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(Above: “Dogs” and “Pigs” from the classic Pink Floyd album “Animals” captured Roger Waters’ disgust at the current political landscape.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

As the lyrical and conceptual soul of Pink Floyd, Roger Waters’ music has helped define classic rock radio for nearly two generations.

Many of the songs Waters performed at his tour opener on Friday night at the Sprint Center are more than 40 years old but hold contemporary relevance in today’s fractured political landscape. In fact, his depraved, pessimistic views of humanity seem downright prescient.

Fans knew every note and syllable thanks to decades of continuous airplay, but Waters put the performances in a modern context by the films that accompanied the band on a huge screen that spanned the arena behind the stage. During the second act, another perpendicular screen was lowered over the floor.

LEDE REV ROGER WATERS 0114 SK 20The video for “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” was a devastating piece of anti-Donald Trump propaganda. Borrowing from the lyrics, the word “charade” splashed across the screens as unflattering illustrations of the commander-in-chief cycled in and out. During the long guitar solos, an inflatable sow wearing the phrase “piggy bank of war” flew over the crowd.

“Money” sustained the proletariat rage, as images of Trump’s failed casinos, Russian buildings and photos of Kremlin and cabinet officials accompanied the music.

A very few people headed for the exits – one man raised his middle finger to the stage while departing during “Money” – but they were easily outnumbered by fans raising their beers, singing along and reveling in the moment. “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” may have been the least subtle moment of the evening, but it also drew far more applause than any other non-radio track.

Waters got help from his 10-piece band, which included Kansas City native Gus Seyfort on bass and former Pink Floyd and The Who touring member Jon Carin on keyboards. Backing vocalists Holly Laessig and Jessica Wolfe stole the spotlight several times, including a duet on “Great Gig in the Sky” and the new song “Déjà Vu.” Dressed in platinum blonde wigs and black fringed dresses, the pair looked like Cleopatra as reimagined by Bryan Ferry.

The only material that didn’t come from the Floyd catalog were four new songs. All were well received and dealt with the same themes. Driven by piano and drums, “The Last Refugee” wouldn’t have been out of place on Waters’ previous solo album, 1992’s “Amused to Death.” Nestled near the end of the set, “Smell the Roses” emerged from a slinky guitar line and sounded like an outtake from Pink Floyd’s “Animals” album.

Ten local children lined the front of the stage during “Another Brick in the Wall.” After singing the familiar chorus, they shed their orange jumpsuits and danced around wearing black shirts that said resist. At the first notes of “Wish You Were Here,” seemingly every phone in the building was held aloft to capture every moment. The nostalgic ballad was a rare moment of reprieve from the scathing critiques and protests.

A similar moment arrived during the final song, “Comfortably Numb.” As Dave Kilminster tore into another guitar solo, Waters raised his hands and swayed back and forth. The crowd, bathed in soft lights and gently falling pink confetti, joined him. After nearly three hours of angry catharsis, it was time to heal.

Setlist: Breathe, One of These Days, Time > Breathe (reprise), Great Gig in the Sky, Welcome to the Machine, Déjà vu (new song), The Last Refugee (new song), Picture That (new song), Wish You Were Here, The Happiest Days of Our Lives > Another Brick in the Wall (parts two and three). Intermission. Dogs, Pigs (Three Different Ones), Money, Us and Them, Smell the Roses (new song), Brain Damage, Eclipse, band introduction, Vera > Bring the Boys Back Home, Comfortably Numb.

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Shine on Rick Wright

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(Above: Acid Mothers Temple perform at Kansas City’s Riot Room in April, 2013.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Note: This feature was scheduled to run in the Kansas City Star.  Because of our language barrier, Kawabata Makoto requested an interview via e-mail. Unfortunately, the Mothers’ touring schedule didn’t give Makoto much time to respond to my questions. His short answers necessitated using quotes from the band’s Website. Ultimately the feature was shelved.

