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(Above: Best Coast perform “No One Like You” at the Granada Theater in Lawrence, Kan., on May 26, 2012.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The backdrop depicted a large bear embracing the state of California, a nice metaphor for the music emanating just a few yards closer. For 75 minutes Sunday night at the Granada, indie-pop duo Best Coast showcased the many of the Golden State’s finest musical attributes: girl groups, surf guitars and bubbly pop melodies about summer and love.

The band makes a strong case for being their home state’s finest musical ambassadors since the Beach Boys. Opening number “The Only Place,” the title track to their recently released sophomore album, set the stage. “We’ve got the ocean/got the babes/got the sun/got the waves,” Beth Cosentino sang over jangly guitars. “So leave your cold behind/we’re gonna make it to the beach on time.”
The sun is usually out in Cosentino’s musical world, but not always in her heart. Her lyrics are direct and confessional, often reading like diary entries about lost, misplaced or inconvenient love. The band’s 2010 debut had a lo-fi feel that added to the intimacy of her words. Onstage, the twosome of Cosentino and guitarist Bobb Bruno are touring with a bass player for the first time. Combined with a new drummer, they finally had a live rhythm section that adds muscle and potency to the music.The bass added depth to the sound and gave Bruno more freedom on his guitar. The drumming enhanced the sense of desperation in “Why I Cry” and gave urgency to “Angsty.”Cosentino’s pop memoirs of longing came tumbling one after another. The set list comprised nearly all of “The Only Place,” more than half of their debut “Crazy For You” and a handful of singles. The whole room was dancing for the bouncy pairing of “Let’s Go Home” and “Our Deal,” but the slower material went over just as well thanks to Cosentino’s captivating voice. An emotional cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Storms” hinted at the direction Cosentino’s songwriting may be headed. It covered the same romantic terrain, but boasted more lyrical maturity and depth.

Cosentino and Bruno clearly aren’t tired of playing “Boyfriend,” their breakout hit. Cosentino threw herself into the delivery, nearly growling the words “how I want him.” The pair were all smiles throughout the one-two of early singles “When I’m With You” and “Boyfriend” that ended the night.

Just as Best Coast benefited away from the blistering sun and heat that capsized their mid-day slot at Kanrocksas last summer, opener Jeff the Brotherhood was better suited for the Granada than the cavernous Midland Theater, where they opened for the Kills last winter.

The sibling duo from Nashville’s half-hour set was driven by guitarist Jake Orrall’s 3-string, hybrid guitar. The axe featured a Gibson body and bass neck and was filtered, flanged and phased about every way imaginable, often sounding like Black Sabbath’s meeting with Swamp Thing. The high point of their set was “I’m a Freak,” a straight-up, classic rock guitar jam in the vein of “Stranglehold.”

Setlist: The Only Place, Last Year, Angsty, Summer Mood, Goodbye, Crazy For You, Sun Don’t Shine, No One Like You, How They Want Me To Be, Why I Cry, Mean Girls, Dreaming My Life Away, Let’s Go Home, Our Deal, Do You Love Me Like You Used To, Up All Night. Encore: I Want To, Sun Was High, Storms (Fleetwood Mac cover), When I’m With You, Boyfriend.

Keep reading:

Review: Andrew Bird

Review: Best Coast and Kanrocksas Music Fest

Review: Devotchka

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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: 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

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