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Posts Tagged ‘Folly Theater’

(Above: The David Rawlings Machine perform the always-poignant medley of Rawlings’ “I Hear Them All” and Woody Guthrie’s timeless “This Land is Your Land” at musical celebration of the film “Inside Llelywn Davis” in 2014.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Folk music simultaneously looks back nostalgically at a bygone era while looking hopefully ahead at a better tomorrow. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk without becoming antiseptic and corny or preachy and naive.

With a repertoire that included an old-time telegraph man, a pretty, young mountain girl and several appearances by Old Scratch, David Rawlings showed Friday night at the Folly Theatre why he is one of today’s most sought-after folk artists.

The two-hour concert (with half-hour intermission) was Rawlings’ second performance at the Folly in a year. Overall, it was Rawlings fourth show in the area in as many years. Or as Gillian Welch, Rawlings’ partner and musical foil put it, “the rest of the country is not seeing us that often.”

daverawlingsmachinecolorThe first set was heavy on material from Rawlings’ just-released third album. Across the course of the night, he’d perform all but one of it’s tracks. While the songs aren’t as road-tested, they had a knack for seeming instantly familiar. By the end of several numbers, the crowd was quietly singing along, even if they were hearing them for the first time.

Old favorites dotted the opening half as well. Welch took lead vocals on “Wayside/Back in Time” from her 2003 release “Soul Journey.” That was followed by Rawlings’ early collaboration with Ryan Adams, “To Be Young (Is to be Sad, Is to be High),” introduced as a “song older than some of the instruments onstage.”

For their encore performance at the Folly, Rawlings and Welch brought the same musicians who backed them last year. Guitarist Willie Weeks, formerly of Old Crow Medicine Show, bass player Paul Kowert from the Punch Brothers and violinist extraordinaire Brittany Haas completed the ensemble.

In a group of world-class musicians, Haas stood out. Her fiddle provided a melodic counterpoint to Welch and Rawlings’ vocal harmonies and frequently drew mid-song applause, especially on “Short-Haired Woman Blues.”

The mournful “Lindsey Button” sounded like a lost Appalachian hymn until Haas started plucking her violin along to Rawlings’ solo, turning the performance into a minuet. Later, the ensemble returned to the classical motif on “Pilgrim (You Can’t Go Home)” as two fiddles and Kowert’s bowed bass accompanied Rawlings’ guitar.

Other high points included a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately” which featured a virtuosic Rawlings guitar solo that quoted “Midnight Rider.” Paradoxically, the solemn “Guitar Man” implored the crowd to “hear the band” and “clap your hands,” but Rawlings’ longing vocals and the band’s arrangement made it sound like they were looking at a faded photo and wistfully remembering something from long ago.

A medley of Rawlings’ original “I Hear Them All” and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” has become the emotional centerpiece of the set. The pairing sadly never loses relevance, but seemed especially poignant in light of current turbulence and earned a standing ovation.

During “It’s Too Easy,” Welch swished her dress back and forth, dancing in place as Haas’ and Watson’s fiddles dueled. It seemed like the end of the night, but after another group bow, Rawlings reached back toward his guitar. After playing something Rawlings confessed they had been rehearsing at sound check, the night ended with all five musicians huddled around a single microphone. As the quintet sang “Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby” a capella, the audience provided percussive accompaniment with claps and stomps.

Keep reading:

Review: Gillian Welch and David Rawlings

Review: Bob Dylan

Review: Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle

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(Above: A snippet of Allen Toussaint’s cover of Paul Simon’s “American Tune” from one of his regular appearances at Joe’s Pub in New York City.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

At his first-ever performance in Kansas City, New Orleans pianist Allen Toussaint transformed the Folly Theater into a place where “mardi gras” was a verb and Fat Tuesday occurred every night.

The soon-to-be 72-year-old songwriter, arranger and producer delivered around 100 minutes of material he wrote for others, recorded himself or wished he had written for a nearly sold-out crowd.

From the first chords of the opening vamp it was obvious that Toussaint and his four-piece band were determined to melt a little of the mounds of snow stacked outside. Thanks to the jumping introduction, the party was already in full swing by the time Toussaint launched into “There’s A Party Going On.”

Although Toussaint’s heart lies in the Big Easy, his influences were all over the map. “Sweet Touch of Love” ended with Toussaint adapting the melody of “An American in Paris” over a modified Bo Diddley beat. The effervescent “Soul Sister” moved between a stately melody and calypso rhythms and felt like the type of number Billy Joel and tried – and failed – to write at least 20 or 30 times.

