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(Above: Shawn Colvin, left, and Steve Earle emplore listeners to “Tell Moses.”)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

With all the smiles, stories and strumming, Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin’s performance Wednesday night at the Kauffman Center seemed like very upscale busking.

The two artists stood on an all-black stage adorned with four monitors, one table, four guitars and two mandolins.

The concept was as straightforward as the setup. Over the course of 100 minutes, the pair performed ever song from their new collaboration, “Colvin and Earle” and scattered a couple of their own hits for good measure.

IMG_5969Despite nearly two dozen albums to their names, cover songs dominiated the setlist.

Earle introduced the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” by saying he learned how to play tennis racket to that song in front of a mirror. The spare arrangement brought Mick Jagger’s haunting lyrics to the forefront, particularly lines like “catch your dreams before they slip away.”

Other standout covers included Emmylou Harris’ “Raise the Dead” and the oft-recorded “Tobacco Road.” A laidback, almost effortless cover of “Wake Up Little Suzy” opened the night.

Before “Someday,” Earle told a long story, recapping his days as a Nashville songwriter trying to get a record deal, then fighting to get another when his debut single disappointed everyone. A friend took him to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band on the “Born in the U.S.A.” tour, where Earle found inspiration to write his “Guitar Town” album. After success proved to be more of a struggle than failure, Earle fell into a spiral of drugs, only poking his head out of the darkness long enough to hear Harris recorded “Guitar Town” and Colvin cut “Someday.”

IMG_5974Despite a lack of drums (or band), the version of “Someday” that followed punched as hard as a metal band going full throttle.

Colvin bragged about all her depressing breakup songs, saying “I’ve known fans who won’t take their Prozac for a week before I come to town.” She backed up her words with her biggest hit, “Sonny Came Home,” and “Diamond in the Rough.” While most songs found Colvin and Earle playing off each other vocally, “Diamond” featured a long outro that saw the pair spar musically.

The auditorium was about two-thirds full, and needed little prompting to join in on Earle’s buoyant, mandolin-fueled “The Galway Girl.” The singing and clapping encouraged during “Tell Moses,” a new song, felt like an hootenanny.

After returning to the stage with a Beatles number, the pair closed the night with Earle’s biggest hit, “Copperhead Road.” Colvin got the chance to show off her guitar chops again on that one. With Earle playing mandolin, she had to provide all the song’s musical muscle.

Judging by the lines at the merchandise table afterward, it was more than enough to convince fans into throwing some more change in the hat on the way out.

Setlist: Wake Up Little Susie; Come What May; You Were On My Mind; Raise the Dead; Ruby Tuesday; Tobacco Road; That Don’t Worry Me Now; Someday; The Way That We Do; You’re Right (I’m Wrong); Burnin’ It Down; Sunny Came Home; The Galway Girl; Happy and Free; Tell Moses; You’re Still Gone. Encore: Baby’s In Black; Diamond in the Rough; Copperhead Road.

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Elvis Costello – “Secret, Profane and Sugarcane”

 In a way, David Bowie’s unexpected death last January has freed his songs. Because we are no longer dependent on him to sing them, they are available to everyone to perform as they wish. On Saturday night at the Uptown Theater, the magic happened to come from a couple of the guys who helped create it in the first place.

Review: Rush

(Above: Canadian proggers Rush namecheck Kubla Kahn and search for the sacred river Alph during the epic “Xanadu,” performed on July 9, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. on the R40 tour.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

If this is their final tour, as the band has intimated, Rush’s concert Thursday night at the Sprint Center was a hell of a farewell.

The Canadian progressive rock trio celebrated its 40th anniversary with a nearly three-hour show (including intermission) that walked backward through its catalog.

Rush FYI 07092015 spf 0146fCurtains closed off the sides of the upper level, but there were few empty seats otherwise. The dedicated fan base pantomimed every drum fill and guitar solo, picking their jaws up off the floor just in time to shout and sing along on cue.

Packed with deep cuts — “Between the Wheels,” “Jacob’s Ladder,” “The Camera Eye,” and “How It Is” — the set list was a love letter to those fans. The opening 10-song set moved quickly through the past 30 years, starting with three tracks from 2012’s “Clockwork Angels” before ending at 1982’s “Signals” just an hour later.

A clip from “South Park” kicked off “Tom Sawyer” and the second set. It felt odd hearing a standard encore number so early in the night, a feeling that was reinforced a few songs later with “The Spirit of Radio,” another typical closer.

