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Saturday’s Buzz Beach Ball showcases indie bands of all stripes

Cage the Elephant headlined the Buzz Beach Ball festival Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park.
Cage the Elephant headlined the Buzz Beach Ball festival Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park.

The fractured state of contemporary indie-rock generated a delightfully eclectic bill of 12 bands at Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday. The first installment of the two-day Buzz Beach Ball concert, an annual event organized by radio station 96.5 the Buzz, was attended by more than 15,000 people.

Nashville, Tenn.-based Cage the Elephant headlined the 10-hour show. The group has an estimable catalog of rugged songs that evoke seminal rock groups ranging from the Rolling Stones to the Pixies, but it fared poorly in comparison to the two acts that preceded it on the main stage.

Fitz and the Tantrums is an effervescent, soul-soaked pop band with a polished presentation. The Los Angeles ensemble’s panache made Cage the Elephant seem callow.

And Jack Antonoff of New York group Bleachers engaged the audience like a cunning politician during an amusingly over-the-top outing that paid homage to the glossy bombast of 1980s arena rock. Conversely, Cage the Elephant’s Matt Shultz said, “I wish I was a great speaker, but I’m not.”

Stages at either end of the stadium allowed for quick transitions between bands until apparent technical problems caused Bleachers to miss its slot. The subsequent delays and troublesome acoustics that made the sound carom around the stadium like a wind-battered beach ball failed to spoil the cheerful atmosphere.

The remarkable variety also contributed to the fun. Bear Hands, a snarky band from Brooklyn, cleverly combined hip-hop, pop and electronic music. Canadian group the Strumbellas offered friendly stomp-and-shout folk replete with fiddle solos and corny jokes. Even though its industrial rock was leavened by pop on renditions of hits including “Unsteady,” New York’s X Ambassadors was one of the day’s most thunderous bands. Violent Femmes, the day’s token oldies act, revived anxious hits like “Add It Up.”

Two Kansas City groups held their own. Brave the Spirit opened the festivities with an impressive set of angular guitar-based songs. Hembree’s outing contained exceedingly cordial grooves punctuated by occasional outbursts of feisty guitars and keyboards.

Kitten gave the most memorable performance. The Los Angeles group applied its lush dream-pop to an entrancing rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain” and to wistful original material like “Fall on Me.” Kitten’s set will be remembered, however, for the clinic in crowd-surfing, stage-diving and guitar-smashing conducted by frontwoman Chloe Chaidez. Her antics injected a welcome dose of danger into an otherwise pleasantly predictable day of music.

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