The most impressive juxtaposition was Toussaint’s classical piano solo during “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky (From Now On). For several minutes the maestro interspersed snippets of well-known concertos against contemporaries Professor Longhair and Dave Brubeck.

Two songs stemmed from Toussaint’s recent jazz album, “The Bright Mississippi.” The title song, a Thelonious Monk number, was a syncopated throwback to the Dixieland tradition of New Orleans jazz and featured saxman Brian “Breeze” Cayolle on clarinet. It was followed by “St. James Infirmary,” which found the drummer slapping his knees and snapping his fingers to keep time while Toussaint and his barefoot guitarist traded licks.

Toussaint may not be a household name, but the artists he’s worked with are. His songs have been recorded by everyone from British invasion bands like the Yardbirds, Rolling Stones and the Who to soul singers such as O’Jays, Lee Dorsey and the Pointer Sisters, to artists ranging from Jerry Garcia and Iron Butterfly to Warren Zevon and Devo. Toussaint has also recorded with Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, the Band, Dr. John and the Meters.

The set’s centerpiece was a medley several of Toussaint’s best-known hits, including “A Certain Girl,” “Mother-in-Law,” “Working in a Coal Mine” and “Fortune Teller.” It was followed by his most-recorded number, “Get Out of My Life Woman.”

Between several numbers, Toussaint told stories about working with Ernie K. Doe and Costello, plugged upcoming TV appearances, and recalled his impression of a chocolate commercial set to his song “Sweet Touch of Love.” The stories were entertaining on their own, but the beautiful beds of chords Toussaint created under his monologues made especially scintillating.

The night’s only flaw was a slightly sour mix, which buried Toussaint’s piano and vocals during the opening number. The piano was quickly lifted to its proper place over the drums and guitar, but the vocals remained faint throughout the evening.

After sharing the spirit of Mardi Gras, Toussaint closed his main set by going one step further. Walking along the lip of the stage, he threw out beads and masks and searched for the perfect girth to receive a t-shirt. After a few moments, the band returned and Toussaint delivered a breathtaking, unaccompanied performance of “American Tune.” Toussaint’s experiences during Hurricane Katrina added extra resonance to Paul Simon’s lyrics, and the pin-drop quiet crowd burst into approving applause as the last note faded.

Setlist: There’s A Party Going On, Whatever Happened to Rock and Roll?, Sneaking Sally Through the Alley
Sweet Touch of Love, Who’s Going to Help a Brother Get Further?, Soul Sister, Bright Mississippi, St. James Infirmary, Medley: A Certain Girl/Mother-In-Law/Fortune Teller/Working in a Coal Mine, Get Out of My Life Woman > Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky (From Now On), Mr. Mardi Gras, Southern Nights. Encore: American Tune, Shoorah Shoorah > Fun Time.

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Above: Watching the Dirtbombs rip through “Ever Lovin’ Man” at The Bottleneck was one of the Top 10 shows of the year.

By Joel Francis

(Note: All concerts in Kansas City, Mo., unless otherwise stated.)

10. Dirtbombs, The Bottleneck, Lawrence, Kan., May 25
The Dirtbombs didn’t get started until midnight, but no one seemed to mind. With barely three dozen fans in the club, just showing up was a sign of devotion.  For the next hour, singer/guitarist Mick Collins and his band plowed through solid cuts like “Ever Lovin’ Man” off their latest album, “We Have You Surrounded,” and soul covers like Sly and the Family Stone’s “Underdog” from their classic album, “Ultraglide in Black.” Collins hails from the Motor City and he embraces its every aspects, combining the soul of Motown with the soiled fuzz of the White Stripes and Stooges.

9. Carbon/Silicon, Record Bar, March 29
It isn’t often a member of the Clash comes to town, and even more rare they’d play a 200-person room like The Record Bar. With barely a nod to his old band, guitarist/songwriter/singer Mick Jones displayed the chops and charm that made him a legend. Read the full review.

8. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Qwest Center, Omaha, March 14
Bruce Springsteen closed his “Magic” tour with a three-hour performance at the Sprint Center. I didn’t make that one, but I did see his warm-up gig a few months earlier in Omaha. Springsteen and company treated the crowd to most of his latest album and liberally sprinkled classics like “Jungleland,” “She’s the One” “Thunder Road,” which featured a guest appearance from hometown boy Conor Oberst. Read the full review.

