(Above: TV on the Radio perform “Could You,” a song from their newest album, on March 21, 2015, at the Midland Theater in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

TV on the Radio is no stranger to Kansas City. Nearly eight years ago to the day, the indie rock band delivered a transcendent performance at the Voodoo Lounge. They have returned twice since then, in support of their subsequent two releases.

Saturday night, the Brooklyn-based, indie rock band played at the Midland theater, their largest venue in town to date, in front of their biggest crowd.

The first five songs of the night all came from “Seeds,” the band’s latest album. They would return to it again twice more, and also perform a non-album single drawn from those sessions. A red strobe light enveloped the stage during opening number “Lazerray,” making the band look like a stop-motion video from the future.

Later, the red, green and yellow beams of light crossing the stage during the “Seeds”’ title track recalled the album’s cover. The chorus on that song sounds like a lost African proverb: “Rain comes down like it always does/This time I’ve got seeds on ground.” As singer Tunde Adebimpe repeated the uplifting message, the music slowly built in intensity, threatening to overwhelm the room.

Musically, TV on the Radio can be hard to pin down. At times they can sound like Peter Gabriel, as on set-closer “Staring at the Sun,” or Radiohead, or Joy Division. While there are some obvious touchstones — Bono would kill for the silky falsetto guitarist/vocalist Kyp Malone used on “Million Miles” — TV’s sound is generally too mercurial for a game of spot-the-influence. They are clearly pointing the way forward more than they are looking back.

The stage was set simply, with no screens or effects aside from the light show. Though frontman Adebimpe was energetic, the core quartet and touring drummer and keyboard/horn player stayed in place. Arranger/producer/jack-of-all-trades Dave Sitek stood at stage left behind a table of gadgets and next to a bank of synthesizers. He rotated between guitar and the rest of his tricks like the man behind the curtain.

Although the show was skimpy on older numbers (and questionably skimpy in general at just 15 songs and 80 minutes), predictably they were the ones that drew the biggest response.

“Wolf Like Me” inspired a feral sing-along. For the encore, the band went back to its two earliest singles, “Young Liars” and “Staring at the Sun.” Neither could be described as inspiring, but it was moving to hear the room come together in one voice.

If we are fortunate, TV on the Radio will return again in a couple years, with a new batch of songs to perform. We will miss the older numbers they displace, but not too much. After 15 years and six albums, they remain a band on the rise, with no horizon in sight.

Setlist: Lazerray, Golden Age, Happy Idiot, Seeds, Could You, Wolf Like Me, Trouble, Million Miles, Blues from Down Here, Winter, Dancing Choose, Love Dog, DLZ. Encore: Young Liars, Staring at the Sun.

Keep reading:

(Above: Bob Seger sings about life on the road during his March, 2015, tour stop in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Bob Seger has never been shy about looking backward and taking stock. In his early 30s he reminisced about singing a song from 1962. Now on the cusp of his 70th birthday, Seger took Friday night’s crowded Sprint Center on a trip through musical memories that made him a wealthy soul.

Dressed in a black button-up shirt, jeans and black headband Seger looked more like someone ready to do yard work than put on a rock show. He performed a few songs sitting down, strumming an acoustic guitar, and a couple of numbers behind the piano, but for the most part he was all over the stage, pumping his fists in the air and leading singalongs — not that the energetic crowd needed any encouragement.

seger FYI 03202015 spf 0087fWhen Seger accidentally skipped a verse on “Turn the Page,” the singing masses blindly followed his flub, starting over only when he corrected the mistake. The way the line “Twenty years now/Where’d they go?” reverberated across the lips of everyone in the arena during “Like a Rock” made the song feel a little like a hymn.

These days, Seger’s Silver Bullet Band is a small army of more than a dozen musicians, including three female backing vocalists and a four-piece horn section. Although not everyone was on stage at the same time, there were always enough people out front that the stage seemed empty during a pared-down reading of “Against the Wind.” There were eight musicians onstage for that number.

