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Archive for the ‘Kansas City music scene’ Category

By Joel Francis

Our trawl through my world of vinyl continues.

Various Artists – Stroke It Noel: Big Star’s Third in Concert (2017) To butcher the cliché, probably not everyone who bought a Big Star album back in the ‘70s started a band, but it’s a fair bet that at least one person from most of your favorite bands did (unless you are super into, say, Norwegian death metal, in which case, thank you for branching out and reading this blog).

It’s been ten years to the month since Big Star’s frontman Alex Chilton died on the eve of his celebration at South by Southwest. The impromptu tribute that emerged from that tragedy morphed into a series of concerts around the world celebrating Big Star’s troubling third album. It’s wonderful to hear members of Wilco, R.E.M., Yo La Tengo, the Posies, Semisonic, the dbs and more pass the mic and hike through these songs. But the live reproductions are so faithful they miss the fragile, alluring qualities that made the original studio versions that almost seemed to disintegrate before coalescing into beauty – if they made it that far. So yeah, I dig this, but hearing R.E.M.’s Mike Mills bounce joyfully through “Jesus Christ” or Django Haskins struggle with “Holocaust” doesn’t make me a bigger Big Star fan. It just makes me glad that the people I’m into have such immaculate taste.

Robert Fripp – Exposure (1979) I have a great deal of respect for King Crimson, Robert Fripp’s groundbreaking progressive rock ensemble, but to my heathen ears their music is like listening to calculus. I can get behind Exposure, though. You can almost hear Fripp smirking as he takes the listener from wordless, off-kilter a capella harmonies to an endlessly ringing phone and then a boogie woogie pastiche – all in about a minute. It’s almost like Fripp is daring us to meet us where he is, then abruptly changing course and challenging us to follow him over there. This is also an apt description of his entire career. Listening to Exposure is like playing tag. You never stay in one place and may find yourself out of breath at times with the quarry just out of reach, but it’s always fun to play. Special mention must be made of the definitive version of “Here Comes the Flood” with Peter Gabriel on vocals.

Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear – Skeleton Crew (2015) This mother-son duo was poised to be the next big thing to break out of the Kansas City music scene when this debut album came out. They appeared on one of the last episodes of The Late Show with David Letterman, the Today show, Later with Jools Holland and played Bonnaroo and the Newport Folk Festival. Things have been quiet since then – only one EP in 2018 – but these laid-back, folk blues romps are still a fun spin.

Kendrick Lamar – Damn. (2017) Damn. was my favorite album the year it came out and it remains a compelling listen today. The fact that I can say this despite a concert that nearly left me in tears is a testament to its strength. When the Damn. tour announced a date at the Sprint Center, I quickly jumped on tickets. Not wanting to take out a second mortgage, my friends and I got seats in the upper level, extreme stage right. The sound was fine for the opening acts, but when Lamar took the stage it was like the sound blew out in the speakers directed at our section. You know it sounds you’re just inside the doors, waiting to get in and the show starts without you? All bass with just a hint of vocals? That’s how it sounded inside the arena. Some ushers kindly moved us to another section where the sound was slightly better, but the spell had been broken and the show was a bust. All this and I still can’t wait to hear what Lamar does next.

Rush – Power Windows (1985) I know everyone loves the hard, sci-fi prog of Rush’s late-‘70s peak, but I am strongly partial to their synth-heavy early ‘80s material. This mostly boils down to the fact that during high school I played the band’s 1989 live album A Show of Hands so often I thought the laser would bore right through the CD. So you can have your “Cygnus X-1” and “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” and I’ll stick with “Marathon” and “Manhattan Project,” thank you very much.

Husker Du – Everything Falls Apart (1982) Playing this record (included in the Numero Group’s essential early-days collection Savage Young Du) is like flying down the interstate on a Japanese motorcycle without a helmet. Insects slap your face and the wind stings your eyes as gravity forces you closer to the ground. Danger is imminent, but you twist your wrist and accelerate even more. Stopping is not an option. Oh, and there’s an entire side of bonus tracks.

Johnny Cash – Mean as Hell! (1966) Mean as Hell! is the single platter version of Johnny Cash’s double-record concept album Sings the Ballads of the True West. I think I got this at a garage sale, because who can resist an album with this title (with mandatory exclamation point) where a gaunt, drugged out Cash is dressed like a cowboy, holding a gun? The music isn’t as exceptional as the cover. The spoken-word bits are a little too somber. Cash sounds like a Southern preacher crossed with a National Geographic narrator on the title track and the studio version of “25 Minutes to Go” is nowhere near as fun as the live version at Folsom Prison. Despite these shortcomings, I’ll still put on my spurs for the ballads: “I Ride an Old Paint,” “Sweet Betsy from Pike” and album closer “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie.”

