There was light rain on the Great Plains but no one really seemed to mind. In fact, it was apparent that most of the festivalgoers on Friday, August 5th, Day One of the inaugural Kanrocksas Music Festival at the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, KS, were just happy to see a break from the scorching heat. Temperatures in the week leading up to the festival were regularly breaking three digits, and that can make for a sticky festival.
The gates opened and the first of the 30,000 spilled out onto the immense speedway infield. The transformation of this overgrown Hot Wheel track into a world-class festival ground was truly a sight to behold. In the place of campers and pit crews there were four main venues. The Critical Mass DJ Tent was set to house a lineup that boasts such names as Major Lazer and Kaskade. Two auxiliary stages were preparing to host festival mainstays like Flaming Lips, and relative newcomers like Ellie Goulding. For a first year festival, the lineup at Kanrocksas is nothing short of flabbergasting.
The relief from the heat didn’t last long, as by the time the first acts hit the stage, even the sun wanted to get in on the action as is pushed it’s way through the clouds to catch a glimpse of the biggest festival to hit the Land of Oz since Wakarusa (QRO photos from last year in Kansas).
Maybe it was because of the heat, or the relatively early time-slot, but the crowd really didn’t seem to be too into UME. However, you wouldn’t have been able to tell by watching the Texas trio’s energetic set. From the first lick, it was all flaying blond hair, flailing arms and flying crunchy guitar. Comparisons to Metric (QRO live review) are not far off base, and not just because of the lead singers golden locks. UME goes hard, but can still pull back and croon out a catchy hook. Unfortunately, the time slot/heat combination did them no favors. The set was so short (30 minutes), that by the time the crowd warmed up to the trio, it was time to shift attentions across the infield to Fitz and the Tantrums.
Fitz and the Tantrums
Michael Fitzgerald and co. came out of the gate swinging. L.A.’s Fitz and the Tantrums special blend of funky neo-soul-meets-indie-pop turned out to be the perfect elixir for the mid-afternoon heat. The set included a cover of the Raconteurs’ “Steady as She Goes” and The Eurhythmics’ “Sweet Dreams”. Both took exceptionally well to the Fitz treatment, and had the crowd out of the funk and into the groove. Fitzgerald and fellow vocalist Noelle Scaggs were absolutely electric. They have obvious chemistry, and are great performers. Scaggs shook her tambourine like it was a comfy 75 degrees, despite temps reaching 90.
Over on Stageasaurus Rex, D12 drew the biggest crowd of the afternoon. The Dirty Dozen blasted their hard-hitting beats and the crowd hit back just as hard. The set was nothing special as far as hip-hop sets go, but it didn’t faze the crowd. It was quite obvious that the day’s headliner, Eminem (see below), was a huge draw on Day One, and those faithful fans of Marshal Mathers were pretty amped to see his boys from Detroit that afternoon.
Back on the Main Stage, Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys fuzzed out a set that would make and English rocker proud. Alex Turner’s band of disaffected men has mastered the art of looking bored while playing not-bored music. Seriously, they have mastered the art. What they lack in overt stage presence and crowd interaction they make up for with their music.
The music was what it was all about. “We don’t have too long up here so I’m gonna talk as little as possible and we’ll play as much as possible,” was Turner’s introduction to the crowd. The Monkeys played a set that spanned all four of their albums (QRO most recent album review). New single “Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” was like a dirge to a fall down a rabbit hole, and newer single “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala” showcased how far the band has come since the days of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I Am Not. The energy and basic formula remains the same, but Turner’s lyrics have become a true highlight of the band. He really is an amazing vocalist, and a lyrical ninja.
By far the biggest crowd of the day so far, Kid Cudi played a set that was heavy on his new material. Cudder really is serious about this whole rock star thing. As of late, the man that made his name with innovative and fun hip-hop has been straying more and more towards rock ‘n’ roll. Even going so far as to include Jimmi Hendrix covers in some of his sets. Although Kanrocksas didn’t get any Kid Hendrix, we did get a lot of power chords and muddying distortion that often drowned out what makes Cudi Cudi, those gruffy-yet-smooth vocal chords that take a good hook and make it great.
Cudder seemed genuinely surprised by the turnout for his set, and it put him in a visibly good mood. He channeled the energy the crowd gave him right back out, and played a good 15 minutes over his time slot.