Most of time, the songs sounded just like they do on the radio, a testament to both the strength of Seger’s voice and skill of the musicians. Lead guitarist Rob McNelley laid down a funky groove with his wah wah pedal on “Come to Poppa” and faithfully tore into the landmark slide guitar solo on “Like a Rock.”

It helped that several band members have been playing with Seger for decades. Bass player Chris Campbell came on board in 1969. Horn player Alto Reed joined three years later, and organist Craig Frost was hired in 1979.

The music received a few interesting tweaks. Reed’s saxophone replaced the traditional pedal steel on “Mainstreet” and “Night Moves.” Seger played piano and delivered the first half of “We’ve Got Tonight” alone. Although others eventually joined him, the stripped-down setting and sped-up tempo made the performance seem like a demo of the final product and proved the single didn’t need all the gloss and production it was given to reach the radio.

In a night full of highlights, the period when Seger left the stage and let his band stretch out during “Travelin’ Man” was the most exciting. McNelley and Jim “Moose” Brown traded guitar licks, giving the song even more punch than the familiar, now nearly 40-year-old live version. On cue, Seger emerged from backstage just in time to start “Beautiful Loser” and take the music in a new direction. The songs have been played together for so long it seems strange that they were originally recorded and sequenced separately.

New material usually gets the short straw from deep-catalog acts like Seger, but four songs from this year’s “Ride Out” got the spotlight. Seger talked about hearing Waylon Jennings perform “The Devil’s Right Hand” before delivering his new version of the Steve Earle song and revealed Stevie Ray Vaughan as the inspiration behind “Hey Gypsy.”

The “Night Moves” album was the crown jewel of the set list. Five of the nine songs from the 1976 classic were performed, including nearly all of the first side. Album cut “The Fire Down Below” doesn’t get much airplay, but the crowd still threw every word back to the stage.

Less than two hours after opening the night with “Roll Me Away,” Seger said good night by reminding everyone that “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.” That may be true, but the flip side — remembering — is more fun.

Setlist: Roll Me Away/Tryin’ to Live My Life Without You, The Fire Down Below, The Devil’s Right Hand, Mainstreet, Old Time Rock and Roll, It’s Your World, Come to Poppa, Her Strut, Like a Rock, Travelin’ Man/Beautiful Loser, All of the Roads, Hey Gypsy, We’ve Got Tonight, Turn the Page, Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man. Encore 1: Against the Wind, Hollywood Nights. Encore 2: Night Moves, Rock and Roll Never Forgets.
Keep reading:

(Above: The Wailers perform Bob Marley’s eternal “Is This Love” at Glastonbury 2014.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Bob Marley has been dead for almost as long as he was alive, but his music isn’t going anywhere.

Several hundred fans flocked to the Uptown Theater on Friday night to hear the late reggae legend’s music performed by his former backing band, the Wailers. Although only one member of the current lineup performed and recorded with Marley, the band does an outstanding job of replicating Marley’s influential sound.

The arrangements stayed faithful to the recorded versions, making the rare moments when the band stretched out even more insightful. Guitarist Audley “Chizzy” Chisholm added a pair of inventive guitar solos to “Lively Up Yourself” and “Jamming.” Despite the band playing it safe, the songs remained encouraging, inspiring and, at times, confrontational.

Songs from “Legend,” Marley’s omnipresent greatest-hits package, drew the biggest responses. The opening notes of “Could You Be Loved” and “Jamming” were all it took to get everyone dancing. An enthusiastic call-and-response during the chorus on “Buffalo Soldier” pumped up the already energized crowd.

Chisholm and singer Dwayne Anglin performed alone for a stirring version of “Redemption Song.” The full band returned for an extended medley of “Exodus” and “Punky Reggae Party” to close the 90-minute set.

rusted root FYI 03132015 sp (4)Rusted Root, a five-piece band from Pittsburgh, mixes world instruments and rhythms with jam-band sensibilities. Its 100-minute opening set included two new songs and highlights going all the way back to the band’s 1992 debut album.

