Tanka Ray, with Outlaw and 8ighty 6ixed
Saturday, February 16th
The Record Bar
By FLANNERY CASHILL
Tanka Ray's Saturday night show at the Record Bar honored the first birthday of a family friend, Penelope. Her father held her in his arms as strangers cooed and smiled, but Penelope, in her velvet dress and earplugs, looked unimpressed. At one year old, she'd already negotiated the reunion of one of the area's longest-lived and most fondly-remembered punk bands. She had persuaded their guitarist to fly down from South Dakota for her first-ever birthday party. No wonder she snubbed her buttercream cake with such easy disregard.
Reunion shows can be problematic; like inside jokes, you either get them or you don't. It's hard to guess how many of the attendees knew Penelope, or were able to make sense of the pink banner announcing "The Big 1" onstage. The big-haired, spandexed regular? The drunk girl doing that lazy, arrhythmic wag in the corner? It didsn't matter. Nearly 200 people crowded the Record Bar Saturday night, some of them family, some of them practically family, many of them neither.
It was an impressive accomplishment for an early show. In order for this typically 21-and-up venue to accommodate an all-ages event, comprises had been made: it started early, it ended early, and kids paid extra.
There was also that big stage and that heroic, high-contrast lighting. But the folks at the Record Bar are gracious hosts, even after Tanka Ray's drummer wished aloud that it would "blow the fuck up," even after the same wild-eyed drunk stage-dove a dozen times, and even though one waitress looks very, very anxious about wee Penelope.
Outlaw opened. They're a good, versatile punk band, as comfortable in a bar as in a basement. Last year, somewhat to their own bafflement, they toured with the much-hyped Warped Tour to some very receptive audiences. Despite the attention, they're still charming: energetic and self-deprecating, stylish but not affected. They joke that they sound a lot like the Clash. They do, but, no one minds.
The Minneapolis-based 8ighty 6ixed followed with some generic, unobjectionable street punk. They wear funny glasses and play nice guitars, and I remembered why no one's been scared of punk rock for at least 20 years. Still, they had energy and good rapport with the audience. One song went out to "everyone who saw our testicles last night," and the lucky few applauded. During their song "Let's Drink" one audience member, so moved, pushed his way towards the bar.
Tanka Ray took the stage around 8 p.m. They were the only band that night without skinny jeans or suspenders. After 10 years of experimentation, dabbling in ska-punk, street punk, and skinhead oi, they've matured into a very unassuming three-piece. They opened with one of their earliest songs, "Riot on the Plaza." It might be puerile, but that's the beauty of the best pop-punk: it never loses its belligerence. At 32 years old, Milo Aukerman was still writing songs like "Everything Sux" for the Descendents, because nothing had changed since high school and he knew it. "Riot" blustered with adolescent fury and it's awesome. No one in the seething, screaming crowd had forgotten their grudge against Kansas City's favorite outdoor mall.
Tanka Ray's newest songs are their best: bittersweet pop-punk jams, with triumphant hooks and defeatist lyrics. At their best they rival their influences, bands like Naked Raygun and Dillinger Four, whose cheerful cynicism made pop-punk palatable for grown-ups. Though songs like "Everyone's Dead" have never been released, the audience screamed along anyway with the sneering, shit-outta-luck chorus. The catchy "Ricky Ticky Time Bomb" beat like a quickened pulse. Jimmy Fitzner sings big, and his earnest, assertive voice soared. Tanka Ray played tight, fast, and really well.
Towards the end of the set, the audience erupted for the band's cover of Fear's "I Love Living in the City," an ironic but not insincere gesture from the self-named KC Kids. As with many of their songs, it's a love-hate thing, and it riled the already enthusiastic crowd. If this was an inside joke, then everyone was in on it: the surly old dudes, the not-yet surly kids, even the precious babies.
Tanka Ray left their audience sweatsoaked and grateful. As the management hurried out the minors, it was nice to think that for at least a few hours, the Record Bar felt young again.