Frank Black – Teenager of the Year (1994) No one liked this album when it came out. It didn’t sound like the Pixies, wasn’t as radio-ready as the Breeders and there was a lot of lingering animosity over how Frank Black ended the beloved Pixies. I didn’t know any of this at the time, however, because I was too busy listening to A Show of Hands. Coming to this album several years later, all I heard were nearly two dozen bright blasts of Black’s songwriting at its most accessible. Nurse a grudge all you want. I’ll be right over hear blasting “Freedom Rock” loud enough to drown out your whining.

Brian Eno – Reflection (2016) I don’t know enough about ambient music to tell you the difference between this album and Lux or the longer-form pieces on the Music for Installations collection. I can tell you that when it gets to the point in the day when I need some Eno, Reflection (and Lux) always comforts me. I also don’t think I have to get up to turn the record over as often with Lux, so there’s one difference.

Bruce Springsteen – The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle (1973) This is one of my absolute favorite Springsteen albums because it’s the sound of him fumbling through different sounds trying to figure out what he wants to be. It all clicked into place with Born to Run, his next album. The guitars at the beginning of “Sandy” sound like the Allman Brothers Band before the accordion whisks in foreshadowing the opening section of Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” Where else can you hear Springsteen rocking with a clavinet over a Doobie Brothers guitar line but on “The E Street Shuffle”?

The picture of the band is especially priceless. Half the guys have their shirts unbuttoned all the way, only a couple are wearing shoes and Springsteen is rocking a tank top and blue jeans. They look like a group that would get uncomfortably close and overly friendly with a stranger, ask to bum a cigarette and then inquire if he or she liked to par-tay.

Wild and Innocent is also the only time multi-instrumentals David Sancious appeared as Springsteen’s main musical foil. Sancious left to form his own band shortly after this album came out and went on to work with Stanley Clarke, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Eric Clapton and many others.

Lee Hazlewood – The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes and Backsides (compilation) If you’ve heard “These Boots,” then you’ve heard a Lee Hazlewood production. This collection doesn’t contain any of Hazlewood’s work with the Chairman of the Board’s daughter – which is good enough to warrant its own anthology – but it does contain duets with Ann-Margret and Suzi Jane Hokom and solo cuts that sound like cowboy songs in Cinemascope. Drag Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound to the wild west and your getting close.

R.L. Burnside – Too Bad Jim (1994)

T-Model Ford – The Ladies Man (2010) I saw T-Model Ford one time, right around the time The Ladies Man came out, a couple years before his death. The venue, Davey’s Uptown Rambler’s Club, or just Davey’s, was about as close as you could get to a juke joint in Kansas City. Split across two storefronts, the bar was on the left side, where you’d traditionally enter. The area with music was on the right side of the wall. If a performer moved too far stage right he or she was liable to bump into a door leading out to the street. That would be bad. Despite these shortcomings, the sight lines were decent, the drinks were cheap and the sound was usually OK. I mention all this because Davey’s, a century-old Kansas City institution, was gutted by a fire just a couple days ago. Everyone reminiscing online about the great times they had at the venue made me reach for this album.

R.L. Burnside’s blues were cut from the same primitive cloth as Ford’s. I don’t know if Burnside ever played at Davey’s but I’m sure he would have been welcomed and would have liked it. The good news is that the Markowitz family, who have run Davey’s since the 1950s, plan to rebuilt the space.

Loose Fur – self-titled (2003) Recorded before Wilco’s career-defining Yankee Hotel Foxtrot but released afterward, Loose Fur is the sound of Jeff Tweedy shaking off the weight of Wilco and getting acquainted with two new collaborators. Opening track “Laminated Cat” is one of my favorite Tweedy compositions. It’s more than seven minutes here, but Wilco frequently tear it down onstage like a Sonic Youth number and stretch it even longer. Jim O’Rourke’s “Elegant Transaction” provides a more relaxed counterpoint and while the album doesn’t get that relaxed again until the closing number, “Chinese Apple,” the opening pair frame the album as a balancing act between tension, experimental noise and release.

Benny Carter – Further Definitions (1961) Impulse Records are frequently viewed as the playhouse for avant-garde jazz workouts by saxophonists John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Yusef Lateef and Sonny Rollins. Further Definitions is proof that Impulse wasn’t so one-dimensional (at least in the early years). Pre-war legends Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins push each other to new heights in the confines of this small group anchored by Coltrane’s rhythm section. The result is an album that jazz fans can appreciate for its sophistication and intricacy but your mom can hum along with. A win for everyone.

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(Above: Making Movies frontman Enrique Chi’s iPhone footage of him taking the stage to jam with Los Lobos at Knucklehead’s in Kansas City, Mo. in September, 2011.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Los Lobos had already played longer than most of their recent Kansas City concerts when the veteran L.A. quintet invited guitarist Enrique Chi and percussionist Juan-Carlos Chuarand onstage for what turned out to be a 25-minute encore.