With the exception of “Closer to the Heart,” another classic rock staple, the rest of the night was given to epic, multipart suites. “Cygnus X-1” stretched more than 20 minutes and included a lengthy solo from revered drummer Neil Peart. Performances of “Xanadu” and an abbreviated “2112” suite also ran longer than 10 minutes each.

The reverse timeline in the set list revealed interesting shifts in the band’s sound, from lean, aggressive guitar rock to concise, almost pop numbers heavy on synthesizers, to extended pieces like “Cygnus” that originally ran so long it was published on two albums. The reverse chronology also meant part two came first.

The stage design mirrored the theme of walking back in time. More recent props like a popcorn machine and large brain were gradually replaced by stacks of amplifiers. Pyrotechnics gave way to strobe lights, lasers and, ultimately, a mirror ball.

Superfan Paul Rudd showed up onstage the last time Rush came to town. He wasn’t physically in the house on Thursday, but appeared with Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel, Peter Dinklage and other celebrities in a recorded rap to “Roll the Bones.” Many of these actors also showed up in the short films that preceded each set, and closed the night.

Rush FYI 07092015 spf 0079fHealth concerns may push the band off the road, but all three appeared in fine form on Thursday. Guitarist Alex Lifeson acted out the lyrics during “Tom Sawyer” and made his bandmates laugh with a corny dance near the end of “Working Man.”

Bassist and keyboard player Geddy Lee galloped across stage and sang in the same impossibly high register he did on albums recorded when he was much younger. In addition to delivering a signature solo, Peart played on a different kit for each set, and altered his drumming style throughout the night to match how he originally recorded the parts.

By the time Eugene Levy’s recorded introduction to the encore started, the stage was stripped almost bare, save a couple amps and a light stand. The video screens displayed a plain red curtain, then a high school gym. “Working Man,” the band’s breakthrough single was tagged with a bit of “Garden Road,” an unreleased outtake from the first album. Going back any further would have ended in nursery rhyme territory, so the three men said goodnight, possibly for the last time in Kansas City, legacy cemented.

Set list

The Anarchist; The Wreckers; Headlong Flight; Far Cry; The Main Monkey Business; How it Is; Animate; Roll the Bones; Between the Wheels; Subdivisions. Intermission. Tom Sawyer; the Camera Eye; the Spirit of Radio; Jacob’s Ladder; Cygnus X-1 Book II > Cygnus X-1 Book I; Closer to the Heart; Xanadu; 2112. Encore: Lakeside Park; Anthem; What You’re Doing; Working Man/Garden Road.

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Review: The Decemberists

Open wide for Mouth

Review: Return to Forever

(Above: Peter Frampton takes an early summer voyage through “Black Hole Sun” at Starlight Theater in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Peter Frampton and Cheap Trick have more in common than releasing two of the best-selling and critically acclaimed live albums of all time in the late 1970s. Thursday night at Starlight, the two children of the Beatles professed their love for the Fab Four.

Cheap Trick covered “Magical Mystery Tour” during its opening 80-minute set. Two hours later, Frampton ended his set (and the night) with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Both songs fit the performer’s personalities. Paul McCartney’s genius for concise pop songs and cheeky sense of humor have been celebrated and amplified by Cheap Trick since the mid-‘70s. Likewise, George Harrison’s introspection and guitar virtuosity have been among Frampton’s hallmarks since his precocious start in the late ‘60s.

A cloudburst early in Cheap Trick’s daylight set sent many fans scurrying for cover, but the quartet stayed put. The faithful that remained in the open air strummed air guitar under ponchos and bounced beneath umbrellas to “Hot Love” and “Voices.”

cheap-trickThe quartet stretched out on a couple numbers, jamming on a lengthy “Need Your Love” and taking “Magical Mystery Tour” for a couple extra trips around the block well after the recorded fade-out. Eighties power ballad “The Flame” set up a killer home stretch that included “Dream Police” and “Surrender,” two of the band’s best-loved songs, and “I Want You To Want Me” and “Ain’t That A Shame,” the two biggest hits from “At Budokan.”

Likewise, Frampton didn’t skimp on numbers from his blockbuster “Frampton Comes Alive.” In fact, the opening coupling of “Something’s Happening” and “Doobie Wah” mirrored the first two songs on side one of the album.

Although Frampton is a fine songwriter – look no further than “Baby, I Love Your Way” – guitar solos are his meat and potatoes. His opening solo for the ballad “Lines on My Face” was almost smooth jazz. Later, Frampton traded solos with nearly everyone in the band during a 20-minute reading of “Do You Feel Like We Do.” His best solo came on “(I’ll Give You) Money.”

