(Above: Jimmy Cliff did not perform his version of the Clash classic “Guns of Brixton” during his recent stop in Kansas City. To remedy this disappointment, here’s Cliff performing the song at Coachella.)
By Joel Francis The Kansas City Star
Blame it on the babysitter.
Unable to find someone to watch his daughter, Joel Castillo took her to work with him on Friday night. The job happened to be opening for reggae legend Jimmy Cliff at Crossroads KC. When Castillo’s set with 77 Jefferson was over, he happily hoisted daughter Keilani, 4, onto his shoulders to take in the headliner.
Cliff had Keilani and the rest of the two-thirds-full venue right where he wanted them on opening number “You Can Get It If You Really Want.” Now 40 years old, “You Can Get It” helped break reggae to a worldwide audience at a time when Bob Marley was still struggling to get a major label deal.As Keilani clapped, threw up her hands and waved her arms, the rest of the crowd danced happily to Cliff’s relentlessly upbeat protest music.
Themes of creating peace and injustice permeated the evening, but the tight nine-piece band made calls of “no more war” seem more like party anthems than political statements.
The 100-minute set covered all of the 64-year-old Cliff’s catalog. Refusing to stand still, Cliff used a couple of his earliest songs as an excuse to teach old ska dance steps. Cliff’s gyrations during “Rub-A-Dub Partner” left little doubt to the song’s subject.A handful of new songs were sprinkled into the set, including a cover of Rancid’s “Ruby Soho” that Cliff made sound like an old original. “Vietnam” was updated to “Afghanistan” but sadly few other lyrics needed modification to be relevant.
Toward the end of an empowering cover of “I Can See Clearly Now” Cliff recited the first Pslam, showcasing the poetry in scripture. A sublime performance of “Sitting Here In Limbo” featuring Cliff on an upside-down Les Paul was another high point.
The main set ended with a hypnotic drum circle and “Bongo Man.” As the scarf tied around Cliff’s head flopped with every drum beat, the air took on the feeling of a prayer meeting. Although delivered well past Keilani’s bedtime it was a fitting lullaby.
Setlist: You Can Get It If You Really Want; Children’s Bread; Treat the Youths Right; Rub-A-Dub Partner; Wild World; Ruby Soho; Rebel Rebel; Vietnam; World Upside Down; King of Kings > Miss Jamaica; Sitting Here in Limbo; Let Your Yeah Be Yeah; I Can See Clearly Now (Psalm 1); Bongo Man. Encore 1: One More. Encore 2: The Harder They Come; Wonderful World, Beautiful People.
(Above: Civil Twilight drop “Letters from the Sky.”)
By Joel Francis The Kansas City Star
Stories of impressionable children seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and deciding to pick up an instrument are legion. Just as copious are examples of songs plagiarizing the Fab Four. Friday’s concert at the Beaumont Club by the South African rock band Civil Twilight is proof that society is finally moving on.
While their parents may have leaned heavily British Invasion acts, the four musicians onstage culled a different, equally rich, catalog. Opening number “Highway of Fallen Kings” revealed the game plan. The piano chords recalled Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” while Steven McKellar’s vocals were indebted to Sting.More than a few songs were beholden to U2. Andrew McKellar, brother to the band’s singer, threw down a moody guitar homage to The Edge in “Ever Walk.” The other McKellar not only modeled his vocal style on Bono, but his lyrics as well. The song “On the Surface” could have been a “How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” outtake, right down to the verse: “To stir humanity, divisions of dignity/to see what will conspire/If I throw myself into its fire.”Of course there’s nothing wrong with copying U2, or any band. Coldplay has done it profitably for a decade, right down to hiring the band’s best collaborator, Brian Eno. Radiohead’s critically acclaimed album “The Bends” also owes a debt to Dublin’s finest musical export.
There were several high points in the 90-minute set. The extended reading of “Please Don’t Find Me” ventured into dub territory and “Holy Weather” had most of the room bouncing. After mimicking others’ sounds for most of the evening, Civil Twilight turned a set-ending cover of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” blend seamlessly with the rest of the repertoire.
