How things have come full circle. Once derided for its grandiose arrangements and neo-orchestral rock pastiche, Kansas fully embraced its classical leanings as the band and its guest, the Playhouse Square Festival Orchestra, turned in a memorable performance Saturday night.
It may be because four of the original six members are on board or the pressure of synchronizing with a symphony, but Kansas sounded tighter than it has on many recent sojourns through the area. Violinist/vocalist Robby Steinhardt, back after a fifteen-year absence, and lead vocalist/keyboardist Steve Walsh led the band through a mix of well-known cuts such as "Point of No Return" and "Carry On Wayward Son," concert staples like "The Wall" and "Miracles out of Nowhere" (Steinhardt's full and rich voice made it the evening's highlight), and the rarity "Nobody's Home."
Following a flaccid rendition of "Play the Game Tonight," guest conductor Larry Baird guided the orchestra through a majestic rendition of "Song for America," possibly the band's unsung masterpiece. Some members of the orchestra looked shocked as Steinhardt feverishly worked his violin and Walsh bounded behind his keyboard rig like a strung-out puppeteer.
The Nudes played a far-too-brief three-song set. Cellist Stephanie Winters and guitarist Walter Parks had strong stage chemistry and stirring vocal harmonies, particularly during "Partners, Painters, and Friends." The occasionally rambunctious audience rewarded the duo with well-deserved applause.
Wilbert's Bar & Grille
Men aren't very wise when they're standing in front of bar urinals. A sigh of relief is usually followed by an appraisal of the women in the club or a realization that a state of drunkenness has been achieved. Late into Indigenous's set at Wilbert's, the fellow at the porcelain next to mine spared the banalities. "This sure as hell beats putting six bucks in a jukebox," he said. Amen, brother.
Indigenous is a blues rock band from the Black Hills of South Dakota. Singer guitarist Mato Nanji, brother Pte (bass), sister Wanbdi (drums), and cousin Horse (congas) live on the Yankton Reservation, but their sound is sifted from the dry soil of Texas. Mato Nanji's style bears immediate comparisons to Stevie Ray Vaughan with touches of Jimi Hendrix. His imposing build and confident style made his Fender seem almost like a toy. Often the band was little more than the orchestra pit for this six-stringed diva. Indigenous was at its best when Horse let fly on the congas and other percussive goodies, giving the band a full, Santana-esque sound (sho'nuff, the band played an extended piece of "Black Magic Woman" during one interlude). When Horse banged the tambourine, he may as well have been sprucing up the tour van.
While guitar worshippers left satisfied, Indigenous has songs, too. As the second set was beginning to bog down with Mato Nanji's wizardry, the band struck gold with "Things We Do," the title track from its latest album. At song's end, heads nodded appreciatively at the tune's quiet power.
Indigenous closed the night with hero worship. The band played a mini-tribute to Hendrix: excellent versions of "Red House" and "Voodoo Chile" (Mato Nanji played part of the solo with his teeth) and a so-so take on "Hey Joe." But none of those covers touched the mean and muddy remake of "I Can See Clearly Now."
And it has nothing to do with anything, but a man sitting at the bar was an astonishing likeness of actor Dennis Franz.
Black Eyed Peas
Crane Building, Pittsburgh
Family bonding and prophylactics were two of the themes at this year's version of the Levi's Sno-Core tour. Aside from the orthodox couples usually found at rock shows, fathers and daughters and older brothers and their pre-teen siblings filled the large warehouse.
The tour's interactive booths served to kill time before the start of the show. Among the more popular displays were the Sony PlayStations and the Trojan condom booth. But anytime you put free condoms in the same room with teenagers, you're more likely to see them being used as balloons than for their intended purpose.
Everclear has expanded from a three-piece to a six-piece for touring purposes. Why so many people are needed to produce three-chord rock is anybody's guess; nonetheless, the band performed with an unwavering amount of energy and passion. Kicking things off with "El Distorto de Melodica," Everclear's set consisted of a healthy blend of songs from their two Capitol releases and a pair of songs from their indie release World of Noise.
Shifting gears, Everclear performed an acoustic/karaoke version of "Strawberry," complete with backing vocals from the audience. "Give yourselves a hand; that's the best on this fucking tour!" beamed Everclear's Art Alexakis.
The Everclear-hungry crowd took well to the other acts. The reaction to Soul Coughing was warm; in return the band offered a roundabout performance of radio hits, lesser-known favorites, and an anti-moshing speech from singer M. Doughty. "You five guys over there who think you're trying to be a mosh pit," he said, "we can't stop you, but we can assure you that you won't get laid tonight."
Replacing Redman on this leg of the tour was the Los Angeles-based rap group Black Eyed Peas, who fared decently. Urging the crowd to put its hands in the air and wave them side to side, the Peas showed their fondness for the old school.
Turntable virtuoso DJ Spooky was mostly ignored. The audience, transfixed by video games and rubbers, didn't know what it was missing.
Method Man and Redman
CSU Convocation Center
The pungent stench of marijuana smoke settled over the air inside the Convocation Center as DJ Clue spun his first batch of records. Reappearing between sets, the turntablist made selections throughout the night which called into question his skill in the live setting. He showed none of the imagination that is on his records; instead, he relied on the popularity of current hits--and the songs weren't even mixed.
Next up: Redman and Wu-Tang Clansman Method Man, who quickly induced audience members to move their heads in unison with the beat of "Time 4 Sum Akshun." Highlights of the set included an assist from fellow Wu-Tanger Streetlife and Redman's single "I'll Be That." DMX's street promotion team was dispatched around the arena, throwing posters, tapes, and shouting his name as if evoking a patron saint. Starting out with "X Is Coming," the artist paced the stage like a pit bull stalking a victim, pausing briefly between songs to recite prayers--a hypocritical move given the content of his songs. But DMX did lend the impression he is more than a swaggering, misogynist thug. He has a mind and a soul--two assets which, unfortunately, do not often sell records.
DMX's exit set the stage for the self-proclaimed god M.C. Jayhova: Jay-Z. In 1995, when his Reasonable Doubt album was already an underground classic and a moderate seller nationally, Jay-Z's performance at the Gavin Convention revealed him to be a solid rapper but a subpar showman. Little has changed since, as he showed a shocking lack of energy on his opener, "A Million and One Questions," before the set crawled into "Can I Get a . . .," which served as the introduction of Amil from Major Coins. An undoubtedly costly addition to the entourage, she appeared for just the one song. Similarly, Rock-a-Fellas Memphis Bleek and Bennie Siegal added nothing, suggesting that being "down with Jay-Z" means that you don't have to have a stage presence, just rhymes.