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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.”

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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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(Above: Muse borrow a bit from Van Halen and then Queen with their performance of “Stockholm Syndrome” during their headlining set on the second day of Kanrocksas.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record 

Note: For my coverage of the Kanrocksas music festival, I decided not to cover any band’s previously reviewed by The Daily Record. Visit the archives to read about theArctic MonkeysBlack KeysFlaming LipsFlogging Molly and Girl Talk. Go here to read a review of Day 1.

Best Coast

The confessional California-based indie rock trio deserved better. Singer Beth Costentino’s intimate songs about frustrated crushes and missed chances wilted under the bright, blazing mid-day sun. Her lo-fi, straight-ahead songs are best suited for small, dark clubs, not 100-degree afternoons.

Costentino and her rhythm section of Bobb Bruno and Ali Koehler made the best of a bad time slot, though. The trio plays with considerably more power than is hinted at on their full-length debut LP and the sound was full despite the lack of bass guitar (Costentino and Bruno both played electric guitar while Koehler held down the beat on his drum kit).

The best moment’s of the 40-minute set were many of the same high points on the record: “Boyfriend,” which came out early, “Bratty B,” “Something In the Way” and the new song “When You Wake Up.” Colorful remnants of Friday’s Flaming Lips set still littered the ground as the band played.

OK GO

OK Go are better known for their videos than their music. Although the indie rock band’s 40-minute set showed they have depth beyond viral treadmill clips, their reputation is also fair.

The four musicians took the stage wearing bright, monotone Crayola suits, invited a fan onstage to play guitar and donned white gloves before performing “What To Do” on hand bells. Lead singer Damian Kulash left the stage to perform a couple songs acoustically, surrounded by the crowd. Upon returning to the stage, Kulash pulled out a digital camera and took a picture of the audience, promising to post it on Facebook so everyone could tag themselves. That, my friends, is marketing 2.0.

Behind the spectacle, the music was catchy and bouncy, filled with touches of New Wave and disco, a la Franz Ferdinand, and elements of the Cars, Cheap Trick and Roxy Music. High points included “White Knuckles,” “Do What You Want “ and “Here It Goes Again,” aka the treadmill song.

A Perfect Circle

The sun was just starting to set as A Perfect Circle took the stage. It was fitting, because this thinking-man’s metal band lives in the shadows and darkness. Each song was an exercise in subtly shifting textures and tempos, making each performance seem longer than it actually was.

One third of the quintet’s dozen songs were covers. “People Are People” opened with a slow, building solo that placed the Depeche Mode hit in a completely new context. Likewise, a minor-key reading of John Lennon’s “Imagine” may have resembled how Mark David Chapman heard the anthem for peace. Songs like “Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums” and “The Outsider” offered one of the weekend’s few opportunities for head banging and get the metal out.

Each of the five band members stood on their own platforms, denying a single visual focus. Much of the pyrotechnics came from guitarist Billy Howerdel and beastly drummer Josh Freese, raised behind him. Singer Maynard James Keenan stood in the back left, out of the spotlight, back to the crowd.  Former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha was elevated in the center.

Take-aways:

The layout provided easy access to several water stations, toilets and dedicated shade areas. The sound at all three stages and the DJ tent was surprisingly clear and aside from the large obligatory sound tents, all of the stages had decent sight lines.

My biggest complaint was the placement of the Ad Astra Stage. While the Stagesaurus Rex and Main Stage faced each other at either end of the main field, travelling to the Ad Astra Stage forced crowds through several gated bottlenecks. This made bouncing between the Ad Astra to the main area take longer than necessary, and forced fans to choose between forgoing the final songs of the current set or missing the opening numbers of the next one.

The Charity Village – a nice forum for local non-profits to introduce themselves to fans – was easily overlooked in the back of one of the vendor tents. It deserved more prominent placement.

All told, the foundation for what I hope will be a longstanding Kansas City summer tradition was in place.

Keep reading:

Review: Lilith Fair

Open wide for Mouth

Review: Smashing Pumpkins, Cake

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(Above: Raffi was a staple of The Daily Record’s early childhood. The oft-spun LP remains in its archives.)

By Joel Francis

Like many adolescent males in the mid-‘60s, Canadian Dan Lanois pined for a guitar. But he didn’t just want to make music, he wanted to record it, too.

Armed with an instrument and a cheap, tiny cassette recorder, Lanois and his brother Robert started recording anything they could find. They soon found manipulating the results was almost as fun as making and capturing the sounds. The siblings eventually invested in a four-track recorder and set up a small studio in the laundry room of their mother’s Ancaster, Ontario home.

