One crotchety old biddy or another has been welding that phrase to your psyche since you were in Huggies. It is ingrained in you, implanted with the message that you will not, under any circumstances, call into question the wisdom of your great-aunt Agnes, even when she's spending her twilight years gumming cantaloupe, arguing with the coat rack and hoarding Meow Mix in the dishwasher.
But nothing Agnes says can prepare you for elders like Swill.
The band isn't nearly as old as, say, the Dead Sea Scrolls, but it is a tad more seasoned -- aged like fine boxed wine -- than the whippersnappers in Josephine. Yet both groups squirmed equally under my microscope, unwitting participants in a sinister experiment of my creation. Namely, I wanted to see if anything actually separates grizzled "professional" bands -- Swill, for instance -- from their amateur brethren in groups such as Josephine.
Aside from cirrhosis, of course.
My little rat race had two control groups separated by 20 miles and two tax brackets. Swill was stationed at the Beaumont Club in Westport with five other survivors of the convoluted clusterfuck known as Club Wars. Josephine was positioned among the pearly gates of the southern suburbs in the auditorium of Blue Valley Northwest High School with eight other pubescent participants in the BVNW Battle of the Bands.
I chose to analyze the latter group first -- if only because I figured most of the musicians had to be in their SpongeBob pajamas with lights out by 11 p.m. My own high school never had any musical talents more outstanding than the kid who could belch the alphabet, so I wasn't expecting much. But then -- it probably goes without saying -- my high school was monumentally lame.
The abysmal depths of my alma mater's slack-jawed incompetence in matters of musical aptitude soon became clear when Larva opened the competition with instrumental atmospherics that had more to do with free-form jazz than with playing "This Land Is Your Land" on the kazoo, which is sort of what I was expecting. The trio gamely sparred sonic crescendos with shoegazing squalls that were ultimately just as intricately dull as any of the high-concept material typically played at the Brick on the odd Thursday night.
If you'd asked me what Parliament Funkadelic was when I was a sophomore in high school, I probably would have tried to bullshit my way through an explanation of the governing system in the Republic of Funkanstein. But not DJ Okra and the Country-fried Funk, a wry coalition of pasty teenagers that channels Parliament without the platform shoes or the raging drug habit. Okra and the funkateers quite simply kicked ass. The eight-person collective -- drums, guitar, bass, keyboards, trumpet, sax, DJ and a dancer (yes, I said a dancer) -- nailed the Meters' funk standard "Africa" and managed novel interpretations of Justin Timberlake's "Rock Your Body," Usher's "Yeah!" and a version of "All Along the Watchtower" that sprinkled Dylan and Hendrix with Okra.
And so it went. Band after band that was as good -- and in several cases better -- than the typical dreck that nonetheless scores consistent shows around town. In fact, Blue Valley Northwest appeared to be a nearly complete mallrat microcosm of the Kansas City musical fishbowl. There were earnest acoustic folkies (Bare Arms), harbingers of thrashing discord (Coma White), blues-basted rockers (Westbrooke), enthusiastic ska disciples (Raging Hormones), indulgent jazz ensembles (Northwest), hardcore heroes (Josephine) and even budding Art Institute dropouts managing to make the marriage of laptop electronica and giant inflatable bananas completely natural (Tag! You're It!).
Ultimately Josephine -- whose blood-curdling screams and exaggerated stage swagger wouldn't be out of place at El Torreon -- edged out DJ Okra for the title. But I was impressed with them all. The Club Wars crew was going to have to do something sensational to compete.
Drinking urine was a good start.
I arrived at the Beaumont just in time to see the members of Swill simulate peeing into a cup, which lead singer Phil Swill then ceremoniously drank to kick off a set of competent -- if a tad prefabricated -- hard rock that was overshadowed by excessive leather, face paint and flying glitter, Styrofoam and toilet paper.
Watch and learn, kids.
Aside from Swill's theatrics, the mood inside the crowded Beaumont was far more sinister. This wasn't a sanitized high school auditorium filled with desperate housewives and their angst-ridden offspring. This was an honest-to-goodness rock club coated in a persistent nicotine fog and filled with slurring dudes in Harley shirts pissing in the bathroom sink. These weren't perky sophomores emulating Gwen Stefani or goofy band geeks putting their trumpet lessons to use on Usher covers. These were serious musicians.
But the disparity in talent was more obvious at Club Wars than it had been at Blue Valley Northwest.
The lone returning finalist from the last installment of Club Wars was also the least impressive act I saw all night -- even worse than the kid from my imagination who played Woody Guthrie tunes on the kazoo. Messed Up -- a name that reflected the band's brutally honest self-assessment -- was sluggish, out of sync and seemingly resigned to its fate. Even the band's bassist -- who had served as the lead singer for Coma White at Blue Valley -- couldn't keep the group from drowning in its own puddle of mudd.
Granted, I was unable to run Organic M and Slit through my meat grinder, because the Blue Valley competition had run dangerously close to SpongeBob time. But if Stonewalk was an accurate middle-of-the-road indicator of the talent on display, it was safe to assume that the best of the rest were ultimately a side show for Sidewise.
The young upstarts from Lawrence dipped into their Tool box to stir up an enthusiastic stage-diving crowd and lay claim to a resounding victory, tallying nearly 100 points more than the runners-up in Organic M. Swill put up a fight but mustered only a third-place finish.
By then it had become clear -- in the battle of the battle of the bands -- who really deserved respect.