For “Quiet in My Town,” Steven McKellar stood onstage alone spent a rare moment conversing with the crowd. After recalling the band’s previous show at the Record Bar, he decided the song would best be delivered from the floor and hopped into the audience for a stirring solo performance. His bandmates returned for the outro and finally cut loose, relieving all the tension that had been building.
A scan of the crowd, which ranged from junior high students to college graduates, revealed at least one chaperone. Although the Beaumont Club was a third full at best, the attraction is obvious: Civil Twilight write catchy songs that perfectly capture a mood. Their familiarity is their biggest selling point. Although the material may have been drawn from the previous generation, it can easily be assimilated and claimed by young listeners as their own.
Whether or not Friday’s concert leads anyone to discover Civil Twilight’s influences on their own is immaterial. Judging by the crowd’s reaction, just being there was enough.
Setlist: Highway of Fallen Kings, Wasted, Every Walk That I’ve Taken Has Been In Your Direction, Shape of a Sound, Trouble, On the Surface, Please Don’t Find Me, Move/Stay, River, Holy Weather, Fire Escape, Letters from the Sky, Quiet in My Town. Encore: It’s Over, Teardrop (Massive Attack cover).
(Above: Amy Lee delivers a spellbinding performance of “My Immortal” at the Midland Theater in Kansas City, Mo.)
By Joel Francis The Daily Record
Five years ago, Evanescence was on the verge of living up to their name. After losing a founding band member and laboring over their second album, more personnel problems left the band’s future in limbo.
A convincing performance Tuesday night at the Midland Theater by the hard-rock band left little doubt that it was still not only a force to be reckoned with, but very much here to stay. As the quartet relentlessly hammered heavy riffs, singer Amy Lee glided across the stage and sashayed over the cacophony, her voice simultaneously tempering and reinforcing the ferocity below.After roaring for nearly a half hour, Lee sat down behind a grand piano and dialed the music back a bit. Her near solo performances of “Lost in Paradise” and, later, “My Immortal” were spellbinding. When the band re-joined Lee, her piano provided the textured that made the performances even more intense. Even after Lee’s piano had been rolled offstage, her playing frequently appeared on the pre-recorded backing tape.
Half of the 75-minute setlist was dedicated to the group’s self-titled third release, which came out last year. Although it was often difficult to hear the crowd over the band, the audience was definitely involved all night. Lee stopped to commend the room’s energy several times. When she invited her fans to join her singing they nearly overwhelmed her voice.
The music was augmented by an impressive light show that sent rays throughout the room, bathed the stage in deep colors and punctuated every beat with a battery of strobes. A second bank of strobes above the stage revealed the band’s name behind a sheer backdrop.
Evanescence hasn’t been a consistent presence on the charts, but when the band has regrouped enough to release singles they’ve tended to stick. Although the audience didn’t waver in enthusiasm for the new or older material, the half-dozen songs that appeared on the radio got especially boisterous responses. The Top 10 hit “Call Me When You’re Sober,” which Lee dedicated to all the ladies, generated an especially passionate sing-along.
After more than an hour of music, Lee dropped the crowd off where she likely picked most of them up with a powerful performance of the band’s 2003 debut single “Bring Me To Life.”
Setlist: What You Want, Going Under, The Other Side, Weight of the World, Made of Stone, Lost in Paradise, My Heart is Broken, Lithium, Sick, The Change, Call Me When You’re Sober > Imaginary, My Immortal. Encore: Swimming Home, Your Star, Bring Me To Life.
Escape the Fate and Attack Attack capped a long night of metal at the Beaumont Club on Thursday. Rarely has a genre so closely associated with darkness and despair sounded as communal and uplifting.
Neither five-piece band had any trouble whipping the crowd into a frenzy. The Beaumont was just over half-full at its peak, and the crowd made full use of the extra room, creating pockets of mosh pits. Attack Attack singer Caleb Shomo repeatedly encouraged the formation of a large slam-dance circle in the middle of the floor, and fans were all too willing to comply.
