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Tuesday May 28th, 2024 at Union Library in Kansas City, MO
The Whiffs, Dirty Fences, & Heels

Union Library is the best club-not-club in Kansas City. The vibes are effortlessly cool. The clientele sexy. The heat sultry. And the smoky air positively unbreathable. After being waved in by the shirtless doorman at the top of the long unmarked stairway, I hid like a stowaway hoping my invite wasn't in error. I didn't leave my spot in the back of the eclectic warehouse until I saw the members of Heels walk onto the stage. Then I popped up, aimed my camera past the strip lights that bathed the foursome in a futuristic blue sheen, and attempted to earn my tryst with the cool kids.

Frontman Steve Cruz glowed behind the lights. He was cocksure and all energy. Big kicks. Outsized banter. Props. Was he playing the T-Mobile Center? Normally that's a turn off. Cruz gets a pass though. He's transcended the bounds of what a frontman can get away with and the audience still wants more. His throaty scream is garage rock. It ripped and tore. Behind him the band chugged. Fat shifting chords came from guitarist Austin Turney. Does he like Clutch? I bet he does. Bassist Jeremy Watson liked the shadows. Not the Cliff Richard's backing band, just hiding in them. You could hear him though. He's got a rumble. Drummer Drew Little was the rocket behind the band. Not fancy. Not worried. The band only played five songs, but for fans who want more, there's good news – Heels' has just finished recording its debut album with Paul Malinowski. I bet it sounds huge.

Dirty Fences is the best band in the world that only you and every one of your friends know about. That's so Union Library. The fourpiece is from New York. It's rock & roll. It's power pop. It's almost pop punk. Hooks are huge. Songs are smart. Solos are gripping. The harmonies are everything. Everyone in the band sings. Drummer Max Hiersteiner did nearly all the crowd work. His fills were fast and tight and fun to watch. Guitarist Jack Daves is the melody. And on this night, he was the guy who hopped off the stage and roamed in the middle of the set. Guest guitarist Matt Gabbs was filling in for Max Roseglass who couldn't make the tour. He dropped some great leads, some perfect backing vocals, I think his dad is Izzy Stradlin, and I wanted to be him. Bassist Max Comaskey was center stage. He's the glue. Lots of vocals, even more backing vocals. The three up front line up well. There's no kitsch to their performance, but their some show. It was a long set with no breaks – one always song began the next. Mostly favorites, bolstered by one new one that might be its best song yet. But don't tell anyone, this band is just for us.

The Whiffs are back from Europe. Sounds ornithological. It's not. But it is cyclical. It's the ebb and flow of rest and excitement and endurance and exhaustion over and over. Kansas City mainly gets the pre-tour excitement and post-tour exhaustion phases. Tonight, the band were tired, a little loose, and seemingly happy to wind down with friends in a familiar place. Friends familiar enough to shout out requests before the band even started. Bassist Zach Campbell retorted "This is a you-get-what-you-get show." The audience got The Whiffs' power pop. More pretty than stinging – especially when Campbell sings. When twelve-string guitarist Rory Cameron sings there's more angst. More hurt. The two split lead vocals and combined for harmonies everywhere. Lead guitarist Kyle Gowdy seems to have picked up his backing vocals in Europe. It's great to hear a third voice back in The Whiffs.

A setlist labeled "Euro '24" sat at the front of the stage, but the quartet used it as a menu rather than a roadmap. No way was the band going to do one of those long sets required of them during their Spanish tour. This show needed to be a soft landing, and it was. Several songs stuttered and had to be restarted. The band wondered how that could happen when they'd been playing for hours every day for over a month. Who knows, but the stakes were low. Drummer Jake Cardwell didn't weigh in on the miscues, he just sat in the back, clicked the songs back to life, and beat the heck out of his drums – always with his bottom lip sticking out. Jordan's tongue and Cardwell's bottom lip. Icons. It was nearly 12:30 when the band wrapped up with "Varlaine." The song punched harder than I'd ever heard it. Rumor is that drive is a sign of things to come. But first some rest, then comes the excitement of new songs, new albums, and new tours.

As I packed up my gear, people were still arriving. The party may still be going now on for all I know, but I wasn't going to push my luck by sticking around. I was happy enough that I had infiltrated the den, saw three great bands, and gotten out without being called out.