Chi grew up listening to Los Lobos, and was already excited that his band, Making Movies, would share the bill, let alone the stage.

“I was at the merch(andise) table when I saw Juan-Carlos start to go on and set up his timbales,” Chi said. “I pulled out my phone to film it and on it you can see the tour manager motion for me to come up too. I don’t know if he thought of it beforehand or just saw me and decided I should go too.”

Either way, it doesn’t matter. Chi and Chuarand held their own with their heroes and added another stamp of legitimacy to Kansas City’s local music scene. Without announcing the song or even a key, Los Lobos singer and guitarist David Hidalgo drove the band into “Cumbia Raza.”

“I didn’t know what they were going to play, I just grabbed my guitar and went for it,” Chi said.

Hidalgo and his compatriots were extremely generous, coaxing both Chi and Chuarand into multiple solos, and insisting they stick around for the full encore set. I’ve seen Los Lobos five times in the past decade but had never seen them have as much fun as they were in that moment.

“The whole time I was up there, the adrenaline never wore off,” Chi said. “I though our opening set was good, but I never got that magic moment where your brain turns off and the music just goes through you.”

The moment he started playing with his heroes, though, Chi fell into the zone.

“I was thinking about it later,” Chi said. “You know these guys have been playing together for so long they’re probably able to get to that place without much effort. We were just able to slide into it with them for a while.”

There was little contact between Making Movies and Los Lobos before that magical moment, but the camps have since been in steady communication.

“There have definitely been conversations going back and forth about working together in the future,” Chi said. “I can’t say much beyond that right now.”

Before leaving town, Los Lobos ate at La Fonda el Taquito, the restaurant owned by Chuarand’s family. Making Movies were in Chicago for a show, but Los Lobos stuck around posing for pictures with everyone.

“Since we’re both bilingual bands, I thought it made sense for Making Movies to be there that night,” Chi said. “I never expected this. I was blown away by their generosity. They were very complimentary of us.”

Keep reading:

Review: Los Lobos

10 Must-see bands at Kanrocksas (part 2 – Saturday)

Fourth of July – “Before Our Hearts Explode”

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(Above: R.E.M. opened their 2003 concert in Kansas City with the rarely performed “Star 69. Here the band does it at Glastonbury ’99. )

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

“This next song,” Michael Stipe said, “is a request.”

The number wasn’t a surprise. Much like right now, the country was leading up to a big election year. It was startling the band would start playing requests just two songs in to the set. But what made “World Leader Pretend” seem so stunning was that I had requested it.

Oh, I’m sure I’m not the only person who logged on to R.E.M.’s Website, selected the upcoming concert at Starlight Theatre and plugged “World Leader Pretend” into one of the three request slots. In that moment, however, it felt like the band was playing for ME, way up near the top of the theater bowl.

That feeling was reinforced two songs later when Stipe announced another request. “Fall on Me” is my all-time favorite R.E.M. song, and occupied another of my limited request spots. Those two moments, coupled with that night being my first (and now only) time seeing R.E.M. in concert made the night an incredible experience that cemented my passion for the band.

Shortsightedness prevented me from seeing R.E.M. eight years earlier, when they sold out two nights at Sandstone Amphitheatre in 1995 with Sonic Youth. Despite promoting the critically derided (but personally beloved) “Monster” album, that was R.E.M.’s first tour since the gigantic success of “Losing My Religion” and “Everybody Hurts.”

Eight years later the band was in a very different place. Drummer and not-so-secret weapon Bill Berry had left and the remaining trio had released three increasingly experimental records with decreasing results. They had toured faithfully during that time, but always skipped Kansas City. In 2003 they were pumping a greatest hits collection and the generally lifeless “Around the Sun” was right around the corner. In that moment R.E.M. seemed like Johnny Unitas with the Chargers or Babe Ruth with the Braves. “Accelerate” and this year’s “Collapse Into Now” proved they were more like Bobby Hull with the Jets.

And now, nearly exactly eight years to the day1 after I saw them at Starlight, R.E.M. are done. Buck will probably continue to play sideman to Robyn Hitchcock and Scott McCaughey, Mills will make pleasant but unnecessary James Taylor-meets-Brian Wilson solo albums, and Stipe will direct films and make weird solo albums that sound nothing like R.E.M.

I’m happy that R.E.M. decided to call it a day instead of endlessly releasing uninspired product (I’m looking at you, Red Hot Chili Peppers). But I’m also sorry that I likely won’t hear the new sounds of three of my favorite musicians working together again.

