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.
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.
Fourth of July singer Brendan Hangauer appears on the cover of the Lawrence-based, indie quintet’s sophomore album seated next to a pretty blonde. Although she’s looking at him and leaning in, his arms are crossed and eyes stare straight ahead. The pair may be close in proximity, but they seem miles apart emotionally.
This is often how it goes in the closing stages of a relationship, when the pair faces loneliness and, of course, vast tracts of time to flip the whole scenario over and endlessly analyze.
These are the times that Hangauer, his brothers Patrick and Kelly, and Brian and Brendan Costello — another pair of siblings — relive on Before Our Hearts Explode. Breaking up, as the saying goes, may be hard to do, but it has rarely sounded like this much fun.
The album opens with “Friend of a Friend,” the story of an ex-girlfriend’s rebound lover. Driven by acoustic guitar and organ and powered by a nimble electric guitar, it’s too bouncy to be bitter. The track sets the template for the next 40 minutes: an intimate survey of love’s rubble, via jangly guitars and slacker vocals. It’s Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks filtered through Camper Van Beethoven.
It’s also a ruse, albeit an effective one. Hangauer is broken and hurt but refuses to let his guard down. For every telling lyric such as “Don’t be so sure of things/not even wedding rings” or “you know you ruined us/when you slept with that little slut” there are a plethora of la-la-la or ooh-ooh-ooh choruses to mask the betrayal.
The facade breaks in only a couple places. “Song for Meghan,” the first ballad, arrives midway through the record. Hangauer’s unvarnished craving for an absent love resonates in Adrianne Verhoeven’s lovely vocal countermelody.
This is followed by “Moving On,” a song as caustic and cynical as anything by Elvis Costello. It also has a sweet undercurrent as Hangauer recalls brighter days. The same trumpet that amplified Hangauer’s longing on “Song for Meghan” now cuts through the track like a ray of sunlight forcing its way into a dark room through a crack in the shades.
Before Our Hearts Explode succeeds at having it both ways — a breakup record that provides the perfect accompaniment for playing Frisbee. Like all relationships it is never black and white. The good times are tucked alongside the most painful.
(Above: The primitive beauty of unaccompanied fireworks over the national Mall on July 4, 2010.)
By Joel Francis
The Daily Record
WASHINGTON, DC – Soul legend Gladys Knight took the stage staring into a sea of empty seats. It was three hours before show time, and the VIPs with reserved seats wisely avoided the blistering afternoon sun.
Knight, however, was undeterred. “This is a thing we used to call audience participation,” she hollered to the groundlings on the Capitol lawn who arrived hours before to stake a prime spot. Knight drew out each syllable of “par-tic-i-pat-ion” and drew cheers of delight from the exhausted but excited assembly of hundreds.
When Knight launched into a call and response, her words were thrown back with force and a smile crossed her face. After a few volleys, the band pumped the final vamp as she threw up her arms and walked from the stage. The 30-minute mini-set, which included a few instrumental runs through made the risk of heat stroke seem reasonable.
The blazing sun had been replaced with bright stage lights and television cameras when Knight re-emerged shortly after 8 p.m. After a brief welcome by MC Jimmy Smits, American Idol David Archuleta opened the show with the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Then it was time to get down to business.
The Empress of Soul emerged in a golden gown, flying into “Midnight Train to Georgia.” Knight’s voice was strong in the afternoon, but now she sang with even more soul and emotion. The words are the same, but the phrasing was different and they were delivered with a power has been honed over Knight’s half-century career.
Her voice rises in sharp contrast to Darius Rucker’s, who also sound checked in the afternoon. I realize his laid-back, what-you-see-is-what-you-get charm is a large part of his appeal, but there was very little difference between the run-through and televised performances. Rucker has a fine voice, but I hope he was paying attention.
Barely pausing after “Georgia,” the band hic-cupped into Knight’s 1969 hit “The Nitty Gritty.” Knight used the upbeat number to pay tribute to two of her departed Motown label mates, dropping in a healthy portion of the Jacksons’ “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” and a sample of a Rick James number. Then it was time to finish business with her biggest hit, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” which showed no signs of age.
And that was it. Ten minutes, three songs, and she was walking offstage. Afterward people started asking me if it was worth it to trek to the Mall so early and broil for so long. Absolutely. Knight’s presence cemented my attendance, but I likely would have gone anyway. As far back as I can remember, my family always gathered around the television on the Fourth of July to watch the PBS broadcast from the capital. And now, with my parents rooting me on from their air-conditioned living room, I was there.
The performances I remember from growing up were classical and marching band pieces, so the National Symphony Orchestra’s patriotic overture from “George M.” and classical pianist Lang Lang’s solo adaptation of “Stars and Stripes Forever” resonated the most deeply. Once the shock of hearing Sousa’s most famous number without horns wore off, Lang’s performance was quite profound. The lines typically dominated by trombones and tubas was intricate and dissonant, while the familiar piccolo refrain had a ragtime feel.
Although the Capitol lawn is vast, it was easy to forget about the thousands of people standing behind me and the hundreds of thousands gathered behind the stage, on the Mall. In a way, the “Capitol Fourth” broadcast felt like any concert in the park, albeit one with TV cameras and A-list talent. As John Schneider (aka Bo Duke) led a recap celebrating the 30th anniversary of the broadcast, I abandoned the concert grounds and headliner Reba McEntire and to be part of the teeming masses camping around the Washington Monument.
The high-profile event disappeared with every step. The lawns on the Mall were filled with tents, displays and crowds oblivious to the concert behind them. Walking through one block I encountered an expanse of grass filled with multi-colored tents bearing signs like “Yoga and Meditation” and “Free Feast.” The tent most intriguing to me featured live traditional Indian music. The artists onstage were nearly obscured by smoke, and the crowd was sparse, but there were more people dancing than watching.
A block further, I spotted what I thought to be a poetry slam backed by a live drummer. Upon closer inspection it was a different sort of poet, a fevered evangelist in the middle of a passionate altar call. I briefly raised my hand in solidarity and pressed on.
An orange band hovered on the horizon above the Lincoln Memorial when the fireworks started shortly after 9 p.m. Unlike all previous July 4th celebrations I have attended, the carnival of explosions around the Washington Monument burst without accompaniment. The muffled pops and sizzles from each multi-color detonation was met by the collective oohs and ahs of thousands. In place of orchestration, my ears were treated to a kaleidoscope of accents, dialects and languages, punctuated by the occasional far-off siren or barking vendor. It was one of the rare moments in my life when music was rendered completely redundant.
For 20 minutes we stood united by a common gaze in the sky, a diverse collection of tourists from all parts of the map. Although the horde easily exceeded the audience created by the simultaneous emptying of Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums, the Kansas Speedway and Sprint Center, there was no whiff of anger or danger. Small children danced in front of their strollers as teen-agers texted their friends and old-timers remembered when. It would be poetic to say that when the display ended we all went back to our respective lives, but in reality we all just swarmed to a different location – the subway stations.