Middle of the Map Festival: Day One (5/4)

I've probably said it here before but the Middle of the Map festival is my favorite music week/weekend of the year. I love researching new bands to see who I want to check out and trying to create a schedule that allows me to see as many bands as possible. This year over the four days I caught most or all of 29 different performances. Here are the highlights from day one:

Baskery @ Californos

The first set of the festival I caught ended up being one of the best of the whole day. Baskery are a trio of sisters from Sweden. The set of instruments comprising an acoustic guitar, banjo and stand-up bass certainly seem like they'd belong to a normal bluegrass band, but Baskery are anything but.

They were extremely high energy and the addition of the drums made for a pretty rocking set. If not many people knew of the group before the festival, they definitely gained a roomful of new fans last Wednesday.

LA Witch @ Ernie Biggs

After checking out a ton of bands I'd never heard of on Spotify before the festival, one of the groups I was most excited to see was another all female trio: LA Witch.

The group plays loud and fuzzy punk rock with a ton of reverb. If you know me at all, you know I love anything with a lot of reverb so I was in heaven. A lot of times punk rock music can sound thin but the heft of the reverb and drone made LA Witch's sound fill the room quite nicely.

Fullbloods @ Californos Patio

Fullbloods are a KC band that I was already familiar with before MOTM, but hadn't gotten a chance to see live yet. They're a part of the High Dive record label which has some of my favorite local bands on their artist roster. It's lazy but I love comparing bands I see to existing bands I know and love and It's impossible to describe Fullbloods sounds without mentioning Steely Dan. The bands share that same mellow funk/r&b/jazz sound. Although I don't really care for Steely Dan much, I love Fullbloods and their new album. I'm never sure exactly how a bands sound will translate from record to live performance and I can say without a doubt that Fullbloods are a really talented live band. Make sure to check them out if you get a chance.

Roosevelt Dime @ Westport Saloon

The very last band of the evening we caught was Brooklyn's Roosevelt Dime. I went into the show expecting some solid bluegrass but got much more as the band incorporates elements of blues, R&B and Americana. I was exhausted by this time and wished I could have stayed for the whole set but I'll definitely try and catch them if they come through town again.

Other bands I saw on Wednesday:

Quirk & Ruckus
Via Luna
Ensemble Ibérica



Jill Andrews @ The Madrid Review (supporting Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors)- 4/23/16

Well, this is somewhat exciting- technically this my first legitimate concert review, and by "legitimate" I mean existing. Whether it's actually legitimate or not is up to our lawyers.

The evening did not start well upon arrival, as I realized I had left my little notebook and pen to write my notes down in the car. I couldn't use my phone effectively as I felt I would need two hands, and I needed one to hold a beer. I felt bummed that I hadn't even managed to accomplish what I assume is the second-most important task in reviewing a show after actually being at the show. However, my spirits rose immediately after having a Purple Rain (which wasn't anything special but I felt like I was now officially honoring Prince in the most selfish manner), so I decided to adapt. Rather than write about the specific songs and my reactions to each one, I decided to look at  the overall experience of listening to Ms. Andrews, as well as my observations on the Americana/folk-rock scene that night.

Americana - or whatever fits your mind for this genre - is an interesting breed of music, in that I am not sure if there's another brand of music where competent musicianship, quality singing and at least decent lyrics can really make the concert experience lukewarm and meh-able.This style of music fits within some consistent trappings: generally you have at least one acoustic which is often kicking the song off (might even be using a capo on the 2nd or 4th fret), open chords, and multiple harmonies. Even when these are performed well, the ears begin to mix them with the multitudes of other bands that are doing the same thing. You find yourself moving towards the back, towards the exits or at least to the bar, so you can have a conversation and maybe sit at a table.

And the thing is, the music could still be good, perhaps really good, but if there's not one little thing that sparks your brain to notice- a distinct voice, really unusual lyrics or phrasing - then it all becomes background. Other genres can skate by on being solely competent and grab your attention because their angry and loud by nature and you have no choice to be focused on them. But Americana shares that folksy politeness in sound where it can be easy to excuse yourself from the room.

So, with this in my mind, what did I think of Andrews the first time I saw her? She started out by herself on an acoustic, wearing a comfy sundress and a natural smile, and I thought to myself "Well, this has the chance of fitting into my "Slippery Slope of America" logic I mentioned earlier. She has a strong voice and a good sense of melody, but I wasn't sure I was going to stay focused for the whole set, or have it leave me with any impact.

