An evening of Nostalgia at Buzz Beach Ball

I’m not sure who called the shots behind the scenes to determine the lineup at this year’s rendition of the now annual Buzz Beach Ball but by the time I left a not very full LiveStrong Sporting Park I had determined that they got it all wrong. Why that was I’ll get to in a moment but first some background. All week long I had been referring to the show as “nineties-palooza” thanks to its stacked headline roster of bands Bush, Incubus and Jane’s Addiction. These are all acts that if you be honest with yourself haven’t produced noteworthy work since that long passed decade. Incubus is on the cusp since they enjoyed most of their mainstream popularity in the early aughts, though I feel that is close enough since their sound changed quite heavily from S.C.I.E.N.C.E. to their later success. Hell, Incubus is a band I first experienced at Ozzfest 1998. Also on the bill was a member of 90’s icons Rage Against the Machine. RATM guitarist Tom Morello who is currently touring with Incubus as The Nightwatchman. Thus, even though his songs are more acoustic than modern day RATM one could argue its still a bit of a 90’s throw back.

Sadly however with its early Friday start time at 4PM I missed his short thirty minute set that kicked off the main stage’s duty with The Nightwatchman. Rather I walked in right as local favorites The Beautiful Bodies were wrapping up their set on the small second stage at the north end of what is usually the field at Livestrong Sporting Park. I caught their final two songs which showcased the band’s aggressive brand of crunchy power pop that has been openly embraced by a growing local contingent no doubt thanks to the love the band is often showered with from the show’s radio sponsor 96.5 The Buzz. It doesn’t hurt also that they have a fairly accessible sound that I occasionally equate to Paramore. It’s an apt comparison since both bands feature attractive leads with catchy guitar hooks.

Moving over to the main stage was one of two acts I had anticipated the most on the day of the show, Awolnation. Awolnation first rocketed on to the scene around the first of the year off the success of their radio and concert sing along friendly hit ‘Sail’. For being one of the acts that had been promoted as one of the headliners their start time of  a tactically precise five left most of those heading to the venue after a work day shut out of catching what has become the band’s brand of a highly kinetic and energetic show. I had seen Awolnation back in March at SXSW in a club that could have fit inside of the bar at Livestrong Park that was packed to the gills. That show, while fun still had a band that seemed to be getting its live legs. Fast forward five months, and seemingly nonstop touring by the group and the time has served them well. This was easily the best live set I had seen from the band yet. They sounded tighter than any previous performance of theirs I had seen and of course the audience had grown thanks to the release of their debut ep Back from Earth in May which features the barn burning ‘Burn It Down’. Both tracks got time during the group’s quick thirty minute set, the later being the closing number that seemed to be a bit more amped up and saw the band close out with a Rock Band style big rock finish. The crowd that had managed to work their way to a shaded area near the front of the stage were giving the group some good energy while those stuck toward the back half and left in the sun resided to idly watching on.

Quick sets were pretty much the norm for acts until members of the ‘big three’ would later take the stage.

Next up on the second stage were Lawrence natives Quiet Corral. The six piece band gathered a small crowd after the Awolnation set that seemed to leave many saving their spot at the main stage for the Neon Trees. Quiet Corrral’s brand of subdued mellow folk rock with some pop hooks would end up being the last chance fans had to calm down and cool out before a lineup that for the rest of the evening featured driving rock guitars. Thus the band stuck out a bit opening with their lead coming out on a mandolin. It would be the last chance to catch a breather and sit down and just enjoy some music. The group didn’t blow my mind but they didn’t blow their time on stage either. The small smattering of fans that hadn’t held out for a spot over at the main stage were appreciative of the band with kind applause though I got the sense that prior to today no one had heard of the group. At least this got them in front of a larger audience that in the future gets a chance to explore the group in a smaller venue that would seem more appropriate for their sound.