The band dropped out partway through, leaving Frampton along with his thoughts and his fretboard. The quiet, delicate playing gradually built back up, with each band member subtly, gradually rejoining. Before long, Frampton was trading licks with second guitarist Adam Lester, each trying to tastefully top the other. A lesser guitarist would have ended the song sliding across the stage on his knees with a flurry of notes. Frampton just stood and played, building layer on layer with his fingertips.

Beatles covers were the coup de grace, but a few other interesting covers wormed their way into the night. By now, Cheap trick has likely played “Ain’t It A Shame” more than Fats Domino. A surprising instrumental version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” found Frampton delivering the final chorus through his infamous talk box. Finally, if it was strange to hear Cheap Trick do “Magical Mystery Tour” sans piano, it was even more jarring to hear Frampton cover Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” without horns.

There were plenty of empty seats in the top third of the theater, but four decades after committing their defining concert performances to vinyl, the unlikely pairing of classic rock vets proved they still had plenty to say and many who were anxious to hear it.

Cheap Trick setlist: Hello There; Oh Candy; Big Eyes; Lookout; Hot Love; Voices; I Can’t Take It; Need Your Love; Magical Mystery Tour; She’s Tight; I Know What I Want; The Flame; I Want You To Want Me; Dream Police. Encore: Ain’t That A Shame; Surrender; Auf Wiedersehen; Goodnight.

Peter Frampton setlist: Something’s Happening; Doobie Wah; Show Me the Way; Lines on My Face; Lying; Signed, Sealed, Delivered; (I’ll Give You) Money; Baby, I Love Your Way; Black Hole Sun; Do You Feel Like We Do. Encore: While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

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(Above: D’Angelo’s signature slow jam “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” eventually ends up in church as the closing number in his June 9, 2015, concert at the Midland Theater in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The quaint concept of chronos means nothing to D’Angelo.

Twenty years after releasing his first album, the soul singer made his Kansas City debut at the Midland on Thursday night. He kept the crowd waiting more than an hour after an abbreviated opening set by Meg Mac’s backing band (the Australian singer was ill and unable to perform). Perfunctory encore breaks stretched more than five minutes.

D’Angelo made every moment worth the wait, and then some.

D'Angelo FYI al 061115 0321 Songs that span a few minutes on the album were stretched to more than double their length throughout the night as D’Angelo and his 10-piece band, The Vanguard, rode the groove and twisted every wrinkle out of the arrangements. The two-hour set leaned heavily on last year’s “Black Messiah” — his first release in 14 years.

A leading player in the mid-’90s neosoul movement, D’Angelo wears his influences proudly. “Sugah Daddy” started as one of the best Sly Stone songs D’Angelo never wrote (and better than several he did), until a flick of the wrist transformed it into a James Brown jam. The vamp between the first two songs of the night, “Ain’t That Easy” and “Betray My Heart,” sounded like a lost Parliament-Funkadelic track. References to Prince and Earth, Wind and Fire also were abundant.There wasn’t a bum note or dull moment in the set, but a few songs stand out. The powerful #blacklivesmatter anthem “The Charade” ended with D’Angelo and his two guitarists clustered together, taking solos as the song built in intensity.The pairing of “Left and Right” and “Chicken Grease” pushed the party to another level. With the two horn players and three backing vocalists lining the front of the stage, it felt like a New Orleans parade.D'Angelo FYI al 061115 0335Fans started heading toward the exits during the first encore set, when the clock tipped toward midnight. The ones who stayed were treated to an epic version of “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” D’Angelo’s biggest song. Unlike the infamous video, D’Angelo kept his clothes on, but ended the slow jam by dismissing his band members one by one, until he was alone behind the keyboard.

“Really Love” offered a chance for several band members to shine. Singer Kendra Foster stole the spotlight with ballet-influenced moves during the introduction. Bass player Pino Palladino’s nimble fingers provided a delicate counterpoint to Isaiah Starkey’s classical guitar. Later in the song, D’Angelo pulled Starkey out front for a great call-and-response solo, where scatting was transformed into fretwork.

Seconds after saying goodnight during “Chicken Grease,” D’Angelo called the saxophone player forward for a solo and disappeared, only to quickly return playing guitar. It would be another 20 minutes before he said goodnight and meant it. And everyone in the house was better for it.

Setlist: Ain’t That Easy; Betray My Heart; Spanish Joint; Really Love; The Charade; Brown Sugar; Sugah Daddy. Encore 1: Another Life / Back to the Future / Left and Right / Chicken Grease. Encore 2: Untitled (How Does It Feel).
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(Above: “New Dawn Fades” for Peter Hook and the Light.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

“This is the way,” Peter Hook sang during the opening song. “Step inside.”

