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(Above: Canadian proggers Rush namecheck Kubla Kahn and search for the sacred river Alph during the epic “Xanadu,” performed on July 9, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. on the R40 tour.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

If this is their final tour, as the band has intimated, Rush’s concert Thursday night at the Sprint Center was a hell of a farewell.

The Canadian progressive rock trio celebrated its 40th anniversary with a nearly three-hour show (including intermission) that walked backward through its catalog.

Rush FYI 07092015 spf 0146fCurtains closed off the sides of the upper level, but there were few empty seats otherwise. The dedicated fan base pantomimed every drum fill and guitar solo, picking their jaws up off the floor just in time to shout and sing along on cue.

Packed with deep cuts — “Between the Wheels,” “Jacob’s Ladder,” “The Camera Eye,” and “How It Is” — the set list was a love letter to those fans. The opening 10-song set moved quickly through the past 30 years, starting with three tracks from 2012’s “Clockwork Angels” before ending at 1982’s “Signals” just an hour later.

A clip from “South Park” kicked off “Tom Sawyer” and the second set. It felt odd hearing a standard encore number so early in the night, a feeling that was reinforced a few songs later with “The Spirit of Radio,” another typical closer.

With the exception of “Closer to the Heart,” another classic rock staple, the rest of the night was given to epic, multipart suites. “Cygnus X-1” stretched more than 20 minutes and included a lengthy solo from revered drummer Neil Peart. Performances of “Xanadu” and an abbreviated “2112” suite also ran longer than 10 minutes each.

The reverse timeline in the set list revealed interesting shifts in the band’s sound, from lean, aggressive guitar rock to concise, almost pop numbers heavy on synthesizers, to extended pieces like “Cygnus” that originally ran so long it was published on two albums. The reverse chronology also meant part two came first.

The stage design mirrored the theme of walking back in time. More recent props like a popcorn machine and large brain were gradually replaced by stacks of amplifiers. Pyrotechnics gave way to strobe lights, lasers and, ultimately, a mirror ball.

Superfan Paul Rudd showed up onstage the last time Rush came to town. He wasn’t physically in the house on Thursday, but appeared with Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel, Peter Dinklage and other celebrities in a recorded rap to “Roll the Bones.” Many of these actors also showed up in the short films that preceded each set, and closed the night.

Rush FYI 07092015 spf 0079fHealth concerns may push the band off the road, but all three appeared in fine form on Thursday. Guitarist Alex Lifeson acted out the lyrics during “Tom Sawyer” and made his bandmates laugh with a corny dance near the end of “Working Man.”

Bassist and keyboard player Geddy Lee galloped across stage and sang in the same impossibly high register he did on albums recorded when he was much younger. In addition to delivering a signature solo, Peart played on a different kit for each set, and altered his drumming style throughout the night to match how he originally recorded the parts.

By the time Eugene Levy’s recorded introduction to the encore started, the stage was stripped almost bare, save a couple amps and a light stand. The video screens displayed a plain red curtain, then a high school gym. “Working Man,” the band’s breakthrough single was tagged with a bit of “Garden Road,” an unreleased outtake from the first album. Going back any further would have ended in nursery rhyme territory, so the three men said goodnight, possibly for the last time in Kansas City, legacy cemented.

Set list

The Anarchist; The Wreckers; Headlong Flight; Far Cry; The Main Monkey Business; How it Is; Animate; Roll the Bones; Between the Wheels; Subdivisions. Intermission. Tom Sawyer; the Camera Eye; the Spirit of Radio; Jacob’s Ladder; Cygnus X-1 Book II > Cygnus X-1 Book I; Closer to the Heart; Xanadu; 2112. Encore: Lakeside Park; Anthem; What You’re Doing; Working Man/Garden Road.