7. Rhett Miller, Largo, Los Angeles, April 11
The Old 97s had barely reconvened when Rhett Miller struck out alone for two nights on the tiny stage at Largo, Los Angeles’ legendary artist-friendly club. He dusted off several 97s favorites and debuted songs from the group’s upcoming album “Blame It On Gravity.” Miller also tromped through his solo catalog and treated the intimate crowd to his favorite covers. The appearance of pianist Jon Brion midway through the set was the cherry on the sundae. The two musicians renewed their musical friendship through songs like David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch” and Wilco’s “California Stars” that had the pair grinning like schoolboys. Miller announced he was recording the show for future release. Keep your fingers crossed this pops up.

6. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Granada Theater, Lawrence, Kan., Jan. 29
It was after 11 p.m. on an icy winter night when the Dap-Kings took the stage. Within minutes it felt like a hot 1966 summer afternoon. Clad in matching suits, their three-piece horn section complementing the three-piece rhythm section, the Dap-Kings – go-to performers for everyone from Amy Winehouse to Seattle’s Saturday Knights – settled into a solid soul groove. Moments later, the diminutive Sharon Jones skittered across the stage as if she were shot from a cannon. Like a perfect hybrid of James Brown and Tina Turner, Jones partied through songs from her three albums and taught the crowd a few new dance moves. The heat from the band must have pushed the overall mercury up, because when it was all over outside didn’t feel as cold.

5. Randy Newman, Folly Theater, Oct. 11
Randy Newman found a break from his day job scoring movies to make a quick run to the heartland and give his first Missouri show in a generation. Working primarily from this year’s “Harps and Angels” album, Newman’s solo set was stocked with more than two dozen catalog favorites peppered with hilarious asides, all performed in front of a sold-out, appreciative audience. Read the full review.

4. Robert Plant/Alison Krauss, Starlight Theater, Sept. 23
Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones may be beating down Robert Plant’s door to reconvene Led Zeppelin, but Plant would be better served sticking with Alison Krauss. With a muse mightier than his former bandmates can imagine, Plant and Krauss delivered two hours of spellbinding music with arguably the greatest backing band of all time. Read the full review.

3. Dave Brubeck, Folly Theater, Oct. 2
Dave Brubeck quit touring Europe a few years ago, so the 88-year-old jazz pianist’s occasional treks to Kansas City are even more prized. Most people know Brubeck from his groundbreaking quartet with Paul Desmond, but his new group is arguably as good. Randy Jones did more with the nine pieces in his drum kit than most drummers can do with triple the amount, while saxophone player Bobby Militello applied sheets of sound and originality to Desmond’s well-worn and much-beloved “Take Five.” The quartet encored with a brief, smirking reading of Braham’s “Lullabye.”

2. Radiohead, Verizon Wireless (formerly Riverfront) Ampitheater, St. Louis, May 14
Radiohead’s last concert in the area was on the “Hail To the Thief” tour and I have been kicking myself for five years for missing them. No longer. The band’s set burned with the intensity of a supernova, climaxing with “Fake Plastic Trees.” Early detours through the “Idiotheque” and all of “In Rainbows” made the evening both invigorating and draining – and just enough to hold me over until the next tour. Read the full review.

1. Tom Waits, Fox Theater, St. Louis, June 26
Hipsters, hippies, bikers and beatniks alike populated the sold-out congregation for Tom Waits first visit to St. Louis in a generation. He made it a night to remember, performing rarities like “Heigh Ho!” (for the only time on the tour), old favorites like “Rain Dogs” and new gems like “Day After Tomorrow.” Oh yeah, and advice on how to bid on eBay. Read the full review.

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Above: “Chuco’s Cumbia” at Austin City Limits 2006

By Joel Francis

The Kansas City Star

For a band as accomplished as Los Lobos, the reach from Jimi Hendrix and Willie Dixon to Richard Thompson and Ritchie Valens is a small one. The gulf between the lip of the stage and the front row, however, can be trickier to navigate.

The sextet’s 16-song, two-hour set was a celebration of all forms of music from New Orleans soul to Spanish mariachi. However, bottom-heavy sound and fixed seating proved nearly insurmountable for the band during the latest entry in the “Cyprus Avenue Live at the Folly Theater” on Sunday night.