Both bands traded in tuned-down guitar riffs, growled and screamed vocals and insistent machine-gun bass-drum cadences. While the verses to many songs were musically hostile, the lyrics spoke of redemption, perseverance and self-belief.
Driving the point home on nearly every number was a big, poppy chorus that dropped the screaming and allowed the coed crowd to participate in spreading the message.
What each act lacked in sonic diversity, it made up for in sustained energy. Shomo and Escape the Fate singer Craig Mabbitt walked the line between ringleader and supportive sibling, commanding dancing and jumping, encouraging sing-alongs and always praising participation.
Shomo and Mabbitt also took time from their brief 55-minute sets to preach the importance of holding on to one’s dream no matter what others may say and the conviction that any dream is possible provided one believes in it enough and works hard to achieve it.
Several numbers in the Columbus, Ohio-based Attack Attack performance had a strong dance element, with silky keyboard loops spinning underneath the forceful arrangements. The discotheque elements provided a nice counterbalance to the metal façade. When Escape the Fate let up on the throttle ever so slightly, its music revealed a strong emo influence.
Hailing from Las Vegas, Escape the Fate hasn’t released a new album since 2010, so anticipation was high to hear new numbers. Attack Attack’s third album, “This Means War,” has been out only since January, but there was no dip in crowd enthusiasm between the older and new material.
At one point, Mabbitt dedicated a song to all the moms and girlfriends out there. The ensuing number was a pleasant surprise. Instead of a clichéd, misogynistic, sex-drenched come-on, “Ashley” was a heartfelt tribute to Mabbitt’s girlfriend. One song earlier, Mabbitt dedicated the song “You Are So Beautiful” to his little brother, who was helping at the merch table.
Romance, affirmation and appreciation aren’t very metal, but then again neither is having a family re-create “Crazy Train” for a car commercial or reappropriating “Welcome to the Jungle” to announce a relief pitcher.
Attack Attack and Escape the Fate may not pass muster with purists, but they’ve figured out a great formula. Sweeten the chorus enough to bring the girls along for the ride, make enough noise to keep Dad shaking his head and scream long enough for Mom to frown.
(Above: Ryan Adams improvises a song about his pet badger at the Music Hall in Kansas City, Mo., on Feb. 1, 2012.)
By Joel Francis The Kansas City Star
In a night that covered more than two hours and comprised 21 songs, including hits, rarities and fan favorites, the most memorable song may have been the one that didn’t even exist when the concert began.
Mistakenly hearing a fan’s song request as “My Badger,” singer/songwriter Ryan Adams immediately composed a song about his new pet badger “Admiral.” Containing references to the USS Enterprise, Mariah Carey and “Glitter” and the perils of domesticating wild animals, it was the “Iliad” of improvisation. The song contained four verses, a chorus and whistled bridge. It probably would have featured a drum solo if Adams weren’t the only performer onstage.“My Badger” wasn’t the only spontaneous song during Wednesday’s performance at the Kansas City Music Hall. The off-the-cuff material provided a nice contrast to Adam’s less-than-uplifting lyrics and allowed the singer to poke fun of himself as well. g.”
In the past, detours like those could have easily turned into wormholes that derailed the performance. This current solo/acoustic tour is an artistic showcase. Everything in the carefully crafted song arrangements and selections is designed to display Adams’ songwriting abilities. While Adams is a divisive performer and personality, there’s no question he has chops. A beautiful “Oh My Sweet Carolina” set the mood perfectly. Later, Adams gave a stripped down reading of his post-9/11 hit “New York, New York” on the piano, placing the familiar song in a new context.
For most of the evening, Adams was seated on a chair in the center of the stage with two red, white and blue Buck Owens-style acoustic guitars within arm’s reach. A notebook of song lyrics lay on a monitor at his feet. The low red lighting kept most of Adams face in shadows as he bent over his guitar, delicately finger-picking and strumming.
The setlist contained as many songs from Adam’s first solo album, 1999’s “Heartbreaker,” as his most recent, last year’s “Ashes and Fire.” In a way, the night had the same flaw as the album. Taken individually, every song was exquisite, but together they started sounding similar.
