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(Above: Roman Numerals fill in for the Guards at the RecordBar on the second night of the 2013 Middle of the Map festival.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Note: Sigur Ros pulled me away from covering the first day of MoTM, but I was at the RecordBar on Friday and the outdoor stage on Saturday (with a quick reprise back at the RecordBar).

Friday

In some unfortunate scheduling, Spirit is the Spirit, a Lawrence-based quintet, was forced to compete with Grizzly Bear. It’s too bad fans of laid-back, analog rock were forced to chose, because many Grizzly fans would likely appreciate Austen Malone’s easygoing, reassuring approach.Spirit’s 40-minute set recalled the earthier moments from the Band and the relaxed vibe of “Workingman’s Dead.” The quintet performed several songs from its new EP and was finally able to coax the sparse crowd to dance on the set-closing “Pillows.”

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Indie rock supergroup Divine Fits rock the Middle of the Map outdoor stage on Saturday.

Roman Numerals are technically a local band, but Friday’s abbreviated set felt more like a homecoming. The four-piece band was playing with drummer Pete LaPorte for the first time in five years and singer/guitarist William Smith had flown in from his home in New York City.

Stepping in at the last minute for the Guards, who called in sick, the Numerals delivered a gripping 30-minute preview of their set planned for Saturday on the outdoor stage.

The RecordBar crowd swelled considerably for the Numerals, but it didn’t approach feeling full until fans started appearing at the conclusion of Grizzly Bear’s set, in anticipation of Deerhoof.

By the time Deerhoof went onstage at midnight, the RecordBar had a line out the door. A packed house watched the avante-indie quartet make its Kansas City debut (although the band did open for the Flaming Lips mini-residency at Liberty Hall in Lawrence last summer).

Cross Sonic Youth with a Japanese game show and you’re in the ballpark of Deerhoof’s unique sound. The diminuitive Satomi Matsuzaki’s enchanting vocals served as a counterpoint to the chaos, while Greg Saunier’s drumming anchored the seemingly free-form songs.

The biggest responses during the 70-minute set came early for the catchy “Panda Panda Panda” and Flaming Lips’ drummer (and Lawrence resident) Kliph Scurlock’s surprise guest appearance behind the kit.

Saturday

Beautiful Bodies had no problem sustaining the momentum from Roman Numerals’ incredible set-closing cover of Joy Division’s “Transmission.”
Bodies singer Alicia Solombrino spent more time in the crowd than she did onstage. She wasn’t always visible, but it was easy to gauge where she was by the disproportionate amount of hands (and phones) in the air.

Fans further away found plenty to like from the five-piece band’s high energy, half-hour set. The parking lot hosting the outdoor stage was only a third full, but the balcony at nearby Buzzard Beach was packed.

Sandwiched between Beautiful Bodies’ grrl-power pop and Futurebirds’ alt-country, the Soft Reeds were a palate cleanser.

The quintet’s 30 minute set previewed material from an upcoming new album. Bursts of free jazz sax highlighted the opening number, and songs like “Finding Patterns” and “Moving in Time” recalled the nervous energy of the Talking Heads. The band also covered Roxy Music’s “Virginia Plain.”

Fans missing Uncle Tupelo will have an instant friend in Futurebirds. The five-piece alt-country band from Athens, Ga. made an impressive KC debut.
Their too-short 50 minute set was grounded in the earthy jangle of three guitars and driven to the stratosphere by the cry of a pedal steel.
A cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” highlighted the band’s strengths, a perfect balance of smooth yet ragged. The one-two of “Wild Heart” and the anthemic “Yur Not Dead” closed the set on the highest moment of the day so far.

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The Futurebirds make their Kansas City debut at the 2013 Middle of the Map festival.

Divine Fits had its work cut out following Futurebirds. The supergroup comprised of members of Spoon, Wolf Parade and New Bomb Turks proved up to the task. The quartet performed all but one track from their sole LP during the one-hour set, with a new song, “Chained to Love” and a cover of Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky.”

Both diversions blended well with the group’s sound: driving indie rock built over basic synth patterns. The material blossomed onstage gaining raw energy and losing the sterility of the recorded versions. Frontmen Britt Daniel and Dan Boeckner alternated vocal and lead guitar duties. Two of the band’s most neurotic numbers, “What Gets You Alone” and “Shivers” also provided the night’s best moments.

It was hard not to miss the Beaumont Club throughout the weekend, the outdoor stage offered several benefits. Although capacity never rose more than two-thirds full, it offered much greater capacity. It also provided the opportunity to simultaneous enjoy great music and beautiful spring weather.

Tennis
It seemed no one wanted to leave the RecordBar after Making Movies. The venue was one-in, one-out well into Tennis’ set and the room didn’t start to thin until around 1 a.m.

The husband and wife duo of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley were augmented by a two-piece rhythm section for their 50-minute set. The band’s jangly indie pop and confessional, introspective lyrics made them seem like the cool aunt and uncle to Best Coast. Songs were filled with complex lyrics and romantic devotion typical of a married couple who met in a college philosophy course. The biggest responses went to “Petition” and “Origins.” The response to “Petition” was so great that Moore joked that know she knows how Taylor Swift feels.

The final notes had barely died before the house lights were thrown on and patrons were ordered out. Middle of the Map 2013 was officially over at the RecordBar.

Keep reading:

Review: Kanrocksas (Day 1)

Review: Mission of Burma at MoTM

Review: F*cked Up at MoTM

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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: 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.

Keep reading:

Review: Los Lobos (2008)

Review: Alejandro Escovedo

Buckwheat Brings It Back Home

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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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