Head Leopard Marc Tweed claws his way through a trying set.

Simply Unstoppable 

Head Leopard Marc Tweed claws his way through a trying set.

If you're a professional athlete, color commentators will publicly validate your every heroic act. When players grit through a game on broken joints or literally "leave it all on the field" during a bout with the stomach flu, listeners nationwide witness the accolades.

By contrast, star musicians, for all their perks, don't have this context-establishing tradition at their disposal. Announcers never preface their band introductions with "Still mourning the loss of his mother," or "Currently attempting to quit cocaine cold turkey, here's.... " With a few high-profile exceptions, casual fans aren't acutely aware of the trials and tribulations of the performers' personal lives -- the breakups, the strained friendships, the paternity suits. To be blunt, most of them don't care; they paid for the being-rocked experience, and they expect the musicians to deliver, regardless of circumstances.

At least the big names, the kind of industry icons that gathered at MTV's Video Music Awards on August 28, receive copious compensation. The three bands on the bill at the Brick that same night had more in common with the service-industry workers also active during the 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift. There's a notable distinction -- the musicians are actually doing something they love -- but there's also a striking similarity: The customers aren't concerned with their woes. People just want to check out of the express lane, get the daily-special sandwich with no mayo or hear a rousing soundtrack for their barstool stays.

The headlining band that evening, Unstoppable Thought Leopards, started its set around 1 a.m. Singer and guitarist Marc Tweed wore a dark, dressy outfit and a tie, which isn't exactly an eyebrow-raiser given the sartorial splendor of many rock revivalists. But Tweed actually came to the show fresh from a funeral for his college friend David Schekal, who had been killed in a traffic accident. He attached a photo of Schekal to his microphone stand and played with such feeling that he made even the most questionable gestures -- bended-knee solos, rock songs with the words rock and roll in the chorus -- feel invigorating.

Then, things started going wrong. First, Tweed's guitar started cutting out. He shrugged this off and switched to his backup. Then a sloppy drunk ripped the picture from the stand and crumpled it. Megan Fitzsimons, Tweed's partner in another project, the Hot Children, rescued and smoothed the snapshot; meanwhile, Tweed didn't miss a beat. He mouthed a thank-you to Fitzsimons, then kicked into the next number with even more vigor.

At this point, the guitar sputtered and stalled again, and it became clear that the real problem was Tweed's amp. Fortunately, Kansas City's local rock crowds are always populated almost entirely by musicians, so having your equipment fail during a show is like having your car break down near a mechanics' convention. About a half-dozen experts looked under the hood, and a bald advice-giver seemingly materialized out of nowhere, like some sort of guitardian angel. Finally, John Ferguson, of opening act As Memphis Burns, loaned and installed his bass rig.

The makeshift configuration lasted less than one song, during which Tweed's ax fell ominously silent. Still, Tweed soldiered through, unstrapping the offending instrument, gripping the mic stand with both hands and funneling all his energy into an Iggy Pop-like display of frontman fury.

Hours earlier, fashion punks Good Charlotte had, apropos of nothing, trashed their gear at the MTV Video Awards. Here, a musician with every reason to destroy his impotent equipment instead politely apologized for cutting the show a few songs short and thanked the crowd for its patience. The Leopards get a chance to make up for the abbreviated set list on September 6 at Benders, playing a curtain-call concert with a healthy, rehabbed amp at Tweed's disposal.

On its own merits, the Leopards' set was thrilling -- big, chunky rhythms; tenacious, two-guitar tangle; sneered yet clear vocals; riveting stage presence. But given Tweed's situation, the band managed to transcend the merely outstanding on its way to becoming profoundly inspiring, even without a broadcaster on hand to ask audience members if they believed in miracles.

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