Then, after the second song, she brought out her touring guitarist whose name started with a "J" and if I hadn't forgotten my notepad I would have remembered it- and the vibe of the performance changed. The guitarist provided a great layer to the music that would have been missed if Andrews was straight solo (Andrews's albums are well-fleshed out by an entire band and solid production), using effects to not overwhelm but support, and that shimmering layer brought more power to the lyrics. I also enjoyed her soloing- simple but with a nice bite to cut through the folsky sweetness and hinted at the darker lyrics inside the song. J's added vocal melodies (which made me think of First Aid Kit) also fit well with Andrews and it's a credit to the two of them for meshing well. I don't know how long they have been playing together on this tour or prior, but for the rest of the set, I was locked in.

So my final review? If you are an Americana fan, or want to see a good musician that can add a little bit extra to her performance (outside of somewhat awkward stage banter), I recommend catching Andrews next time she's in town. I'd be curious to be there with a full-backing band, as she more than held her own with just two guitars.


PS- Matt and I discussed if there would be a Prince cover performed, and which one it would be. Matt believed it would be "Nothing Compares 2 U", and I agreed. Turns out Drew Holcombe covered it, so we won the night.


RIP Prince

Too many of these posts recently. Without a doubt in David Bowie and now Prince, we've lost two of the most original artistic minded musical geniuses that have walked this earth.

Here are a couple of videos....

'Purple Rain' at the Super Bowl:

Prince w/ Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison playing 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps':


Upcoming Show: Jill Andrews @ The Madrid 4/23

I've been slacking on posting recommended shows recently, but I wanted to get something up about a show I'll be checking out this weekend. On this Saturday, April 23rd, Jill Andrews will be playing at The Madrid opening for Drew Holcomb.

Jill has been putting out records for a few years now but I didn't discover her until her newest album, The War Inside, came out last year. Her music can best be described as pop-rock, but it's definitely got some southern/Appalachian influences as well. The highlights for me are the album opener 'Get Up, Get On' and the duet with Seth Avett 'I'm So In Love With You', but the entire album is well worth your time.

The headliner Drew Holcomb is touring behind his newest album Medicine which was recorded with his band The Neighbors.

This should be a really good show so don't miss it! Also, check out her new video for the song 'Get Up, Get On' below:



Recommended Shows (4/4 - 4/10)

Thursday: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band @ Sprint Center

I unfortunately won't be in town for this show, but I can't recommend it enough. No one puts on a live show like Springsteen and he's touring behind the release of The River boxset and will  be performing the album in full.

Friday: Kurt Vile & The Violators @ The Granada

I caught Kurt a couple of years ago at The Granada and it was a great show. Once again I'll be missing this one but he's a great live performer and this show is highly recommended.

Saturday: Savages @ The Granada

The Granada is coming with a ton of great shows recently (makes me wish KC still had a venue that size). Post-Punk group Savages most recent album, Adore Life, is well worth your time. Of course there is a trio of great shows when I won't be in town so make sure you hit one or all of these up in my honor.


Recommended Shows (3/28 - 4/3)

Thursday: Murder By Death @ The Granada

One of my favorite live bands of the past few years is back again in Thursday. After a couple of appearances at Middle Of The Map in KC this time the band will be in Lawrence at The Granada. Make sure you get there early for the opener, Tim Barry.

Saturday: Split Lip Rayfield @ The Bottleneck

If you've spent any time in Lawrence or KC in the past 20 years and haven't been to a Split Lip show, what the hell are you doing with your time? The band is a live force and are always a good time if you can catch their show.

The Dandy Warhols @ The Riot Room

Although I've never loved this band, I know fellow JoC staff member Chris is a big fan. The Dandy Warhols do seem too big for a venue the size of The Riot Room, so if you want to catch this show get tickets early.



I want to say that when Matt hired me back, I was not given the impression that we were to contribute over three posts a month...

WHEW!!! Was I wrong!  Mr. Schram came down on me hard. I was brought into the office at 8:00 am, and it was just...it was just brutal. But, a well-deserved critique on my shortcomings as a writer AND a husband, apparently. I don't know how the meeting went with Witmer, but let's assume it was worse?

So, to half-ass the quota that's been assigned to me, I'm going to rip off a video Matt sent me and critique it. This will be followed in the next few days with the next "What the F##% is Wrong with You?".

The Video

Chicago "Look Away"

As a caveat to this post, I do not like Chicago- when I was 12 in 1988 they made me reminded me of my parents. That was where they were at on the cool spectrum to me in the music world.  I don't think that would change my analysis of this music video, but I wanted to point that out.

