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Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest shows off its diversity on final day

By TIMOTHY FINN

tfinn@kcstar.com

and BILL BROWNLEE and JOEL FRANCIS

Special to The Star

Adam Turla with Murder by Death performed on the outdoor stage Saturday evening at the Middle of the Map Fest in Westport.
Adam Turla with Murder by Death performed on the outdoor stage Saturday evening at the Middle of the Map Fest in Westport. The Kansas City Star

Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest ended its four-day celebration with more than 12 hours of music in bars and venues throughout Westport, including an outdoor stage headlined by Peter Hook, founding member of Joy Division and New Order. Saturday’s lineup was the festival’s most diverse, offering a mix of folk, rock, hip-hop, country, jazz, punk and no-wave rock. Here’s a look at some of dozens of performances.

Phox: Despite cold hands and early sound issues, Phox delivered an enjoyable set that delighted the fans that filled about two-thirds of the parking lot around the outdoor stage.

The six-piece band from Wisconsin performs soulful, confessional indie rock that recalls fellow Wisconsinite and mentor Bon Iver. Their delicate melodies never got lost in the expansive outdoor environment, thanks to inventive arrangements.

“Evil” featured a New Orleans jazz trumpet solo, while “Never Love,” an unreleased song, opened with a recorder and African guitar line a la Vampire Weekend. Throughout it all, lead singer Monica Martin was the not-so-secret weapon. Her soulful voice and playful stage talk kept the songs weighty and the downtime light.

The band threw a curveball into the mix with a hushed, dainty cover of Blink-182’s “I Miss You.” More fans sang along with that number than any of the band’s original numbers.

William Elliott Whitmore: Armed with a guitar, banjo and bass drum, William Elliott Whitmore did a great job prepping the crowd for Murder By Death’s Americana rock. His 45-minute set was filled traditional folk songs about train trestles, digging graves and devils.

Between songs, Whitmore bantered with the audience with a self-deprecating sense of humor.Whitmore said he wanted his time to feel like friends hanging out on the front porch. While he’s a bit early for that festival, he accomplished the feel.

Murder by Death: Murder by Death play the kind of songs that make you more likely to get pulled over for speeding. Even the band’s down-tempo numbers are full-throttle. Case in point “Curse of Elkhart,” a torrid cautionary tale fueled by Sarah Balliet’s furiously strummed cello.

Several of the band’s Americana opuses unfold like novellas. Judging by apparel and lips, plenty of the crowd already knew the stories. Highlights of the hourlong set included the David Bowie tribute “I Shot an Arrow,” “Spring Break 1899” and “King of the Gutters, Prince of the Dogs.”

Peter Hook and the Light: “This is the way,” Peter Hook sang during the opening song. “Step inside.”

The smallest crowd of the night at the outdoor stage was all too eager to follow.

Hook is a founding member of the influential post-punk band Joy Division. The British group famously broke up on the eve of their first U.S. tour. The surviving members were well into their second life as New Order by the time they finally reached America.

As the bass player in both bands, Hook's new group finally gives fans - many of whom weren't alive during Joy Division's late '70s run - a chance to finally hear the beloved songs performed by a founding member.

The execution was as straightforward as it was magical: Both of Joy Division’s studio albums in their original order and arrangements, with a couple non-album songs at the end. The experience mimicked what fans have enjoyed for years at home, only exponentially better.

The cool temperature and constant mist of rain actually improved the atmosphere. Joy Division’s music is many things – groundbreaking, intense, visceral – but it is not made for a sunny afternoon.

Although the audience was intimately familiar with the material, there wasn’t a lot of singing along. Instead there were a lot of and spontaneous hugs and high fives when favorite songs like “Isolation” or “She’s Lost Control” started. There were also lots of closed eyes as fans let the music and experience wash over them.

Yes You Are: A new addition to Kansas City’s music scene, came into Saturday’s show at the RecordBar with a lot of momentum. The band recently announced that it’s slated to open a series of shows on Neon Trees’ national tour this summer. The effervescent dance-pop songs the quintet performed at the RecordBar for about 100 people indicated that Yes You Are is primed to succeed on bigger stages.

Anna Cole and the Other Lovers: A few of Anna Cole’s previous projects rightly earned raves from fans and critics, but none of the Kansas City musician’s bands has been as immediately ingratiating as the version of the Other Lovers that dazzled people on the packed patio of the Riot Room. Each song revealed a different aspect of the septet. The band played steamy soul, cultivated disco, incandescent New Wave and a beat-heavy rendition of Stevie Nick’s “Stand Back.”