The Acid Mothers Temple welcomes all, but entry can be daunting.

The ambition of Kawabata Makoto, the founder and leader of the Japanese rock band, is both impressive and intimidating. For fans, the group and its affiliated side projects has released more than 80 titles since forming in 1995. For musicians, Makoto offers several homes across Japan where musicians can jam and do whatever they like. There is a good chance, however, that neighbors will report these free spirits as terrorists.

“Our slogan is “Do whatever you want, don’t do whatever you don’t want!!’” Makoto said in an extensive interview on the Acid Mothers Web site. “When all the Aum Shinrikyo (the group behind the 1995 poison gas attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995 that killed 12 people) stuff was going on in Japan a few years back, the neighbors mistakenly thought that our house was a secret Aum hideout and managed to get us evicted. Also, mountain villages are always suspicious of outsiders, and sometimes we are ostracized by the community. These kinds of problems pop up from time to time, but there’s not much we can do about it.”

It’s not unusual for a Mothers’ composition to reach well beyond 20 minutes. Makoto wears his influences like badges of honor, naming albums in homage to Pink Floyd, Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. The music often sounds like an update to the rock scenes in Haight-Ashbury and London in the late 1960s. Psychedliec rock may be an easy handle to hang on the band, but Makoto prefers the term trip music.

amt“As I see it, psychedelic rock is a type of rock music that evolved under the influence of the drug culture,” Makoto said. “For me trip music does not mean the same as psychedelic rock. … A simple explanation of what I mean by a trip is something that allows you to hear sounds that you do not usually hear, or that allows you to experience those dangerous frequencies that mount a violent assault upon your soul.”

The writing and recording process is relatively straightforward. Makoto gathers whatever musicians he can find in a collective attempt to record whatever he is hearing in his head. Beyond that, anything goes.

“Music is constantly changing, depending on time and place and atmosphere, and attempting to tie it down never breeds good results,” Makoto said. “Our recording process is basically to improvise the broad structure of the songs, then to overdub stuff later. The line-up depends on who’s available on the day. So I suppose you could say it’s down to fate, since we don’t adjust the schedule to try and fit in with everyone’s plans. “

Makoto formed his first band in 1978, when he realized there was nothing on the radio like the sounds in his head. Completely self-taught, Makoto and his bandmates played through trial and error. It took four years, Makoto said, for him to realize there was a standard way to tune the guitar.

“I have always only mastered just the bare minimum of technique so that I can play my own music,” Makoto said. “I believe that it’s best in all things to have neither too much or too little. If you have too much knowledge or technique, then you’ll naturally want to show that off to others. At that point it ceases to be music, and just becomes a display of skill. That is not what I want my music to be.”

The Mothers’ were the final act of last year’s Middle of the Map festival. Unfortunately, their start was delayed and the band was unable to play a full set. Makoto is hoping to play a full set this visit.

In his many trips around the world, Makoto has noticed audiences behave differently depending on the country.

“Japanese audiences come to hear the music and that American or European audiences come to enjoy themselves,” Makoto said. “I don’t know which attitude is better. If you’ve paid your money to get in, then you should have the right to enjoy the music in whichever way you like. You can listen quietly or if you’re bored you can chat with your friends, it’s up to you. Maybe it’s more important for the musicians to try and play in such a way that people won’t feel like chatting.”

With Makoto’s AMT label dropping new albums in March, April and May and the band a third of the way through a six-week tour, it doesn’t look like the Mothers will be slowing down anytime soon. But Makoto knows there may be a day when his days of exploring new sounds and textures will come to an end.

“My personal goal is to recreate the music played by a heavenly orchestra I heard once in a dream. If I ever succeed, I will have no more need to play music,” Makoto said. “The other members of Acid Mothers Temple may have different goals – I don’t know. But even if I were to quit, I would like AMT to continue to exist, since I think of it as less of a band and more of a collective will.”

