10 Must-see bands at Kanrocksas (part 2 – Saturday)

(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


Review: Modest Mouse (2010)

(Above: Modest Mouse perform “Baby Blue Sedan” at a previous stop in Kansas City, Mo., at the Uptown Theater in March, 2009.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Early in his first visit to Crossroads, Modest Mouse singer Isaac Brock was quick to point out the venue’s most distinctive feature. After the second song, he told the sold-out crowd the band had a “super awesome” gift for everyone: they each got to take home a wood chip.

The six members of the indie rock band were so excited about their present they flubbed the first verse of the next song “We’ve Got Everything.” After taking a brief moment to regroup they returned to the number with increased fervor. It was the only misstep of the two-hour set that found the band growing stronger with each number.

The set opened with slow, droning intro to “Gravity Rides Everything,” which gave way to a gentle wash of acoustic guitar. With three guitarists and two drummers, Modest Mouse’s songs were never lacking in texture. Frequently the band went one step further, substituting banjo, violin and keyboards. During “Gravity,” Brock held his acoustic guitar up to the speakers a la Pete Townshend for a nice burst of feedback. The combination of two trumpets and Brock’s banjo on “King Rat” and “Devil’s Workday” created a kind of demented Dixieland.

While two of the band’s biggest songs – “Float On” and “Florida” – were absent, they weren’t missed. The opening bars of nearly every number were greeted with huge cheers of recognition, regardless if it was a single like “Dashboard” or album cut like “Paper Thin Walls.” The 18-song setlist was democratically split between the band’s three most recent albums, with a few added nuggets. There was very little chatter during songs in the crowd or between them onstage; the music captured everyone’s attention.

“Whale Song” featured a lengthy opening and Brock’s signature guitar style. Brock has a way of bending notes while hitting them with the whammy bar that makes his guitar sound like a drunken Jew’s harp. Although touring guitarist Jim Fairchild, formerly of Granddaddy, shared the stage, Brock chose to do most of the heavy lifting. After “Whale,” each song seemed to build on the intensity of the previous performance. By “Devil’s Workday,” which featured another great stinging solo from Brock, and “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” the band was cranking at 11.

That intensity made “Fire It Up” seem even more low-key, with the entire band riding Eric Judy’s loping bass line. “Blame it on the Tetons” had a gentle, folksy feel supported by Tom Peloso’s violin. New song “Here’s To Now” also featured Peloso’s fiddle, which had everyone clapping along to the two-step rhythm.

The biggest contrast of the night, however, may have been the response to “Parting of the Sensory.” Brock could never be mistaken for an optimist, but the audience danced and sang along to the nihilistic refrain of “someday you will die and somehow something’s going to steal your coffin” like it was the Jackson 5. It would have been the perfect ending, but the band had one more treat in “Black Cadillacs.” Even without the souvenir wood chip, it wasn’t a night anyone will soon forget.

Setlist: Gravity Rides Everything; The View; We’ve Got Everything; King Rat; Here It Comes; Fire It Up; Whale Song; Paper Thin Walls; Here’s to Now (new song); Baby Blue Sedan; Dashboard; Satin in a Coffin; Devil’s Workday; Tiny Cities Made of Ashes; Encore: Blame It On the Tetons; Third Planet; Parting of the Sensory; Black Cadillacs.

Keep reading:

Review: Modest Mouse (2009)

Modest Mouse: Johnny Strikes Up the Band (2007)

Review – The Black Keys

(Below: Don’t mess with Isaac Brock.)

Top 10 Concerts of 2009

(Above: Modest Mouse’s concert at the Uptown Theater in March deserves an honorable mention.)

By Joel Francis

Stevie Wonder, Starlight Theater, June 27

One day after the shocking death of Michael Jackson, Motown legend Stevie Wonder took the stage before a packed Starlight Theater to both grieve and celebrate his old friend. Wonder’s songbook and the scarcity of his performances – he last played Kansas City in 1986 – already guaranteed a special evening. The timing made it historic. Keep reading….

Bela Fleck, Uptown Theater, April 2

Banjo legend Bela Fleck ditched his band the Flecktones for a half dozen African musicians he encountered on his musical adventure across the continent. The three-hour showcase not only exposed the audience to artists they likely wouldn’t have otherwise been able to experience, but brought the performers to the nooks and crannies of America. Keep reading ….

Sonny Rollins, Walton Arts Center (Fayetteville, Ark.), April 16

Saxophone legend Sonny Rollins marked his first performance in the state of Arkansas by reminiscing about radio host Bob Burns, aka the Arkansas Traveler and crowing about his idol, native son Louis Jordan. In between stories, Rollins and his four-piece band made transcendence standard with extended performances of chestnuts like “In A Sentimental Mood” and newer material. Keep reading ….

Leonard Cohen, Midland Theater, Nov. 9

Leonard Cohen knew that most of his biggest fans had never seen him in concert and that this tour would be their only chance to experience him in person. Accordingly, Cohen, 75, generously packed his three-hour concert with all his big numbers – “Hallelujah,” “Famous Blue Raincoat,” “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” “Everybody Knows,” and about two dozen more – some album cuts and one new song.

