While Florence and The Machine tore down the roof on night one it wasn’t long before night two was under way. This night would be more of the typical fare that 965 The Buzz offers with it wide array of concerts as they yet again brought in a 90’s alt icon in 311. While I’ve heard and taken part in my fair share of complaining about The Buzz’s choices for marquee top billing, it’s hard to argue when it comes to filling up an auditorium the size of the Midland. Now with two sold out shows under their belt the only thing that The Buzz is proving is that they know how to put on a concert.
While most of the Midland’s capacity crowd was in attendance to see the lyrical styling’s of Nicholas Lofton Hexum I had shown up early for something with a fresher edge. This need for new was first fed by local favorites Soft Reeds. The band fronted by Ben Grimes (formerly of Astralwerks’ and The Golden Republic) has just my kind of indie fair. With a sound that echoes alt rock before it was called Alternative, the band managed to work their magic through the slowly growing XXMAS crowd. With a sound that hits at early Bowie it’s hard not to see Mr. Stardust in Grimes on stage performance, with a hand perched on his hip he adds a new flair to the hipster sway, a dance that is a little contagious when the band belts out songs like “The City & The Stars”. While the song brags about “lived in bars” Soft Reeds were poised comfortably in the large confines of the large theater. If you get the chance I would highly suggest you see them in their beer-soaked homes before Grimes starts singing songs about tour buses and greedy record labels, though I do look forward to those songs.
Before Surfer Blood could even take the stage the Midland began to fill up with hordes of 311 fans boasting shirts for all aspects of the band’s lineage and most with a fresh design slung over their shoulder. These fans were eager for bright flowing sounds, and one would think that a band from Florida that has songs about waves would fill this void for the frothy fan boys. But when the shrieking of garage rock guitars took the stage you could tell that Surfer Blood was in for a battle. One that according to the band’s twitter was threatening flexed arms of anger to every whale of their guitars.
The band had a decision to make, would they return the middle fingers and shrieks of anger with a mirroring message or continue on and subtly berate and charm their audience? Surfer Blood chose to do a bit of both and while this infuriated most it left me with a bit of a smile on my face. While front man John Paul Pitts enjoyed a bitter fan’s beer to the tune of “Miranda” he managed to put smiles back on faces while still maintaining a bit of rock n’ roll angst. It was in this subtle dry humor that the band pulled me in. While a bit pretentious, those of us who understood their swagger will definitely be at the next show.
Surfer Blood is more of a gloomy hipster bar headliner than a radio favorite and I think the band is fine with that. Their sound has been compared to Weezer in the past and while I can hear the distinction, their guitar rock sound has flair of its own. Songs like “Voyager Reprise” show that the band has a bit more to discuss that Rogaine and sweaters; if you listen closely there is a message in the madness they just need the right environment to convey that.
While Surfer Blood was forced to suffer through a set of silent applause, The Naked and Famous would have no trouble in waking the eager crowd back up. With a more lively electronic sound the band had the crowd dancing, pulling the shirts off their shoulders and swinging them in the air. It was hard not to enjoy The Naked and Famous’ mixture of bass and guitars, and to someone that was familiar with the sound it was hard to deny its power live.
The Naked and Famous have been on my radar since early March and their album Passive Me, Aggressive You has been a main stay in my iPod collection. Being an erratic fan of Nine Inch Nails one might find it hard to believe that I like a band that named their record label “Somewhat Damaged,” and it could be their aggressive synth that pulled me in. Whatever my interest may be, nothing could prepare me for the band live. The industrial-pop sound that Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers produce is an intense experience live, one that everyone must witness for themselves. Their vocal harmonies have a way of putting a crowd in a blissful trance, as their distorted synth pushes the crowd off its feet.
Songs like “Spank” just had new edge last night and you could see the crowd disappear in the sound. If the screaming Midland crowd learned anything last night it was that The Naked and Famous are a lot more than “Young Blood.” I know I say this all the time, but if you miss out on a chance to see this band live you are doing more than missing a band, you’re missing out on an experience. Until The Naked and Famous return to our area of the map I urge you to pick up their album to learn the songs you’ll scream at the show.
After the religious experience that was The Naked and Famous it was time for 311 to conduct their version of church complete with robotic dance moves. If you’re not a fan of the funk-rock group then seeing them live won’t do anything to change that. For those of you that love the band there is nothing that they can do wrong. 311 knows this well and rather than sit back and collect a check the band always delivers exactly what their fans want. While most bands at this juncture of their career seem to just run through the motions you can tell that 311 enjoy what they do.
While I don’t declare myself a fan of their sound I can see the draw in just how much fun their live show is. The band knows how to let go during a performance and let the music force their bodies into dace renditions that many would be embarrassed to commit. It’s this scene of lackadaisical showmanship that helps the crowd let go, well that and clouds of pot smoke.
This lack of care to the opinions of others quickly spread through the crowd as everyone was up on their feet screaming the words to songs like “All Mixed Up” without taking a breath. Their fans were like addicts waiting for their next fix, and always demanding more. I always have a bit of admiration for this kind of fandom, to love something so much that you let it consume you is at times a beautiful thing. While most of these people will put on a suit and tie and go back to their lives outside of the world of 311, it’s during this time that they are allowed to be themselves no matter what that may be.
The band would run through the entirety of their catalog without skipping a beat, but it was the massive use of percussion that impressed me most. During a brief drum solo the stage floor was quickly covered in percussion instruments leading way for
the entire band to put on a performance The Blue Man Group would be proud of. This sent the crowd into a crazed hysteria that would follow them through the glowing exit signs at the end of the night.
To call The Night the Buzz Stole XXMAS Night 2 anything but a success would be undercutting the effort. The event was able to offer up an experience for everyone and leave all satisfied. With a free show tonight, I have to give it to the Buzz for creating something that has become a staple in Kansas City’s celebration of music and do so without that grimy corporate feel that most events are still haunted by.
By Ryan Davis
Photos By Angela Davis