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Review: Flaming Lips at Liberty Hall

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(Above: The Flaming Lips get an assist from Deerhoof to cover King Crimson at the second show of their two-night stand at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, Kan. on June 22, 2012.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Standing in Liberty Hall during a sold-out Flaming Lips concert was like being inside a kaleidoscope. In fact, the overwhelming number of balloons, confetti and streamers made things a little claustrophobic.

The Oklahoma City rock band brought so much firepower to its two-night stand in Lawrence that the show opened with a disclaimer from frontman Wayne Coyne: Don’t stare at the strobe lights, and be cool when the space bubble rolls out.

The famous inflated see-through orb that Coyne inhabits and then rolls over the outstretched hands of the crowd came out during a cover of Pink Floyd’s “On the Run.” As Coyne rolled over the masses, it looked like he could have easily hopped into the balcony.

With a capacity of 1,200 people, the building seemed like a bandbox compared to the acres of festival grounds the Lips usually have to play in during summer festival seasons. A massive mirror ball hung so low over the stage it seemed like Coyne might be able to touch it. Late in the set he donned giant hands that shot lasers and pointed them at the ball, spraying light across the room.A giant LED screen filled the back of the stage and troupes of dancers dressed like Dorothy Gales buttressed the wings.

Fans got their chance to sing early. Favorites “Race for the Prize,” “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song,” “She Don’t Use Jelly” and the slow campfire arrangement of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Part One)” all came out in the first half of the set. The second half displayed newer, more experimental material. It wasn’t as bubbly, but fans ate it up just the same.

Deerhoof: The four-piece experimental band’s carefully planned cacophony was balanced by singer Satomi Matsuzaki’s manic pixie singing and dancing. Lips drummer and Lawrence resident Kliph Scurlock joined the openers for two numbers, and the two bands joined forces for two songs during the Lips’ encore. Their first collaboration was a curveball –- a cover of Canned Heat’s “Going Up the Country.” For the second number they went full-prog with a thunderous cover of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man.”

The show was part of the 100th annniversary party for Liberty Hall. Seventh Street was blocked off south of the venue, between Massachusetts and New Hampshire streets. Vendors sold everything from beer and BBQ to T-shirts and cake. Families lined up around the bounce castle while groups performed on the stage at the other end of the block. A screen at the back of the stage broadcast a live feed of Lips show.

Setlist: Race for the Prize, She Don’t Use Jelly, The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power), On the Run (Pink Floyd cover), Worm Mountain, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Part One), Sea of Leaves, Drug Chant, The Ego’s Last Stand, What Is the Light?, The Observer. Encores: Going Up the Country, 21st Century Schizoid Man, Do You Realize?

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Classic Christmas Carol: “A Change At Christmas (Say It Isn’t So)”

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Review: The Flaming Lips – “Christmas On Mars”

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(Above: Gil Scott-Heron performs “We Almost Lost Detroit” in concert. His June 20 performance at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., earns an honorable mention as one of the top shows of the year.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Jonsi, April 22, Liberty Hall

Sigur Ros concerts have a sustained emotional intensity matched only by Radiohead’s events. On his own, Sigur Ros frontman Jonsi ratcheted the passion even higher. The 80-minute set focused only on Jonsi’s solo release “Go” and a few outtakes. Although the material was original, the textures, delivery and emotions echoed Jonsi’s other band, including a climax that was one of the most sustained and forceful moments in which I’ve ever had the joy of being included. Read more.

Emmylou Harris, July 18, Stiefel Theater, Salina, Kan.

Four days after delivering a short set in the blistering heat to the Lilith Fair crowd at Sandstone Amphitheater, Emmylou Harris took her Red Hot Band to tiny Salina, Kan. For two hours she gave an intimate set in a theater slightly smaller and slightly newer than Kansas City’s Folly Theater. The set reprised many of the songs performed at Lilith – including a beautiful a capella rendition of “Calling My Children Home” and Harris’ hymn “The Pearl” – a lovely tribute to her departed friend Anna McGarrigle, and other gems spanning her entire career. Harris’ enchanting voice captivates in any setting. Removed from the heat and placed in a charming surrounding it shined even brighter. Read a review of Lilith Fair here.