The Neon Trees felt a bit like a throw back to some eighties aesthetic power pop. That may have been planted in my head by the group’s appearance and also their track ‘1983’ which got an odd introduction from the group’s lead Tyler Glenn about birth. I’ll give the group credit, their sound is super catchy and I can see why they’d be playing a radio built bill as they have a very accessible sound reminiscent of The Killers. Their show is energetic with Tyler Glenn running all over stage. This particular evening saw him in various states of dress dropping his pants at one point. The band seems to have built a decent sized audience off its radio success which it would attempt to harness with mixed results in one of the many crowd sing along moments of the day during their closing song ‘Animal’ which is a track you can’t seemingly miss if you listen to the Buzz for more than thirty minutes.

With the sun still blazing down on the second stage it was time for the headliner and closer of the second stage Middle Class Rut. MC Rut as they are often referred to are a band that first hit my radar by way of The Buzz at their Halloweenie Roast last year. The multi-tasking duo of singer/guitarist Zack Lopez and singer/drummer Sean Stockham from Sacramento, CA have a raw, aggressive and passionate stage presence that until this point in the day I felt had been lacking. MC Rut are one of those acts that to see their live show you not only take in the music but you feel something. Its that moment when you realize that the band believes and pours everything into their performance. Pretty much once you see MC Rut live you’re converted to a fan. If you’re not well I question if you really enjoy rock music. It also helps that their songs have a point and speak a bit more to everyday life becoming more than a liquor infused candy coated ‘party anthem’. This presence which is infectious introduced the first mosh pit I saw of the day and also seemed to draw a growing crowd. An impressive feat given their quick thirty minute set preceded that of a very anticipated Bush.

It was with the arrival of Bush that I realized this is where whoever assembled this lineup got it all wrong. I state this as talking to friends leading up to this show Bush seemed to be the one band that would quickly roll off everyone’s tongues as their most anticipated of the evening. This makes some sense as it had been nearly a decade since the band had broken up let alone toured or released music. Compared to the rest of the acts which had all stopped by Kansas City with in the past several years. This is also a band whose debut album saw four hit singles back during a time when music was still paid for. These are all interesting facts though I’ll confess that I don’t count myself as a fan of the band, I quickly found I was in the minority when Gavin Rossdale came out on stage to the opening chords of “Machinehead.” This would setup a setlist stacked with the group’s radio hits. It would also create easily one of the most enthusiastic responses I experienced all day.

At one point I looked around and it seemed that most of the audience was singing along be it man or women with every track Bush was playing. If one didn’t know any better it was as if Livestrong Park had been converted to a time machine by Doc Brown and transported back to 1996 around the height of Bush’s success. It’s worth noting that this isn’t a total retro show as two of the core members of Bush original guitarist Nigel Pulsford and bassist Dave Parsons are no longer with the group. It was of no matter however as even though it had been nearly a decade the time machine comparison was due as the group that goes by the Bush moniker today sounds as good as the real thing. If one had been in a coma since 1996 they likely wouldn’t have known the difference between this version of Bush and that from then as they sound identical. The group threw in a cover of The Beatles ‘Come Together’ at a point which seemed like an odd choice but got huge response from the crowd, then Beatles covers are always safe bets. For many it seemed like their hour long set wasn’t enough but having covered the four big hits off of Sixteen Stone and closing with the hit ‘Comedown’; an interesting choice as it seemed poignant for an audience that wasn’t ready to comedown from the high of seeing an act that took them back to their teens.

Incubus was another act that local fans hadn’t heard much from since the group went on hiatus a few years ago. No matter, the band whose last big radio hit was 2004’s ‘Megalomaniac’ was greeted by  an enthusiastic crowd, which had they arrived for the first acts of the day had now been on their feet for nearly six hours showed no fatigue with the enthusiasm that greeted the band.  The group wasted little time getting into what the audience wanted to hear opening with ‘Pardon Me’ off of 1999’s Make Yourself. With their hour and thirty minute set time they were actually the act with the most amount of stage time the entire night. The group wouldn’t let that go to waste quickly working their way through fifteen songs that covered just about every album the group has released including their latest If Not Now, When? with ‘Adolescents’ and fan favorite ‘Vitamin’ off S.C.I.E.N.C.E.

