OK Go gets Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest off to a roaring start

OK Go at Middle Of The Map Fest, on the Uptown Theater stage.
OK Go at Middle Of The Map Fest, on the Uptown Theater stage.

About halfway through his band’s show at the Uptown Theater on Wednesday night, bassist Tim Nordwind stepped in front of the scrim in front of his band, OK Go, and engaged audience.

“I’m breaking the fourth wall,” he told a crowd of about 1,200 before he took questions from some of them.

Few bands break that wall as often, effectively or lavishly as OK Go. For nearly two hours they issued a provocative combination of invigorating music — some of it funky, some of it dance-y, some of it indie-pop — and stimulating visuals.

Wednesday’s show was the opening salvo in Ink magazine’s Middle of the Map Fest, a four-day music festival now in its fifth year. Two bands with local connections opened the show. Noise FM, a band founded in Lawrence, played a set of electro-pop/indie rock songs that referenced bands like Phoenix and the evening’s headliner.

After that came the Republic Tigers. They’re a Kansas City band that generated much momentum back in 2008, thanks to the excellent full-length, “Keep Color,” which included the single “Buildings and Mountains.”

They played that and several songs from the not-yet-released follow-up album, which has been in the works for a few years now. It all fits within the Tigers’ dynamic sound, which blends the sounds of several eras. Songs are arranged with layers of guitars, keyboards and vocals, all topped by the arresting voice of lead singer Kenn Jankowski.

Even before OK Go hit the stage, the room was filled with energy, visual and aural. Digital images of the band singing “Upsde Down & Inside Out” were projected on the scrim, synced with the live performance of the band.

During “I Want You So Bad I Can’t Breathe,” the third song, the two large confetti canons that flanked the stage unleashed the first of several blizzards. Their confetti budget must be large.

OK Go kept the crowd involved all night. With assistance from drummer Dan Konopka, lead singer Damian Kulash coaxed the crowd into contributing to “There’s A Fire” via an iPhone app, which recorded the crowd stomping and clapping, in unison, and turning it into a percussion loop.

That was after Kulash had the house lights turned up so he could conduct the first of a few question and answer sessions with the crowd.

Kulash grabbed a microphone and acoustic guitar and went into the crowd for a solo-acoustic version of the sadcore ballad “Last Leaf.” After that he joined the band on stage for “Needing/Getting,” a pop tune built on funky guitar riff, one of a few songs that recalled INXS.

They would close the show with a flourish, ending the first set with a surprisingly strong cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” then the irresistibly jaunty “Turn Up the Radio.” For the encore, dressed in all-white jumpsuits, they re-created the dance number from “A Million Ways.”

Those jumpsuits then became the canvass upon which psychedelic neon shapes were superimposed as they performed “White Knuckles.” They brought the show to a rousing close with two more poppy dance tunes, “I Won’t Let You Down,” then “Here it Goes Again,” famous for its treadmill video. As they blitzed through that, lights and videos blazed and confetti rained again as the band and crowd rejoiced.

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to tfinn@kcstar.com. Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.


Upside Down & Inside Out; You’re So Damn Hot; I Want You So Bad I Can’t Breathe; Obsession; This Too Shall Pass; There’s a Fire; Last Leaf; Needing/Getting; I’m not Through; Get Over It; The One Moment; I Won’t Let You Down; Black Dog; Turn Up the Radio. Encore: A Million Ways; White Knuckles; I Won’t Let You Down; Here it Goes Again.

Related stories from Kansas City Star