Pearl Jam, May 3, Sprint Center

Nearly all of the 28 songs Pearl Jam performed during its sold-out, two-and-a-half hour concert were sing-alongs. Kansas City fans has waited eight years since the band’s last stop to join in with their heroes, and the crowd let the band know it. Near the end, Eddie Vedder introduced Kansas City Royals legend Willie Wilson by wearing a No. 6 Royals jersey. Vedder later invited onstage wounded Iraqi war vet Tomas Young, who appeared in the documentary “Body of War.” With Young in a wheelchair to his left, Vedder performed “No More,” the song the pair wrote together. During the encore, a member of the gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic bobsledding team, joined the band on bass for “Yellow Ledbetter.” As the song ended it felt like the evening was winding down, but guitarist Mike McCready refused to quit, spraying a spastic version of Jimi Hendrix’ arrangement of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Sept. 21, Midland Theater

An ice storm and obscurity kept many fans away from Sharon Jones’ previous show in the area, a January gig at the Granada three years ago. With those obstacles removed, a crowded Midland Theater audience witnessed a soul revue straight out of the early ‘60s. With a band rooted in the Stax sound and a performance indebted to James Brown and Tina Turner, the diminutive Jones never let up. Jones only stopped dancing to chastise over-eager fans who kept climbing onto her stage. The tight, eight-piece horn section provided motivation enough for everyone else to keep moving.

Flaming Lips, Jan. 1, Cox Area, Oklahoma City

The year was less than an hour old when the Flaming Lips provided one of its top moments. After performing their standard 90-minute set, complete with lasers, confetti and sing-along versions of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” and “She Don’t Use Jelly.” Then more balloons and confetti ushered in the new year. The Lips celebrated by bringing opening act Star Death and White Dwarfs onstage for a joint performance of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety. Read more.

Izmore/Diverse – Like Water for Chocolate Tribute, March 19, Czar Bar

Combining hip hop and jazz became something of a cliché in the 1990s. The results typically only hinted at the union’s potential, and didn’t satisfy fans of either genre. Ten years after Common released his landmark album “Like Water For Chocolate,” a hip hop album that paid tribute to jazz, Afro-beat and gospel with the help of Roy Hargrove, Femi Kuti, Cee-Lo Green, J Dilla and others, some of Kansas City’s finest artists decided to celebrate the anniversary. MC Les Izmore delivered Common’s rhymes while the jazz quartet Diverse provided innovative and imaginative new backdrops. The result was both jazz and hip hop at their finest, with neither form compromising to the other. Read a feature on the event here.

David Gray, March 17, Uptown Theater

After releasing several solid albums in obscurity in the 1990s, David Gray finally broke into the mainstream at the turn of the century. As his tours grew bigger and catalog became richer, a Kansas City date remained elusive. On St. Patrick’s Day, Gray finally satisfied a ravenous capacity crowd with a two-hour set sprinkled with the songs that made him a household name. Songs like “Babylon” and “World To Me” are written well enough to make the show memorable, but the passion and energy Gray and his band invested in the night made this an amazing night for even this casual fan. A strong opening set from Phosphorescent made the evening even better. Read more.

Black Keys, June 4, Crossroads

The Akron, Ohio, garage blues duo opened Crossroads’ summer season with a sold-out night that focused on their latest effort, the spectacular “Brothers.” Drummer Patrick Carney and guitarist Dan Auerbach were augmented with a bass player and keyboardist on several numbers, but their trademark sound remained unaltered. Read more.

