The year 2017 affirmed what we’d learned over the past two or three years: Kansas City has become a destination city for the live-music industry.
Among the biggest moments in 2017: Three major acts opened their tours in Kansas City, all at the Sprint Center: Roger Waters, Ed Sheeran and One Republic. Garth Brooks returned to Kansas City for the first time in 10 years, performing seven shows over two weekends. U2 returned to Kansas City for the first time since 2001, drawing more than 40,000 fans to Arrowhead.
Here’s the 10 most memorable shows I saw, including excerpts from my reviews. Following that is a list of 10 other notable shows reviewed by me or fellow reviewers Bill Brownlee, Aaron Randle or Joel Francis.
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Tom Petty, June 2 at the Sprint Center: The day of the show, a diehard Petty fan who had never seen him in concert needed to be persuaded to buy an expensive floor seat through a broker. I said: “Go. He hasn’t played here in seven years. Who knows when he’ll be back.” Turns out he won’t, ever. Petty died in October; he was 66. His death has made his last, sold-out Kansas City appearance revered and even more memorable, from the start of the show to his final farewell:
“As he and his band took the stage for the encore, Petty bowed and blew kisses to his crowd, patting his heart with one hand a few times, recalled the Heartbreakers’ first Kansas City show in 1977, thanked the crowd and advised why they play here often: ‘You always came back.’ ”
U2 with Beck, Sept. 12 at Arrowhead Stadium: Nearly 16 years had passed since their previous Kansas City performance (at the now defunct Kemper Arena), so the crowd of 40,000-plus that showed up was roiling with anticipation and Ireland’s greatest rock band more than fulfilled expectations. The show featured “The Joshua Tree” album in its entirety plus plenty of hits and favorites and many expressions of hope and love.
The band closed with “One,” a hymn about unity and compassion and charity and love. Bono delivered a short sermon before the song, once again celebrating the American spirit, despite recent events that have “summoned dark spirits,” like the Charlottesville march, and recalling the humanitarian response to hurricanes in Texas and Florida.
“There’s nothing we can’t do when we’re united,” he said, preaching to a congregation that was one and single-minded all night.
Radiohead, April 5 at the Sprint Center: Its nearly sold-out second Kansas City show in five years was also Radiohead’s second show ever in Kansas City. Once again, they delivered a show for the ages:
“What makes Radiohead such an exceptional and exciting live band is its ability to deliver with both abandon and precision the dynamic energy and captivating moods of their studio recordings. All night they shifted deftly from heavy, ecstatic rock throw-downs to quiet, lush lullabies and hymns, showing off their command of many styles.”
Queen with Adam Lambert, July 9 at the Sprint Center: It’s rare for a band to overcome the death of a charismatic and legendary lead singer like Freddie Mercury and revive its unique and beloved sound with only two original members (Brian May and Roger Taylor) and a replacement singer (Adam Lambert). But this version of Queen pulled it off, with panache and aplomb.
“Throughout the show, Lambert paid respects to Mercury and his larger-than-life reputation. He also deferred to May and Taylor, calling them ‘rock Gods’ and ‘legends.’ But he did not back down from commanding the stage, vocally, physically and otherwise, and imparting upon the show his own personality and flavor.”
Garth Brooks, May 6 at the Sprint Center: His third of five shows in three days was, by a hair, the best of a sold-out weekend. On this Saturday night, Brooks delivered the usual barrage of greatest hits with unbridled enthusiasm and on his biggest hit, he was joined on stage by some hometown heroes.
“During ‘Friends in Low Places,’ instead of crew members invading the stage brandishing air cannons to rain streamers and confetti upon the crowd on the floor, as they did during the afternoon show, Brooks enlisted Royals players Eric Hosmer, Drew Butera, Whit Merrifield, Brandon Moss and Travis Wood, all sporting white jerseys. The place went from bonkers to berserk.”
Bruno Mars, Aug. 9 at the Sprint Center: He returned to the Sprint Center four years to the day after his previous show there. Before a sold-out-plus crowd of 16,000, he again proved he is one of the best live entertainers in music.
