Boulevardia takes on Kansas City (2016)
The third annual Boulevardia is in the books, and if it has taught anyone anything it’s this: Even on Father’s Day, a few thousand people will tolerate aggressive heat and rude humidity for the sake of good beer and an afternoon of lively music. But they got what they paid for (and what they didn’t): plenty of heat and satisfying music.
Sunday, the final day of the three-day music/food/beer/arts/yada-yada festival, which occupied a substantial portion of the West Bottoms district north of the 12th Street Viaduct, presented a music lineup that included three bands with solid resumes and catalogs that go back more than 30 years.
The English Beat were the first of three headliners. They have visited Kansas City regularly over the past few years, as recently as April at Knuckleheads. Nonetheless, they drew a crowd of many hundreds to their early set, which started about 20 minutes past noon.
A lot of those fans had taken shelter in the scraps of shade cast on the outskirts of the venue. Still, a couple hundred people braved the swelter, gathering before the stage to listen and dance to jaunty ska-infused covers like “Rough Rider” and “I’ll Take You There.” Before “Tears of a Clown,” lead singer Dave Wakeling toyed with the name of the festival, using it to mildly mock the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believing” by singing “Up and down the Boulevardia.”
They closed their set with solid renditions of “Save It for Later,” “Tenderness” (a General Public song) and “Ranking Full Stop” and “Mirror in the Bathroom.”
While the stage crew prepared for Soul Asylum, the Buhs (pronounced Buzz) performed at the second stage. They’re a Kansas City supergroup that comprises singers Julia Haile and Lee Langston, rappers Reach and Les Izmore and musicians like Hermon Mehari and Ben Leifer.
They shift dexterously from jazz, R&B and soul to hip-hop, always maintaining a melody and groove. It’s top-shelf music with a visceral appeal.
Soul Asylum followed the English Beat on the main stage. The Minneapolis band has a history that goes back to the mid-1980s. They’re down to one original member these days, lead singer/songwriter Dave Pirner, but they do an adequate job of reconstituting the band’s raucous sound, which is steeped in Midwestern rock mixed with the hometown influences like Husker Du and the Replacements.
Pirner was in relatively gracious form as he and his band romped through songs like “Somebody to Shove,” “Shut Down,” “Misery,” “Lately,” “Black Gold,” “Without a Trace,” “Spinnin’ ” and the metal anthem “Gravity.” They played “Runaway Train,” too, a song, like others in their catalog, indebted to Tom Petty, the Byrds and even Bob Seger.
By the time Soul Asylum had finished, Katy Guillen & the Girls, a Kansas City rock/blues/roots trio, had already stirred up a ruckus at the second stage. The trio barnstormed through a set that bared its blues fangs but also veered into other styles and dynamics, which gave Guillen the space to show off her guitar skills. They are an impressive band.
The closer was the Gin Blossoms, a five-piece from Tempe, Ariz. Their songs are melodic and well-crafted with lyrics that keep it safe and bear no sharp edges. They write mostly about love and its demise, typically dousing the words in bright melody, a decent groove and harmonies.
Their set comprised hits like “Follow You Down,” the vibrant “As Long as It Matters,” which sounded like mid-1980s REM, and “Allison Road,” “Found Out About You” and “Hey Jealousy,” their biggest hit ever.
It didn’t sound much different from anything that preceded it, but on this day that didn’t matter. Most everyone who showed up and withstood Sunday’s heat came for a taste of the familiar and a reason to dance about it.