Too Much Rock
Pics+Video Podcasts Singles About
Sunday May 21st, 2023 at The Brick in Kansas City, MO
The Uncouth, Hardsell, & Aggressive

The recently reinstituted patio at The Brick was busy when I arrived. Several dozen punks congregated around tables with drinks and cigarettes, wearing flat caps and polished Doc Martens. Every scene has its own unity-building cosplay. Cohesion is particularly vital in the oi subculture where the notion of "us against them" is scripture, and that message is codified into the lyrics regardless of the language they're sung in. Its visual identity (down to the Lonsdale typography) is recognized worldwide. That cohesion, comradery, and common language would define the night's gig that featured bands from Europe as well as the US.

Germany's Aggressive was four days into its first tour of the United States when it hit the unassuming Brick that had opened on a Sunday night specifically for the gig. During a 30-minute/ten-song opening set sung in both English and German, the band's material teetered between textbook oi singalongs and furious hardcore numbers meant to send audiences crashing into each other at speed. Like any hardcore frontperson worth their salt, vocalist Dan (no last names) paced the dark pit when screaming his vocals, and then, during the breaks, he caught his breath by introducing songs with long expositions – sometimes appearing to struggle to find the right words in English, but always getting the meaning across. Kansas City audiences may not have heard these songs before, but the themes are universal, allowing the crowd to pump their fists along with band's anti-government indictments in "Black Red Gold" without need for translation. Similarly, the infectious "woah-oh-oh" gang choruses found in "Home" and sung by lead guitarist Melvin, bassist Nils, and new rhythm guitarist Sven (only new drummer Martijn was without a microphone) were taken straight from the oi gospels. And while final "Overdose" was a mosh-worthy song as any ever written, the small Sunday-night crowd wasn't up for the collision (despite Todd Rainey of The Uncouth's efforts).

Hardsell was up next. The band originated in The Netherlands twenty-five years ago, however frontman Kristof Hermans has recently put together an Austin-based version of the band featuring Jeremy Brister (lead guitar), Travis Decker (rhythm guitar), Jeff Ellis (bass), and Tom Barvick (drums). Together the quintet adorned a classic oi offering with both the urgency of street punk and infectious melodies of pop-punk. And while Hermans' experience guided the outfit through a long 45-minute set, everyone had a hand in making it work. Enthusiastic backing vocals came from everyone at the front of the stage, Brister's leads were pop-song sweet, the energy of Ellis infectious, and the grace notes added by Barvick ensured the percussion was more interesting than anyone could have expected. Hermans' shouted lyrics were blunt, but effective, with the chorus of "I Don't Live for You" earning pumped fists from the audience. The band's fourteen-song set included several new songs including "Old Ways" which longed for the return of the scene's glory days, and "Cowards" that called for the beat down of keyboard warriors. New songs, but messages pulled straight from the canon.

The Uncouth is a local band with an international following. When it began its eleven-song set with "Madness in the Streets," the patio emptied and the area in front of the stage was filled with its always-there local fans bolstered by every member of the touring acts. There's lots of ways to measure the success of an international tour, but if you can manage to eat a good a meal a day, not get bed bugs, and see bands that you love that never tour your own country, that's a win in my book. The set continued by drawing tunes from its EP, the singles that followed, and its forthcoming album. When introducing "Know Your Roots" (a song decrying the fashionistas and racists attempting to coopt the subgenre's multi-racial working-class origins) lead guitarist and vocalist CJ Wilson joked that the song was the band's new single "that came out a year ago." It has been a long wait as the band prepares to release its debut album.

The band's oi is direct, anthemic, and steeped in rock & roll. And for this set, it was as aggressive as the band plays, bolstered by a cover of The 4-Skins "Evil" with its violent opening stanza of "I like breaking arms and legs / Snapping spines and wringing necks / Now I'll knife you in the back / Kick your bones until they crack." Afterward vocalist and guitarist Cody Blanchard chuckled about how dangerous the band actually is. Obviously, the act knew what it was doing, and the song (a hymnal for the genre) drew Dan from Aggressive to a microphone for the brutish "Evil Evil Evil Evil" chorus. We had unity now. Of course, the locals sang along to every song – whether the lyrics described a worker's struggle under capitalism, an average joe simply trying to live their life under a rigged system, or someone battling through the racists and phonies that spoil it for everyone – the locals knew the words.

On this night the foursome (completed by Steve Gardels on bass and backing vocals and Todd Rainey on drums) were tight, and the harmonies that elevate the band were spot on. Gardels spoke for the band, explaining how happy they were to be playing. Somewhat unexpectedly, there’s real joy in the band’s performances. While the band played a shortened set to accommodate the work night gig, it ended things as it often does, with a cover of Cock Sparrer’s "Because You're Young" that bests the original. The song is another standard in the oi songbook, so it drew locals and touring bands alike to the microphone for a boisterous singalong that had the punks from different continents wrapping arms around one another as they sang skyward, adhering to the established liturgy. That's the power of subculture.