This video is so 80s it's like watching a scene from "American Psycho", where this is playing in the background. It's a spoof video made two years ago by Adam McKay, or an introductory skit on Jimmy Fallon to introduce Kevin Bacon or Josh Brolin. It's  too 80s to be 80s, but it was actually made in the 80s. And clearly, the director was an assistant DP on "Working Girl" or "Mannequin".

I also am assuming he went on to develop the story for "Pretty Woman".

Based on the lyrics, lame Don Johnson has been dumped by a lingerie model at the same time lingerie Model #2 dumps her sugar daddy CEO/mafia stereotype. They yell and scream at both of them, and Victoria's Secret #3 loses her haberdashery boxes,which leads straight to #4 blowing up a goddamn limo (I shall call her Patricia Bateman). #3 meets up with #5 to throw a watch away and spy on #6, and #7 carries flowers on a street and is them embarrassed when the wind catches her coat and reveals her garter, even though she was wearing only underwear the whole time. There's a 10-second clip of the band, which is the only time they appear in the video because this is art and it's not about the band. God, in 1988 they looked older than my dad. #8 walks in an elevator with a swimsuit on and then puts on power blazer, so  everything is fine

The Lame DJ is sad again, probably due to his 30 lb. rotary phone messing with his shoulder, and the video ends.

That would have been the pitch the director through the label, to which they did a line of coke off  #5's back and said "Let's do it!" and it probably cost $20,000 to make. God, the 80s  were so stupid. Wasn't this song about just a breakup? And just moving on? Instead the video is a sexist women's liberation statement about being yourself and not being defined by men as long as you;re also dressed in a fashion that would get you arrested today if you weren't performing on a stage.

This is why wishing you were in the 80s- assuming you're 50- makes you pathetic, misogynistic asshole. Or you're someone who actually is glad Fuller House exists for any reason other hate-watching.

To cleanse your eyes and remind you that the 1980s video scene should only be mocked, here's Robin Sparkles:

Please provide any suggestions of a quality 80s video that stands up to the test of time and taste...

See you in a few days. Go to Middle of the Map if you're in the KC area!



New Music: Parker Millsap

It took me all of two tracks into Parker Millsap's self-titled album to know I was going to be a huge fan. A friend recommended him to me a few weeks back and since then I've been basically obsessed. Hailing from Oklahoma, Parker is in his 20's but seems much older based off his voice and songwriting prowess.

He already has two albums under his belt and is readying the third, The Very Last Day, for a March 25th release. One of the tracks from The Very Last Day, 'Heaven Sent', has already been featured on NPR's "Songs We Love" and is about a young, gay man coming out to his preacher father. It's a really powerful song and hopefully is a good indication as to how great this new album will be.

You can pre-order the new album from his website and check out tour dates there as well. He's not currently coming to KC but if that changes, we'll let you know.

Check out the video for his single, 'Truck Stop Gospel', off his self-titled album below.



Recommended Shows (3/4 - 3/10)

Saturday: Kacey Musgraves @ The Midland

I can't remember a time in Country music where more artists are commercially and critical viable than right now. Kacey Musgraves is the perfect example of someone who is embraced by country fans and general music fans alike. Count me in as someone who's enjoyed her last couple of albums.

Saturday: Lee Fields & The Expressions @ The Granada

Also on Saturday in Lawrence is legendary soul artist Lee Fields. He's been recording music for decades, but his recent albums with The Expressions has brought him new mainstream attention. He puts on a great live show that's well worth the trip to Lawrence.

Thursday: Titus Andronicus / Craig Finn @ The Bottleneck

In Lawrence next week is a fantastic double bill featuring New Jersey's Titus Andronicus. Opening the show is Craig Finn who is better known as the frontman for The Hold Steady. Both bands on the bill have tremendous energy in their live shows so this should be a really good time.


Middle Of The Map Festival Announces 2016 Lineup

I've said this many times now, but the Middle Of The Map Festival is without a doubt one of my favorite weekends of the year. They announced the lineup this week and once again it shows what a force this festival has become for Kansas City.

Highlights for me include Aimee Mann, Vince Staples, Charles Bradley, The Besnard Lakes, Your Friend, Shy Boys, Berwanger and The Grisly Hand. However, spending the weeks leading up to the festival discovering new bands to check out is one of my favorite parts of the fest. Even if you haven't heard of a single band on the lineup, if you love music buy a ticket and I guarantee you'll have a blast.