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Thursday June 9th, 2022 at miniBar in Kansas City, MO
The Whiffs, & The Bobby Lees

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The miniBar offered up two bands for $10. I, in turn, offer you two stories for free. You get what you pay for.

The Bobby Lees are from Woodstock, NY. I’ve been there. It’s quiet. That’s just one of the many things that doesn’t add up about the band. There’s a story here – one rife with intrigue – that needs to be told. I’m not the man to do it, but here’s a starting point. The band might be huge. I mean there’s a label and managers and publicists and fancy videos and testimonials from punk rock legends. Or maybe they’re not. After all, they’re opening a gig at miniBar in Kansas City on a Thursday night to 35 people – 30 of which I suspect had never heard of them. Maybe that’s why the band played like they had something to prove. In a 40-minute set that exploded like a shook pop bottle, the band ripped through countless songs without coming up for air. A few I recognized from the band’s most recent album, most I didn’t. Singer and guitarist Sam Quartin was frantic. Twitchy like an actor coming off heroin in a Danny Boyle flick. It made sense when the band covered “Blank Generation.” A least visually. Musically the band are mutts. From blues roots to thundering punk to country shuffles played quadruple time. Speed was a reoccurring theme. The band was fast and there were flat out mosh parts in songs that had no business being there. It’s like when a chef adds apples and mustard to your grilled cheese. Who thinks of that shit, and how is it so good? The press just calls the band garage rock. I guess you gotta call it something. Lead guitarist Nick Casa played hunched over. Bent in half like Flea. His hair flying. Everyone had flying hair. Did I see bassist Kendall Wind’s face at any point in the night? Maybe for a split second as her mop whipped from one side to the other. Drummer Macky Bowman also played the hair game, but I spent most of the time watching his gangly limbs beat out inventive drum parts that were never confined to the expected timekeeper role. But we’re back to Quartin. Standing behind the microphone, fingering the mic stand both absentmindedly and seductively. Guitar hanging from her neck. Or maybe the guitar left at the back of the stage, mic stand tossed to the floor, sending her pacing about the small stage as if caged, but with an escape plan in her head. Or maybe only half a plan. One that could fire off at any minute resulting in ringing alarm bells, rushing guards, and ending in a straitjacket. It was a joy to experience. That is, if you get joy from being punched in the face and told to like it. Like I said, there’s a story here, but I’m not the one to tell it.

The Whiffs is a lie I’m much more familiar with. A band I’ve covered so many times I’ve run out of toes to count on. A band I never tire of. They’re just back from Europe. They’ve never been tighter. Or louder. The soundman lost that battle from the get-go. The backing harmonies were rough in the early going. That is until the soundman found a way to get the vocals up above the guitars. His solution? Brute force. My earplugs couldn’t go deep enough and even in the back of the room the sound was just a throbbing din. Might as well stand up front and see the show. There were a lot of new songs. I’m not talking about the same new songs that the quartet have been playing for two years as we wait for the band’s third album. No, I mean new songs that I’d never heard before. I’m told the album is done, but drummer Jake Cardwell just shrugged when I asked when it would be out. The foursome’s performance was restrained. I never thought I’d describe the band as workmanlike but here we are. Banter was held to a minimum. The performance was rehearsed, if not stiff. The songs, however, amazing. The band’s fifteen-song setlist marched across the stage. First a Joey song then a Rory song then a Zach song then the cycle repeated. Lead guitarist Joe Montanaro sounded great. His songs are punchy power-pop that knock the air out of you. I always think they’re the best ones until someone else steps to the microphone. Rory Cameron’s twelve-string guitar rang and chimed and jangled perfectly. His power-pop goes back decades further. It’s home. Zach Campbell played the showman as much as anyone. There were no jumps. No skipping across the stage. No forays into the audience. Instead, he just stood there, legs astride, channeling Dee Dee Ramone. He loves pop in the same way the best Ramones did. Then again, there was nothing pop about the vocal cord-shredding wails that Campbell punctuated several numbers with. Is this a sign that he’s mastered something new, or lost control of something old? The band ended with “My Vision of Love” from Another Whiff. While Montanaro handled lead vocals, Cameron and Campbell delivered the backing vocals on a shared microphone. This rave up lacked any histrionics yet was still an epic finale. There was no need for an encore.

So there you have it, two stories. The first is a mysterious one that I’m not qualified to tell. I only know it’s a ghost story somehow set apart from time. The second a serial. One that I regularly add to, shamelessly confusing fact and fantasy. I am, it should be said, a most unreliable narrator. You get what you pay for.