The show never completely got off the ground, but it had its share of inspired moments. “Chuco’s Cumbia” featured a dirty Latin groove, while a medley of “The Neighborhood” and “Wang Dang Doodle” bridged the South Side of Chicago to East Los Angeles. The first set ended with a cover of Richard Thompson’s “Shoot Out the Lights” anchored by a thunderous backbeat.

After a 25-minute break, the band returned with a second set guaranteed to knock the yawn out of any weary political supporters (there were plenty of T-shirts from Saturday’s rally throughout the crowd). The one-two of “Come On Let’s Go” and “Don’t Worry Baby” got people involved, if not on their feet. The band traded 88 piano keys for 22 guitar strings on their cover of Fats Domino’s “The Fat Man,” which included a shuffling solo from drummer Cougar Estrada.

The high point of the night was a surprise cover of Jimi Hendrix’ “Little Wing.” Between David Hildago’s lead guitar and Cesar Rosas’ vocals, they not only nailed the song, but stretched it out and made it their own.

There were plenty of covers, but the band also touched on all phases of its career. While lesser bands make a career out of mining the same niche, Los Lobos were able to transition from the early rockabilly of “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes” to the more experimental “Kiko and the Lavender Moon,” and from the Spanish festivity of “Maria Christina” to the quiet introversion of “The Valley.”

The sound was muddy for most of the night and Steve Berlin suffered the brunt of it. His keyboards and woodwinds were often barely audible in the mix. The Folly is a wonderful venue for intimate shows -– recent performances by the Dave Brubeck Quartet and Randy Newman were sonically incredible -– but it is ill-suited for six amplified musicians.

The rigid seating and formal environment also inhibited the dancing and shaking Los Lobos’ music cries for. Toots and the Maytals, an earlier “Cyprus Avenue”/Folly booking, faced the same problem at its reggae concert last year. The younger crowd that turned out that night was less inhibited about dancing in the aisles.

Hildago finally coaxed people to their feet before “I Got Loaded,” and the band followed up with the one number guaranteed to keep everyone on their feet: “La Bamba.” After a brief encore break, the band picked up where they left off with a blistering “Good Morning Aztlan” and a frantic “Cumbia Raza” that featured another drum solo from Estrada and guitar solos from Louie Perez and Hildago. Just as the band and audience were hitting the mark, the band closed the set. It was a shame they had to stop. It felt like they were just getting started.

Setlist: Short Side of Nothing, Chuco’s Cumbia, The Valley, Luz d Mi Vida, The Neighborhood/Wang Dang Doodle, Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes, Shoot Out the Light (intermission) Maria Christina, Kiko and the Lavender Moon, Come On Let’s Go, Don’t Worry Baby, Little Wing, The Fat Man, I Got Loaded, La Bamba/Good Lovin'(encores) Good Morning Aztlan, Cumbia Raza

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Above: We’ve got a friend in Randy.

By Joel Francis

The setup couldn’t have been simpler – a grand piano, bench, monitor, couple of microphones, a small rug. But add Randy Newman to that list and the payoff couldn’t have been greater Saturday night.

Strolling casually onstage at 8 p.m. sharp, Newman rolled into “It’s the Money That I Love.” Throughout the next two and a half hours (counting a 20 minute intermission), he walked through nearly three dozen album tracks and hits like “You’ve Got A Friend In Me,” “I Love L.A.” and “Short People” for a nearly sold-out Folly Theater crowd.

He may have been alone onstage, but Newman had a theater of fervent supporters. The audience of NPR-listening baby boomers was pin-drop quiet on the moodier numbers and clapping and laughing on the upbeat songs. When Newman finally enlisted their help on the chorus of “I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It)” the enthusiastic response was startling. “You sound like a Queen record,” he joked.

Newman is as good at directing a crowd as he is an orchestra. He shifted effortlessly from the laugh-out-loud satire of “Korean Parents” to the melancholy “I Miss You” – a love song “for my first wife while I was married to my second one,” Newman said – to the upbeat children’s song “Simon Smith.”

Some of the evening’s best lines came between songs. “The World Isn’t Fair” was prefaced by a story about his son’s progressive pre-school where they would “sit around on cushions and come home with lice every couple weeks” He led into “I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It),” a screed about rock stars who don’t know when to retire, by explaining “no one is applauding at home” and “no one is going to tell Paul his best work was with Wings.”

