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Hipshot Killer rises from near-ashes, unleashes its punk groove

Kansas City punk band Hipshot Killer (from left, Buddy Lush, Mike Alexander and Chris Wagner) almost imploded because of personnel issues. The group is back on track and recently played a gig at Josey Records, 1814 Oak St.
Kansas City punk band Hipshot Killer (from left, Buddy Lush, Mike Alexander and Chris Wagner) almost imploded because of personnel issues. The group is back on track and recently played a gig at Josey Records, 1814 Oak St. Special to the Star

Sometimes after perseverance wanes, opportunity arrives and saves the day.

You could say that happened to the Kansas City band Hipshot Killer. You could also say love was a catalyst. Or marriage, at least.

In 2009, Mike Alexander started the band with Chris Wagner, his former bandmate in the Revolvers, a punk band they started in the late-1990s. Hipshot released a self-titled album in 2011, but keeping a drummer became a problem, one that nearly torpedoed the band.

“Our first drummer was the first of five,” Alexander said, “We played a bunch in 2009 and 2010. Then our first drummer quit — or we split ways — around 2010 and we didn’t really get anything back together again until early 2015. In between that time, we made the (next) record.”

That record is “They Will Try to Kill Us All,” an 11-track full-length filled with an array of dynamics, weights and densities. It opens with “The Anthem,” a bristling, turbo-charged power-punk anthem, and closes with “The Prize,” a seven-minute foray that starts off as a rousing sing-along anthem but detonates into a barrage of percussion and guitar sounds and effects.

In between, there are excursions into other terrains, like “Too Far,” a jackhammer attack that comes and goes in 92 seconds, and the galloping, hair-on-fire title track.

The album was recorded in 2013-14, when Hipshot was between drummers, so Alexander enlisted Thomas Becker, guitarist for the Beautiful Bodies, who played drums with Alexander in a band called the Breakups and then briefly in the Revolvers. The record was produced by Michael Stout, the road guitarist for the Bodies.

About the time recording was coming to a close, the drummer saga continued.

“One guy was going to play with us, then he didn’t,” Alexander said. “And then we found another guy who was going to play and he didn’t. And then another guy … let’s just say it was ugly.”

After that, a frustrated Alexander decided enough was enough and was ready to move on.

“I was done,” he said. “I’d had it. I couldn’t teach those songs to another drummer again. I was going to finish the album and put it out on Bandcamp for free, maybe as one long track and call it the director’s cut.”

But in early 2015, fate intervened and the Revolvers were called to reunite.

“A friend told us years ago that if he ever got married, he wanted the Revolvers to play his wedding,” Alexander said. “We said, ‘Sure. Whatever.’ Well, he got married and flew us into Florida for his wedding.”

That was in January 2015. After that, they did a few reunion shows. The Revolvers’ drummer is Buddy Lush (aka Jon Paul), who replaced Becker, the original drummer, during the band’s first year. The Revolvers’ shows gave Lush a thirst to do more shows with Alexander and Wagner.

“Buddy said, ‘Hey, man, let’s do some Hipshot,’ ” Alexander said. “I said no at first. I told him, ‘I’m done. I don’t know what I want to do, but I don’t want to do that.’ But he talked me into it. And then we played. And it was awesome.”

So they booked a few shows and started playing. Not long after that, the band got interest from Throwing Things Records, a St. Louis label. In mid-2015, the finishing touches were put on “They Will Try to Kill Us All.”

Saturday night at MiniBar, 3810 Broadway, the band will celebrate the album’s vinyl release on Throwing Things.

The revival, or rescue, of Hipshot Killer gives Alexander a chance to show off his frontman and songwriting skills. He spent many years in Kansas City as a sideman and lead guitarist for bands such as the Revolvers, the Gadjits and the Architects and has since become a go-to lead guitarist for other bands, such as his three other projects: John Velghe and the Prodigal Sons, a rock-pop-soul band; the Starhaven Rounders, a classic country cover band; and Magnificent, a Cure cover band. His calling card is diversity.

“He’s a (bleeping) chameleon,” said Adam Stafford, lead singer for the Rounders. “Blends in when the song needs blending, and is bright and on fire when he steps up for a solo.”

“What a lot of lead guitar players lack in terms of sensitivity to rhythm, they make up for with some batch of riffs,” Velghe said. “Mike broke that cliché. He has a great rhythmic sensitivity along with beautiful dynamics.”

“He has soul,” said Wade Williamson, the Rounders’ drummer. “He can play anything he wants, all the time.”

With Hipshot, Alexander applies all those traits to his own material. He is the all-in-one lead singer, guitarist and songwriter, a role that has come somewhat easily, he said.

“I’ve always written songs and never really finished them until (Hipshot),” he said. “I guess I’ve always found myself relying on somebody else to be the main focus. And I was OK with that. I mean, look who I’ve backed up: guys like Brandon Phillips (Architects), Justin Petosa (Revolvers).

“I figured it was time and I was going to do it, and if it was good, fine, if not I was going to do it anyway. I’ve been onstage so long, (lead singing) is just another thing to do up there.”

About a year after its future was in serious doubt, Hipshot Killer has big plans for 2016, like hitting the road and starting work on another album.

“We’re already six to seven songs into the new (record),” he said. “I’ve got another whole idea what I want the next one to be. But I won’t worry about that till after the summer. We’re going to do a lot of stuff this year.”

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

Saturday

Hipshot Killer performs Saturday night on the second floor at MiniBar, 3810 Broadway. The Big Iron and Super Thief are on the bill. Showtime is 9 p.m. Cover is $5.

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