R.E.M. have always been a part of my musical landscape. They were legends when I discovered music, and it makes me sad to think they now only exist in history. But I’ll always have the tape of “World Leader Pretend” and “Fall on Me” in my mind.2

1 Setlist.fm reminded me the concert was on Sept. 17, 2003.

2 If anyone has a real recording of this night, please let me know.

Keep reading:

Stuff your stocking with these live collections

Classic Christmas Carol: “Jesus Christ”

Review: “The Oxford American: Book of Great Music Writing”

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(Above: Muse borrow a bit from Van Halen and then Queen with their performance of “Stockholm Syndrome” during their headlining set on the second day of Kanrocksas.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record 

Note: For my coverage of the Kanrocksas music festival, I decided not to cover any band’s previously reviewed by The Daily Record. Visit the archives to read about theArctic MonkeysBlack KeysFlaming LipsFlogging Molly and Girl Talk. Go here to read a review of Day 1.

Best Coast

The confessional California-based indie rock trio deserved better. Singer Beth Costentino’s intimate songs about frustrated crushes and missed chances wilted under the bright, blazing mid-day sun. Her lo-fi, straight-ahead songs are best suited for small, dark clubs, not 100-degree afternoons.

Costentino and her rhythm section of Bobb Bruno and Ali Koehler made the best of a bad time slot, though. The trio plays with considerably more power than is hinted at on their full-length debut LP and the sound was full despite the lack of bass guitar (Costentino and Bruno both played electric guitar while Koehler held down the beat on his drum kit).

The best moment’s of the 40-minute set were many of the same high points on the record: “Boyfriend,” which came out early, “Bratty B,” “Something In the Way” and the new song “When You Wake Up.” Colorful remnants of Friday’s Flaming Lips set still littered the ground as the band played.

OK GO

OK Go are better known for their videos than their music. Although the indie rock band’s 40-minute set showed they have depth beyond viral treadmill clips, their reputation is also fair.

The four musicians took the stage wearing bright, monotone Crayola suits, invited a fan onstage to play guitar and donned white gloves before performing “What To Do” on hand bells. Lead singer Damian Kulash left the stage to perform a couple songs acoustically, surrounded by the crowd. Upon returning to the stage, Kulash pulled out a digital camera and took a picture of the audience, promising to post it on Facebook so everyone could tag themselves. That, my friends, is marketing 2.0.

Behind the spectacle, the music was catchy and bouncy, filled with touches of New Wave and disco, a la Franz Ferdinand, and elements of the Cars, Cheap Trick and Roxy Music. High points included “White Knuckles,” “Do What You Want “ and “Here It Goes Again,” aka the treadmill song.

A Perfect Circle

The sun was just starting to set as A Perfect Circle took the stage. It was fitting, because this thinking-man’s metal band lives in the shadows and darkness. Each song was an exercise in subtly shifting textures and tempos, making each performance seem longer than it actually was.

One third of the quintet’s dozen songs were covers. “People Are People” opened with a slow, building solo that placed the Depeche Mode hit in a completely new context. Likewise, a minor-key reading of John Lennon’s “Imagine” may have resembled how Mark David Chapman heard the anthem for peace. Songs like “Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums” and “The Outsider” offered one of the weekend’s few opportunities for head banging and get the metal out.

Each of the five band members stood on their own platforms, denying a single visual focus. Much of the pyrotechnics came from guitarist Billy Howerdel and beastly drummer Josh Freese, raised behind him. Singer Maynard James Keenan stood in the back left, out of the spotlight, back to the crowd.  Former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha was elevated in the center.

Take-aways:

The layout provided easy access to several water stations, toilets and dedicated shade areas. The sound at all three stages and the DJ tent was surprisingly clear and aside from the large obligatory sound tents, all of the stages had decent sight lines.

My biggest complaint was the placement of the Ad Astra Stage. While the Stagesaurus Rex and Main Stage faced each other at either end of the main field, travelling to the Ad Astra Stage forced crowds through several gated bottlenecks. This made bouncing between the Ad Astra to the main area take longer than necessary, and forced fans to choose between forgoing the final songs of the current set or missing the opening numbers of the next one.

The Charity Village – a nice forum for local non-profits to introduce themselves to fans – was easily overlooked in the back of one of the vendor tents. It deserved more prominent placement.

All told, the foundation for what I hope will be a longstanding Kansas City summer tradition was in place.

Keep reading:

Review: Lilith Fair

Open wide for Mouth

Review: Smashing Pumpkins, Cake

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(Above: Friday’s Kanrocksas headliner Eminem performs “Lighters” sans Bruno Mars.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record 

Note: For my coverage of the Kanrocksas music festival, I decided not to cover any band’s previously reviewed by The Daily Record. Visit the archives to read about the Arctic Monkeys, Black Keys, Flaming Lips, Flogging Molly and Girl Talk. Stay tuned for Kanrocksas Day 2 early next week.