Standout moments included the propulsive “Rain,” a duet between lead vocalist Michael Glabicki and utility player Liz Berlin, who also played washboard. The hypnotic “Laugh as the Sun” found Berlin on pennywhistle. A reworked cover of “Suspicious Minds” opened with dueling bass and drums.

The set peaked with a massive romp that started with the Indian-tinged chant “Voodoo.” That led into a drum solo and jam, before working into “Ecstasy.” Everyone sang along with the closing number, “Send Me on My Way,” the band’s first and biggest hit.

Boston’s Adam Ezra Group started the night with a heartfelt half-hour set.

The Wailers setlist: Intro; Easy Skanking; Could You Be Loved; Lively Up Yourself; Survival; The Heathen; Rastaman Vibration; I Shot the Sheriff; Who the Cap Fit; Trenchtown Rock; Buffalo Soldier; Jamming; Encores: Redemption Song; Medley: Exodus/Punky Reggae Party.

Rusted Root setlist: Welcome to My Party; Martyr; Lost in a Crowd; Suspicious Minds; Tumbleweed; Food and Creative Love; Laugh as the Sun; Cover Me Up; Save Me; Rain; Voodoo (drum solo); Ecstasy; Send Me on My Way.

Keep reading:

Review: Toots and the Maytals, the Wailers

Review: Skatalites

Review: Jimmy Cliff

(Above: D’Angelo exposes “The Charade” in the opening hours of Black History Month on “Saturday Night Live.”)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Two anthems of the civil rights movement were released within days of each other, in the dying weeks of 2014. John Legend and Common wrote “Glory” for the civil rights film “Selma.” As the third track on D’Angelo’s long-delayed third album, “The Charade” was released with less fanfare but greater anticipation.

More importantly, after being shunted to the underground for more than a decade, protest music has reemerged in the mainstream. Both “Glory” and “The Charade” were performed on national, network television in February.

Glory-From-the-Motion-Picture-_Selma_-SingleOn paper, “Glory” almost looks too obvious. John Legend recorded an entire album of R&B protest songs with The Roots in 2010 (with Common guesting on the lead single). Common’s history of uplifting poetry has earned him invitations to perform at the White House and guest spots from Maya Angelou and the Last Poets on his albums. “Glory” isn’t the first time Common has invoked Martin Luther King for a film. In 2006, he collaborated with Will.I.Am an end-credits anthem for the movie “The Freedom Writers” that sampled King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

It is clear from the opening gospel chords, that “Glory” is a celebration. It doesn’t challenge the listener like Common’s “Song for Asatta” or Legend’s version of “I Can’t Write Left Handed.” It something we can all feel good about while listening. That may sound like an insult, but it’s not. The civil rights movement brought out the worst in our society, and anyone who weathered that storm, or had a loved one who did, deserves a moment to catch their breath, smile and feel proud.

(Above: Common and John Legend show “Glory” at the Grammys.)

While “Glory” namechecks Ferguson, “The Charade” captures the confusion, frustration and anger of the injustice there. “All we wanted was a chance to talk,” D’Angelo pleads in the chorus. “’Stead we only got outlined in chalk.”

Like most of the songs on “Black Messiah,” “The Charade” doesn’t announce its presence as much as slink into being. D’Angelo’s lyrics are tough to decipher on the first listen, demanding repeated listens and close attention. “Glory” has a gospel choir; “The Charade” has multi-tracked vocals.

The difference between the songs is even more stark in performance. On “Saturday Night Live” D’Angelo and his band dressed in all black, with a chalk outline behind the singer on the floor. Backing vocalists wore shirts stating “I Can’t Breath” and “Black Lives Matter.” D’Angelo wore a hoodie, his face hidden in the shadows. The blistering delivery was a gauntlet – ignore this, America. Driving the point home, the ensemble raised fists in the air over the dying notes, summoning images of John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympics.

Less than two weeks later, Common and Legend were tapped to close the Grammys. Backed by an orchestra and a gospel choir, everyone wore suits and was clean-shaven. The production dovetailed with Beyonce’s stirring version of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” King’s favorite song. The performance was moving, but if “Glory” didn’t feel as powerful as “The Charade” on “SNL,” it might be because it felt more safe.

