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Sunday January 31st, 2010 at Jackpot Saloon in Lawrence, KS
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Hidden Pictures, & The ACBs
Philip Dickey of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
John Robert Cardwell of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
Michelle Sanders of Hidden Pictures
Konnor Ervin of The ACBs
[more photos]
[linked video]

I'm not sure what it is about Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, but they're able to rouse me out of a warm house no matter how late and dark and snowy it may be. I must have looked at the Jackpot website a half dozen times on Sunday, staring at the three band bill, and a published 10pm start time. I'm feeling old these days in so many ways. After visit number six I detoured to MySpace to listen to the opening bands – both smart pop, and both local bands I hadn't seen. I suppose that settled it. A bit before 9pm I gathered my camera gear, pulled Kate away from her homework, and pointed the Scion westward.

The Jackpot was busy. I hadn't thought about that. And it's been rearranged with less seating and 100% more photo booth. I wonder why it is, that even in the age of ubiquitous digital cameras, the twenty-something crowd is so excited for that small strip of four high contrast photographs. Is it just that these are something tangible? Is it the privacy of the photo booth that sells the experience? Still curious, I found a spot for us to sit on a small bench across from the booth, near the stage, and next to a keyboard gig bag. I stuffed my coat, scarf, and hat into the crevice between the bench and the wall, unpacked my camera bag, and then quickly lost interest in the comings and goings of the kids and their booth.

A bit before 10pm the four members of Kansas City's The ACBs climbed on stage. For a moment I thought the show might actually start early. Instead a 15-minute sound check, with an obligatory (yet unnecessary) five-minute break ensued. Before beginning in earnest, the band huddled at the side of the stage, as if calling a complex passing play or praying to a god bent on specifics. The cluster was broken with a rallying cry that signalled the musical portion of the show could now begin.

The ACBs is led by vocalist/guitarist Konnor Ervin; he has a strong and pleasant voice built for band's 70s-era power pop. Guitarist Matt Saladino and bassist Bryan McGuire provided little flash but plenty of backing vocals. And although the band has lost its drummer, it was lucky enough to borrow both Cowboy Indian Bear's Beau Bruns and The Noise FM's Austin Ward, who each filled in laudably when tapped. In fact it was Ward's drum kit that sat on stage, the kick drum modified with tape and cardboard to read "The ACBs FM." Not only did each of these fill-in musicians manage to keep the beat, each also provided backing vocals as well, completing the four – and sometimes five – part blends.

In a set that was heavily tilted towards new material, The ACBs delivered a ten-song, 30-minute performance brimmed with textbook pop songs about girls, driving rhythms, sweet (if not Sweet) backing vocals, and muscular guitar solos. A dedicated fan base bopped and sung along to every song (including the new material), packing the area in front of the stage. As the evening continued, and older songs were played, the intensity of the performance picked up greatly, until band and fans alike were on stage for finale "We'll Walk on the River."

A half-hour break followed as gear was ushered off and onto the stage, and the audience was made privy to another soundcheck. At 11:20 Richard Gintowt of Hidden Pictures stood being the microphone attempting to lead the crowd through "Happy Birthday." It was a failure. This was recognized by Michelle Sanders who stood to his right. Sheepishly, she promised the audience that they could sing better than that. They can.

While the band is currently a quintet, it is the give and take of core members Gintowt and Sanders that define the band. His rambling stories, her concise retorts. His breezy stage presence, her focus. His warm round timbre, her sharp tones. When Gintowt's banter becomes too much, the audience roots for him to be reined in, and celebrates when Sanders accomplishes it. Then, it's off to the next song we go.

The next song, like the last one, and nearly all of the band's material, is a perfect retelling of the early 90s alternative pop scene. Holt's keyboards are central to the band's sound, holding near equal billing with Gintowt's guitar. Sanders's glockenspiel performs varying roles from occasional accent to holding the entire melody. The rhythm section is snappy, but somehow never outpaces songs that develop and mature organically.

While many area bands hone in on the perfect power pop (see Dead Girls), Hidden Pictures, are instead searching for the perfect pop song. They may have found it with "Anne Apparently" – a song so infectious that I am responsible for at least 35 of the 74 plays the song reports on the band's MySpace page. The song recalls forgotten favourites from The Mommyheads and Amateur Lovers as well as golden period XTC. Let's all hope that Sanders and Gintowt can keep the balance long enough to complete a full-length album.

It was already 12:20 when the four lads from Springfield, Missouri's Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (SSLYBY) stepped onto the stage. While the crowd had waned a bit during Hidden Pictures's set, rabid fans once again packed the areas around the stage. SSLYBY are just the right size for this devotion – any bigger and fans wouldn't be able to have the same sense of ownership that they have now. Any bigger and fans wouldn't have the same immediate access to the band that they do now. This is, after all, a band that publishes a contact phone number right on its website.

I've written about this indie pop/rock band many times before, and I invite you to dig back in the archives if you're curious as to the band's sound. The short of it, for the uninitiated and only casually interested, is that the band is quite adept at providing unassuming pop hooks while at the same time delivering cerebral complexities. John Robert Cardwell's guitar bobs and weaves while that of Will Knauer chimes through well written, original leads. The drumming of Phillip Dickey is loose and spastic while Johnathan James's bass work supports in all the expected ways. Or at least that is how it is during the first 3/4ths of the set – after that everything switches as Dickey straps on a guitar and steps up to the microphone, sending Cardwell to bass, and James behind the drum kit. In this incarnation, guitar interplay is more prevalent. But even these formulas shift from album to album.

SSLYBY's 18-song set included a handful of songs from the band's first album, twice as many from their last offering, and three or four that are expected to surface on the band's forthcoming album (no date or title yet, but it's in the can as they say). While some versed fans continued to shout for the band's oldest material (prompting Cardwell to muse that the audience must really not care for the band's last album – a sentiment he concurred with), the unreleased material was some of the evening's most memorable. Furthermore, if these songs' recorded arrangements are anything like their live ones, we may be in for an album that rocks much more than it coos.

The band completed its initial set with the upbeat, Dickey-sung "Modern Mystery" before returning the microphone to Cardwell for a two-song encore consisting of new stormer "Critical Drain" and an early crowd pleaser "Anne Elephant." Although this was the band's last night of a tour, there were no signs of exhaustion. This isn't a band known for jumps or synchronised dance moves, though it is obvious how much fun the band has while performing – even when it has earned the right to exhaustion. Toward the end of the set Cardwell proclaimed that this was the funnest show of the tour, and, as he played in front of such long-time fans, I actually believed him.

It was 2:30am by the time Kate and I stood bleary-eyed brushing our teeth in our own bathroom, and we both looked nervously at the alarm as we climbed into bed. As I drifted off I thought it would probably be hours before the boys in SSLYBY would find a bed, and about how they do this 200 nights every year. I suppose it's the least I can do to leave my cosy house once or twice a year when they decide to come perform for me.