The Lucky: This Kansas City quartet opened a diverse bill at the Westport Saloon. They play an invigorating mix of ’70s punk and garage rock. Camilla Camille is an enticing and forceful lead singer, at times recalling the vocal style and mannerisms of Wendy O. Williams. Jason McKee embellished several songs with angular but melodic guitar leads.

The Project H: A large horn-based ensemble led by trombonist Ryan Heinlein, the Project H brought some funky fusion jazz to the festival at the Westport Saloon. Because it took longer than normal to sound-check the seven-piece band, which couldn’t fit on the stage, its set was shortened a bit. Nonetheless, they had the rock fans in the place swinging to their alluring grooves.

She’s A Keeper: They’ve evolved from a new-folk/roots band (a la the Lumineers) into more of a soulful roots-rock/electric folk band: lots of jangly guitars and keening harmonies and gang vocals plus the occasional eruption of heavy percussion. At their Westport Saloon performance, they played songs from the EP “Westside Royal,” released in January, plus a few new songs. It all meshed seamlessly and stirred a crowd that overflowed into the bar area.

The Big Iron: The veteran Kansas City band rearranged the mood in the Westport Saloon after She’s A Keeper’s set with 40 minutes of furious hard-core underground ’80s punk. Lead singer Jeff Pendergraft bellowed songs from the band’s stellar full-length “We Will Fall,” released in 2014, an incendiary mix of socio-political rants and commentaries.

Clawhammer: A trio from Springfield, Clawhammer performed demented old-timey music for an audience of two dozen at the Westport Saloon. The core instrumentation of banjo, standup bass and washboard was enhanced by electronic effects on “Bootlegger,” “Walking to Your Grave” and “Sour Mash.” The songs chronicled the difficult lives of troubled people in southern Missouri. After playing one harrowing selection, the bandleader exclaimed “that’s life in Taney County, folks!”

Duncan Barnett and the Ministry: An appearance by an obscure rapper from Olathe on the patio of the Riot Room was a revelation. Duncan Burnett exhibited the shameless braggadocio and abundant wit of Kanye West. Burnett had the audacity to boast that he could “become bigger than Kanye.” Even international hip-hop superstars like West are rarely supported by a band as proficient as the four musicians that backed Burnett. Dubbed the Ministry, the quartet made Burnett sound like a major player.

Sie Lieben Maschinen: This new group consisting of local luminaries, made an unholy racket at Ernie Biggs. With an apparent mandate to make the most frightful form of industrial, post-punk and No Wave rock imaginable, Sie Lieben Maschinen punished an audience of about 100 adventurous listeners. The theatrical antics of vocalist Steve Tulipana humanized the otherwise diabolical sonic blitzkrieg.

Ebony Tusks: Its riveting appearance on the patio of the Riot Room began with an impassioned soliloquy from Marty Hillard. He resembled a fervent street preacher as he roamed through the crowd. Although Hillard suggested that “we’re a hardcore band from Lawrence, Kansas,” Ebony Tusks is actively redefining the meaning of Midwestern hip-hop. A song titled “Chuck D” invoked the name of the forthright leader of the insistent hip-hop group Public Enemy. The reference was apt. Ebony Tusks’ performance possessed a similar sense of urgency.

The New Riddim: They artfully combined the soulful Memphis sound of the 1960s with the classic reggae and ska of Kingston, Jamaica, at the Riot Room. The front area of the venue was too tightly packed to allow much movement, but the New Riddim created exceptionally inviting dance music. The sprightly melodies of the Kansas City’s septet’s original compositions and covers of material by the Upsetters and the Skatalites were reshaped during impressive solos from members of a talented three-piece horn section.

Open Mike Eagle: The prolific flow of the Los Angeles based rapper Open Mike Eagle is capable of putting even the most verbose beat poets to shame. Much of his recorded output resembles essays rather than songs. His music is similarly dense. Acting as his own DJ, Open Mike Eagle failed to hold the attention of all but a couple dozen people on the patio of the Riot Room. Even “Qualifiers,” one of the few selections that verged on accessibility, acknowledged the artist’s quirks. In recounting a trip to Africa, Open Mike Eagle answered his own question: “Did I weird the people out? Yeah, maybe so.” Saturday in Kansas City was little different.

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