Varying tempos would have helped, but even upbeat numbers like “Firecracker” were slowed down. The songs that best fit the mood were the gentle “Please Do Not Let Me Go” and haunting reinterpretation of Oasis’ “Wonderwall.” The sole number from Adams’ days in Whiskeytown, “16 Days,” was another standout.
Although stacking mid-tempo numbers created a steady stream of fans in and out of the theater, those who remained were pin-drop quiet during each song. Between numbers they shouted requests and egged on the singer’s eccentricities. There was nothing that would have converted an undecided listener, but after experiencing two frustrating concerts previously at the Uptown Theater over the years, the devoted finally got what they came for. And then some.
Setlist: Oh My Sweet Carolina; Ashes and Fire; If I Am A Stranger; Dirty Rain; My Winding Wheel; Sweet Lil’ Gal (23rd/1st); Invisible Riverside; Everbody Knows; Firecracker; Let It Ride; Rescue Blues; Please Do Not Let Me Go; English Girls Approximately; Two; Lucky Now; Wonderwall (Oasis cover); New York, New York; 16 Days; Come Pick Me Up. Encore: When Will You Come Back Home?; Sweet Illusions.
(Above: Los Lobos merge an original with a Neil Young classic on the steps of the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Mo. on September, 17, 2004.)
By Joel Francis The Kansas City Star
Los Lobos made one point abundantly clear during their opening number, a nearly 10-minute romp through “The Neighborhood”: these boys came to play. One of the most versatile, dynamic and enduring bands going outdid themselves Friday night in front of a sold-out crowd at Knuckleheads. The set was a potent mix of old favorites, new tracks, covers and a mini-set of classic Spanish material in the vein of the band’s “La Pisotla y el Corazon” EP.
Louie Perez, Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo formed a triple-guitar threat across the front of the stage, but no one seemed to be having more fun than bass player Conrad Lozano, who performed with a perpetual grin throughout the night.Great weather contributed to the celebratory atmosphere. Slightly less than 1,000 fans packed Knucklehead’s patio and spilled into the road, which had been blocked off in front of the venue. “I Walk Alone,” “Main Street” and “Chuco’s Cumbia” were early high points of a set that stretched more than two hours – a half-hour longer than the 90-minute sets the group has typically delivered in previous Kansas City tour stops.
Hidalgo hopped behind the drums during “Don’t Worry Baby” but returned to his guitar for a rousing tribute to Buddy Holly. The Bo Diddley beat of “Not Fade Away” had nearly died when Hidlago resurrected the groove with a reading of “Bertha” that sounded more like the Allman Bros. Band than the Grateful Dead. The players finally shed their instruments, but quickly returned with two new musicians in tow – Juan-Carlos Chaurand and Enrique Chi from the local opening band Making Movies.
The headliners were more than hospitable during the 25-minute encore, giving both Chaurand and Chi several lengthy solos and letting them trade licks (and more than hold their own) with their heroes. The pair was ready to politely secede the stage after each number, only to have Hidalgo motion to stick around for a little more fun.
Everyone had nearly left the stage when Hidalgo kept stubbornly strumming, hinting at the opening lick of “La Bamba” and sending everyone scurrying back to their instruments. When Perez rolled into “Good Lovin’” a stream of female dancers filled the stage and the crowd carried the vocals, obscuring the boundaries between performers and audience. The medley reached a natural endpoint several times, but the band kept playing, trading solos and smiles.
Setlist: The Neighborhood; Yo Canto; On Main Street; I Walk Alone; Emily; Come On, Let’s Go; Chuco’s Cumbia; Burn It Down; Tin Can Trust; Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes; Chains Of Love; Let’s Say Goodnight; Ay Te Dejo enSan Antonio; Volver, Volver; She’s About a Mover (with David Hidalgo on drums); Don’t Worry Baby; Not Fade Away > Bertha. Encore (with Enrique Chi and Juan-Carlos Chaurand from Making Movies): Cumbia Raza; Mas y Mas; La Bamba > Good Lovin’ > La Bamba.
