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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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Review: The Decemberists

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(Above: “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” was Charles Mingus’ tribute to Lester Young. It has been a regular part of Jeff Beck’s performances for the past 30 years.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The guitarist’s guitarist, Jeff Beck has a long and varied career. Here are some of the high points from each of the genres he’s worked in.

Blues

“Ultimate Yardbirds” (2001)

The song “For Your Love” brought the Yardbirds their first big hit, but it cost them their guitarist. When Eric Clapton quit the group for abandoning their blues roots, Jeff Beck was recruited. Beck’s tenure in the Yardbirds bridged the early rave-up blues era and the later psychedelic rock phase. For a brief period, he was joined by Jimmy Page on bass and, later, second guitar. Shortly after the Beck-Page incarnation appeared in the film “Blow Up,” Beck left the band and started his solo career. He has, however, participated on several of the Yardbirds’ reunion albums.

Note: The Yardbirds’ catalog was a frustrating mess of reissues and piecemeal compilations until Rhino released the two-disc anthology “Ultimate Yardbirds.” The collection contains every A-side, key album tracks and a handful of rarities across all three eras of the band.

Hard rock

“Truth” (1968), “Beck-Ola” (1969)

As a nonvocalist, Beck has always had to hunt for a singer. When assembling his first post-Yardbirds project, he nabbed a little-known English R&B singer Rod “The Mod” Stewart. He also recruited Ronnie Wood to play bass. The trio — joined by a rotating cast of drummers — made two albums together before Stewart and Wood left to join the Faces. Both records have a similar feel to the heavy blues/rock Beck’s former bandmate Jimmy Page was making with Led Zeppelin.

Progressive rock

“Beck Bogert Appice,” “Live in Japan” (both 1973)

After the demise of the Jeff Beck Group’s second lineup, Beck teamed up with the rhythm section from Vanilla Fudge, drummer Carmen Appice and bass player Tim Bogert. While the studio album was a typical slab of power trio hard rock, the band expanded its template on the live album, stretching several songs to the 10-minute mark. Both albums contain Beck’s version of “Superstition,” the song Stevie Wonder wrote with Beck in mind, before Wonder’s manager persuaded him to keep it for himself.

Jazz/fusion

“Blow by Blow” (1975), “Wired” (1976)

Beck teamed with producer George Martin for his first all-instrumental solo projects. Asthetically, the albums fit comfortably alongside Chick Corea’s “Return to Forever” and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. “Blow by Blow” contains two Stevie Wonder covers and a version of the Beatles’ “She’s a Woman.” “Wired” contains some outtakes from the “Blow by Blow” sessions and a cover of Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” that has become a concert staple. The drummer on “Wired,” Narada Michael Walden, is in Beck’s current touring band.

Pop

“Flash” (1985)

After a five-year recess, Beck returned with Nile Rodgers of Chic. “Flash” was Beck’s bid for mainstream credibility and featured eight singers across its 11 tracks. The album won a Grammy and reunited Beck with Stewart on Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.”

Rockabilly

“Crazy Legs” (1993)

The guitar sound on “B-I-Bickey-Bi, Bo-Bo-Go” and other early Gene Vincent singles had a big effect on Beck as a teenager. In the early ’90s he paired with the Big Town Playboys to pay tribute to Cliff Gallup, Vincent’s guitar player.

Techno

“Who Else!” (1999), “You Had It Coming” (2001)

Longtime fans were surprised when Beck embraced the samples and looping techniques made popular by the Chemical Brothers and Aphex Twins. “You Had It Coming” finds Beck sparring with guitarist Jennifer Batten and features an update of Muddy Waters’ “Rolling and Tumbling” with Imogen Heap on vocals.

Guest Appearances

Jeff Beck has popped up in some unlikely places over the years. Here are some of his most noteworthy performances on others’ albums.

  • Stevie Wonder – “Talking Book” on the song “Lookin’ For Another Pure Love”
  • Tina Turner – “Private Dancer” on the song “Private Dancer”
  • Mick Jagger – “She’s the Boss” and “Primitive Cool”
  • Roger Waters – “Amused to Death”
  • Jon Bon Jovi – “Blaze of Glory – Young Guns II” soundtrack
  • Hans Zimmer – “Days of Thunder” soundtrack
  • Buddy Guy – “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues” on the song “Mustang Sally”
  • The Pretenders – “Viva el Amor!” on the song “Legalise Me”
  • Toots and the Maytals – “True Love” on the song “54-46 Was My Number”
  • Cyndi Lauper – “The Body Acoustic” on the song “Above the Clouds”
  • Morrissey – “Years of Refusal” on the song “Black Cloud”

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(Above: Mouth gets “Gnarly” at the Jackpot Saloon.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Fans wanting to pigeonhole Mouth’s music, do so at their own risk.

