, a lot like TINC in that Spiritual Cramp are a hardcore band infected with a love of rock & roll. Some writers only bring them back to The Strokes or Maximo Park or The Rakes, but I think it goes back further. Regardless, it's maximalist rock & roll with big swagger and big energy. Bingham danced and jumped and impressed. A keyboardist played a little and danced a lot more while banging on a tambourine. The lead guitarist offered strong solos. Gloriously dumb and catchy solos that can only come from a love for oi. The audience was happiest with the older tracks. "Earth to Mike" had the kids going crazy. Somewhere in the audience there's a kid that was sure "Nah, That Ain't It" is the best Britpop song released in the last ten years. I wouldn’t tell him he's wrong. Like I said, it's a curious assemblage. One I might enjoy hearing in headphones just as much as seeing live.

Although the audience loved Spiritual Cramp, they worshipped Pool Kids. There's plenty to like. While the band's roots are in mathy emo, it's now eying something bigger. Its songs are loaded with pop hooks and explosive choruses born for audience sing-alongs. Big ones. Arena-sized ones. Frontwoman Christine Goodwyne provided vocals and plenty of guitar. She jumped. She did high kicks. She sang while crowd surfing. She did it in platform boots and a short skirt. And she smiled while delivering complicated finger taps. Guitarist Andy Anaya tapped along in tandem. Both took their solos, and both twinkled through broken chord arpeggios. Bassist Nicolette Alvarez pogoed through most of the set, proving the band were not only capable players working with big songs, but tireless athletes as well. Drummer Caden Clinton ushered the band through big dynamics from Goodwyne's confessional whispers to her cathartic choruses. During "Pathetic," her vocals could barely be heard over the full-voiced audience. It was no accident, as she kept the room hyped with plenty of stadium-sized, "What the f*ck is up Kansas City?!" baiting between songs. The band has been through Kansas City playing smaller venues like The Rino frequently, but I suspect those days are over. Bigger things are coming for Pool Kids. Very big ones.

And then there is Militarie Gun. The headliners from Los Angeles have exploded onto the scene over the last three years. They're a hardcore band that doesn't play hardcore. Maybe that's the Turnstile school of success now. The band is the project of vocalist Ian Shelton. Early recordings were all his doing, with the live version of the band changing from tour to tour. There have been a lot of tours. This time around he recruited William Acuña (guitar), Dylan Mikres (guitar), Waylon Trim (bass & backing vocals), and David Stalsworth (drums) to create the infectious somewhat hardcore, somewhat punk, somewhat indie, could-be post-hardcore sound that sits outside of those genres yet somehow still embraces them all.

The set started big with "Seizure of Assets" from the band's 2023 album Life Under the Gun. The audience knew every word. Two songs later when the big guitars of "Let Me Be Normal" hit, the pit was a-roil. But Militarie Gun has it all. Soon the show was slowed down for the gloriously lush "My Friends Are Having a Hard Time." Shelton explained the song was about realizing that you can't take on your friends' pain no matter how hard you try. He offered relaxed expository banter throughout the night, building honest connections rather than delivering hackneyed gimmicks. Shelton let things explode organically. Stage divers pushed past the band continually as they worked their way onto the crowd. Shelton's own pacing and jumps were often altered by the steady stream of divers. He didn't flinch. In separate instances, both Lexi Reyngoudt and Christine Goodwyne returned to the stage to take verses before diving out into the crowd. The energy that fed between bands and fans grew with every exchange.

Toward the end its 50-minute set, Shelton offered the crowd a choice of covers. Did they want song number one or song number two? Maybe the audience knew, maybe it was a guess, but song two was chosen and the band tore into a cover of Blur's "Song 2." Acuña shouted "Woo hoo!" along with the audience while Mikres headbanged behind his long hair. In most shows that song would have been the blast of energy that overshadowed everything else played. It wasn't. That came a few songs later when the band closed with "Do It Faster." If fans didn't know it as the lead off track to the new album, they knew it from a Taco Bell commercial. Both camps went off – a lot of them for the first time. The band isn't about gatekeeping, everyone was embraced.

Days later Shelton posted on X (nee Twitter) that Kansas City had been the highlight of the tour. It was indeed a magical night, and one that currently stands as my favorite concert of 2024. It was pretty close to perfect.