I knew from then on that the mods with their love of soul music, Italian suits, scooters and amphetamines had it. So when I heard that there was to be a mods-versus-rockers showdown at Mike's Tavern, with two bands representing the mods and two representing their arch-nemeses (who loved leather jackets, motorcycles, Elvis and all things American), I knew that me and me best bird would be going and embodying the mod credo: clean living under difficult circumstances.
Most people's knowledge of British mod culture comes from the Who's concept album Quadrophenia (which helped kick-start a mod revival upon its release in 1973, then passed the torch to Paul Weller's iconic and sharply dressed mod-punk band the Jam). The musician who helped organize this event, Devin Blair, began to develop his obsession as a Marine stationed in Japan. The town where he lived had a remarkably active mod scene and one hell of a mod club.
"There were scooters literally, like, 20 of them lined up outside at night," Blair recalls. "It was the re-creation of a club in SoHo in London in the '60s."
Blair says that, in the absence of laws forcing clubs to close at a certain hour, this joint would play soul music all night. Blair mingled with the Japanese mod kids every Saturday night.
When he returned to Kansas City in 1998, he brought his new love with him. He and a friend, drummer Jon Cagle, formed the Go Generation, which, like their heroes in the Jam, fused mod fashion with punk music. The Go-ers folded in 2002.
Now the mods are back with Blair and Cagle's new band, Seaside Riot (a reference to the 1964 Brighton mods-vs.-rockers riot that scared the tea-smelling piss out of middle-class England). At Mike's last Friday, Seaside Riot and the Lust-R-Tones (in which Blair also sings and plays guitar) faced off against the Shotgun Idols and the Ramalamas.
I probably should make it clear that the evening's bill was not built around the competing Brittanic-gang thing but rather was determined by the fact that all four bands share at least one member. In fact, they had initially dubbed the event Incest Fest, but their sponsor, Pabst, wasn't down with that, so Blair and Cagle spun out the other theme, which turned out to be way more compelling.
Still, there were no actual mods or rockers at the show not in the audience, at least. There's no bona fide mod scene in Kansas City, and all the would-be rockers nowadays are into rockabilly, their membership no longer contingent upon motorcycle ownership. The crowd was older (and I don't just mean over 21) and more likely to stand in cliqueish clusters and talk than hit the dance floor.
Overall, the crowd may have been a little too geriatric, but the evening's music was simply smashing.
Blair and Cagle's Seaside Riot was mod-est but not modest, cranking out yard-long melodies, punk rhythms and vintage keyboard sounds courtesy of Heather Cagle. Even though you could hear a poncy wool scarf hit the floor between songs because it was early and the crowd was sober, Blair shook and shimmied, yowling into the microphone like a '90s version of Dave Clark.
Next up were the Lust-R-Tones, and Blair, in true spirit of the evening, changed looks, donning a sharp, Asian looking black coat with gold threads and a teardrop guitar. According to Blair, the Tones are more of a straight '60s garage revival band, and are less poppy, more soulful (and therefore, in my estimation, better) than Seaside. The guitar solos flew over the up-and-down beats like air support for an army led by a more Elvis Costello-like Blair, and it was all over too quickly.
But even though the mods had shot their wad early, I knew the rocker contingency was preparing to make some bold statements.
And it did, kicking off its takeover with the Shotgun Idols, who jam dirty rock into the punk grinder then lick the shower of sparks like it's cotton candy. The highlight came when guitarist Amy Farrand slipped a metal slide onto her finger and injected some hardcore blues into the already explosive mix.
Closing act the Ramalamas rocked the hardest, though. Singer Damon Jeffers is Kansas City's answer to Bon Scott, all ragged jeans and floppy hair, and a voice with enough punk grit and R&B soul to make you forget that the past 25 years ever happened. Seeing the Ramalamas for the first time also afforded me the chance to realize what an incredible guitarist Jay Zastoupil is. I've met Jay Z. on the scene on numerous occasions, but I never knew what an unhinged motherfucker he could be behind six strings and a pair of humbuckers.
If this sounds like something you're sorry you missed and it should Pabst made a CD to commemorate the event. If you know the right people, you might be able to get your hands on one of the 100 copies of Mods vs. Rockers: A Kansas City Showdown. It features three songs by each of the four bands and doesn't sound like a mix some doofus made on his PC.
And though the status of each band as mod or rocker is debatable except for Seaside Riot the disc gives assurance that even if counterculture is dead and gone, rock and roll is still alive in Kansas City.