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Saturday March 16th, 2024 at Hillsiders in Kansas City, KS
The Whiffs, Sparrowhawk, & Nature Boys

This was the second of two consecutive shows at Hillsiders with a similar theme. Someone dubbed it a "Lost Weekend." Nillson and Lennon may have been there, but I've only got time for a quick recap so let's focus on the active musicians instead.

The night started with Nature Boys. But I wasn't there. I'm told they started at 9:30. I was still at Children's Mercy Park then. By the time I arrived the threesome was introducing its final song of the night, "Scary Larry." It sounded like Nature Boys. Punk and rock & roll and little heartland. If you missed the set like I did, you should see them next weekend when they play Farewell.

It doesn't take much to pack the shotgun joint that is this neighborhood bar. There's maybe four feet between the long bar and the stage. Enough room for two rows of patrons to watch the band as long as no one needs to order at the bar or walk through to the back patio. Thankfully management has begun pushing the pool table against the wall opening a path at the back of the room and simultaneously creating a merch table. Two tables were shoved together at the front of the room to become a DJ booth for Jon Harrison to spin vintage vinyl. That's the room that welcomed Minneapolis' Sparrowhawk.

Sparrowhawk are a rock band. There's definitely some power pop in there too. And there's lots of Thin Lizzy. The quartet isn't shy about that. Guitarist/vocalist Johnny Eggerman wore a Thin Lizzy shirt. Vocalist/bassist Zach McCormick's battle vest was adorned with a Thin Lizzy backpatch. Neither guitarist Marty Mueller nor drummer Damien Tank wore any of the band's merch, but they've probably got its jagged logo tattooed on their asses. That's a guess, but I'm positive that it's in their DNA. Eggerman and Mueller twinned up on the leads and solos, and every song had at least two breaks for solos. They're often quick ones, but even the longer ones were still snappy, never letting the songs get bogged down. Between tunes McCormick kept it moving. He was an informal frontman, joking effortlessly with the crowd one minute, and then putting on a show the next that sent his bass up into the chandelier or down to the stage floor when he played on his knees. His energy got the audience dancing. I heard a few of my favorite songs from the band's debut LP, but most of the set previewed tracks planned for a second LP that I'm told we should look for this winter. Hopefully that will bring the band back to our neighborhood bar.

As midnight approached, the make-up of the bar started to shift. Saint Patrick's Day was minutes away and the city was blanketed with binge drinkers who had been pregaming all day. They're the ones who will be found passed out at the parade ten hours later next to a puddle of unnaturally colored vomit. Anyway, a handful of them wearing green plastic beads had found their way into the club for a good time that they wouldn't remember. It just shifted the vibe a bit.

The Whiffs headlined. The set started on a familiar note. Vocalist/guitarist Rory Cameron fought with his amp while vocalist/bassist Zach Campbell twitched with nervous energy ready to begin. Lead guitarist Kyle Gowdy (now seven months into this role) and drummer Jake Cardwell never take sides in that tug-of-war. Eventually it was determined there was nothing to be done, and the band launched into "It's Not Over." For the next 45-minute the band delivered picture-perfect power pop – ringing twelve-string guitar, sharp solos, tight harmonies, beats that bop, the whole nine yards. Mid-set highlights "She" and "Don't Know What Else to Do" sounded amazing while the dissonance and Cameron's 100mph strumming during closer "Verlaine" moved the needle excitedly off center. Of course there weren't really surprises there – nine of the eleven songs came from the second and third albums, and while the other two are unreleased, they've been part of the live set since the middle of last year. The banter of Campbell and Cameron was similarly familiar as well. Warm and friendly. A little goofy. A lot laid back. They knew their friends. They also knew how to deal with the swaying strays holding cups over their heads. And Cardwell knew when to end the banter by counting in the next song. You can catch the foursome opening for Marked Men at The Ship on April 4th, before they head out on another European tour. That's good they're getting back to work, as I was worried that Lennon was beginning to influence the band.