Holiday music fest at Midland is a feast of indie-rock treats

12/15/2013 1:18 PM

12/15/2013 7:42 PM

The annual holiday music festival thrown by radio station KRBZ, also known as “the Buzz,” is typically akin to a stocking stuffed with a variety of music treats. This year’s version at the Midland theater on Saturday was just that.

Five bands performed over the course of six hours, and each delivered its own trendy variation on some flavor of pop or rock music, contributing to an evening that was more fun than it was shape-shifting or transcendent. Which was fine: There’s nothing wrong with abject entertainment.

The lineup was shaved from six to five at the last minute: The Swedish band Nonono had to postpone its performance because of travel delays; it reportedly planned to make up for it with an unplugged performance in the theater’s Indie Bar after the main show was over.

The headliners were the Arctic Monkeys, a British band that forges rock and dance music with lyrics that probe issues like nightlife, romance and everything in between.

They opened with, “Do I Wanna Know?” a track from “AM,” their latest album. Like much of the Monkeys’ music, it’s a percussive, guitar-driven anthem, built on a dance groove and just enough melody to prompt a sing-along. And its sentiments are gloomy, just short of gothic: “There’s this tune I found that makes me think of you somehow / When I play it on repeat until I fall asleep / Spilling drinks on my settee.”

Alex Turner is the band’s leader, and he exudes a chilled aura that evokes either a sense of intriguing mystery or bland detachment, depending on your perspective. (The gusts of fog that swirled about the stage all night added to that mood.) This evening, he had the full house at the Midland in the palm of his hand.

The set list visited a catalog that comprises five full-length albums and goes back to 2006 and the album “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.” It included “Brianstorm,” from “Favourite Worst Nightmare,” and “Dancing Shoes,” which ignited the first fury of dancing and singing along. That one is from “Whatever,” now more than 7 years old and the album that introduced the Monkeys as scene-stealers in the vibrant dance-rock genre.

There’s no shortage of snark, irony and attitude in their lyrics or song titles, like “Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair,” which evoked a loud response (and is from the “Suck It and See” album) and “I Bet you Look Good on the Dance Floor,” their biggest hit, which turned the packed theater into a dance hall. Also on the set list: “Snap Out of It,” “Arabella,” “Reckless Serenade,” “Fluorescent Adolescent,” “One for the Road” (in which Turner showed off his impressive falsetto), and “R U Mine?”

The Monkeys followed a lively set by the Head and the Heart, a six-piece from Seattle that toys with folk, pop, rock and alt-country in the vein of bands like Grouplove and Of Monsters and Men: Songs are rife with melodies, harmonies (lots of gang vocals), percussion and grooves.

Its set list included “Homecoming Heroes,” the lead track off their recent sophomore album, “Let’s Be Still,” plus “Coeur d’Alene,” “Ghosts,” “Lost in My Mind,” “Let’s Be Still” and “Sounds Like Hallelujah.” Among all the kinetic exuberance they express onstage, Charity Rose Thielen stands out, vocally and on the violin. More of her would be a good thing.

Three bands preceded the two main acts: the British band Foals, whose experiments with various flavors of rock are dynamic and intriguing, though not always captivating; Bastille, a British band that mixes synth-pop and guitar-based rock with results that are as fleeting as they are engaging; and the Kansas City trio Outsides, led by former Skybox frontman Tim Ellis, whose brief opening set of super-catchy pop tunes was one of the evening’s most enjoyable.

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