Helping Cohen through this immaculate musical buffet was an impeccable six-piece band. Javier Mas’ performance on bandurria and 12-string acoustic guitar frequently stole the spotlight. His playing added new shades and textures to the songs and his solos were always breathtaking. Reed man Dino Soldo was also impressive on clarinet, sax, harmonica and other wind instruments. Three backing vocalists, including Cohen’s longtime collaborator Sharon Robinson, helped smooth the rough patches in Cohen’s gravely baritone.

The adoring, sold-out crowd marinated in every moment, cheering at choice lines and raining ovations on the surprisingly spry singer as he skipped and hopped joyously around the stage. Cohen may have been forced back on the road for financial reasons, but both he and his audience delighted in celebration.

Sly and Robbie, Folly Theater, June 6
Lee “Scratch” Perry, Beaumont Club, August 30

This summer was a great time to be a reggae fan in Kansas City. Jamaican visitors included two biological sons of Bob Marley, and several metaphorical ones, including Toots and the Maytals, the reconstituted Wailers and Matisyahu. Pioneers Sly and Robbie and Lee “Scratch” Perry were the season’s bookends.

Sly and Robbie, veterans of literally hundreds of reggae recordings, kicked off the unofficial summer of reggae with nearly two hours of rumbling riddims at the Folly Theater. Nearly three months later, the eccentric and prolific producer “Scratch” Perry kept a small Beaumont Club crowd waiting for hours, before finally appearing with a psychotropic set of Bob Marley numbers he produced and originals like “Roast Fish and Cornbread” and “Pum Pum.”

Keep reading:

–          Sly and Robbie
–          Lee “Scratch” Perry

Jimmy Cobb, Gem Theater, October 17

As the last living performer from Miles Davis’ landmark jazz recording, Jimmy Cobb left a crowded Gem Theater crowd feeling anything but kind of blue. The drummer and his five-piece So What Band celebrated the 50th anniversary of “Kind of Blue” by playing all of its numbers, but treating the lauded original recordings more like an outline than a blueprint. When Cobb finally unleashed a drum solo more than an hour into the set, he was rewarded with the standing ovation he deserved. Keep reading ….

Pogues, Midland Theater, October 25

It took the renowned Irish acoustic punk band nearly three decades to reach Kansas City, and the groups notorious singer Shane McGowan wasn’t going to vacate the stage quickly. Alone onstage, the dying chords of “Fiesta” still ringing out, McGowan delivered a very inebriated, off-key version of “Kansas City.” A drink in each hand and cigarette dangling from his mouth, McGowan finally shuffled off to whoops and cheers.

The rest of the Pogues, recently reunited and sober (with one exception), have learned to live with these incidents. It’s probably safe to say a good portion of the crowd showed up because of them. Both the morbidly and musically curious had plenty of cause to be glad. After his only face plant of the evening, McGowan replied with aplomb “That’s why they call me Mr. Trips.” Overall, though, he was in good enough shape to deliver great versions of “If I Should Fall From Grace With God,” “Dirty Old Town” and “Bottle of Smoke.”

Despite suffering from a muddy mix, the rest of the band held up their end of the bargain, especially accordion player James Fearnley who ran and slid around the stage like Bruce Springsteen at the Super Bowl and tin whistle-ist Spider Stacy’s percussive beating of his head with a cookie sheet during “Fiesta.” The McGowan songbook was augmented by the traditional Irish numbers “Irish Rover” and “I’ll Tell Me Ma” and late-Pogues number “Tuesday Morning.” There were a few stones left unturned – “Fairytale of New York” was missed – but more than enough good moments to justify the wait.

Alice Cooper, Ameristar Casino, August 8

Alice Cooper’s theatrics aren’t as shocking as they were 30 years ago. What is shocking is how captivating and entertaining his stage show remains. Cooper’s adventures with the noose, guillotine, iron maiden, hypodermic needle, wheelchair, guns and swords mesmerized a fist-pumping, sold-out audience who sang along to every syllable of “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and nearly every other song in the set. Keep reading ….

Raphael Saadiq, Voodoo Lounge, March 13

While not officially tied to the 50th Anniversary commemoration of Motown, Raphael Saadiq’s 75-minute concert in front of a pitifully small crowd at the Voodoo Lounge was an homage to old-school soul, complete with David Ruffin’s horned glasses, tight suits and choreographed dances. The best aspect, though, was that all the music was new and original material written by the former Tony! Toni! Tone! frontman, much of it drawn from his incredible album “The Way I See It.” Keep reading …

Keep Reading:

Top 10 Concerts of 2008

Review: Modest Mouse


(Above: The Mouse’s pre-show view of the Uptown Theater.)

By Joel Francis

The Kansas City Star

When Modest Mouse last played Kansas City 18 months ago it was promoting a No. 1 album on a sweltering night at one of the city’s worst outdoor venues (City Market). The band returned on a frigid Monday night to play before a full house at one of Kansas City’s best indoor venues, the Uptown Theater. With no new material to promote, Isaac Brock and his band played whatever they wanted.