The three-piece Kansas City band combines elements of funk, jazz, pop, hip hop, electronica and progressive rock in their unique, dance-friendly instrumental songs.

“People have tried to make us either a jam band or a jazz/fusion band,” drummer Stephen “Gunar” Gunn says as guitarist Jeremy Anderson finishes the sentence. “Whatever genre people pigeonhole us as, they always complain.”

Talking with the band, which also includes bass player Zach Rizer, is like trying to catch a ping pong ball in a shower stall. The three are just as in synch in conversation as they are when playing. Words zip around as the three finish each other’s sentences and try to complete their own thoughts.

“I used to be afraid of being pigeonholed by the jam-band crowd,” Anderson says. “Honestly, they’re a lot more open-minded than anybody.”

They also provide a nice business model. Mouth tape all of their shows and try to saturate the market with recordings in hopes that the music will find its way out ahead of the band.

“These shows in Topeka and Wichita are the first time we’ve done two shows out of town in a row,” Gunn says of a recently completed road trip. “Right now we’re just trying to figure out how to play and get out on the road where we’ll at least earn near our gas money.”

Mouth – the name is a play on the fact that there’s no vocalist – perform in Springfield, Mo. on Saturday and will celebrate their first birthday on Jan. 29 at the Jazzhaus in Lawerence, Kan. One year ago the trio was playing a First Friday art exhibit and dipping their toe into the scene at the Jackpot Saloon.

Download the Mouth album "Escape from the North Pole" for free at http://www.abandcalledmouth.com/music/.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to get a cake in, but I want to make party favors, maybe put songs on a CD and give them out,” Anderson said. Several friends of the band, including guitarist Matt DeViney, who co-founded Gunn’s previous band Groovelight, and local MCs Reach and Phantom will also help celebrate with the band.

Although hip hop is now a staple of the band’s catalog and all three members were longtime fans, embracing the genre was purely a business decision.  After six months of drawing meager crowds, Rizer looked at what was getting covered in the music press and where people were going and decided hip hop was the way to go. As soon as they made the switch, they attracted some attention in The Pitch. They also started growing unexpectedly as musicians.

“When you take anything from samples, you not only have to learn the parts, but you have to learn how to put them together,” Rizer says. “There are a lot of subtle things at work, like tambour and tone. The funny thing about hip hop is that DJs will play samples against each other you wouldn’t think to combine.”

For Anderson it was a chance to add his favorite elements of progressive rock – long, intricate parts – and incorporate them in a hip hop setting.

“Our songs are structured like progressive rock, but feel like hip hop,” he says. “We’re not playing prog hop, though. We’re playing hip hop.”

The members of Mouth grew up in musical families. Anderson’s little brother got a guitar, but never played it, so the 10-year-old started noodling on Steely Dan and King Crimson licks. Gunn grew up immersed in music. His dad was a drummer in the band Heat Index and moved out to California in his ‘20s to pursue a career in music. The white bass drum in Gunn’s kit was originally part of his dad’s rig.

“When I was 13, my dad didn’t want me to play because he thought it was bad for my ears,” Gunn says. “He put the kit away in the attic, but I kept getting it out and playing.”

Rizer’s father was also a musician. His dad and grandpa, both named David Rizer, were jazz musicians. Grandpa Rizer played guitar with Oscar Peterson and Charlie Parker. David Jr. plays trumpet, bass and sings and plays regularly with Everette DeVan at the Blue Room.

“My dad never pushed, but I was always surrounded by music,” says Rizer, who counts Bootsy Collins, Jaco Pastorius and Motown bassman James Jamerson among his influences. “I didn’t listen to anything rock-ish until I was older.”

At Shawnee Mission Northwest High School, Anderson introduced Rizer to rock and roll, while Rizer shared his love of funk, soul and jazz. Gunn, meanwhile, forged his own path, eventually performing at Wakarusa Music Festival with Groovelight in 2005.

“That show was kind of a turning point for me,” Gunn says. “At the time, I was into the whole progressive side, with odd time signatures. I was into Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever. At Wakarusa I realized people want to dance, not just listen. I used to play for the one guy who would appreciate us and tell us about that one measure 13/8. Now it’s come full circle to just wanting people to dance.”