The Joy Formidable

The crowd assembled for this Welsh-trio likely would have been much larger if they weren’t going head-to-head with Fitz and the Tantrums. As it was, the crowd wasn’t much bigger than what would pack the Granada Theater in Lawrence, but judging by facial expressions as the audience dispersed most people left impressed.

Much of the band’s 40-minute set drew from “The Big Roar,” the critically praised album released earlier this year. Songs performed included “Cradle,” “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade” and the non-album single “Greyhounds in the Slips.”

Lead singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan threw herself into the set-closing “Whirring,” hurling herself at the mic as she sang enthusiastically. Bryan later conjured images of Jimi Hendrix at Monteray when she threw her guitar on the ground and knelt over it to coax out some otherworldly sounds. Drummer Matt Thomas punctuated the noise with double-pedal rolls on the bass drum.

D12

Eminem’s Detroit cronies took the stage 20 minutes late – not bad by rap standards, but kind of a big deal when your allotted time is barely over half an hour.

Rapping over what sounded like their own commercial CDs – Eminem’s backing vocals were clearly audible despite his absence – the quartet employed what I like to call the “gang of yelling.” Technique: one rapper delivers most of the verse with the rest chiming in on the four count or the end of a phrase. The name is derived from the end result: an indiscernible cacophony of yelling.

Wearing a purple shower cap and red Angry Birds t-shirt, Bizarre led the group in rhymes about murder, family (“Loyalty”), women (“She Devil”) and weed, lots of weed. At one point the group parodied the Temptations attempting a synchronized dance routine and faux crooning about “my weed” over a sample of “My Girl.” Like the rest of their performance it was obvious, uninspired and unnecessary.

Kid Cudi

Kid Cudi writes pop/rock songs delivered as soul numbers draped in hip hop attitude. As his four-piece band vamped over a heavy prog-rock riff, Cudi skipped onstage wearing a Joan Jett t-shirt. Cudi’s hour-long set veered from rap (“Soundtrack to My Life”), ‘80s pop (“Mr. Rager”) to indie pop (“Pursuit of Happiness”). Several times he transformed the large lawn into a huge dance club.

The music tipped heavily toward Cudi’s sophomore album released this year, “Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager,” but included the singles from Cudi’s 2009 debut and an a capella medley of favorites from the 2008 mixtape “A Kid Named Cudi.” Regardless of the source, fans enthusiastically sang along to Cudi’s songs about isolation and escapism through marijuana.

Cudi’s previous stop at the Midland Theater last spring was by all accounts a disaster. The difference this time the presence of live instruments, which emphatically translating Cudi’s charismatic  energy throughout the massive crowd. The triumph represented both the largest crowd and biggest response of the day, aside from headliner Eminem.

Major Lazer

The DJ duo of Dilpo and Switch – best known for their work with MIA and Beyonce’s “Girls (Who Run the World)” – were unfortunately slotted against California dj Bassnectar. With Bassnectar monopolizing the main stage, Major Lazer were unfortunately relegated to the Critical Mass Tent, an oversized carport with horrible air circulation stranded in the middle of port-a-potty land.

None of this stopped the dedicated from dancing as the pair blended standard techno tracks with touches of dancehall, Harry Belafonte, Lynryd Skynryd and their own “Keep It Goin’ Louder” from 2009’s full-length “Guns Don’t Kill People, Lazers Do.”

Surrounded by four frantic LED screens, the pair got an assist from an over-the-top hype-man with a deep Jamaican patois and a dancer whose primary job was to perform headstands on every accommodating surface onstage, including on top of both stacks of speakers.

Keep reading:

Review: Kanrocksas (Day 2)

10 Must-see bands at Kanrocksas (part 1 – Friday)

Wakarusa Music Festival: A Look Back

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(Above: Harry and the Potters rock a Wisconsin bookstore.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

It is doubtful that Irma Pince, mistress of the library at Hogwarts, would approve of Harry and the Potters.

The band is loud, noisy and proud of its subversive punk influences. For nearly a decade, it has also been the delight of librarians across the country.

The band makes a return appearance to the downtown branch of the Kansas City Public Library at 2 p.m. Sunday in a free performance and Monday at the Replay Lounge in Lawrence.

“Most libraries don’t see any bands;they see author readings and story time,” said guitarist Paul DeGeorge, who founded the group with his brother Joe in Boston in 2002 and now lives in Lawrence. “Sometimes we get librarians who think we’re too loud, but now that our reputation precedes us, I think they like that what we do is unique.”

Tying in to the most popular fiction series of the new millennium doesn’t hurt either. With songs such as “Gryffindor Rocks,” “Dumbledore’s Army” and “Saving Ginny Weasley from Dean Thomas,” the duo has plugged right into the zeitgeist.

