LIVE REVIEW: Middle Of The Map Fest (05/04/16-05/07/16)

middle of the map

Almost annually, Under The Gun has had the opportunity to cover the yearly club festival in Kansas City called Middle Of The Map Fest. This festival has grown substantially over its five years of existence and brought names like Fun., Grizzly Bear, Of Montreal, and Two Door Cinema Club, as well as showcased some great local acts that have seen various amounts of success like The Get Up Kids, The Appleseed Cast, Reggie & the Full Effect and The Casket Lottery, to name a few.

This year was a massive expansion of what the festival has done over the years. Not only did they extend the weekend to four nights (Wednesday-Saturday), but they extended their reach throughout the city with more venues/bars than we have seen before, including one of the larger indoor theaters in the city, Arvest Bank at the Midland. The success is very apparent, and the lineup was more vast and had acts that may be some of the biggest names they’ve brought in so far, like Charles Bradley and Vince Staples. Friday was also an annual city-wide party in the Crossroads District, called First Fridays, which helped increase the crowd size, as well as brought nice extremities like food trucks and art shows.

The weekend was a marathon, but Wednesday kicked off without a hitch, making me question whether I started off too fast. I began at the local record store that was showcasing a few bands from a local label called Haymaker Records. Be/non was first up. This group just released a new album a few months ago, and have been off and on for nearly twenty years. It was as if Rush took off at the speed of light and replaced Geddy Lee’s vocals with the guy singing on stage. A tight, space/prog-rock group that took up all five feet of the stage and kicked ass, despite how small the room was, and how much it ate up the sound.

From there, I went and sat on a patio for a few sets, which hosted two bands that are perfect for the setting: Captiva and Fullbloods, both from the metro. Captiva brought a beachy Vampire Weekend feel, included a few reggae raps and a cover of MIA’s “Paper Planes.” Very fun set. This band is already receiving national coverage, and deserves it. They’re damn good. As for Fullbloods, they brought a familiar vibe, but slowed it down with some delay and flange, almost giving off a jazz feel.

From there, I headed over to the local saloon, to walk in on a young man, about 16 years old, named Julian Davis, absolutely shredding his acoustic guitar. It was just him, a pianist and a guy that could balance himself on the side of his cello while he slapped the hell out of it. Johnny Cash would be proud. Plus he sang a song about a “Chocolate Jesus.” Milk chocolate salvation.

After that, for the final set of the evening, I caught the DIY duo from Florida, Sales. This band just released a fantastic debut LP that flew completely under the radar of most publications. Two musicians, both playing guitars, and some samples. They walked through their catalogue of songs with grace, with songs like “Chinese New Year,” “Getting It On,” and “Renee.” It was without a doubt one of the best sets of the weekend.

I unfortunately had to miss Thursday due to some life obligations, but Friday and Saturday were chock full, and covering a lot of ground was the goal. Friday night, the show started early, with a small crowd lined up at the largest outdoor venue for another local act, Rachael Mallin & the Wild Type. This band was dressed to the nines, and could be compared to what you might imagine if Florence & the Machine had a spawn with The Lumineers; a folky sound, but very energetic and loud. Directly after her was a local act that is making a name for itself around the city, Kangaroo Knife Fight. I hate to give them the obligatory comparison to early era Kings Of Leon, but it’s very alive, and that’s not a slam. The passion and drive behind every single bar in every single song is infectious, and before the song is over, you’re singing along. Following KKF was The Noise FM, who sound like The Darkness, if they played punk rock. A three piece, originally from KC, but relocated to Chicago, are always up for a homecoming, more often then not.

From there, I moved to the indoor theater, the Midland, to watch the critically acclaimed Vince Staples. Usually not a fan of rap shows, this was an outstanding set. Not only that, his banter with the crowd was pleasing and fun, and really made for a good time. He even made fun of a female attendee that said she had Perry Ellis’ phone number from the Kansas Jayhawks after he made some comments about the team and said he was friends with Ellis. Ellis didn’t answer. He teased her for awhile.

The long jaunt back to the Crossroads made way to seeing half of a set from Berwanger, which is fronted by none other than Josh Berwanger of The Anniversary, who is doing a reunion tour this summer. Berwanger plays around the city very often, and every time is an absolute treat. This band gives a fresh feel to classic alternative music, with the obvious punk sensibility that Berwanger’s known for. When that set was over, it was time to get to the headliner for the evening, Cold War Kids. This band brought in the biggest crowd of the weekend, and put on a career-spanning set, which also left out some huge hits that I’m guessing the crowd was longing for. Regardless, it was top notch.

Saturday started even earlier. A journey to a newly moved Record Bar took me to see a band called Hipshot Killer, a three-piece, hardcore punk ban that is apparently veteran to the KC local scene, but came out playing like they had a fresh breath, with great energy and a fairly decent sized crowd for 4 PM. After that, I headed back to the outdoor stage to see a few more local bands, Pink Royal and Light Music. Pink Royal had the melodic leads and rhythms that reminds of Minus The Bear circa Highly Refined Pirates, and Light Music carried on with way too much autotune for the live setting. Plus, being a band that was signed by the label that helps curate the festival, didn’t know that they were in Missouri as opposed to Kansas. They still were enjoyable despite a few misses.

Once Light Music was done, it was time for a few national bands to come on stage. First up was Buscch, a three-piece alternative band from New York. They didn’t do a lot for me, but they seemed to draw a crowd, so overall, it was a beneficial addition. After them, All Get Out came on stage. For the first time hearing them, their live performance drastically reminded me of the upcoming headliner, Manchester Orchestra, but they had a fantastic energy—they knew how to perform their songs, and had a solid set.

Manchester Orchestra was up next. I have seen this band several times, all the way from the beginning, when Andy Hull told me they had a full-length when I went to the merch table after they had opened up for Brand New, up till just before Simple Math coming out. This was easily the best show I’ve seen them put on. They played all the fan favorites such as “I’ve Got Friends” to deep cuts like “Colly Strings” and “100 Dollars.”

With a few too many beers in my stomach and blisters on my feet, I headed back to the Record Bar for STRFKR. Now, I was aware of this band’s existence, but that’s about it. Damn me for that mistake. The venue had to be over capacity; it was smelly and hot in there. But the theatrics and the lights gave me that last bit of energy I needed to finish the night strong in the new version of a bar that was beloved by the entire city.

The last band that I saw at the festival was a hip-hop group that reminded me a lot of The Roots. Young and energetic, The Phantastics closed the weekend out with a bang. Despite how tired I was, it was all worth it. Seeing big and small, local and national acts celebrate a successful weekend, and help grow what is already becoming a community of musicians and fans that is a force to reckon with. Middle Of The Map Fest is out to show the nation that Kansas City should be recognized for more than just the Royals or the Chiefs, but our music scene too.

Corey From
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