The domestic facility was named MSR Studios, and the brothers advertised that for $60 they would not only record a band’s demo, but arrange, play on and compose the tracks as well. A short time after MSR Studios opened for business in the mid-‘70s, the Lanois brothers’ ad caught the eye of Egyptian immigrant Raffi Cavoukian.

Cavoukian was a veteran of Toronto’s folk circuit, but his 1975 album, “Good Luck Boy” generated little heat. Cavoukian’s mother-in-law encouraged him to write and record some songs for the children at her preschool. Aided by his wife, kindergarten teacher Debi Pike, Cavoukian recorded a tape that was so successful other schools started requesting copies.

MSR Studios was everything Cavoukian was looking for. Cheap, efficient and local it even came with its own musicians. In 1976, Cavoukian borrowed $4,000 from a bank recorded his first children’s album, “Singable Songs for the Very Young,” at the Lanois brother’s small home studio. Dan Lanois also played mandolin, recorded, mixed and engineered the album.

The easygoing, folk-flavored “Singable Songs for the Very Young” was a smash that ranked among top children’s album more than two decades after it was released.  Boosted by sessions with Cavoukian, by now going by simply Raffi, Doug McArthur, another Toronto folkie, and rock band Simply Saucer, the Lanois brothers soon had enough money to move their studio to better quarters. In 1978 they purchased a Hamilton, Ontario house on Grant Avenue, which became, naturally, Grant Avenue Studio.

Raffi was one of the first artists to use Grant Avenue Studio. By now he and Dan Lanois had collaborated on two albums and would go on to record two more together. Their body of work together comprised Raffi’s first four children’s albums. Grant Avenue also boasted sessions by singer/songwriter Ian Tyson and new wave band Martha and the Muffins.

The Muffins had just come off a commercially successful tour opening for Roxy Music, but they lost two members in the process. When the remaining quartet decided to carry on, one of the new musicians they recruited was bass player Jocelyne Lanois, sister of Dan and Robert. The Muffins got permission from Virgin to make an album with Dan Lanois with the stipulation that they operate on a miniscule budget. This was no obstacle for Lanois, and the resulting album “This is the Ice Age” generated a Top 40 Canadian single.

The band and album didn’t do much outside of the Great White North, however, and they were dropped by Virgin. The Muffin’s relationship with Lanois, however, flourished through two more albums. Their 1984 album, “Mystery Walk,” featured guest drummer Yogi Horton. Horton was a veteran of the 1981 experimental album “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” and was recommended by his boss during those sessions, Brian Eno.

Eno, of course, had cemented his legendary reputation with his work in Roxy Music and the solo albums he released in the first half of the 1970s, and his production work with Devo, David Bowie, Talking Heads and the “No New York” No Wave compliation in the second half of the decade. By the mid-‘80s, Eno and Lanois were longtime associates.

Lanois’ tape and recording manipulations first caught Eno’s attention in the late ‘70s. Although embroiled in producing the final chapter in Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy” and on albums with both the Talking Heads and their bandleader David Byrne, Eno and Lanois met at Grant Avenue to experiment with sound and recording. In 1979, Eno recorded “The Plateaux of Mirror,” the second installment in his ambient series, with Harold Budd at Grant Avenue. Although they did not produce the album, “Bob and Danny Lanois” are thanked in the album credits.

In 1982, Lanois co-produced and played some on the fourth installment of Eno’s ambient series, “On Land.” The following year, Lanois received cover billing for his musical and production contributions to the “Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks.” One of the album’s tracks, “Silver Morning,” was essentially a Lanois solo performance.

When U2 asked Eno to produce their fourth album, “The Unforgettable Fire,” in 1984 Eno brought Lanois with him. The next year, Eno recommended Lanois to Peter Gabriel to help with the “Birdy” soundtrack.

Ten years after opening MSR Studios in his mother’s laundry room, Lanois was an A-list producer. He and Gabriel collaborated on several landmark albums, including “So” and “Us.” Eno and Lanois also repeatedly re-teamed with U2 for “The Joshua Tree,” portions of “Rattle and Hum,” “Achtung Baby,” “All that You Can’t Leave Behind” and the Irish quartet’s most recent album, “No Line on the Horizon.” Lanois has also worked with Emmylou Harris, the Neville Brothers, Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, Hothouse Flowers, Willie Nelson and released several solo albums.

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