The cold front that barged into Kansas City didn’t keep music fans away from Day 2 of Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest. Crowds were big at most of the six venues, including the outdoor stage and they got the usual dose of music from local, national and international bands.
The Get Up Kids were that stage’s headliners. Friday’s set was the first time in four years the Kansas City band performed in North America. They gave a chilled but responsive crowd of several hundred a long set filled with lots of older material, songs like “Holiday” “Action Action” and “Red Letter Day,” which typify the Kids’ signature sound: high-speed and brimming with melody, energy and emotion.
They changed up the pace a few times, rendering ballads like “Valentine” and “Better Half,” which prompted some slow dancing between a few couples (which was another way to keep warm). Occasionally, lead singer Matt Pryor handed vocal duties over to guitarist Jim Suptic, as on “Woodson,” another high-speed anthem with a jackhammer guitar riff. He also sang lead on “Campfire Kansas,” accompanied only on keyboards by James Dewees.
Before “Coming Clean,” from the breakthrough “Four Minute Mile” album, Pryor recalled the genesis of the song, which was written inside Buzzard Beach, a nearby Westport bar, which prompted another story about a bicycle ride with a homeless man. Also on the setlist: “Rememorable,” “Close to Home” and “Don’t Hate Me.”
Cowboy Indian Bear, a five-piece Lawrence band opened the outdoor stage Friday evening, when a stiff breeze delivered a biting wind chill. Their music was a nice antidote to the wintry air, however: sunny melodies and airy, layered guitar/keyboard arrangements and lots of lovely harmonies.
Lawrence-based Oils was the first of six bands to perform at the RecordBar on Friday. Three members of the sextet spent much of their intriguing set kneeling on the floor manipulating pedals and keyboards. Taryn Miller, the woman behind the acclaimed project Your Friend, sang background vocals and served as one of Oil’s two drummers. The spasmodic gesticulating of the demonstrative front man Andrew Frederick once sent his glasses flying from his face. With ecstatic vocals and hypnotic rhythms, “Rain” sounded a bit like a ramshackle version of the Feelies. The off-kilter jangle of “Duck” resembled Pavement. Oils may be only a few minor adjustments away from establishing a noteworthy identity of its own.
Inside the Riot Room, local songwriter Mat Shoare put together a band to fill in as replacements for the Great American Canyon Band, who had to cancel their set. Shoare writes the kind of songs that find a balance between Paul Simon and A.C. Newman, with maybe a bit of Neil Finn in there. They’re typically poppy and well-crafted with thoughtful or clever lyrics, even the song about revenge and murder-for-hire.
The Supernauts enjoyed next-big-thing status last decade. Grand-scale success never materialized for the Missouri-based band. Friday’s appearance at the RecordBar was one of the Supernaut’s periodic reunion shows. The quartet’s muscular performance proved that the band remains potent.
Brimming with barroom bluster, the Supernauts work in the testosterone-fueled tradition of Cream and Led Zeppelin. Guitarist Tim Braun is now best known for his tasteful work in jazz and R ensembles. He played like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page on Friday. Vocalist Jordan Smith possesses some of the swagger and vocal command of Robert Plant. Kian Byrne of the Elders sat in on bass while drummer John Whitaker walloped the drums. In their most powerful moments the Supernauts still sound as if they belong on much larger stages.
William Elliotte Whitmore followed Cowboy Indian Bear on the outdoor stage and he changed the vibe into a stripped-down back-porch setting. Playing solo on guitar and banjo, he sang songs and told stories, like “Johnny Law,” and fulfilled a request or two (”Don’t Need It”).
Drop A Grand drew a big crowd inside the Riot Room for its riotous set. The local all-star band appeared in its usual costume attire, which includes wigs, ski masks, a super-hero-like mask and outlandish sunglasses. Their music is manic, deranged psycho-punk blues. Some of their songs come and go in less than a minute. They were joined on stage by jazz musician Rich Wheeler, who added some skronky no-wave licks to their sound.
J. Roddy Walston gave an audience of about 1,000 a succinct summation of his approach at the outdoor stage on Friday. “I write a lot of simple songs you can sing even if you’ve never heard them before,” he said.
The shaggy Southern boogie band he leads fuses the wild-eyed fervor of Jerry Lee Lewis with the pop savvy of Kings of Leon. Walston’s craggy voice- the Baltimore-based band’s most distinctive asset- sounds as if its been marinated in whiskey and ravaged by ill-spent evenings in smoky dives.
Walston crafts songs that are slick enough to receive support from radio programmers at stations including Kansas City’s 96.5 the Buzz and 90.9 the Bridge. Most of the sprawling crowd sang along to the familiar radio favorites “Take It As It Comes” and “Heavy Bells.”
Over at the Westport Saloon, the Naughty Pines, a local country-cover band, entertained a nearly full room. The band renders faithful versions of songs by legends like Charlie Louvin, Lefty Frizzel and others. Kasey Rausch, one of two lead vocalists, sang a wonderful cover of “Silver Bells and Golden Needles.”
The members of Wolf Eyes dress like heavy metal musicians, but their performance at the outdoor patio of the Riot Room on Friday made the output of even the most extreme death metal bands seem lightweight.
The deeply troubling performance by the veteran Detroit-based trio was a vicious assault on melody and rhythm. A guitarist played doom-laden riffs and squalls of noise as his band mate manipulated oppressive backing tracks. The vocalist’s processed voice sounded like a tortured transmission from the depths of hell.
While a couple of selections including “Choking Flies” possessed a semblance of continuity, the confrontational trio usually seemed to deliberately play out of sync with one another.
By deconstructing the very idea of music, Wolf Eyes forced the few dozen people who braved its punishing set to reexamine the ways in which they respond to sound.
Veteran Kansas City songwriter Howard Iceberg and his Titanics followed the Naughty Pines at the Westport Saloon, delivering a splendid set of some of his best-known material, like “Sentimental” and “Disconnected.”
“At the Helm,” Del the Funky Homosapien’s opening selection at Ernie Biggs on Friday, served as the rapper’s forceful statement of purpose. By asserting that rap is “about fluency with rhyming ingenuity,” the hip-hop legend from California distanced himself from the shallow sounds that have dominated the music’s mainstream in recent years.
Since the release of his debut album in 1991, Del has been a leading figure of the conscious hip-hop movement. He applied his advanced flow and expressive voice to many of his most popular songs. The hit-laden setlist included the infectious “Mistadobalina,” “Virus” from the classic self-titled 2000 album by Del’s hip-hop group Deltron 3030, the “real hip-hop” of “Phoney Phranchise” and “Catch A Bad One,” a 1993 selection that samples an Eric Dolphy track.
The nuances of the complex material were lost in the unaccommodating setting. Del seemed less like the headlining act at a festival than an entertainer at a poorly planned fraternity party. Not only were the production values minimal, blazing house lights illuminated portions of the tightly-packed capacity audience better than the stage.
The British band Fanfarlo played the closing set at the RecordBar. The five-piece plays an interesting blend of folk, rock, pop and electronica, employing an array of instruments: keyboards, horns, mandolin, clarinet. Lead singer Simon Balthazar, who was celebrating his birthday, even chipped in some saxophone solos. Their setlist included “Deconstruction,” “I’m a Pilot” and “Vostok, I Know You Are Waiting.”
The Rollfast Ramblers, a Texas swing band from Austin, Texas, closed out the night at the Westport Saloon, giving the diehards who needed more music past 2 a.m. one more chance to dance and sing-along.