The most frequently cited reason for the Kids' decision to retire has been songwriter and lead singer Matt Pryor's demanding family life, which involves a couple of babies and a band called the New Amsterdams (which, incidentally, has a penchant for playing shows for children). All the other Kids have side projects, too, but none of the members has expressed the desire to grow up as much as Pryor has -- and good for him and his kids, because rock and roll dads usually suck. Just ask Mick Jagger's various progeny.
In addition to the Pryor family gossip, there has been much talk of who's going to replace the Kids as the next big band from this area. Plenty of rockers around here make better music than Pryor and his chums did. Koufax, for example -- two members of which are ex-Kids (Robert and Ryan Pope) -- is far more original and interesting. But will people fly across the globe when Koufax plays its final show? The Golden Republic, which opened for the Kids at their penultimate show last Friday, is also a better band -- and is signed to Astralwerks, a better label than Vagrant, which was the house the Kids built. But the Golden Republic has to work way too hard to get the attention it deserves; it's safe to assume that not many people are going to reminisce fondly about the first time they heard the Republic's "You Almost Had It."
Really, the Get Up Kids were so successful because of their timing. Certainly, the band put in tons of hard work and developed a lot of talent along the way, but if it hadn't come along when a new genre (emo) was enchanting middle- and upper-class kids who had plenty of buying power and loads of angst, it would've been just another workaday outfit, running up its credit cards to produce its own albums and growing more bitter with each shoulder shrug from the press and the clubgoing public.
Don't misunderstand, though -- it couldn't have been just any group of get up kids. It had to be the Get Up Kids, with their sugar-rush music and their eminently sincere messages. Indeed, it's appropriate that they came from Kansas City, for the Kids were the Hallmark of bands, producing expertly crafted sentiments in consistently inoffensive packages. Cute, sincere, to the point and always uplifting -- like an old movie you can watch repeatedly and always enjoy. The trouble is, not everyone is able to take mass-produced sentimentality seriously. Most people glance at the artwork and messages long enough to make sure the sender has the occasion right (no bar mitzvah kudos on Christmas, for instance) and then spread it open to see if there's a check or some greenbacks inside. People not charmed by the Kids may have seen the band as a friend who gave plenty of saccharine-sweet cards but never took them out for a steak dinner.
Still, it was no less than a royal feast of tearful, brotherly rock and roll that awaited the band's fans on this farewell tour. The modestly priced tickets for the band's final show last Saturday at the Uptown Theater had sold out weeks in advance. When the concert came, it would have been easier to find a terrorist buying mouse ears for his fellow jihadists at Walt Disney World than a heckler in the tightly packed midtown concert hall.
"It's definitely sad," reflected one fan, Dave, 19, who had driven down from Minneapolis with his friend Brian, 21. The two sat together at the back of the auditorium, clearly uncharmed by opening band Lucero (think the Kids plus Uncle Tupelo) but eager for their heroes to take the stage. "We both said we were going to cry a little at the last song," he added.
Tears were not elicited, however, when Europe's "The Final Countdown" blared through the PA as the Kids took the stage. After that humorous opening note, the band launched into a career-spanning set that had most of the audience singing along to practically every song. The love in the Uptown was so palpable, it virtually dripped from the ceiling and filled the cracks in the vast concrete floor as the band played its radiant, burning, scarred little heart out. Fans in the back were pogoing and pumping their fists; kids in the front crowd-surfed and generally seethed with emotion. For a farewell show, it was perfect.
It's not hard to understand why this band was so adored. In fact, it's no more mystifying than the reason teens prefer Mountain Dew to black coffee. The last lines of the night's final songs explain it all: I bet you, you'll never find another friend like me ("Shorty"); You're still all that matters to me ("I'll Catch You"); Everything will work out ("Ten Minutes"). Unlike so many people you meet in life, the Get Up Kids offered perpetual reassurance, endless cheer. Even in the more bitter, heartachey songs, the Kids gave a blanket and box of tissues to anyone who would cry along.
But the best moment came at the end of the first encore. "I fuckin' love these guys," Pryor said, then gathered his bandmates for a group hug. "Now that's fuckin' emo," he added wryly. The whole auditorium shook with laughter, and in that moment, it was impossible to imagine a group anywhere so easy to love as the Get Up Kids.