The cramped Bill’s Bar was packed with sweaty young punks when the Riddlin’ Kids took the stage on the night of Saturday, Nov. 23. As the Texan band ripped into one of many songs about insane girlfriends and heartache, the crowd responded in typical punk fashion: moshing, jumping and singing along loudly. Clint Baker (vocals, guitar) encouraged the mayhem from atop the stage: “We love to jump around and go crazy up here. Feel free to join in!” Dustin Stroud (guitar, vocals) and Marc Johnson (bass) contributed by jumping in unison and repeatedly crisscrossing the stage while drummer Dave Keel banged away in the back. Boyish and smiley, the quartet exuded an innocent, energetic vibe.
Riddlin’ Kids are a little different from the typical punk band: they grew up in Austin, a mecca for live music far away from the punk scenes on the East and West coasts. “We don’t have the whole regional sound. You hear some bands and you can tell they are from New Jersey. We’re from Texas, but we don’t have any steel guitars or fiddles or banjos,” said Baker in an interview with FM.
The group possesses a harder drum sound than most punk bands. Baker described them as having “more of a rock edge,” with various influences from Slayer to REM to Elvis. REM was Baker’s favorite band as a kid: “I was a huge fan. I would daydream about something happening to one of the members and me filling in.”
The show was undeniably fun and delivered the hyper forum for rowdy behavior the crowd clearly desired. Never losing sight of the fans, band members made direct eye contact and continuously dipped towards the mass of people, just short of throwing themselves into adoring arms. Stroud and Baker, founding members of the band, took turns singing lead and addressing the crowd. Despite declaring himself a little under the weather, Baker sang strongly.
The only negative aspect of the Riddlin’ Kids show was the lyrically bland songs, most of them from their debut album Hurry Up and Wait. Taken from personal experiences and the experiences of buddies, their songs are strings of platitudes lamenting the horrors of bad girlfriends. “Here We Go Again,” a song about a “super evil, villainous” combination of Baker’s and Stroud’s ex-girlfriends, can boast no line more interesting than “her face cramps up and she makes a frown, then she makes a whiney sound.” Their best song, a cover of REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know it,” is not even their own.
But innovative songwriting is not what attracts people to Riddlin’ Kids or the punk genre. If fans wanted that, they would seek refuge in the new garage rock wave of The White Stripes and The Vines. The important thing is that the Riddlin’ Kids know how to put on a punk show.
“We’re not trying to be a punk rock band. It’s just when we all put ourselves together it’s what comes out,” said Baker. To the delight of onlookers, it comes out in gleeful abundance. From their first song to their final perfectly executed unison jump, Riddlin’ Kids aim to please and generate raucous fun for all. These Texans certainly live up to their psycho-stimulant drug influenced name.