Friday’s bill at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland comprised four bands with disparate sounds playing before a big crowd that paid nothing for admission.
The show, an early Valentine’s Day party, was sponsored by radio station 96.5 FM, known as the Buzz, and its gift to listeners was a free concert for anyone 18 and older. Though there were moments of satisfaction and reward, there were as many moments of disregard, when many in the large crowd of about 1,500 acted as if no one were onstage. I guess for some people if something is free it’s less worthy of respect.
Kansas City band Yes You Are opened the show. Its set was the earliest and shortest of the night, but it was as dynamic and impressive as any that followed.
The five-piece band is led by singer Kianna Alarid, who courted big-time success several years ago with the Omaha band Tilly and the Wall. Thus, she and her band, who toured with Neon Trees in 2015, appeared right at home playing to a big crowd in a venue as large and vaunted as the Midland.
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Yes You Are’s music is pop with an edge: hefty and dynamic and typically rife with keen melodies and decisive grooves, all embellished by a presentation that is energetic but not excessively so. The highlights: “Secret Song,” a radio-ready duet between Alarid and bassist Willie Jordan, and the closer, “A Miracle,” an anthem with a dance beat that gave Alarid and the band one more chance to exhibit a voice that filled the big theater and propelled a band that appears to be headed for some big time of its own.
Detroit pop band Jr Jr (formerly Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.) followed Yes You Are, and the contrast was profound. Jr Jr traffics primarily in lightweight electronic pop that is as bouncy and exuberant as it is superficial. It’s catchy fun-time music, decorated in flashy electronic baubles and beads, that delivers a sugar rush but lacks any nutritional value.
Attentions waned during midtempo numbers like “We Almost Lost Detroit,” which veers into Black Keys flavored soul-blues. But songs like “As Time Goes” and the falsetto-pop tune “War Zone” ignited some spirited dancing up front. So did the closer, “Gone,” which carried a light Phoenix or MGMT vibe.
Marian Hill followed Jr Jr, and its set suffered the most from disinterest. A duo from Philadelphia comprising vocalist Samantha Gongol and producer Jeremy Lloyd, who elicits sounds from a keyboard, Marian Hill aims for a trippy blend of jazz, R&B and trip-hop.
Its music is austere and arranged to showcase Gongol’s soulful voice, and it requires some extra attention. Way up front the crowd was enraptured, but there was so much conversation going on in the rest of the theater, the music nearly got buried.
The mood improved when the sax player joined in, as he did on “Talk to Me,” but for the most part, the set was a frustrating exercise in attempting to listen. It didn’t help that the sound all night was average. It’s worth noting that Marian Hill played the Tank Room in October, a much more intimate venue that drew a crowd that was there to listen.
Lucius, a theatrical indie-rock/pop band from New York, closed the show. The five-piece band features vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, who wore matching shimmering floor-length gowns and, when they weren’t operating keyboards and synthesizers, sang in tandem into the same microphone. On a few songs, two drummers were deployed, and on a couple of those, the ladies both pounded floor toms.
Their music blends several genres — rock, pop, folk, electronica — into a sound that never really comes into focus. Vocally and otherwise, they aroused similarities and comparisons to Heart, Kate Bush and ABBA. “Tempest” got a rise out of the crowd; so did “Born Again Teen.”
“Turn It Around” was the poppiest moment of the set, a bubbly disco-infused tune with a ’60s girl-pop vibe. But they didn’t rest there, jumping to songs like “Genevieve,” a thumping rock anthem with a catchy melody that went down like just another piece of candy.
By then, the size of the crowd had diminished noticeably, many people, apparently, having had their fill of free music.