My first trip over to the Critical Mass DJ Tent was by far the best experience of the day. Diplo, Switch and Major Lazer crew descended on America’s breadbasket bearing gifts of Jamaican dancehall beats so fine they blew the shirts off of everyone in the DJ tent. Their hype man and dancer, whose names I have unfortunately been unable to track down, left so much sweat on the stage Kaskade’s gear was probably soaked by the time he got up there.
Against a backing of video boards, and a mad decent light show, the crowd went absolutely ape-shit when the always-recognizable snare and kick of “Pon de Floor” made its way into the mix. The bass was so loud it rattled the esophagus. All the hits were brought in eventually, including “Hold the Line”, “Sound of Siren” and even some brand new material.
For the last two tracks in the set, Diplo demanded that the stage be filled with girls, and the lady Kanrockers were more than happy to oblige, much to the chagrin of security. When the set ended and all heart rates had dropped back down to a normal level, everyone knew that guns don’t kill people, lazers do.
The bad news for Illinois boy Kaskade was that Major Lazer nearly drained the crowd of their energy. The good news for the international DJ was that reinforcements arrived as soon as the disco-fresh beat came steamrolling out of those woofers.
And what a fresh beat it was. The clean crisp stylings of Kaskade seemed absolutely feather light compared to the downright dingy stank of Major Lazer (those are all terms of endearment, by the way…). The set, as is usually the case in a DJ tent, turned into an epic dance party, and it seemed as though we might have been transported to Ibiza by some cosmic Kaskade magic.
I hightailed it over to Stageasaurus Rex to catch the always-entertaining Flaming Lips. The band really latched onto the whole ‘Land of Oz’ thing. Each side of the stage was inhabited by about 25 dancing Dorothy’s with the cowardly lion, the tin man and the scarecrow all mixed in. The band had all the usual props, giant hands, confetti cannons, fog machines, massive disco ball, laser lights for the giant hands, et cetera. All of it set in front of a really magnificent half-circle video board.
A particularly quirky special effect was the small camera mounted on Coyne’s mic. The feed from the camera was usually played on the half-disc video board, providing wonderful shots of the nose and nostrils of Coyne.
Coyne was his usual f-bomb loving self, and was sure to inform the crowd that just prior to taking the stage, he was informed by the speedway officials that for the Flaming Lips set only, everyone was allowed to smoke as much pot as they wanted. Of course, Wayne, of course.
As the night came to a close and the heat finally began to dissipate, it was time for the day’s headliner. As I said before, it was clear from the number of Recovery Tour shirts in the crowd the Shady was the big draw today. From the looks of it, all 30,000 festivalgoers were present and accounted for at the main stage for Marshall Mathers.
Eminem played with a band rather than just a DJ, although of course there was a turntable present. The crowd was ecstatic to see one of the most successful rappers of all time grace the stage, and sang along to every line.
Slim played an eclectic set, including music from all his albums, a D12 (see above) track or two, and a long, multiple track tribute to late R&B legend and close friend Nate Dogg. Highlights included “Lighters” and “Airplanes Pt. 2”, which Em seemed particularly happy about performing. He saved the best for last when he came back onstage for an encore performance of “Lose Yourself”. The masses did, in fact, lose themselves.
Day Two of Kanrocksas began much like the first, light rain followed by intense heat.The good people of the land of tents and RV’s, Kamprocksas, shook off the remaining confetti from the Flaming Lips prepared themselves for another day of music in the home of Dorothy.
Today’s headliner would be Muse, although other big names like The Black Keys, OK Go, and Best Coast would also be enduring the summer sun.
Gardens & Villa
There is a primordial ooze of plinking guitars, spacey-synth, light vocals and bands with an altogether eighties inspired sound.The challenge for a band of this ilk is to rise out of that goop and separate from the pack.Judging from the set they played at Kanrocksas, Gardens & Villa have yet to accomplish this.
Prior to this I hadn’t heard much outside of “Black Hills” and “Orange Blossom”, the band’s two singles.I still can’t say I heard much more than that.The boys from Santa Barbara opened with “Black Hills”, to a lukewarm reception.Note: If you act like you are too cool for your venue, you instantly become not cool enough for your venue, the crowd can always tell when you don’t really think they are ‘beautiful’.
