Once again Kansas CIty’s own version of SXSW took over midtown this weekend, bringing together all sorts of indie local/national/and even international bands. Undoubtedly the biggest draw the entire weekend was the massive booking of The Joy Formidable and Grizzly Bear, which was aided by the festival obtaining The Uptown Theater as a venue. Surely due to the recent closing of The Beaumont Club, but come on, let’s all be honest here, The Beaumont was a terrible venue, and obtaining the Uptown not only helps the festival book bigger bands, but it allows it to grow by doing just that.
I barely caught any of Cowboy, Indian, Bear’s set, who opened the show, but from what I saw, the crowd loved every second of the hometown band’s performance.
Owen Pallett, of former Arcade Fire fame, took the stage shortly after Cowboy, Indian, Bear, and proceeded to just blow everyone’s minds with his insane virtuoso violin skills. You’d be hard pressed to say that you’ve ever seen anything like it before. Although he had a drummer and guitarist with him, Pallett would loop endless layers of synth lines and violin notes on top of each other creating fully textured masterpieces. At one point he held his violin like a guitar and used the instrument’s bow behind the bridge. Other times he would furiously pluck the strings at a breakneck speed until it sounded as if he was actually creating drum beats. Owen also used the opportunity to answer questions from the crowd in-between songs in hopes of making the show feel more intimate. The best reply hands down was when someone shouted “What’s Arcade Fire like?” in which he slyly responded with “Very private”.
I feel I should mention how fantastic and precise the set change times were during this festival. Every band at the Uptown went on in lightning speed of each other. As soon as Owen Pallett was over, The Joy Formidable was practically already on stage.
This was my third time seeing The Joy Formidable, and easily their best performance of the three. The band charged on stage and immediately blasted into “Cholla” off of the group’s latest album Wolf’s Law. Over the next hour The Joy Formidable gave us an earth shatteringly loud set consisting of tracks off of both of the band’s albums, but with twice the ferocity of the studio recordings. Yet when lead singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan speaks to the crowd it is in the cutest most polite voice you’ve ever heard.
The only sidestep in the band’s performance was a mid-set acoustic performance of “Silent Treatment” that found it easier to hear everyone in the back of the theater’s conversations over the actual song. You could also tell that Ritzy isn’t quite comfortable being on stage without her guitar, as she fumbled with a plug-in cable throughout the whole song. Otherwise, the performance was really beautiful from what you could hear of it.
The most chaotic moments of a Joy Formidable set always happen during their traditional set-closer, “Whirring” and this one had to have been one for the books. They not only stretched the song past ten minutes, but Ritzy at one point jumped off the stage and climbed on top of the front barricade before running around letting people touch her guitar. All while bassist Rhydian Dafydd thrashed around on stage knocking over his mic stand and anything else in his path, as drummer Matt Thomas bashed away at the giant gong behind him. Eventually Ritzy found her way back on stage only to finish the set standing on top of Matt’s drum-kit to salute the enormous crowd whom they just gave the gift of this intense performance to. After all was said and done I couldn’t help but think “good luck to Grizzly Bear trying to top that performance”.
I wouldn’t say Grizzly Bear topped it, but they weren’t below it either. They put on a different kind of amazing set. Where The Joy Formidable had the raw aggression and explosive performance, Grizzly Bear maintained a more restrained but ultimately passionate performance. The band’s set was heavy on material from their recent (and best) album Shields, but featured a few scattered tracks from their two prior albums. Following set-opener “Speaking In Rounds”, during that song’s extended keyboard outro, known as “Adelma”, jellyfish like lanterns slowly rose from the floor up to the rafters filling The Uptown with beautiful ambient lights that would set the mood for the entire show.
I was parked right in front of bassist/multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor who was a joy to watch as the dude oozes talent. Throughout the set he played bass, clarinet, oboe, saxophone, and provided incredible backup vocals. Watching this guy perform was like watching Bob Ross paint. He just looked so damn cool slathering on those bass lines. In between songs Chris even spoke to us about how he ate at Gates and how good it was. Dude, you know all the buttons to my heart, clearly.
The band ended their 90 minute set with a duo of classics from their second album Yellow House, which the crowd just absolute ate up. Closing the set with “On A Neck, On A Spit” was pretty much the perfect way to close out their fantastically performed set.
After it was all over everyone leaving The Uptown looked as if they could have ended the night right there, but this was Middle Of The Map. Ending a show at one venue still meant there were hours more at others throughout midtown. I hurried my way to The Riot Room to catch Iceage’s insane and ridiculously awesome set, while others could have gone to any one of the other six venues.
For a report of other Friday night activities, check out Angela’s review HERE.
By Richard Pepper
Photos By Richard Pepper