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The Get Up Kids/The Anniversary/Koufax

The Bottleneck -- Friday, September 1, 2000

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The Get Up Kids have packed clubs across the country and, most recently, entertained adoring fans overseas, but it's always different to look into the cramped crowd and see familiar faces. For some, playing hometown shows is a way to exhale before returning to the usual grind of proving yourself in front of strangers, while others feel the stakes are considerably higher in front of their friends, families, and neighbors. The Kids fall into the latter category, a fact evidenced by singer Matt Pryor's overheard observation that he was nervous at the sight of the sold-out Bottleneck. His anxiety was understandable, as this was the first time the group filled this venue to capacity, but Pryor and company evidently made the most of their nervous energy, because Friday night's set was one of the band's finest local showcases.

Weaving between up-tempo numbers, which rock considerably harder in a concert setting than they do on the records, and heartfelt ballads, The Get Up Kids performed a nicely sequenced, emotionally draining set. Fans' reactions were equally diverse: Some bobbed incessantly despite the stifling heat, and others stood perfectly still, closed their eyes, and loudly crooned along with Pryor's every word. The guitar-and-bass-wielding Kids, Pryor included, accentuated their catchy choruses with plenty of jumps and leg-kicks, while James DeWees, the particularly animated keyboardist, demonstrated his slick dance moves when not contributing to the melodies.

Some bands deserve the "emo" tag -- groups that emphasize their fragile, eccentric personalities in concert to the point of shedding tears between songs -- but anyone who sees the Get Up Kids live should be able to recognize them as a straightforward rock band. On "Valentine" and "Out of Reach," the Kids achieve the difficult task of crafting a convincing slow-paced love-themed song without resorting to power-ballad melodrama or over-the-top angst. Meanwhile, on tunes such as "Don't Hate Me" and "Action + Action," the band plays pure memorable, driving guitar-pop, a dust-covered genre that's so seldom attempted by modern bands that it's unsurprising that people have struggled to place The Get Up Kids in an appropriate category.

After reminiscing about a show at the same club in front of roughly five people ("None of you were there," Pryor added, immediately silencing any would-be diehards who were about to impress their friends with claims of their attendance), one band member compared this much larger crowd to the attendees of a Slipknot concert. And although followers of those Iowa-born new-metal kings might scoff at what passed for a mosh pit, even mask-donning maniacs couldn't deny the audience's boisterous spirit as the Kids ran through a thoroughly satisfying encore that included pieces of Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker," a Replacements cover, a scorching rendition of the brilliant single "Action + Action," and a closing song that started slow before devolving into beautiful chaos.

Offering more stadium-show flash was The Anniversary, which opened with drawn-out dramatic guitar riffs and a confetti explosion. Guitarist/vocalist Josh Berwanger maintained the arena-rock vibe with such stage banter as "Lawrence, Kansas -- In the house tonight!" and "What's up, motherfuckers?!," Later, he led fans in a variety of gestures, including the Price Chopper-ad-spawned Chiefs chop.

All of the group's singers were on-key, which was fortuitous considering that at least one of them had parents in the stands. ("I love you, Mom," keyboardist Adrienne Verhoeven exclaimed.) Like the Kids, The Anniversary pumps up the volume on stage, with its guitars sounding crisper and its vocals edgier. The band unveiled several new tunes, which fit nicely into a set capably anchored by tunes from its lone full-length, Designing a Nervous Breakdown. Such songs as "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" and "The D in Detroit" revealed the full potency of the oft-hyphenated band's new-wave/rock hybrid, with the added bonus of vocals that were backmixed on the album springing back into the forefront.

Koufax claimed no Midwest ties, but this promising outfit, whose debut effort, It Had to Do with Love, hit stores this week, upped the keyboard quotient to two and tossed in a theremin for good measure. The quintet's swirling synthesized attack brought to mind such goth pioneers as The Cure, although its lone cover was a stellar version of a song that penetrated new wave's monopoly on the airwaves -- Joe Jackson's "Stepping Out," complete with appropriately snotty vocals. Even without the home-field advantage, Koufax won over followers with its commanding stop-and-start songs, but this day belonged to the conquering heroes, who will likely never see another sparse gathering at one of the band's homecoming shows.

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