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(Above: Minneapolis rapper Atmosphere performs the song “Kanye West” at the Uptown Theater during the 2015 Middle of the Map festival.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

(Note: With more than 100 bands on eight stages across four days, hearing everything at Middle of the Map is impossible. I bunkered down at the Uptown Theater for most of the festival’s third day.)

Ghastly Menace: There weren’t many people in the Uptown Theater shortly after 6 p.m., but Ghastly Menace played with an intensity like they were trying to convert everyone in the room.

Pushed to the lip of the stage by everyone else’s equipment, the six-piece band from Chicago had no problem generating multi-layered indie pop that had the small cluster of fans dancing throughout the 30-minute set.

Hembree: It didn’t feel like Friday night until “Walk Alone.” The third song in Hembree’s half-hour set at the Uptown opened with a loping guitar eventually joined with a four-to-the-floor drum line that nailed everything into place. The rest of the set didn’t match that moment, but blending synth-pop with shades of Americana and folk harmonies created an interesting sound definitely worth further exploration.

Shiner: Positioned between three indie-centric bands, Shiner hit the reset button at the Uptown with a 40-minute slab of hard rock. One of Kansas City’s best ’90s bands, Shiner hasn’t played many shows since breaking up in 2003.

Singer/guitarist Allen Epley was a bit rusty, begging fans to forgive him if he flubbed the lyrics. After one number he told the crowd the band played it just to prove they still could.

He needn’t have worried. The dedicated fans that filled a healthy portion of the floor were just happy to soak up every note they could, knowing it would likely be a while until this next chance.

lord huron

Lord Huron

Lord Huron: Near the start of Lord Huron’s one-hour set, frontman Ben Schneider recalled the last time the band played town they were at the Riot Room.

Those days are long over. Overcrowding on the floor at the Uptown forced the balcony open. If Coldplay went camping they’d land pretty close to Huron’s earthy, indie folk. Schneider’s warm vocals and jaunty arrangements managed to make lyrics like “darkness got a hold on me” sound sunny. Highlights included the spaghetti Western-influenced “The World Ender” and “Fool for Love,” a new song driven by the Bo Diddley beat.

Atmosphere: In the hands of anyone else, getting a crowd to shout “I’m happy to be alive” and commanding them to wear a smile would be corny. Not so for Slug, MC for the Minneapolis hip-hop group Atmosphere.
Witty wordplay and upbeat samples made the show more party than preachy. Fans at the Uptown eagerly rhymed along and bounced up and down with each song. For 70 minutes, he told stories to a packed floor about fighting temptation (”Lucy Ford”), celebrating circumstances (”Kanye West”) and self-worth (”God Loves Ugly”).

Two of the most poignant moments came back-to-back. “The Waitress” paints a portrait of a woman from the perspective of a homeless man. Moments later, thoughts of a deserted, deceased father flood the mind during “Yesterday.”

Ostensibly promoting their eighth album, Slug conferred with his two DJs and focused on older material, going back as far as 1995 for “God’s Bathroom Floor.”

bass drum

Bass Drum of Death

Bass Drum of Death: While not particularly lethal, Bass Drum of Death are very much what-you-see-is-what-you-get. With just two guitars and drums, the sound is so stripped down that even backing vocals are considered a luxury.

The three-piece band from Oxford, Miss., traffics in the same garage and classic rock as Jeff the Brotherhood: sharp bursts of scuzz that pack plenty of punch and don’t overstay their welcome. The post-midnight crowd at Ernie Biggs enjoyed what it got. A low stage meant bad sight lines, but dozens of heads clustered around the band bobbed and throbbed with the beat throughout the 50-minute performance.

Katy Guillen and the Girls: They closed down the Westport Saloon. Their 1 a.m. set drew a substantial amount of fans, who sang along and rejoiced in Guillen’s every guitar solo. Rooted in the same blues rock as Cream, Guillen and her tight two-piece rhythm section shined especially bright when they stretched out on long instrumental passages.

Keep reading:

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Middle of the Map 2013

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