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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.”

photo (2)

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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By Joel Francis

Discovering a new local band can be as easy as searching Myspace, checking the weekly entertainment listings or visit­ing a club’s Web site (see below). Here’s the skinny on the six bands interviewed for this story.

The Architects
Label: Anodyne Records
Description of music: “Colossally loud and exciting. We’re not retro, but if you like The Who, Credence Clearwater Revival, Led Zeppelin or The Clash, you’re going to like us.” – Brandon Phillips, vocals/guitar
myspace.com/architectskcmo

In the Pines
Label: Second Nature
Description of music: “I always think of us as pretty but dark folk rock, although that might sound like a cliché.” – Brad Hodgson, guitar/vocals
inthepinesmusic.com

Olympic Size
Label: unsigned
Description of music: “Cinematic love songs. It’s very lush. A lot of people call it ‘chamber pop’ because of the harmonies. I’ve also heard it called ‘urban folk.'” – Kirsten Paludan, vocals/guitar/keys
myspace.com/olympicsize

The Republic Tigers
Label: Chop Shop
Description of music: “Super-sexy, melodic pop, or future folk with an edge.” – Kenn Jankowski, guitar/vocals
myspace.com/therepublictigers

Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys
Label: Bloodshot
Description of music: “Honky tonk. Drinking and cheating. Love songs.” – Rex Hobart, vocals/guitar
rexhobart.com

The Roman Numerals
Label: Anodyne
Description of music: “Dance music the punk fans can dance to and punk music the dance fans can punk to. But we’re all children of the ’80s, so that’s also reflected.” – Billy Smith, guitar, vocals
theromannumerals.com

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(Note: the following feature appeared in the April, 2008 issue of KC Magazine.)

By Joel Francis

When Keenan Nichols was 19, he couldn’t wait to get out of Kansas City. The Avondale native and North Kansas City High School graduate wanted a bigger city where he had a better chance of making a living as a guitarist. He escaped to a town with a more promising music setting-Dallas.

“The scene in Dallas was great at first, but over the last few years, it started dying off,” Nichols said. “Everyone down there lost interest in live music. Everything became a race to become the next Miami and see who could build the most dance clubs.”

When Nichols came back to Kansas City on visits, he’d catch glimpses in his hometown of what he’d hoped to find in Dallas. Even­tually, he moved back.

“It seemed like the scene had grown up a little bit,” said Nichols, guitarist for the hard rock band The Architects. “With that distance, I gained a big appreciation for everyone here sticking to their guns and trying to make things happen.”

Scott Hobart moved to Kansas City in 1989 to take classes at the Kansas City Art Institute, but he found himself gravitating to the clubs more than the classrooms. Hobart was a member of the hard rock band Giant Chair when he had a change of heart (and name) and started writing country songs. Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys cel­ebrated 10 years of honky tonk last December.

“I’ve never felt stifled geographically by playing in Kansas City,” Hobart said. “Being a country band, people always ask us why we aren’t in Nashville. Nashville’s inundated. Our music doesn’t mean anything there. There’s something more original about playing here. You can’t just be in a band to impress someone. It has to mean something.”

In the neighborhood

The desire for musical integrity, which is shared by many Kansas City bands, translates to a neighborhood of musicians who collaborate more than compete.

“The greatest thing about our scene is that it is so supportive,” said Auggie Wolber, mem­ber of Americana band In the Pines. “We’ve all played together so long, everyone has gotten to know each other.”

The spirit of fraternity is reflected in the number of benefit shows thrown for other musicians. When blues guitarist Danny Cox’s house burned down in January, several bands (including Irish ensemble The Elders) eagerly signed on to perform at a sold-out benefit con­cert. That same spirit showed at a successful 2006 benefit for Blackpool Lights drummer Billy Brimblecom.

Making the decision to help Billy was not difficult for The Architects.

“Our old band and his old band had done some touring together and become pretty close. If he had needed a transplant, I would’ve con­sidered it,” said Architects singer Brandon Phillips. “It turned out he only needed us to play [for] 45 minutes and not get paid.”

Audiences show the same supportive spirit.

“The biggest show of support I’ve seen was when I was playing hard rock and de­cided I wanted to sing songs with a story in front of a country band,” Hobart said. “It may have confused some people at first, but everyone I knew from the rock side came out to hear me, and they’ve supported me the whole time.

“If you can switch genres drastically and have people willing to try it on some level, it proves the open-mindedness and good nature of our community,” Hobart said.

It also means more musical diversity. A punk band might play Davy’s Uptown op­posite a country band at the Record Bar one night, but the next day those same clubs may offer blues or indie rock.

“One of the great things about this town is you can go to the Re­cord Bar and see Rex (Hobart) and have dinner, or you can go to Davy’s Uptown and hear free jazz,” said Wolber of In the Pines.

The success of First Fridays and the revitalization of downtown points to the appetite and appreciation Kansas Citians have for the arts.

“I’m always surprised at how many people turn out for The Pitch Music Showcase,” said Record Bar co-owner and Roman Numerals instrumentalist Steven Tulipana. “Five bucks gets you all over town to hear different kinds of music.”

Ayo Technology

In the past, record stores provided an outlet for local artists with in-store performances and prominent displays. Today, Myspace pages and email lists provide a level of promotion and exposure that reaches far be­yond stapling a flier to the wall.

Just ask Adam McGill of The Republic Tigers, a local band re­cently signed to an imprint of Atlantic Records and discovered via the band’s Myspace site.

“An A and R (artist and relations) rep with Atlantic found us on our site and started talking with us,” McGill said. “She asked for a CD and then passed it on to Alexandra.”

Alexandra is Alexandra Patsavas. The name might not be familiar, but the TV shows for which she selects music are-“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Numb3rs” and “Gossip Girl.” Patvas loved the band and made them the first act signed to her Chop Shop Records label. The Republic Tigers’ debut album was just released earlier this spring.

Similarly, Olympic Size found one of their songs featured prominently on MTV’s “The Real World” thanks to a pitch from Anodyne, a local record label. It’s an impressive feat for anyone, let alone a band without a long-term record contract or even a finished album.

“I think you’re more likely to get discovered out of Kansas City than you are in a big city where you’ll get lost in the mix of a billion other bands,” said Republic Tiger Kenn Jankowski. “With the Internet, it’s easy for anyone to find you.”

Join Together

Knowing about the “next big thing” could be as close as a write-up in The Pitch or The Kansas City Star‘s preview section.

“If a band shows up in there, it’s a pretty good chance they have their stuff together,” said Olympic Size guitarist Kirsten Paludan. “I think some people have a perception that rock isn’t for every­one, but this is a music scene that can appeal to a wide range of people. It’s not just for teenagers, hipsters or artists.”

Kansas City is big enough to support many types of music yet small enough that it’s not difficult to stay in the know about what’s happening across town.

“Our city is very diverse. There’s a band out there for every­body-for the kids, for the rockers; it’s all out there waiting to be discovered,” said Darren Welch of In the Pines. “Just take a chance. Pay the $5 cover and wait to be surprised.”

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