Power-Pop Purveyors 

Kansas City's Blackpool Lights head from Japan toward Tucson

Doggone it, where's an American independent power-pop band when you need one?

Japan, naturally.

When time came to interview the members of the band Blackpool Lights, the Tucson Weekly had a window of about five days, the very same period of time the quartet from Kansas City, Mo., was scheduled for a quick publicity trip to Japan.

The group was slated to return to the U.S. of A the same day this paper went to press, so we were denied the opportunity to chat with the members of this fine band, which a couple of weeks ago released its sterling debut CD, This Town's Disaster, on Curb Appeal Records.

Tucson music fans, however, won't be denied the opportunity to enjoy a Blackpool Lights gig. The band will headline an all-ages show on Tuesday, Aug. 1, at Club Congress.

Although Blackpool Lights haven't quite reached their two-year anniversary, the members are all veterans of years in the Midwestern indie music scene.

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Jim Suptic is a former member of The Get Up Kids, a very popular Kansas City group that is no longer. Other members originate from such bands as The Belles, The Start, Buffalo Saints and The Creature Comforts.

Suptic and drummer Billy Brimblecom Jr. formed the band in the fall of 2004, soon enlisting bassist Brian Everard and guitarist J.D. Warnock. Warnock exited last November and was replaced by new ax-man Thom Hoskins early this year.

Prior to Warnock's departure, the Blackpool Lights recorded a five-song EP, as well as This Town's Disaster. So it's him you hear on harmony vocals and lead guitar on the album. He also co-authored the lyrics on the title track.

Curb Appeal Records, by the way, is a new label owned and operated by Suptic and three business partners. With management, publicity and promotions rolled into one neat bundle, the company has one artist: Blackpool Lights.

"I just wanted to create a label that was going to work as hard as the band's working," Suptic recently told the Kansas City alt-weekly The Pitch. "This label started because of Blackpool Lights, because of this record, but that's just the beginning."

When your band's guiding creative force comes from The Get Up Kids, and you play boisterous and catchy, quasi-punk rock songs about genuine feelings and relationships, it's tough not to be at least tangentially associated with emo. That hazy musical category is more often than not used as a catch-all for bands that play any number of styles of music.

Emo, shemo. The Blackpool Lights (and, for that matter, The Get Up Kids before them) proudly play what we old fogies used to call power pop in the late 1970s and early '80s. A more muscular version of traditional pop and rock, power pop is timeless.

Case in point: On This Town's Disaster, "Blue Skies" leans heavily on the headlong melodies and the ringing guitar architecture of the Gin Blossoms. Truth be told, both groups probably first heard that combination when listening to old Big Star or Badfinger albums. "Empty Tank" works the same sort of vibe, albeit with a Replacements-style energy and slightly snotty world-weariness.

To this combination, "Maybe Just Maybe," a classically bittersweet meditation on a threatened romance, adds the sweet pop of the Raspberries. But delving more deeply into musical history, the song ultimately recalls The Beatles. Suptic, if you must know, does a marvelous job of channeling the tart irony of John Lennon and the seeming angelic innocence of Paul McCartney. No, really.

Occasionally, the songs have a folky, rural-rock quality, that some have likened to alt-country. That sort of misses the point. These guys are from the Midwest, and it's only natural that they'd allow some corn-fed Mellencamp-style dynamics to slip into the mix.

Pleasing variations on these recipes continue throughout the album. Granted, simple and extremely catchy rock songs such as "It's Never About What It's About" and "The Truth About Love" flirt with contemporary pop-punk conventions as practiced by such groups as Green Day and Jimmy Eat World. But the boys aren't beyond essaying proto-new wave like "Goodnight to Romance"--heck, they even covered The Records' skinny-tie classic "Starry Eyes" on their Tour EP.

For today's listeners, the Blackpool Lights churn up a groovy, bristling contemporary sound. For those whose memories extend back further than blink-182, the band plays old-school power pop.

Here's hoping that the band is as good in concert as it is on CD.

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