Apart from the two singles, which, in the defense of the band are catchy, well written tracks, the rest of the set was fantastically mediocre.A self-indulgent wooden flute solo, does not individuality make.
G&V closed out with a cover of Gary Numan’s “Cars”.Perhaps the best decision of the afternoon was playing someone else’s music.However, they did nothing too creative with the cover, and I was bored before they made it half way through the classic ‘80s hit.
I’m not ready to give up on them yet though.Like I said, the two singles show genuine promise, but the band must produce more.The sound is there, but the content is still lacking.
Bethany, Bobb, and Ali were one of more anticipated acts at Kanrocksas, and they did not disappoint.Although the band had been, as Costentino put it, “Around the world and back in the last week and Kanrocksas was getting wacked out and strange Best Coast,” the music spoke for itself.
The brave souls that suffered through the heat at Stageasaurus Rex were treated to some top class garage/surf pop, bathed and marinated in reverb.By a few songs in (for Best Coast that’s about five minutes) the L.A. natives, visibly weary during sound check, seemed rejuvenated.The set included some new material and the majority of the less-new material (it can’t really be called old yet, can it?).
Negative Nellies may cite the simplicity of the set and call it dull, but I don’t see it that way.This genre is about hot summer days and sticking to the couch with your beau.On this hot summer day Best Coast gave Kanrocksas endless amounts of chill.
Way over on the Ad Astra Stage (“Ad astra per aspera” is the state motto) OK Go drew a decent crowd.The infamous YouTubers have always overshadowed their music with their gimmicks, and it was no different at Kanrocksas.A cheese-tastic robo-voice straight out of Saw XXVII (or whatever number they’re on) encouraged, nay commanded, the crowd to chant “O-K-Go!” to bring the band out.About one third of the audience reluctantly obliged the invisible robot, but apparently that was good enough, as the band members, each dressed in a different color, took the stage.
I though that now, at long last, I would get to hear OK Go, without being distracted by treadmills or some other scheme, but alas, I’ll just have to lock myself in a dark room with some headphones to do that.Whether it was eye catching outfits, noting how awesome it was to play church bells, or lead man Damian Kulash taking his guitar down into the audience to play some “hippie shit,” there was always something happening to distract from the actual sounds coming out of the instruments.It was the exact opposite of Best Coast and The Arctic Monkeys before them, rather than letting the music speak, OK Go spoke for the music.
Maybe for good reason.It’s not that the guys aren’t good musicians, but the material they are producing is uninspired, generic, pop.It would seem that the massive success of those treadmills has distracted the band from the reason that they became a band in the first place, music.
If they could combine the genuine ability they have to put on a visually engaging and entertaining show, with some material that has a distinct sound (see Flaming Lips), OK Go could really be a band to listen to, rather than just watch.
After OK Go, I scampered over to the Critical Mass DJ tent to catch the end of Kerli‘s set.Floating around the stage like a pixie dressed in all white, excluding her red skirt and pink hair, Kerli and her band blasted bubble-gum techno at a small but dedicated crowd.
Like Major Lazer on day one, Bag Raiders take the award for best show of the day.When an artist is genuinely enjoying themselves onstage, it’s infectious.Because Bag Raiders, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, and Cage the Elephant were all playing at the same time, the tent at Bag Raiders was only 1/3 full, but the boys from Sydney played like they sold out a stadium.The crowd steadily grew as Chris Stracey and Jack Glass pumped out the bright, funky grooves, heavy in electric toms, pads, and disco licks more contagious than the bird flu.Stracey sings lead with a little help from auto-tune (in the best way), and they really bring the energy to a type of music for which live performances can often retreat into knob turning and button pressing.
“Sunlight” really brought the crowd alive, with the entire house hanging on each sun-soaked synth pad and singing along at top volume.The duo closed with their hit “Shooting Stars”.They treated Kanrocksas to an extended breakdown prior to the final chorus that ended a set that, for me at least, brings Bag Raiders from a promising prospect to a cannot miss.
I realized that if I didn’t eat I would not make it through Girl Talk, The Black Keys, and Muse (see below), so I headed over to vendor’s row and macked on some of the most delicious curly fries that I have ever put in my face-hole.It was in the process of stuffing my face with this greasy godsend when the twitterverse informed me that Krafty Kuts was tearing the roof off at the DJ Tent.I killed the rest of my curly fries and high-tailed it over there to catch the end of the set.