The smallest crowd of the night at Middle of the Map’s outdoor stage was all too eager to follow.

Hook is a founding member of the influential post-punk band Joy Division. The British group famously broke up on the eve of their first U.S. tour. The surviving members were well into their second life as New Order by the time they finally reached America.

peter hookAs the bass player in both bands, Hook’s new group finally gives fans – many of whom weren’t alive during Joy Division’s late ’70s run – a chance to finally hear the beloved songs performed by a founding member.

The execution was as straightforward as it was magical: Both of Joy Division’s studio albums in their original order and arrangements, with a couple non-album songs at the end. The experience mimicked what fans have enjoyed for years at home, only exponentially better.

“Closer,” the second of Joy Division’s two albums, opened the night. After a brief break, the band returned to perform “Unknown Pleasures.” The combination of “New Dawn Fades” into “She’s Lost Control” – separated by a side break on the original album – generated one of the strongest one-two punches of the 90-minute set. By the end of “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Hook had his shirt off, tearing around the stage with a maniacal smile, acting like it was the first time he had performed the band’s best-known number.

A combination of cool temperature and constant mist of rain actually improved the atmosphere. Joy Division’s music is many things – groundbreaking, intense, visceral – but it is not made for a sunny afternoon.

Hook was ably assisted by the five-piece Light, which included his son, Jack Bates, handling many of his dad’s signature basslines. The remaining three members are veterans of Monaco, another of Hook’s bands.

Although the audience was intimately familiar with the material, there wasn’t a lot of singing along. Instead there were a lot of and spontaneous hugs and high fives when favorite songs like “Isolation” or “She’s Lost Control” started. There were also lots of closed eyes as fans let the music and experience wash over them.

Setlilst: Closer: Atrocity Exhibition; Isolation; Passover; Colony; A Means to an End; Heart and Soul; Twenty Four Hours; The Eternal; Decades. Unknown Pleasures: Disorder; Day of the Lords; Candidate; Insight; New Dawn Fades; She Lost Control; Shadowplay; Wilderness; Interzone; I Remember Nothing. Transmission; Love Will Tear Us Apart.

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Middle of the Map 2015 – day four

Middle of the Map 2015 – day three

Review: TV on the Radio

(Above: William Elliott Whitmore looks forward to “Digging My Grave” on the outdoor stage at the 2015 Middle of the Map festival.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

(Note: With more than 100 bands performing on eight stages across four days, it is impossible to hear everything at the Middle of the Map festival. I spent most of the festival’s final day on an unseasonably cold day at the outdoor stage.)

Phox:

Despite cold hands and early sound issues, Phox delivered an enjoyable set that delighted the fans that filled about two-thirds of the parking lot around the outdoor stage.

The six-piece band from Wisconsin performs soulful, confessional indie rock that recalls fellow Wisconsinite and mentor Bon Iver. Their delicate melodies never got lost in the expansive outdoor environment, thanks to inventive arrangements.

“Evil” featured a New Orleans jazz trumpet solo, while “Never Love,” an unreleased song, opened with a recorder and African guitar line a la Vampire Weekend. Throughout it all, lead singer Monica Martin was the not-so-secret weapon. Her soulful voice and playful stage talk kept the songs weighty and the downtime light.

The band threw a curveball into the mix with a hushed, dainty cover of Blink-182’s “I Miss You.” More fans sang along with that number than any of the band’s original numbers.

murder by death

Murder by Death

William Elliott Whitmore:

Armed with a guitar, banjo and bass drum, William Elliott Whitmore did a great job prepping the crowd for Murder By Death’s Americana rock. His 45-minute set was filled traditional folk songs about train trestles, digging graves and devils.

Between songs, Whitmore bantered with the audience with a self-deprecating sense of humor. Whitmore said he wanted his time to feel like friends hanging out on the front porch. While he’s a bit early for that festival, he accomplished the feel.

Murder by Death:

Murder by Death play the kind of songs that make you more likely to get pulled over for speeding. Even the band’s down-tempo numbers are full-throttle. Case in point “Curse of Elkhart,” a torrid cautionary tale fueled by Sarah Balliet’s furiously strummed cello.

Several of the band’s Americana opuses unfold like novellas. Judging by apparel and lips, plenty of the crowd already knew the stories. Highlights of the hourlong set included the David Bowie tribute “I Shot an Arrow,” “Spring Break 1899” and “King of the Gutters, Prince of the Dogs.”

Keep reading:

Middle of the Map 2015 – day three

Middle of the Map 2013

Review: Vampire Weekend