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Tuesday January 10th, 2023 at Farewell in Kansas City, MO
The Uncouth, Big School, & Bad Spring

What if someone had seen a local band play eighteen times? Like they actually paid eighteen times to see this band and it didn't feature their partner, pay them as its guitar tech, or open for their band on a national tour. Just eighteen times in the same city. Would that make them a fan or a stalker? After eighteen times would you suggest that maybe it's time for them to branch out? For them to see other bands and sample the wealth of acts their city has to offer? Or would you suggest catching them a nineteenth time? What if two interesting tour bands were playing with them? Then it'd be okay right? That's not ridiculous, is it? Great, let's go to Farewell for lucky nineteen.

California's Bad Spring started the night. Flyers promised a night of power pop. It's my genre of choice, but it's also the vaguest of descriptors that can foretell really anything (or nothing at all). Bad Spring made it mean something. The band recalls an early '90s Matthew Sweet-styled power pop with warm vocals, pretty melodies, simple structures, peppy but not hectic tempos, and aggressive guitar solos. Cole Elliott holds the spotlight, and it's his vocals and his lead guitar that define the band's sound. The live trio of drummer Kaeleb Dummar, bassist Ted Barber, and guitarist Brandon Olds only rounded out his vision. And generally, they nailed it. Could there have been more jangle in Olds' guitar, some backing vocals from Dummar, a bold stage persona from Barber? Sure. But, make no mistake, the slight twang to Elliott's voice was outstanding, his Les Paul-generated solos mighty, and the hooks were there. The band's short seven-song set included the digital singles available on its Bandcamp site, as well as a couple of new ones that served as highlights. A 25-minute set may seem short for a touring act but was long enough to tell me that when there's an album to buy, they're getting my money.

As promised (and with the help of a shared drum kit), the night moved quickly from one power pop band to another, and by 10:25 Canadian quintet of Big School were on stage ready to go. And curiously, all five of its members were actually on the stage. Five of them jammed up there like sardines on the small Farewell stage. Riley Simpson and Drew Stark on guitar, Mitch Courtois on vocals and guitar, Codey Thompson on bass, and drummer Billy Topolinski in the back. Miraculous. And what's more, the band still moved about – particularly Simpson who put on quite a show.

Big School's take on power pop skews toward pop punk, with a 2000's Fountains of Wayne vibe to it. Still wholesome, but more aggressive than the opener. Faster too. Courtois voice was strong and the band around him just tight enough. With three guitars you'd expect leads to bleed all over the tracks, but the ten-song, 25-minute set contained few perfunctory finger exercises. Instead, the band's short songs stayed focused on delivering hooks and energy. The pop and the power if you will.

While I had not heard of Big School before, others had, and they showed up specifically for the touring act. One fan thought Spotify probably brought the band to him, so let's applaud a Discover Weekly playlist doing its job. While the band has several (digital) albums out, it looks like audiences are due another soon. Rumor is a new album on a newly-formed label will be announced within the month.

In the break between acts, I teased several members of headliners about playing a power pop show. It's true that The Uncouth is Oi by the book, but it's also true that alongside the obligatory reverence for Cockney Rejects and Sham 69, the band has been known to cover The Ramones, Jim Carroll, and yes, even power pop legends The Nerves. While the band prepared nothing specific for the occasion, its melodic and anthemic punk rock, rich with harmonies, wouldn't be as far afield as someone might have guessed looking only at the band's boots and braces.

The Uncouth started its ten-song set with "Madness on the Streets," then continued with one anthem followed by another, with new songs scheduled for the band's unannounced 2023 album sprinkled alongside older favorites and choice covers. Maybe it was my imagination, but the setlist appeared to contain the band's brightest songs all played in major keys. And maybe I just willed it so, but the harmonies between guitarists Cody Blanchard, CJ Wilson, and bassist Steve Gardels were spot on, especially during "Ring the Bell." Drummer Todd Rainey isn't given a microphone – it's probably right not to trust him with amplification – but he sings all the songs just the same. And so does the crowd. Normally it's a swaying and staggering sea of pointed fingers and raised drinks, but on a Tuesday night, the band's working-class fanbase wasn't ready for a late show. Instead, only a handful of its regulars made the trip to Farewell, and the rest of the crowd just had to learn the songs quickly. And they did – even members of the touring acts were singing along to the chorus of "Same Old Story" by the time it rolled around the third time. Although Blanchard fought a bit with his amplifier, Rainey battled with a cymbal stand, and the mix may have been a bit off, none of that spoiled the communal nature of the band's punk rock. Nor did he dissuade me from my plans to see the band a twentieth time on the 28th at Sk8bar. Again, I must ask, "fan or a stalker?"