I unfortunately only made it to hear the last five-seven minutes, but I was impressed by what I heard and saw.Martin Reeves had the onlookers chanting “KRAF-TEE-KUTS”, and was filling the tent with absolutely filthy breakbeats.I really wish that my curly fries had not held me hostage, but alas I am a sucker for plates full of fried potatoes.
Tinie is a club rapper, by this I mean that lyrical prowess and flow are less important than how hype the crowd gets.Tinie is good at this.His beats are pretty much just dance grooves that any glowstick twirler would be ecstatic with, and his flow works quite well with that type of hip-hop.
Due to some rescheduling, Mr. Tempah went on about 15 minutes late, and the crowd was just about ready to abandon ship for Girl Talk when he finally climbed on stage.Any qualms the Tempah-fans had were quickly dispelled by the time the first la la la’s of “Frisky” hit.
I would’ve liked to stick around longer, but the reschedule forced me to split time between Tinie and Girl Talk and before I knew it, Girl Talk required my presence.
I originally questioned why Girl Talk would be playing the Main Stage, but as soon as the monster came into view my questions were answered.The numbers amassed around the stage were larger than even Kid Cudi garnered, and as night had fallen by this point, the glowsticks were out en force.
No real special effects for Mr. Gillis aside from the video feed running on the screens on either side of the stage (probably due to the amount of lasers Muse had under the sheets onstage already).The sprawling stage would have seemed empty if it weren’t for the section of the audience that had been invited up to bump ‘n’ grind to the samples.Gillis played mostly tracks from All Day, but played some older stuff too.His top 40 stew was delicious.
The Black Keys
I saw The Black Keys at Lollapalooza last year, and since they haven’t really come out with any new material, I expected to be a bit bored by the show.That was a silly notion I had.
It doesn’t matter how many times you see the Black Keys; it’s always impressive.Especially as the band has gained a significantly larger following due to the success of Brothers (QRO review), and the shows are packed with people in various stages of Black Keys discovery.At Kanrocksas there were the die hard fans who shredded along with every riff Dan Auerbach (QRO solo album review) ground out, the fans of Brothers looking confused while Dan and Patrick played alone before the full band came onstage, and of course there were those who simply swayed along until Dan started whistling “Tighten Up”.
Playing in front of a giant inflatable tire and totem pole, the proud Akron-ites played a set typical of their recent tour(s) but it was not stale.
Time for the day’s headliner, and time for Kanrocksas to be sent out in style.Who better to rock the pants off the heartland than Muse?
They brought it right from the start, kicking the entirety of the assembled masses in their collective asses with “Uprising”.Muse moved through their catalogue of styles and songs, hitting on Black Holes and Revelations and all the mainstays from earlier in their career.
Special effects consisted of a honeycomb of video boards, a light show of typical Muse intensity, and of course the lasers.It was truly a sight to behold the lasers dancing across the immense looming grandstand of the Kansas Speedway, while beneath it’s ominous lean Muse led more than 27,000 people in rocking as hard humanly possible.
Speaking at the pre-festival press conference on Friday morning, Kanrocksas co-founder Chris Fritz recounted how when the Kansas Speedway was first built he would drive past it on his way to Sandstone Amphitheatre and think to himself that the Speedway was the place to be. Ten years on, and that thought has blossomed into the raving success of Kanrocksas. Every artist I spoke with was quick to mention how wonderful the festival had been behind the scenes, the efficiency and politeness of the staff, the energetic crowds, and the absolutely knock out lineup that this first year festival had managed to pull together.
It was like the Ritz-Carlton of festivals, complete with mist and rain tents, visual artists doing live paintings at all the stages, more food vendors than you can shake a foot-long corndog at, and even real bathrooms. That’s right, you heard me. Real. Bathrooms.
More importantly, Fritz and fellow co-founder Bill Brandmeyer confirmed what we had all been hoping, that the aim is for Kanrocksas to be an annual occurrence. After knocking the festival out of the park, or the track I guess, there are sure to be even more Midwest music lovers flocking to Kansas City, Kansas this time next year.