The band is among the more successful of a long list of wizard rockers, including such Potter-inspired groups as Draco and the Malfoys, the Moaning Myrtles and the Whomping Willows. They even gather for festivals, such as the annual Hallows and Horcruxes Ball in Manhattan, Kan.

“It all started as sort of a whimsical idea after reading the Harry Potter book for the first time. We wanted to find a way to convince librarians to let us play loud punk rock music in their libraries,” DeGeorge said. “We didn’t realize how extensive and pervasive the Harry Potter fan world is. Once our website [Web site] was up, word spread really quickly, and that’s when we started touring nationally.”

Onstage, both brothers are dressed as Potter. Older brother Paul portrays the seventh-year wizard, while Joe represents Potter in his fourth year at Hogwarts. Although the family-friendly music attracts a young audience, Paul DeGeorge aims for a wide demographic.

“They Might Be Giants is a band I really related to in junior high, but as I grew up I realized there were a lot of smart things in those songs that I didn’t get when I was 12,” DeGeorge said. “We want to do the same thing. We want to keep the parents engaged as well, give them stuff to smile at that their kids won’t get and give the kids things to laugh at the parents will just think is cute.”

J.K. Rowling hasn’t weighed in on Harry and the Potters, but she is a big fan of the Harry Potter Alliance, a nonprofit group DeGeorge founded.

“The Harry Potter Alliance was inspired by the fact that Harry and his friends were just teenagers, but because they were dedicated to fighting evil they changed the world,” DeGeorge said. “We re-contextualize complex global issues through Harry Potter’s world. It’s a way to help young people understand the world and get involved using language they understand.”

Although the band is strong, DeGeorge confessed it isn’t as all-encompassing since he moved from his native Boston to Lawrence, Kan. a year ago. DeGeorge moved away from his brother to be with his girlfriend, who is earning her doctorate in art history at the University of Kansas.

“We used to do 120 shows a year, then record,” DeGeorge said. “Now we’re doing a two-month tour and will take some time off. In some ways, though, the distance makes us more focused, because we know we have to maximize our time together.”

Keep reading:

Easy success means hard work for Vampire Weekend

The Evolution of Devo

Discord finds harmony in D.C. hardcore scene 

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(Above: The mini-movie for “Our Deal,” the latest song from Best Coast.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record 

The big names at the top of the bill will draw the most fans, but sometimes the best performances are from lesser-known acts early in the day. In the week leading up to the inaugural Kanrocksas music festival we’ll examine 10 overlooked acts. Earlier this week we looked at five acts from Friday’s lineup. Below are some great picks for Saturday.

Hearts of Darkness (Main Stage, 1:30 – 2 p.m.)

Kansas City’s worst-kept secret will kick off Saturday with deep Afro-beat grooves so hot the sun may be intimidated. With a five-piece horn section and multiple percussionists, the 18-member band has recently upstaged Snoop Dogg and made Huey Lewis and the News work a little harder. Hopefully it won’t be too long until Hearts of Darkness get the later stage time they deserve.

Making Movies (INK Unplugged Stage, 3:30 – 4 p.m.)

Making Movies took their name from the Dire Straits, but their sound is closer to Los Lobos. And just like Los Lobos, Making Moviesconcerts are likely to skip all over the place, with a salsa cover running into a Modest Mouse song. They will bring a much-needed world music presence to the lineup.

Best Coast (Stagesaurus Rex, 3:40 – 4:20 p.m.)

As their iTunes sessions EP proves, Best Coast have a lot more muscle onstage than their dreamy, lo-fi indie pop recordings imply. That’s good because they’ll have a massive space to fill Saturday afternoon. Singer/songwriter Bethany Cosentino has great songwriting chops. Now we’ll see how her song translate over several sunny acres.

Girl Talk (Main Stage, 8:30 – 9:35 p.m.)

Mash-up king Greg Gillis is the king of plucking a song’s apex and pairing it with another seemingly disparate crescendo to create a nonstop party. By stealing a few pages from the Flaming Lips play book and spraying the crowd with confetti and letting fans party onstage, Gillis is the rare DJ that is as fun to watch as he is to listen to.

Soundtribe Sector 9 (Critical Mass tent, 11:15 p.m. – 1 a.m.)

The world of jam bands is an admittedly crowded and homogenous terrain, but STS9 manage to stand out by combining heavy electronic and psychedelic elements to the standard open-ended, improvisational fare. After withstanding two days and 24 hours of steady live music, zoning out and riding the STS9 wave may be the best way to end the festival.

Look for more Kanrocksas coverage next week on The Daily Record.