(Above: Elvis Costello and the Imposters take the stage on a hot summer night at Crossroads KC.)
Joel Francis The Kansas City Star
Elvis Costello solved the age-old problem of what to do when an artist has too many great songs for one show – he brought them all onstage with him.
Costello’s “Spectacular Spinning Songbook” tour touched down at a crowded Crossroads on Thursday night. Behind the acclaimed songwriter’s left shoulder loomed a huge multi-colored wheel adorned with three dozen of his favorite songs. One at a time, members of the audience were invited up to spin the wheel and pick the next number.
“(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” usually an encore, came up early. So did “Earthworms,” a song Costello wrote for singer Wendy James in the early ‘90s but never recorded himself. When the wheel landed on Bob Dylan’s “This Wheel’s On Fire,” Costello let the crowd choose between that number and his own “Human Hands.” The headliner won out.
First employed in the late ‘80s, the spinning songbook is a novel way for the performer to experience his work in a new context. On that level it was a success. The quartet was tight and energetic, clearly feeding of the energy of the fans dancing along to their selections onstage. But the wheel also killed momentum and started to feel kind of gimmicky after a while.
That said there was indisputably some great music in between spins. A spooky “I Want You” and an extended reading of “Watching the Detectives” that played up the song’s dub roots were among the high points.
Many of the best moments came early. Costello and his Imposters took the stage in with many favorites in a potent 15-minute romp before introducing the wheel. The extended jam on “Uncomplicated” found Costello and bass player Davey Faragher trading lines from Jr. Walker’s “Shotgun.” The Motown connection returned during “Alison,” when Costello incorporated several of the verses from Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears.”
Keyboard wizard Steve Nieve was the driving force on many songs, adding calliope runs to “Radio Radio,” a Theremin solo on “Peace, Love and Understanding” and sneaking some Stevie Wonder clavinet on “Shabby Doll.”
The night nearly ended with a brilliant three-song encore in which Costello and his band somehow took the jumpy “Pump It Up” straight into the reflective “Alison” before somehow ending up on a surprisingly strong version of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” Costello had other plans, however, returning with two thirds of the Lovell Sisters to play some bluegrass.
Setlist: I Hope You’re Happy Now; Heart of the City; Mystery Dance; Uncomplicated > Radio Radio; Talking in the Dark; Clubland; (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding; Earthbound; Human Hands; Watching the Detectives; (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea; Almost Blue; Shabby Doll; I Want You. Encore 1: Brilliant Mistake; Pump It Up; Alison > Purple Rain. Encore 2: Sulfur to Sugarcane; The Crooked Line; The Scarlet Tide.
(Above: Del tha Funkee Homosapien breaks down the basics of good hygiene.)
By Joel Francis The Kansas City Star
Many music fans causally attach the phrase “golden era” to a nostalgic entry point or a favorite genre style. But the music of Del the Funky Homosapien truly represents a lost period of hip hop, before rap was the CNN of the streets or a gangsta’s paradise.
A 20-year veteran, Del’s music eschews many of hip hop’s biggest clichés to focus on more light-hearted topics such as personal hygiene, the public transit system and friends who overstay their welcome. As such, Del’s sold-out, one-hour set at the Riot Room on Saturday night was refreshingly devoid of social commentary or macho posturing. His humble mission to have fun and start a party was an energetic success.Del threw his syncopated punch lines like a fighter, bouncing on his heels with each syllable as if sparring with his mic. His set included classics like “Mistadobalina” and “Dr. Bombay” from his 1991 debut album, but newer tracks like “Foot Down” and “Get It Right Now” show Del’s wit and delivery haven’t slowed down. The hilarious “If You Must” (sample lyric: “this fool’s breath, I mean so bad it’ll melt your ice cream”) was another memorable moment.
Backed by DJ Zac Hendrix and MC Bukue One – whose lengthy set together immediately preceded Del’s – the headliner at times seemed the smallest of the three personalities onstage. As Bukue handled the between-song banter, Del often briefly retreated to lean against a speaker at the back of the stage until it was time for the next song.