Public Image Ltd., April 26, Midland Theater

On paper, fans had a right to be cynical about this tour. After embarrassing himself with a handful of half-assed Sex Pistols reunions, Johnny Rotten recruited two new musicians to reconstitute his Public Image Ltd. project. Although Rotten was PiL’s only consistent member, and his current X-piece band had never played together before, they managed to flawlessly replicate the band’s finest moments. The Midland was embarrassingly empty – the balcony was closed, and the floor was less than half full – but Rotten played like it was the final night of the tour in front of a festival crowd. Read more.

Allen Toussaint, Jan. 8, Folly Theater

Seventy-two-year-old New Orleans pianist Allen Toussaint has been writing, producing and performing hit singles for more than 50 years. His songs include “Working In A Coal Mine,” “Mother In Law,” “A Certain Girl” and “Get Out Of My Life Woman.” Toussaint performed all of these numbers and more in what was remarkably his first concert in Kansas City. His own remarkable catalog aside, the evening’s high point was an amazing solo version of Paul Simon’s “American Tune.” Read more.

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Top 10 Concerts of 2009

Top 10 concerts of 2008

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(Above: Bettye LaVette owns The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me” at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2008. This performance helped inspire LaVette’s latest album, and is included as a bonus track.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

From Rod Stewart to Barry Manilow, albums based on the 1960s and ‘70s pop song book are a dime a dozen and usually worth even less. So while the concept behind Bettye LaVette’s latest album may not be novel, the delivery certainly is. LaVette has audaciously selected a baker’s dozen of the era’s biggest songs and steals every single performance.

Throughout “Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook” LaVette not only erases Paul McCartney and Elton John’s fingerprints from “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” respectively. She scrubs off four decades of radio saturation, turning in performances that arrive sounding completely fresh.

LaVette accomplishes this feat by ignoring the original melody and phrasing and focusing entirely on the lyrics. She crawls inside the words, mining new depth and emotion and lets that frame the arrangement. Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” aches with loneliness. LaVette sneaks a reference to HIV/AIDS in “Salt of the Earth,” the Rolling Stones free-love era tribute to the working class. In “Don’t Let the Sun,” LaVette pleads with a desperation that feels like her life is hanging in the balance between light and dark. Robert Plant liked her treatment of “All Of My Love” so much he gave her the opening slot on his summer tour.

While every song fulfills the title by hailing from the United Kingdom, LaVette slyly hedges her bets with two numbers that are also associated with one of her primary influences, Nina Simone. LaVette mirrors Simone’s epic treatment and sparse arrangement of George Harrison’s “Isn’t It A Pity.” Earlier, LaVette reminds listeners that while the Animals may have had the bigger hit with “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” it was originally a Simone single. LaVette happily returns the gift.

Five years into her comeback, LaVette sings like something to prove. At 64 she is a contemporary of most of the performers she covers on “Interpretations.” But while most of them are content to coast by on these very songs, LaVette still sings with a hunger fueled by the decades she unjustly lost in obscurity. The force and authority in her voice make LaVette one of the most vital and compelling artists today.

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Review: Bettye LaVette and Buddy Guy at Roots n Blues BBQ Fest (2008)

Review Roundup – Rakim, Dodos, Naomi Shelton, Blakroc and Daptone Gold

Review – Booker T.

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(Above: “Us and Them,” one of the few unaltered numbers from the Flaming Lips performance of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” in the early hours of 2010.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

OKLAHOMA CITY – The average Flaming Lips concert already feels like the greatest party on earth. Spending New Year’s Eve with the band in their hometown felt like living inside a kaleidoscope.

For nearly three hours, the Lips said goodbye to 2009 and hello to 2010 with a 90-minute main set and a rare performance of Pink Floyd’s classic album “Dark Side of the Moon.” For that feat, the band had assistance from Stardeath and White Dwarfs, the opening act, fronted by lead Lip Wayne Coyne’s nephew, Dennis Coyne.

The Lips/Stardeath version of “Dark Side” is less an homage than a deconstruction. If Floyd’s vision was a Cecil B. DeMille epic of careful, layered arrangements, then the Lips’ plays like one of Steven Soderbergh’s handi-cam experimental films, loving thrown together on a low budget, more intent on capturing the spirit than articulating the original performance.

