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Sunday March 12th, 2023 at Record Bar in Kansas City, MO
Ringworm, & Skuffed

It's been almost a week since the show, and I've still not figured it out. The headliner formed in the late ‘80s. It was a hardcore band then, but it was always pushing toward metalcore – even before that subgenre existed. Writers are always one step behind. Only the singer remains from the earliest incarnations, but he has assembled a cast of similarly big, hairy, tattooed, gruff old men through the years. The band has played across the world, and on thousands of stages. In fact, it was in the middle of a national package tour featuring Cro-Mags and others when it opted to skip the scheduled St. Louis date to play Kansas City instead. On the other hand, the opening act was playing its second show. Its members were predominantly women, and all of them teens – several were too young to drive. Punk. Fast and angry about the usual things. Nope, I still don’t know how this show came to be. But I'm glad it did.

Skuffed opened the night just after 8pm. The band lines up with Sid on vocals, Macy on guitar, Biz on bass, and Kay on drums. I've respected the pseudonyms to protect the innocent. The 400-capacity Record Bar isn't an enormous room, but for many local bands, it's as large as they can ever hope to play. The band was not nervous. Maybe not even impressed. Sid hit the stage with a lot of energy – especially for an opening act. He screamed for us to come forward and to dance. Then he screamed through seven-or-so hardcore punk songs including a couple of covers. Several songs were described as "new," but of course when it's only your second show, all your songs are new. As I focused my camera the left side of the stage, I was pelted by a well-loved Garfield plushie thrown from the right. That's as violent as it got. Macy and Biz kept their eyes on their fingers and frets, exploring the stage cautiously, but Sid tumbled about it with abandon. A few friends in the audience heeded the constant reminders to dance, as did a few patrons seeing the band for the first time. Family members recorded video on their phones from the wings. During the last song, instruments were swapped to create a two-guitar configuration that allowed Kay to bounce around the stage with a bass. In this configuration Sid played the energetic drummer while still providing vocals. This isn't the last you'll hear of Skuffed on Too Much Rock – though I suspect most performances will take place on the floor of basements and all-ages venues, it's nice to know the band has the range.

Ringworm had backlined its gear – even its drums, allowing the stage to turn quickly. With no interest in prolonging the night, they kicked off their set off as soon as they were ready – at 8:40. For the next 40 minutes the band blasted the audience with songs that were heavy, loud, fast, and a little bit ugly. Some in the audience were dedicated fans, including a couple that stood center stage, playfully requesting songs the band wouldn't play. Some fans were casual – a categorization that I am hesitant to apply to myself since I hadn't seen the band live for 30 years. Many in the crowd were friends of Skuffed, unaware of Ringworm's deep catalog, but overflowing with the exuberance of youth. While a cold Sunday night nearly assured a sparse attendance, the mix meant that, while thirty patrons stood back watching cautiously, there were always a dozen dancers pushing and tumbling through the pit or bopping buoyantly at the edges of the stage, and there were always a handful of fans shouting in glee when their favorite songs were announced or rushing the pit upon recognizing familiar riff.

Singer James Bulloch (known as "Human Furnace") is a burly man. He screams. Loudly. In fact, as loudly as he can. It's not nuanced, it's ragged and raw. Throughout the night he paced from the drum riser to the edge of the stage, occasionally propping a foot up on a monitor, sometimes doubled over with two hands wrapped around the microphone. Between songs he offered casual banter: checking in the with audience, thanking the opening acts and fans, and plugging the band's upcoming album – an album he knowingly suggested would be their best ever… at least until he began promoting the one that would follow. Lead guitarist Matt Sorg writes most of the band's material today. He played a Gibson Flying V, generating lots of leads, some nice solos, and plenty of finger taps. He too had a small orbit on stage. There are no hardcore jumps left in Ringworm. The band prefers headbanging to roundhouse kicks anyway. On the other side of the stage Mike Lare plays mostly rhythm guitar. Like the others, he's big and bearded, and his tone is just as beefy. He's joined by bassist Ed Stephens and his rattling Rickenbacker. This quartet has been stable for years. The touring drummer, however, is a mystery to me. Together, they make a sound that is punishing, brutal, and flagrant, yet somehow not as impenetrable as modern grindcore. Throughout the night I tried to grasp why. Sorg wore an Ace Frehley shirt and Bulloch has a Kiss Army tattoo. Lare wore a Voivod shirt. Stephens, an Iron Maiden one. Are those clues? Is this anything?

The band's set covered various facets of its long career with one section described as coming from the "sell-out" era. I laughed at the description, suspecting Ringworm's sell-out songs are much like Skuffed's old songs – neither actually exist. When the band tried to exit after its final number, the audience held out for more. Human Furnace and Sorg exchanged a look, shrugged, and reconvened the band for two more – the first was summoned from the band's earliest recordings that still delighted in hardcore austerity. If I were the sort that rushed the pit, that would have been my trigger.

The night ended by 9:30 – adding one last wonderful and confusing element to a show packed with them. I don't know how or why Ringworm found itself in Kansas City for a one-off date, or how Skuffed found its way to the big stage for their second show, opening for a band older than their parents, but I'm glad it happened. These are the sorts of musical surprises that I love preserving on Too Much Rock – even if I never figure where they come from.