Keep reading:

10 Must-see bands at Kanrocksas (part 1 – Friday)

Review: Snoop Dogg with Hearts of Darkness

Review: Girl Talk

Read Full Post »

 (Above: The Lawrence band make breakups sound like fun on “Friend of a Friend.”)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

The big names at the top of the bill will draw the most fans, but sometimes the best performances are from lesser-known acts early in the day. In the week leading up to the inaugural Kanrocksas music festival we’ll examine 10 overlooked acts. Below are five acts from Friday’s lineup. On Thursday we examine Saturday’s bands.

FRIDAY

The Joy Formidable (Ad Astra stage, 2:50 – 3:30 p.m.)

The Joy Formidable have toured with the Editors and Passion Pit and turned to Muse and Glasvegas’ producer to help behind the boards for their studio debut. Singer Ritzy Bryan has a touch of Bjork in her delivery and the arrangements hint at what could happen if Jesus and Mary Chain were a pop band.

Fitz and the Tantrums (Main Stage, 2:50 – 3:30 p.m.)

This Los Angeles-buzz band play opposite the Joy Formidable, which is fitting because their music is at the other end of the spectrum as well. Working without a guitar, the group splits the difference between the Dap-tone sound and Maroon 5.

Fourth of July (Ink Unplugged stage, 6:15 6:45 p.m.)

This Lawrence quintet, comprised of two sets of siblings, combined the heartache and pain of “Blood on the Tracks”-era Bob Dylan with the relentlessly upbeat jangle of Camper Van Beethoven. A longtime mainstay of the Lawrence/KC music scene, their work deserves a wider audience.

Kid Cudi (Main Stage, 6:10 – 7 p.m.)

After bringing only a DJ to his Kansas City debut at the Midland theater last year, Kid Cudi has decided to bring a live band on the road with him this time out. Cudi’s studio work places the minimalist introspection of Kanye West’s “808s and Heartbreaks” in more lush, accessible surroundings. It should be interesting to watch Cudi try to translate his headphone music to a festival setting.

Major Lazer (Critical Mass tent, 8:15 – 9:05 p.m.)

DJs Diplo and Switch are best know for helping create the pastiche behind M.I.A.’s three albums. On their own the pair – who met through working with M.I.A. – create some swampy, dubbed-out dancehall reggae. Put Shaggy in a blender with the Bomb Squad, add George Clinton’s showmanship and you’re close.

Keep reading:

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(Below: A bonus video from Major Lazer.)

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 (Above: The Zac Brown Band pays tribute to Charlie Daniels with this performance of “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” recorded at the Independence Events Center in 2009.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

The Missouri Mavericks hockey team has only been playing for two seasons, so there aren’t a lot of championship banners hanging above their home rink at the Independence Events Center. But doesn’t mean the rafters are empty.

Scores of black sound baffles drape from the ceiling and dozens more hang perpendicularly around the seating perimeter. They’re all part of the design to make the arena’s music sound better.

“Before this place was even built, engineers mapped the space,” said Paul Fray, chief engineer for the Events Center. “They mapped every frequency using a 3D computer program so they’d know how each frequency would react in the room.”

The catwalk high above the arena floor provides a unique look at the sound baffles strategically hung from the ceiling.

Based on those findings, strategically placed ceiling baffles were hung and wood-fiber panels were placed along the walls at the back of the seating level. When Fray pops Sting’s greatest hits into the arena’s sound system the playback is crisp and clear, as if it is being played in a giant living room.

“This is the best-sounding arena I’ve been in,” said Fray, a four-decade veteran of the Kansas City concert scene. “The overhead speakers are aimed at specific seating areas, then we have clusters of subs (subwoofers) at each end.”

When the Events Center hosts concerts, the act brings their own sound engineer and equipment. Their sound system is run through a separate power transformer devoted solely to audio equipment. This, Fray said, eliminates the hum that often arises when the transformer is shared with the lighting rigs.

“A guy from the Zac Brown Band crew told me we had more power available for them here than when he worked on the crew for the Bon Jovi show at Giants Stadium,” Fray said.

Fray said when he mixes he tries to visualize the sound as a 3D image, with the vocals in front and the guitars, bass and drums filling out the space behind.  When an instrument solo occurs he moves that to the front of the mix.

Audio engineers used 3D sound captures like the one above to gage how different frequencies would react in the room.

“A lot of the time, when there’s a problem with the sound it’s how the front-of-house engineer is mixing,” Fray said. “In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s I saw a lot of shows at Memorial Hall and they sounded good when you didn’t try to overpower the room. When I saw Velvet Revolver there a few years ago it was the worst sound I’d ever heard. You couldn’t pick out any of the instruments.”

A well-engineered room offers more forgiveness to the sound crew.

“All of the front-of-house guys have been very pleased with the arena,” Fray said. “Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie were here a while back and they were very happy with the venue. They thought it was a nice place to play.”