“Breathe” was stripped of its shimmering guitars and lush harmonies and given the same blocky textures and blunt rhythms and bass lines that fuel much of the Lips’ new album, “Embryonic.” Similarly, “On the Run” was no longer a pattern of tape loops and manipulations, but fuzzed-out orgy of noise.

“Dark Side”’s most well-known number was also the least recognizable. The minimalist take of “Money” reduced the song to its signature bass line, with electronically manipulated vocals.

There were several nods to Pink Floyd in the Lips’ original material. “Vein of Stars” foreshadowed the straightforward reading of “Us and Them,” right down to the piano part and laser effects. “Pompeii am Götterdämmerung” sounded like something the Syd Barrett era of the Floyd would have pounded out in the late-‘60s London underground.

The spirit of Floyd was also evident in the material from “Embryonic.” Its songs are a little more abstract and less focused than anything the band has delivered in more than a decade. Although it was a bit jarring to shift from the ultra-catchy fan-favorites to the new material, it was nice to hear the band spazz out.

With its perpetual thump of bass and guitar, “Sea of Leaves” felt like being run over by an 18-wheeler. Wayne Coyne delivered the last half of “Silver Trembling Hands” from the shoulders of a person in a gorilla suit, a bizarre vision for a bizarre song.

The poppier moments of the first set drew the biggest response. The crowd threw a lot of force into “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” and the air was charged when the house lights came up and everyone joined in on the chorus (“with all your power”). The slower arrangement of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Part 0ne)” felt like a giant campfire. “She Don’t Use Jelly” was a reliable feel-good moment.

Although the arena was two-thirds full and loaded with energetic fans, the band seemed to have trouble filling the void. It was unusual and unexpected, because I’ve twice seen them rock a vast field at the Wakarusa Music Festival. Maybe it was the abundance of slower, spacier songs and unfamiliar new material, but the Cox Arena – which resembles a slightly larger, late-‘60s edition of Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium – felt spacious.

Whatever the reason, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Most bands tarp off the unseated sections behind the stage. The Lips filled them with balloons. As fans filed in, hundreds of the brightly colored latex orbs waited to be bumped, thrown and ultimately popped when the appointed moment arrived.

As the Lips floated into a poignant, sing-along reading of “Do You Realize??,” the balloons slowly started cascading from the balcony to the floor. When the song ended, it was nearly midnight and the house lights came up. As the crowd counted down, the band vamped and balloons filled the coliseum, obscuring the stage. Somewhere in the melee a wedding proposal was accepted.

While the music blared and balloons bounced, the stage crew had the thankless job of clearing debris from the stage for the second act. A flurry of confetti fell again over the crowd as one of the stage hands used a leaf blower to clear the area.

Despite the crew’s efforts it was a tedious 40 minutes of sound checking and testing before the Floyd set took flight. Once-giddy fans now laid or sat down in the back of the floor and yawns abounded. When the heartbeat that signaled the start of “Breathe” finally started, the crowd responded with a cheer of both anticipation and appreciation.

Material aside, the second set was markedly different from the first. After the powerful downbeat and swirling intro to opening number “Race for the Stars” the arena was awash in balloons, confetti and streamers. As the audience danced, Coyne grabbed a fistful of streamer and started twirling around like a cross between a color guard and Roger Daltrey.

But that was hours ago. The joviality and props disappeared when the band ventured into the “Dark Side.” In their place was a hovel of nearly a dozen musicians, surrounded by fog, hunched over their instruments. Although Coyne still danced, striking a cymbal with his maraca in the center of the stage, it was obvious this was Serious Music.

Coyne may have been the ringmaster, but “Dark Side” was clearly guitarist/keyboard player Steven Drozd’s show. He served as conductor, signaling the changes and conducting the performers. During “Great Gig in the Sky,” he sang the wordless melody into a megaphone, creating the musical equivalent of an epileptic seizure.