Despite allowing him to play the wallflower, Bukue and Hendrix were good foils for Del. Both performers kept the mood light and the crowd moving. At one point, both MCs exchanged freestyles as Hendrix changed up the beats after each turn. One of samples in Hendrix’ arsenal was a snippet of an Isley Brothers song employed by Del’s cousin Ice Cube on his hit “It Was a Good Day.”
After a short dance interlude and Bukue’s puzzling impersonation of Digital Underground’s Shock G during a cover of “Humpty Dance,” Del returned with two tracks that showed despite his comedic tendencies, he is a serious artist. A song from the acclaimed “Deltron 3030” project lead into “Clint Eastwood,” the Gorillaz’ single that featured Del and briefly elevated him out of the underground.
For Del, the golden age is now. It’s the title he bestowed on his new three-disc release and singing along to the familiar chorus about “sunshine in a bag” it’s not hard to agree.
(Above: Vince Gill and his eight-piece band remember “Pretty Little Adriana” in Tulsa, Ok. on Jan. 22, 2011.)
By Joel Francis The Kansas City Star
Vince Gill took the Carlsen Center stage thanking the sold-out house for spending their Thursday night with him. “I understand y’all are busy tomorrow night,” he said, alluding to KU’s pending Friday night game against Richmond.
Two and a half hours later a delirious fan repaid the courtesy, calling out “It was a good Thursday night.” It would be foolish to disagree. Between the salutation and response, Gill delivered a cascade of hits, album tracks, stories and jokes.After opening with what he called a “drinkin’ song” (the No. 1 hit “One More Chance”), a “leavin’ song” (the No. 2 “Take Your Memory With You”) and a song about dying (“Tryin’ To Get Over You,” another No. 1 hit), Gill announced it was time for a cheating song. Before starting “Pocket Full of Gold,” however, Gill asked if there was anyone in the crowd with someone they shouldn’t be … then he turned the house lights up.
It was that kind of night. Whenever the music got too serious, like the achingly sincere “I Still Believe In You,” where Gill name checks wife Amy Grant in the chorus, he would immediately deflate the atmosphere with laughter. After the classic ballad “Look At Us,” Gill told the story of a couple married 69 years, about to divorce. Asked why they would give up now after so much time together they replied that they had only planned on staying together until their children were dead.
After complaining about eating too much Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ before the show, one female fan shouted that Gill should have gone to Jackstack. After contemplating the suggestion for the briefest of moments, Gill countered with the good-natured inquiry “Well how big a gal are you?” Then he explained his all-you-should-eat restaurant concept, were patrons are weighed upon entering and then served nutritionally appropriate portions.
For all the storytelling, however, the focus always remained on the music. Every member of Gill’s eight-piece band had been with him for several decades, and it showed. Although the ensemble could expertly echo the arrangements that made Gill’s songs hits, they were at their best when given room to stretch out. The bluegrass number “High Lonesome Sound” found Gill taking a guitar solo before passing the solo onto another band member. By the time the song was done half the group had soloed. On the closer “Liza Jane,” Gill let his band ride the Southern boogie groove, suggesting they could probably find a new audience on the jam band circuit.
Surrounded by great musicians, Gill was clearly the best artist onstage. The 22 songs performed ranged from Southern rock to jazz, adult contemporary to gospel and both traditional and contemporary country, all stemming from his pen. His guitar solos reinforced the lyrics, be it the tasteful, restrained solo in “Tryin’ To Get Over You” or the free-for-all that ended “Pretty Little Adriana.” Gill and his band sounded like the Allman Brothers by the end of that one. Gill announced the homage as intentional when he quoted a few bars of “Jessica” as the song wound down.
The evening’s centerpiece was a lengthy remembrance of Gill’s father, a man who dressed like a lawyer by day, but was more often found in his favorite outfit: ball cap, overalls (no shirt), cigarette and chaw. Gill remembered his father as a tough man who liberally doled out corporal punishment, but was his son’s biggest supporter once Gill left home.