That’s good news for music fans on a couple levels. Not only will they be able to better enjoy the show while it happens, but it means there’s a good chance the performers will come back and fans will be able to live the moment all over again.

Keep reading:

Review: Goo Goo Dolls at the Independence Events Center

Review: Alice Cooper

George Kalinsky: Painting with Light

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(Above: Jazz pianist Mark Lowrey teamed up with local musicians for the second installment of the Mark Lowrey vs. Hip Hop series.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Mark Lowrey sits behind a grand piano, contemplating using a Thelonious Monk number as an introduction to the rapper Common’s song “Thelonious.” As his fingers coax a signature Monk melody from the keys, bass player Dominique Sanders and drummer Ryan Lee nod in approval.

“I thought it was really obvious at first,” Lowrey admits. “But sometimes obvious is good.”

Two days before Thanksgiving, Lowrey and his rhythm section are sorting through ideas, sketching a musical landscape. They are joined by singer Schelli Tolliver and MCs Les Izmore and Reach. The final vision – a bridging of jazz and hip hop, structured and improvised – will be displayed tonight at Crosstown Station. The Black Friday ensemble takes the stage at 10 p.m. Cover is $10.

“We’ll be doing a mix of originals and covers,” says trumpet player Hermon Mehari, who will also be participating. “We’re playing tribute to some of the great hip hop artists of our time like Talib Kweli, A Tribe Called Quest, J Dilla. Additionally, Reach and Les will both do some originals.”

After a few trials, the Monk number “I Mean You” has been successfully married to “Thelonious.” On “The Light,” another Common song, the band suddenly drops into Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” right after the lyric “It’s kinda fresh you listen to more than hip hop.”

KC MCs Les Izmore (left) and Reach salute Charlie Parker inside the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

“When Les and Diverse played this (‘The Light’) earlier this year they did ‘Unforgettable’ in that spot,” Lowrey says. “Everybody liked that, but we didn’t want to use the same thing. We were tossing out ideas, and someone suggested Michael Jackson.”

That same process informed the playlist. Everyone presented the songs they wanted to do, and the set was culled from what worked and how the band’s reactions. When Reach takes the mic for Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa” he intersperses short bursts of freestyle around the original lyrics. A later run through of Jay-Z’s “Show Me What You Got” reveals an energy only hinted at on the Top 10 single. As Reach commands the imaginary crowd to wave their arms, Lee goes berserk on his drum kit.

“These shows have a different energy than Hearts of Darkness,” Izmore says of the local Afrobeat group he fronts. “With those shows you’re always trying to keep people dancing and keep the energy high. Here you can chill out and listen.”

Rehearsals will soon move to Crosstown Station, but for tonight the Mutual Musicians Foundation is home. The hallowed hall on Highland, home to Hootie and Bird, Count Basie and Big Joe Turner. The spirit of innovation those musicians introduced to the world via Kansas City is very much on display in the current sextet. Some may scoff that jazz and hip hop may seem to exist on disparate planets, but their orbits collide surprisingly often.

“I grew up on jazz, John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Ella Fitzgerald,” Reach says. “She (Ella) very much influenced my delivery and the way I play with cadences.”

Lowrey first toyed with combining rap and hip hop when he invited local MC Kartoon to sit in with his group a couple years ago. Both artists enjoyed the experience and Kartoon put Lowrey in touch with other vocalists in the KC hip hop scene.

“Hip hop has always been influenced by jazz,” Reach says. “Now, because the younger jazz musicians have grown up with hip hop, we are seeing it influence jazz. It’s kind of come full circle.”

In the past year, Lowrey has hosted several Mark Lowrey vs. Hip Hop concerts. The shows are basic, but explosive. Lowrey and drummer Brandon Draper create free jazz textures, as MCs and musicians alike improvise over the ever-changing structure.

“Our arrangements for this show are based in the tradition of jazz where you play the melody, then improvise over the chords before coming back to the head (melody),” Lowrey says. “The only difference is that we’re adding MCs in the mix with the horns.”

At another jazz/hip hop mash-up last February, Izmore and Diverse, a local jazz quartet that includes Mehari and Lee, celebrated the 10th anniversary of Common’s album “Like Water For Chocolate” by rearranging and performing the record in its entirety. The night ended with an encore of the Charlie Parker song “Diverse.”

“I’ve never seen a crowd of non-jazz fans so into the music,” Mehari says. “It’s the perfect example of what we want to do. Bring people in with hip hop and music they want to hear, then take them on a journey to new sounds. Once we’ve earned their trust, they’ll follow us anywhere.”

Keep reading:

KC’s MCs throw down this weekend

Jazz, hip hop collide to celebrate landmark album

Open wide for Mouth

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