Nepotism aside, Stardeath were a great enlistment for the feat. The majority of the songs in their 45-minute opening set had a druggy, progressive bent straight out of the early ‘70s. The band showed their hand early by opening with a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf.” Uncle Wayne showed his approval rocking out from the wings of the stage.

Stardeath’s centerpiece was “The Birth,” a side-long proggy throwback complete with Theremin solo and lengthy bass/drums breakdown. The set ended with an imaginative cover of Madonna’s “Borderline.”

As the final pulse of “Eclipse” beat out, a last blast of confetti showered the crowd. The New Year was only 90 minutes old, but had already logged its first great rock moment.

Set List:
Race for the Prize, Silver Trembling Hands, The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song, Vein of Stars, In The Morning of the Magicians, Convinced of the Hex, Evil, See the Leaves, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pompeii, The W.A.N.D., She Don’t Use Jelly, Do You Realize?? New Year’s countdown and intermission. Dark Side of the Moon (with Stardeath and White Dwarfs): Speak To Me, Breathe, On the Run, Time, The Great Gig in the Sky, Money, Us and Them, Any Colour You Like, Brain Damage, Eclipse.

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(Above: Mutemath drummer Darren King does the monkey at the Beaumont Club on Oct. 16, 2009.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The Beaumont Club has had many colorful adjectives hurled its way through the years, but “percussive” has probably never been one of them. It’s puzzling, then, that Mutemath drummer Darren King decided to rap his drumsticks on the rafters near the conclusion of Mutemath’s 100-minute show on Friday night.

Balanced on a bass drum held aloft by the crowd, King beat on the metal beams before swinging back onstage like a primate and joining half the band at his proper drum kit to conclude the night.

It took both the quartet and the crowd a while to reach that point, though. For the first half of its show, Mutemath was restrained to a fault, drawing warm applause but little dancing or movement. The audience seemed content to stand and take in the spectacle and see where the music would lead them.

And what a spectacle it was. With the drums set off at extreme stage left, a huge semicircle video screen and bank of lights dominated the setting, the stage looked like Pink Floyd and band sounded like an angular U2, heavy on the Eno.

Mutemath were at their atmospheric best on “Stare at the Sun,” a hypnotic number from their 2006 debut. Like many of their songs, it deals with the search for greater meaning and the uncertainty in those discoveries.

“You Are Mine” made great use of the screen by playing grainy black-and-white film loops behind the band. As singer and keyboard player Paul Meany sang about love, the images blurred the lines between devotion and obsession. On “No Response,” King stood in front of the screen a played a set of illuminated electronic drum pads that set off light cues.

King had the flashiest role, but bass player Roy Mitchell-Cardenas was the band’s secret weapon. Switching between electric and upright bass, his instrument was the only one that consistently carried the melody and existed beyond adding texture. Utility man Greg Hill was the jack of all trades, alternated between guitar – his primary instrument – keyboards and percussion.

After about 30 minutes of foreplay, the band slowly started gaining speed. It started during “Noticed,” when Meany abruptly quit singing and the crowd picked up the song on cue. That led into the bright pop of “Typical,” and a sea of smiles. The main set ended with an insistent reading of “Burden” that found the band stretching out. The powerful performance sounded like it somehow morphed from the single into the 12-inch remix before wrapping back up with the chorus.

After a break and the slight “Pins and Needles,” the band picked back up where it left off with “Spotlight,” which found Meany spontaneously jump up from behind his keyboard and dancing around the stage. “Reset” featured a long instrumental introduction and had been going for nearly 10 minutes when King started dancing on the ceiling. By then, no one wanted to come down.

Setlist: The Nerve, Backfire, Chaos, Clipping, No Response, (unknown song), Stare at the Sun, Electrifying, Armstice, You Are Mine, Peculiar People, Noticed, Typical, Burden. Encore: Pins and Needles, Spotlight, Reset.

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