“Glory” points to how far we’ve come and “The Charade” shows how far we have to go, but both songs end up at the same hopeful place. “Comin’ of the Lord, my eyes have seen the glory,” Common concludes. “With the veil off our eyes, we’ll truly see/and we’ll march on,” D’Angelo affirms. “And it really won’t take too long.”

Keep reading:

John Legend and the Roots – “Wake Up!”

Edwin Starr – “War”

Review: Gil Scott-Heron

(Above: “Funk n Roll” is the standout track on one of the best Prince albums in years.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Best-of lists are ubiquitous this time of year. Because The Daily Record loves you so much, we do it in haiku.

war on drugs1.      War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
Title says it all.
Chet Baker sang let’s get lost.
Join me won’t you, please?

2.      TV on the Rado – Seeds
Title song is hymn:
“This time, I’ve got seeds on ground.”

Makes my soul smile.

3.      Flying Lotus – You’re Dead
DJ, hip hop, jazz
Introspective mélange iskelis
 feast for brain and ears.

4.      Old 97s – Most Messed Up
20 years later,
Too Far To Care gets sequel.
Band is best when messed.

5.      Kelis – Food
Ribs, cobbler, fish fry.
These tasty song titles whet
appetite for tunes.

6.      Hold Steady – Teeth Dreams?????????????
Lucero axeman
adds grit to busy lyrics.
The Ambassador.

7.      New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
Supergroup returns
with best batch of power pop
since Twin Cinema.

8.      Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else
Farm girl references
Verlaine, Rimbaud, Chris Isaak.
eno high life
Arty honky tonk?

9.      Brian Eno and Karl Hyde – High Life
2 albums, 2 months.
Ambient meets house, techno.
Second one is best.

10.  Warpaint –Warpaint
Female quartet takes
four years after debut.
Follow-up worth wait.

Keep reading:

Top ten albums of 2013

Top 10 albums of 2012

Top 10 albums of 2011


Review: Bootsy Collins

(Above: Bootsy Collins takes the stage in Kansas City, Mo. for the first time in a generation.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Bootsy Collins comes by the nickname Star Child honestly. He plays a light-up star-shaped bass, is famous for his star sunglasses and has a personality so radiant he could be nothing but a star.

But it has also been many moons since the R&B pioneer and right-hand-man in George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic empire has been to town. Before Collins took the stage Saturday at VooDoo Lounge, his MC announced the last time the band was in Kansas City it played a funk festival at Arrowhead Stadium. If true, that would have been in the late 1970s.

Collins made up for lost time, opening with a torrential 20-minute medley of both solo and P-Funk classics. Snippets of “Hollywood Squares,” “Mothership Connection” and “Dr. Funkenstein” had the entire house dancing. Although he would perform some complete numbers, most of the night was basically a medley of his best-known songs and choruses.

The two-hour set only slowed down once, for the ballad “I’d Rather Be With You.” Even then, Collins slipped a few bars of “What’s a Telephone Number” and “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” It’s incredible this hit was selected from all of Stevie Wonder’s considerable contributions to funk. It’s even more remarkable that Collins and his band made it work.

DSC_4314Several members of the 10-piece unit have played together for decades. Vocalist Mudbone Cooper and keyboard player Razor Sharp Johnson date to the original Rubber Band from the ’70s.

MC and drummer Kash Waddy goes back even further. He played with the Collins brothers in a band called the Pacemakers that was discovered by James Brown in the 1960s. Collins touched on those days during his monologue about working with Brown on the jam “Funk (Making Something out of Nothing).”

Collins was a little too generous in sharing the spotlight. He left the stage for tributes to friends Bobby Womack and Buddy Miles, a cover of Dee-Lite’s hit “Groove Is in the Heart,” on which he originally played bass, and, oddly, Parliament’s “Flashlight.” The performances were fine, but Collins was missed. His personality is huge, and just him being onstage pushed the energy up a couple notches.