One number the trio play is “Bad Wolf,” a new song that takes its name from Doctor Who. Anderson is seated, bent over his guitar, his nimble fingers dancing across the frets. When told his playing is reminiscent of Adrian Belew, he humbly replies “It should. I have his guitar and amp.” As Rizer’s groove takes over the melody, Gunn applies a hip hop/reggae rhythm on the drums. There’s very little eye contact; each musician lost in his own world.

“When we’re onstage, we definitely look at each other more,” Anderson said. “We’re constantly trying to push the boundaries of the song and include different elements.”

After a year together, Mouth has no future goals beyond continuing to push each other and trying to find a balance between the written and improvised.

“I’m looking forward to seeing where the music goes,” Gunn said. “We just pour ourselves into different scenes and see what happens.”

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(Above: “The Rake Song,” a standout cut from “The Hazards of Love.”)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

What you thought of Wednesday night’s concert by the Decemberists at the Uptown Theater is largely based on your opinion of the band’s latest release, “The Hazards of Love.”

The Portland-based lit-rockers played the album in its entirety during the first set of their 2-hour, 15-minute set. That meant fans who weren’t familiar with the record (or just wanted the old stuff) had to wait over an hour before the band gave them the goods.“The Hazards of Love” isn’t a standard catalog entry. It’s a full-on concept album that nearly buckles under its own weight. The story involves a woman in love with a changeling who lives in the forest and gets kidnapped by a jealous queen. Somehow an angry rake is also involved.

And while the Decemberists had hints of progressive rock in their music before, they have now embraced it completely. “Hazards” isn’t too far from the being the indie equivalent of “Tales of Topgraphic Oceans.” In other words, the evening needed a huge caveat before the first note was played.

But what a note it was. Organist Jenny Conlee took the stage alone pumping huge cords out of her B3 organ as her bandmates slowly joined her. The music shifted from acoustic numbers to heavy blues-based Black Sabbath riffs, country and canticles as different themes and characters were introduced.

To help with their production, the quintet enlisted Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond to play the beau and queen. Both artists were committed to their roles. Stark wore an all-white, flowing princess dress and would sway back and forth and gently swing her arms when her character appeared in the plot. Worden, whose band opened for the Decemberists last time they were in town, succeeded in her efforts to look and sound sinister.

While delivering the unabridged “Hazards of Love” may not be the most palatable approach, in hindsight it is understandable. Each number was largely dependent on the songs around it. Only a few numbers might have stood alone.

“The Wanting Comes In Waves” has a great pop chorus that ultimately serves as the climax to the tale. “The Rake Song” found everyone on stage, save songwriter/frontman Colin Meloy and bass player Nate Query banging on small drum sets placed throughout the stage. The power of those four additional drummers brought the hammer of the gods to the song.

“Margaret in Captivity” was another highlight. Backlit by a huge white light, Stark looked ethereal as the band played an intriguing melody that unfortunately shared the same chord changes as Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive.”

Meloy’s “thank you” at the end of “Hazards” was his first acknowledgement of the audience. However, after the half-hour break, Meloy returned as his usual loquacious self.

The band came back sans Stark and Worden took their time delivering favorites from across their catalog, stopping to tell jokes, organizing sing-alongs, explaining their songs and goading the audience. Before they played “Oceanside” Meloy explained what an ocean is because “I know that many of you have never seen an ocean. It’s much bigger than your muddy Missouri (River).”

Nearly every song in the second hour was greeted with big applause and loud singing. The crowd especially got into “Dracula’s Daughter,” the unreleased number Meloy called his worst song ever. That flowed right into “O Valencia,” which got the biggest response of the night.

At the end of “Valencia,” Worden and Stark snuck back onstage as a single spotlight focused on Meloy playing a familiar Spanish-tinged solo on his acoustic guitar. Suddenly the stage lit up and the rest of the band hit the riff to Heart’s “Crazy On You.” Worden and Stark threw themselves into their new roles as Ann and Nancy Wilson, showing off some great rock and roll pipes.

The encore kicked off with Meloy delivering a solo acoustic reading of the love song “Red Right Ankle.” That was followed by “A Cautionary Song,” which found everyone but Meloy, Query and Conlee parading through the audience with drums, tambourines and other percussion. Somehow Meloy orchestrated that maneuver into a lighthearted restaging of “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Whatever. Anyone who sat through an hour of music involving a rake and bought a ticket for something the band called “A Short Fazed Hovel Tour” was definitely up for anything thrown at them.

| Joel Francis, Special to The Star

Setlist: The “Hazards of Love” album. Intermission. Oceanside; July July!; Billy Liar; We Both Go Down Together;The Engine Driver; The Sporting Life; Dracula’s Daughter; O Valencia; Crazy On You; Encore: Red Right Ankle ; A Cautionary Song

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