The group sounded good and the mix was great though I did experience one thing during this set that seemed a bit more pronounced after crowds had pushed me away from the center of the stage. LiveStrong Park while being a gorgeous facility can be a bit echoey if you are viewing from odd angles and or turn your head. Yes its a minor thing but something I picked up on a couple of times throughout the day that was Buzz Beach Ball.

Incubus managed to wrap their set up a little early closing with the 2004 hit ‘Megalomaniac’. For even causal fans of the band which I count myself as their setlist was packed with nearly a perfect balance. Once the house lights came up from the Incubus set to begin prepping for Jane’s Addiction this is where I had realized that the lineup organizer had gotten their lineup very, very wrong.  First however let me give a precursor here that I love Jane’s Addiction. Funny given that I first discovered the band around 1996 about five years after they had first broken up when I picked up a copy of 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual. It would go on to receive endless plays as I realized how ahead of the curve the band had been. They were releasing in 1990 a sound that six years on sounded as if it could have been produced in that same year. Many years and reunions later Jane’s Addiction has become a band that challenges its core fans. I say that as lots of hardcore Jane’s fans feel that any music produced outside of the original line up of Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro, Eric Avery and Stephen Perkins isn’t really representative of the band’s true output. I’ve managed to catch the original lineup of Jane’s Addiction twice. One such show happened to be the 2009 NIN|JA tour out at Starlight Theater. That show like the one on this night would find a band many surprised to be headlining over those that had come before. It was also a different band as the “experiment”

So personal B.S. qualifying myself about a fan of Jane’s Addiction what had gone wrong?

The seeming mass exit that took place after Incubus completed their set and the house lights came on I’m not sure if it was the fact that at this point fans had already experienced nearly eight hours of music, and I’m sure a drink or two and were fatigued. Could it had been the threat of a pretty nasty looking storm system that had popped up on radar to the west? Said storm system is something Jane’s lead Perry Farrell would refer to as Hurricane Jane for most of the set. Or perhaps it was something else altogether? Much like their last stop in KC in 2009 as soon as the band that played before them wrapped up their set a pretty noticeable chunk of the audience made their way for the exit. Thus why whoever organized the evening’s lineup must not have been at that show, or had their own personal feelings for Jane’s get in the way.

Okay I’ll get on to Jane’s set now and stop blathering about the lineup.

Boy what a difference two years and several lineup changes can make. When I last saw Jane’s their performance was energetic but somewhat subdued and I saw Farrell fall on his ass on an oddly chilly, misty KC night. Absent that evening was material off of their 2003 release Strays. Present was Eric Avery in what is likely the last time the original lineup of Jane’s will ever tour. At Beach Ball the set opened with the group’s classic ‘Whores’. On bass duty for the moment is Chris Chaney who was with the band for Strays but is only around for touring duty from all indicators this time around. The group had two scantly clad women swinging back and forth from the rafters of the large stage. Out of the gates the band would suffer from a poor sound mix; Farrell’s vocals were getting lost in the mix. Further he was having issues with mic feedback and seemed almost more concerned about fixing the tech issues than performing.

Guitarist Dave Navaro seemed content to hover in the shadows next to Farrell doing his own thing. The band seemed a bit more energetic than in 2009 but Farrell’s voice seemed lacking. I’m not sure if it was just this evening or if this has become a common thing but it seemed his voice just couldn’t hit the highs that I’m used to on songs that are now in some cases twenty some years old. Also odd was Farrell’s stage banter going on about being in either Kansas or Missouri. Missouri fans seemingly being the most vocal in the half full or less venue. Said noise from the MO fans would turn around and bite female fans in the ass as Farrell would go on about MO being the “Show Me State” and asking women to bare their breast inline with the tacky Hooters wanna-be restaurant Show-Me’s. He’d have various other banter but half way through the band’s set I was fed up and had had enough and lost interest. The band would go on to play two songs of their pending release due out in September. Neither of them sounded much like the Jane’s I remember and I realized that on this time machine style of a lineup and night that perhaps its best to hold on to older memories than to try and recreate and live off of those of the past.

by John Coovert

photos by Kelly Powell

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