The band hit the stage like they were shot out of cannon, launching into a vicious reading of “Bury Me With It” that featured a guitar part that sounded like something from Sonic Youth. With barely a pause, one of the most successful indie rock bands on the scene today tore into a ferocious “Never Ending Math” that set a high bar for the evening to follow.

They were more than up to the task. The six-piece band was on top of its game, stopping and starting and changing dynamics on a dime. Grandaddy guitarist Jim Fairchild, who is sitting in for ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr on this tour, played well off lead singer Brock’s parts, particularly on “Interstate 8” and “Dramamine.” Fairchild even kicked in some vocals on “Satellite Skin.”

Although every performance was impressive, the band was at its best when it could stretch out. Epic performances of “Dramamine,” “The View” and “Breakthrough” built layer on top of hypnotic layer until it felt like the song would explode out of the building.

As powerful as the epics were, the band knew how to bring things down, like during an almost-unplugged version of “Bukowski” in which Brock channeled his inner Bela Fleck on banjo and a lovely bowed bass and accordion solo. Earlier in the evening, “Custom Concern” was a welcome come-down after the intense marathon numbers.

The only concessions to casual fans were “Float On,” which featured a shiny ‘80s keyboard part on the chorus, and a breakneck reading of “Dashboard,” complete with trumpet. Other than that, the evening was devoted to older songs and album cuts like the trippy “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes,” which sounded like an underwater fight with the devil.

The band played too loud and fast to incorporate much audience feedback, but the crowd was more than appreciative. The opening chords to nearly every number drew big cheers of recognition, and while it was impossible to hear anyone singing along, the swaying arms and moving lips were unmistakable signs of approval.

The enthusiasm was infectious. The notoriously and self-admittedly grumpy Brock was clearly having good time. After castigating a fan for requesting older material immediately following a song from their first album, Brock settled down. He showed off the black light posters he purchased the night before in Boulder, Colo. and told an affectionately rambling story about Roger Miller’s “Kansas City Star.” Brock promised to play the song from his iPod for the crowd after the show, but ZZ Top appeared somehow instead. No one complained.

Setlist: Bury Me With It, Never Ending Math, The View, Dramamine, Wild Packs of Family Dogs,Tiny Cities Made of Ashes, Custom Concern, Float On, Bukowski, Interstate 8, All Nite Diner, Parting of the Sensory. Encore: Third Planet, Satellite Skin, Dashboard, Baby Blue Sedan, Black Cadillacs.

Keep reading: A 2007 interview with Isaac Brock.

Modest Mouse: Johnny Strikes Up the Band

Modest Mouse

The Kansas City Star 


Isaac Brock says he isn’t surprised that Modest Mouse hit the mainstream a few years ago. Maybe that’s because he doesn’t really think about it.

“I don’t ask myself why people like an album,” said Brock, who founded the band in 1993. “Thinking about those things doesn’t take up as much of my mental sphere as cleaning my floor.”

In 2004 the band went from underground status to platinum-sellers with “Good News for People Who Love Bad News.”

When it came time to work on the follow-up, “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank,” Brock didn’t worry about what anyone would expect: longtime fans, Top 40 scenesters or record executives at Sony. His lack of concern paid off. Even with two new faces in the band — former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and prodigal founding drummer Jeremiah Green (who quit in 2003) — the record has been a success.

“For me … it’s counterproductive to think about that stuff,” Brock said. “Somehow we are able to leave all of that at the studio door and start from scratch.

“People assume since Johnny’s in the band he’s changed how we did things. But there are six people in this band, and everyone contributes in their own way. We all do it.”

In other words, don’t come to the show expecting “The Queen Is Dead, Part II.”

“It’s a funny thing,” Brock said. “There will definitely be people who show up based on the premise that Johnny is in the band. But our shows are going to be a lot uglier than what the Smiths did.”

Still, Marr’s contributions influence more than the songs he worked on in the studio. Brock said Marr’s impact on the older material is noticeable.

“That’s where we’ve gotten a lot stronger,” Brock said. “I told him that on any song he didn’t have to play it as it had been played before. Make your own canvas. It would have been a waste if I didn’t let him make his own imprint.”

While Marr’s arrival to the Mouse has generated most of the publicity, Brock also welcomed founding drummer Green back after a one-album absence.

“He just needed to take a break,” Brock said, declining to elaborate on why Green left other than saying he “went out of town for a while.”

“Everyone who leaves is welcome to come back,” Brock said, “with some exceptions.”

Brock said he was surprised at the synergy Green has with Modest Mouse’s second drummer, newcomer Joe Plummer.

“We brought Joe in to play percussion, but the way he and Jeremiah have been playing together as drummers is very cool,” Brock said. “It’s much more interesting than I ever expected.”

Making music that is interesting is the only gauge Brock has for his artistic process.

“It would take a change in who I am for me to care too much,” he said. “I’m not much interested in much other than being who I am.”