Every time Collins left the stage he returned in a different outfit. The best was the mirror-ball tuxedo and top hat he wore to open the show, and the red-sequined Casper the Friendly Ghost gown he debuted last. During “Tear the Roof off the Sucker,” a couple of bandmates helped Collins remove the ghost gown to reveal a Chiefs jersey of Alex Smith underneath.

Dressed as if he were ready to return to Arrowhead, Collins jumped into the crowd and spent about 10 minutes hugging fans, shaking hands and posing for selfies as the band roared on.

When he finally returned to the stage, Collins announced he was auctioning the jersey to raise money for his Bootsy Collins Foundation. The jersey brought $600, and the winner got the privilege of closing down the vamp on “One Nation Under a Groove.”
Setlist: Bootsy? (What’s the Name of this Town) > PsychoticBumpSchool > Hollywood Squares > Mothership Connection > Dr. Funkenstein, Groove Is in the Heart, Don’t Take My Funk, Body Slam > Funk (Making Something out of Nothing), I’d Rather Be With You (including What’s a Telephone Number, I Just Called to Say I Love You), Them Changes, Flashlight, Stretchin’ Out (In a Rubber Band) > Funk (Making Something out of Nothing) > Tear the Roof off the Sucker > Touch Somebody > Aqua Boogie > One Nation (Under a Groove).

(Above: Toad the Wet Sprocket “Fly from Heaven.” The band lands at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, Mo. on Thursday, Nov. 20.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

The question never went away. Inevitably, someone would ask Glen Phillips when his old band, Toad the Wet Sprocket, was getting back together.

When that finally happened, the question changed: When are you making a new album? Sixteen years after their previous release, the answer arrived last summer with “New Constellations,” a Kickstarter-funded set of 15 new songs.

If that sounds like a long wait for a fan, think of it from Phillips point of view. Although happy to be back onstage with his friends, he was confined to singing material written during his early 20s.

“It was nice to be young, but I don’t want to live there forever,” said Phillips, now 43. “The new songs feel like us, but also feel relevant to what we do now. In addition, they have also brought our older material into new, broader context.”

1-toad2Toad the Wet Sprocket formed in the late ‘80s, and peaked in the early ‘90s. The quartet’s laid-back vibe provided an antidote to the angsty grunge dominating the radio at the time. In 1998, after two platinum albums, one gold record and a dozen Top 40 hits, the band called it a day.

“Enough years have passed and there is enough ease between us now that it was fun to come in and get to deal with Toad as a project,” Phillips said. “It used to be every song I wrote I brought to the band. If it didn’t work there, I had no other outlets.”

That depth was also helpful in selecting songs. “Finally Fading” originally appeared on Phillips’ 2005 album “Winter Pays for Summer.” “Bet On You” was built on “See You Again,” a song from fellow Toadster’s Todd Nichols and Dean Dinning’s Lapdog project.

“We did a lot of culling. Todd and Dean brought some songs in where I’d finish lyrics on them,” Phillips said. “When we reached the end it felt like there was a lot of up-tempo pop songs. We needed more slower, emotional material. That’s when I came up with ‘Enough.’”

With the amount of time between releases and amount of preparation that went into “New Constellations,” Phillips cautions this may be Toad’s final album before conceding even he doesn’t know the band’s future.

“What we may do in the future is do a single than a full ramp-up to an album,” Phillips said. “Making an album puts you on a long schedule. It is interesting to think about. We may look back and say ‘Why did we go through all of that?’

“Or maybe we will do another whole album. I don’t know.”

When Phillips and his bandmates last came to town, they were previewing “Constellations” material. Now, 15 months later, audiences have had time to learn the new songs and sing them back with the same passion as old favorites.

“We were never the cool kids,” Phillips said. “the people who stuck with us did because our music means a lot to them. That really benefited us (with the Kickstarter drive). We have been speaking to people’s hearts for a while and they decided to give back.”

Keep reading:

Review: Toad the Wet Sprocket

Matthew Sweet returns to Midwest Roots

Review: The Rainmakers


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