The tribute set up a song idea by Gill’s father that Gill and Rodney Crowell finally completed years after Gill’s father had died. Released the duo’s Notorious Cherry Bombs album, Gill had a hard time explaining to his wife and mother – the song’s subject – why he found a song titled “It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night (That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long)” so hilarious. Like the rest of the evening, that lighthearted moment was immediately balanced by “Key To Life” the poignant song Gill wrote about his father after his death. Either way, Gill prospered.
Setlist: One More Chance; Take Your Memory With You; Tryin’ To Get Over You; Pocket Full of Gold; High Lonesome Sound; Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away; I Still Believe In You; Some Things Never Get Old; Faint of Heart; What the Cowgirls Do; Next Big Thing; Look At Us; This Old Guitar and Me; Pretty Little Adriana; If You Ever Have Forever In Mind; It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night (That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long); Key to Life; Go Rest High on that Mountain; When I Call Your Name; Oklahoma Borderline. Encore: Whenever You Come Around; Liza Jane.
(Above: Pete Yorn and his band are still living “Life on a Chain” at the Voodoo Lounge on Feb. 20, 2011.)
By Joel Francis The Kansas City Star
Pete Yorn and Ben Kweller delivered a two-hour clinic on rock songwriting in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd at Harrah’s Voodoo Lounge on Sunday’s night.
Kweller’s 45-minute opening set revealed his debt to the singer/songwriter movement of the early ‘70s. Alternating between acoustic guitar and piano, Kweller delivered several fan favorites, including “I’m On My Way,” “Thirteen” and “Penny on the Train Track.” Stripped bare, his songs could have slipped comfortably on the AM radio dial next to Carol King, James Taylor and Bob Dylan.
Highlights included the country folk of “Fight,” the luscious piano ballad “In Other Words” and a big moment on “The Rules” when Kweller stomped on a surprise pedal and turned his acoustic guitar into a snarling, distorted electric beast.
Although the low-key set initially underwhelmed the bar patrons, Kweller eventually won them over with his combination of good-natured banter and strong songwriting. By the final note the room was his.
If Kweller’s showcase was a bare-bones, how-to session, Yorn’s full-blown, full-band set delivered lessons on layering and arrangements.
After opening with three songs from last year’s self-titled album (his fifth overall), Yorn reached back to his debut, 2001’s “musicforthemorningafter.” “Life on a Chain” got the crowd fully engaged while “Just Another” showcased Yorn’s sensitive side.
Written almost entirely with major chords, Yorn’s songs are like a self-affirmation clinic with guitars. With a full workweek looming, Yorn sprayed sunshine on the unsuspecting crowd with a barrage of optimistic lyrics such as “seeing is believing” (“Murray”), “convince yourself that everything is alright” (“For Nancy”) and “life’s been great to me” (“Future Life”). A wistful look back at childhood (“Velcro Shoes”) was especially sepia toned, but none of it seemed particularly over the top.
The only exception to this was a solo acoustic reading of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Before playing the song Yorn told the crowd it was the first song he ever played before an audience, at age 15. He added that the lyrics didn’t fully sink in until he performed the song a few weeks ago at Carnegie Hall. This newfound understanding clearly weighed heavily on Yorn. The mournful, down-tempo arrangement was delivered with a sense of doom.
With or without his band, Yorn stayed primarily on acoustic rhythm guitar, so it was up to second guitarist Mark Noseworthy to provide different textures. The band’s not-so-secret weapon, Noseworthy played a mean slide solo during a cover of Junior Kimbrough’s “I Feel Good Again” and a delicate countermelody on “On Your Side” that helped the song swell like a poignant lump in the throat.
The brief 70-minute setlist was split nearly evenly between songs from Yorn’s first and newest releases, but Yorn seemed just about as tired of playing the old songs as the crowd was of signing them. Which means when he inevitably rolls through town again soon, everyone will enjoy one more cheerful romp.
Pete Yorn setlist: Precious Stone; Badman; Rock Crowd; Life on a Chain; Just Another; Velcro Shoes; I Feel Good Again; Rockin’ in the Free World; Burrito; Strange Condition; Future Life; On Your Side; Closet; For Nancy (‘Cos It Already Is). Encore: For Us; Murray.