Every song was a highlight, but several numbers stood apart. “Dixie Flyer,” a song about Newman’s emigration from the Bayou State to Los Angeles, segued into “Louisiana 1927,” a historical recount of the great Mississippi flood. Two songs named after cities, “Birmingham” and “Baltimore,” were powerful paeans to the working class in decaying towns.

Although the generous setlist encompassed Newman’s entire catalog, it tipped toward his last two releases. All but one song from this year’s wonderful “Harps and Angels” was performed. That album provided one of the better political songs in recent memory, “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country.”

Newman let his songs do his stumping for him. Several of the numbers he wrote more than 30 years ago, like the bomb-happy “Political Science” and the plea “Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)” sadly have a contemporary relevance.

Today, Newman is better known for his sweeping film scores and Pixar songs than stinging lyrics and clever songwriting. He did OK with only 88 keys to replicate his orchestrations. His more complicated songs, like “A Piece of the Pie” and “Harps and Angels” survived the transition more or less intact. “Love Song (You and Me)” actually sounded better stripped down.

Like many of his generation’s best songwriters – Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Tom Waits come to mind – Newman’s froggy voice is an acquired taste that is easily parodied. Saturday’s magical immersion in Newman’s world of five centuries of European history in three minutes (“The Great Nations of Europe”), senior forgetfulness (“Potholes”) and erotic humor (“You Can Leave Your Hat On”) was more than enough to convert the few who carried any reservations into the theater and leave the devoted a performance to cherish.

Setlist: It’s the Money That I Love/My Life Is Good/Marie/Short People/Birmingham/Bad News From Home/The World Isn’t Fair/Korean Parents/I Miss You/Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear/A Few Words in Defense of Our Country/Laugh and Be Happy/Losing You/You Can Leave Your Hat On/I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It)/Political Science/<intermission>/Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)/The Great Nations of Europe/Potholes/In Germany Before the War/Baltimore/Only A Girl/Love Story (You and Me)/Real Emotional Girl/You’ve Got a Friend in Me/Harps and Angels/Dixie Flyer/Louisiana 1927/Guilty/I Love L.A./God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)/A Piece of the Pie/I Think It’s Going to Rain Today/<encores>/It’s Lonely at the Top/Feels Like Home

Below: Because you were going to Google it anyway….

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toots-and-the-maytals

The Kansas City Star

By Joel Francis

Toots and the Maytals rocked the Folly Theatre with a righteous rain of reggae in what has to be the first-ever Easter Saturday sunset service.

Toots Hibbert, his five-piece band and two female singers testified for two hours with the union of gospel and soul converted into groundbreaking reggae that had the near-capacity crowd dancing in the aisles, clapping on command and reveling in the spirit.

They didn’t waste any time getting to the good stuff. The opener, “Pressure Drop,” steamrolled right into classics like “Time Tough,” “Sweet and Dandy” and “Pump and Pride.”

Hibbert worked the crowd with the fervor of an evangelist with his energetic delivery and call and responses. The show was the fourth installment of “Cypress Avenue Live at the Folly,” and was its most successful to date.

The entire evening was a delight, but the highlights were a cover of “Country Roads Take Me Home,” and “54-46 Was My Number,” the final song of the night. The gospel moments, like the intro to “Country Roads Take Me Home” and the spiritual medley near the end of the main set had everyone singing, dancing and testifying.

The only blemish on an otherwise inspired evening was that Hibbert’s voice was difficult to hear all night. Shouts of “turn it up” resonated from the balcony, there was little the sound engineer could do to make Hibbert hold his microphone above chest level.

That his mic captured as much as it did is a testament to Hibbert’s powerful delivery. Before the show, one person mused how the show would work at the Folly, a space with limited room for dancing. He thought the Maytals were better suited for a venue like the Uptown.

He may have been right, but the staid surroundings didn’t stop anyone from having a great time. If they didn’t make it up in time for Easter services, one might understand: They’d already been taken to church.

Set list: Pressure Drop; Time Tough; Sweet and Dandy; Reggae Got Soul; Pump and Pride; Never Get Weary Yet; Bam Bam; Peeping Tom; Broadway Jungle; Country Roads (Take Me Home); Funky Kingston; True Love Is Hard To Find; Treat Me Good; Medley: It Was Written Down/Shining Light/Amen; Monkey Man. Encores: Love Gonna Walk Out On Me; Roots, Rock Reggae (jam); 54-46 Was My Number.

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