“Bruno Mars has it figured out, has it down pat. Three albums and more than 10 years into a music career, Mars has elevated himself into the stratosphere of pop stardom. … And for good reason: Mars has become a marquee entertainer, one who knows that the best shows are about more than just good songs; they are about talented entertainers delivering spectacle, energy and flash.”
Janet Jackson, Oct. 19 at the Sprint Center: She arrived in Kansas City as a woman in her 50s, the single mother of a 10-month-old son and a pop icon with a lot on her mind. Her show was packed with hits but also infused with deeper concerns and heavier messages.
“She closed with ‘Well Traveled,’ a hymn about wanderlust. It felt anticlimactic after what preceded it: Songs about love, sex, romance and heartfelt sermons about serious issues, like racism and sex abuse.
“Jackson is well into her fifth decade as a performer and a decade beyond her commercial peak. Yet Thursday night, she felt as vital and relevant as ever: a woman who refuses to relinquish power or control and a new mother deeply concerned about the world her child will grow up in.”
Katy Perry, Oct. 27 at the Sprint Center: Her third Sprint Center show in six years was much like its predecessors: bloated with visual spectacle and extravagance and loaded with Top 10 hits — two hours of nonstop entertainment. Amid all the usual flash and dazzle, there was a memorable moment:
“She invited a girl from the back of the arena to come on stage and make a wish upon the shooting star that had emerged from the rafters as she performed ‘Thinking of You’ solo acoustic.
“The girl, Zoey, 12, said Perry was her idol and that she wanted to be a pop singer, too, but didn’t think she was capable. When Perry asked her what her wish was, the girl changed gears and said she wished kids in high school would stop bullying her older sister, who is autistic.
“And then the girl broke down, and as Perry embraced her for a solid minute, she did a bit, too. Perry turned it into a moment of triumph, getting the crowd to shout out an anti-bullying chant and calling out the high school (McPherson, Kansas, we’re looking at you.) She followed that with an inspired version of ‘Power,’ which suited the moment perfectly.”
Lady Gaga, Nov. 15 at the Sprint Center: Her third headlining show at the Sprint Center was the least explosive of the three; it included a few downtempo, introspective moments, including a memorial to the aunt for whom she titled her latest album, “Joanne.” Otherwise, she gave 16,000 fans everything they expected:
“For two hours … the pop superstar unleashed nearly two dozen songs, accompanied by plenty of spectacular visuals: flashpots; elaborate laser and LED displays; high-flying and gymnastic choreography from her large dance troupe; a dynamic five-piece band; an array of videos and other graphics; and a four-piece stage connected by a series of bridges that transported Gaga from one end of the arena to the other.”
The Folk Alliance International, Feb. 15-19 at the Westin Crown Center: The festival included artist-in residencies, which featured a documentary about Rita Chiarelli and the music program she directed in a women’s prison in Topeka; and a collaboration between the Kansas City rock band Making Movies and Kansas City police officer Octavio “Chato” Villalobos, who recited a poem he’d written, accompanied by original music from Making Movies; plus the final day’s Kansas City Folk Festival, which featured a spirited performance by English folk singer/activist Billy Bragg.
“Over the weekend, Bragg visited the National World War I Museum and Memorial ‘to pay my respects to the sacrifice made by the American people in defense of democracy and helping us restore peace to Europe.’
“The visit, he said, was also a reminder of ‘what happens if we let belligerent nationalism run unchallenged around the world. There are many types of socialism and many types of nationalism and not all of them are negative. My patriotism is based on our free health-care system in the United Kingdom … and our ability to absorb cultures from around the world and people from around the world. We on the left can never allow our enemies to own our flag and use it to oppress other people.’ ”
Other notable shows
▪ Sting, Feb. 16 at the Uptown Theater
▪ Patti LaBelle, March 17 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
▪ Bryan Ferry, March 24 at the Uptown Theater
▪ Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, May 5 at the Uptown Theater
▪ Roger Waters, May 26 at Crossroads KC
▪ Samantha Fish, May 26 at Crossroads KC
▪ Elvis Costello and the Imposters, June 9 at Crossroads KC
▪ Ed Sheeran, June 29 at the Sprint Center
▪ Kendrick Lamar, Aug. 16 at the Sprint Center
▪ Arcade Fire, Oct. 27 at the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena