Well, here the fuck we are. Like most years, we’re ready to kick the past few months out the door on its ass. But live music in 2018 was an absolute wonder to behold. It feels like local promoters and venues worked harder than ever to get mind-blowing acts in town and the scene through the door to experience what it’s like to, collectively, touch the heavens through the power of live music.
Today, we’re counting down the most badass moments we witnessed in live music from touring acts (we’ll list the most badass things we saw from local musicians later on). A couple of things to note:
1. First and foremost, as always, we didn’t get to every show. There are definitely going to be shows that deserved to be on this list, but we didn’t cover them (for example, Turnstile at the Bottleneck back in April), likely because we were focusing on local artists that night. This list is compiled just from the ones we saw.
2. We normally keep Kansas City shows off this list. But not this year. A couple of them absolutely changed everything we know about live performance, and those shows had a heavy Lawrence presence in the audience as well. Thus, they must be included on the list. But just this ONCE!
We do attend shows multiple nights per week, and we’ve seen a lot of badassery going around. So let’s begin.
Oh Typewriter Tim, you absolute maniac and blessing to live performance. Nevermind that the entire rest of the lineup was some of the best stoner rock our scene has to offer, this show was just out there. First of all, this complete psychopath makes music on a typewriter. He does it well, but he still brought along a crew. He called upon members of Vedettes (perhaps the hardest rockers in town) to form the Sith Brigade. Typewriter Tim himself donned a Darth Vader costume, and brought along a shades-sporting bongo boy to round it all out. The result was a delightful experiment in expression and bringing something to the stage that most music lovers will never see in their lives.
The Bottleneck struck gold when Priests hit the stage back in May. You’d be hard pressed to find a band that presents you with equal parts raw emotion and fun as Priests. Their set was an emotional roller coaster. One moment, you’re feeling every emotional lyric from Katie Alice Greer. The next, she’s gleefully running circles around her bandmates in her rainbow sneakers. But make no mistake there’s not a single moment that passes by where you don’t find yourself absolutely captivated and enthralled by their wild energy onstage.
In a year where Bohemian Rhapsody became the highest-grossing biopic of all time, everyone was feeling Queen fever. But no one feels it harder than The Struts. There’s no shame in comparing them to the legendary band. They (quite obviously) draw a heavy influence from the stadium rockers, right down to the eccentric and well-dressed frontman. Vocalist Luke Spiller has even been dressed by Zandra Rhodes, who designed clothes for Freddie Mercury.But fashion aside, The Struts are one of the most outstanding rock groups touring the globe. With less than a decade and only two albums under their belts, they have become such a force to reckon with, it’s no wonder their fandom comes in large numbers. Their high-octane, explosive, glam-infused extravaganza at the Granada in November brought folks well into their 50’s and 60’s screaming just as loud as the teens in the audience. Spiller’s stage presence, however, stole the show. He was an absolute showman in every sense, with every set of eyes in the place locked in on him hard. Spiller’s got the most fabulous threads in the rock game (sequins for days, folks) with the talent to back it up. This was one of those rare shows where every single attendee stayed until the very end.
Every song tells a story, but Fantastic Negrito’s songs tell stories that are larger than life.
When the roots singer stopped by the Lawrence Arts Center for Free State Fest in September, the audience was doused in storytelling so compelling, they sat on the edge of their seats in captivation. They would eventually fly out of those seats when they joined him onstage for a dance party at the end of the night.
With just three other musicians accompanying him, Fantastic Negrito delivered “black roots music for everyone” and a sound so surreal, the audience couldn’t keep still. His talent shines through his ability to craft a story so striking, it commanded an entire room. This was the stuff of legends, far-out-folklore. The way he blurred the lines between conversation (reality) and music (fantasy), the tales were so tall you would never believe them… but he was so compelling, you just might.
A lively organist, lead guitarist, and drummer meant the music literally moved people. This was a seated affair, but every now and then a glance at the audience showed them bobbing so hard in their seats, their hair went flying about. By the end of the show, when he closed with “Bullshit Anthem,” half the crowd quickly made it down the stairs to dance onstage while he belted out “Take that bullshit! Turn it into good shit!” for nearly six minutes. They fell so hard for the performance, he came back for an encore so the crowd could keep the party going onstage until the very end.
It may have been one of the best punk shows of the year that barely anyone saw. When Pears hit up the Bottleneck in May, they delivered a punk show doused in so much testosterone and music mirth, it shook up a sleep Wednesday at the Downtown venue.
The New Orleans-based band is the musical equivalent of a punch to the nuts, with a dynamic frontman who violently contorted his way through a rousing and highly entertaining set. PEARS is the band you want to see when it’s time to light a fire under everyone’s butt. Every maneuver they pulled was delightfully outlandish. There really wasn’t a single moment you could look away from the stage, as they were one of the funnest bands to grace the area this year.
One of the best and biggest surprises of the year came when one of the best rock shows of the year unexpectedly landed at the small and isolated Frank’s in North Lawrence. The Nebraska-based (Nebraska??) Midnight Devils are glam rockers who tore Lawrence a new one thanks to a stage show bursting with calamitous intent. With faces painted and untamed hair that stood at least a foot tall, the trio delivered everything a rock and roll fan dreams of. There were windmills, high kicks, sing-a-longs, growls, whoops, hollers… believe us when we tell you that everything was on the table.The hot-pink-pant-clad Dr. Rockso-esque frontman was the very definition of showy, and he had that crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. The sound was so immense, not even the blaring trains could drown them out (an otherwise normal occurrence at Frank’s, since it’s seated right next to the tracks in North Lawrence). Let us tell you about this showy frontman, though. This motherfucker was out of his fucking mind. He was all over that venue, scaling the bar, jumping in with the crowd, throwing his bass all willy-nilly to random audience members. He even threw a guitar pick at yours truly and it landed perfectly in our bra THE FUCK. He was a caricature of an 80’s glam rocker, and it aroused even the crustiest rockers of yester-year who happened to be in the house. It was a Grade-A display in mayhem, and the most talked-about show that entire weekend.
Back in October, Kansas City fucked up, and they fucked up hard. That’s because only about 200-some people showed up to witness one of the greatest gifts to live music when The Roots played the Starlight as part of the Open Spaces festival.
The hip-hop band with decades of expertise under their belts delivered 110 percent, despite the small crowd (and the chilling rain at the outdoor venue). With a couple of horns tucked into a corner and percussionists up on drum risers, the bassist and guitarist were free to roam and strut (and sometimes sprint) across the entire stage, accompanied by their Tuba player, Tuba Gooding, Jr. This guy’s enthusiasm knew no bounds, and he most certainly stole the show at moments thanks to his physical stunts which included 360 degree twirls and leaps from the drum riser (all while donning the tuba).
The music never stopped. Not even for a second. Songs blended right into each other, and musicians only got a break when certain members stepped to the front for wildly thrilling solos. Mark Kelley had a particularly fantastic bass solo while Jeremy Ellis absolutely brought the house down with an entirely unorthodox drum machine beatbox performance. It got so heated, at one point he just started beating it with his own chin… and to be in the presence of Black Thought was witnessing a legend in action.
Not a single person in that cozy little audience could control their bodies. Booties were shaking and slamming all over the place, and The Roots never gave them a chance to pause. You’re lucky if you even got away for a bathroom break, because every proceeding minute came with some breathtaking and electrifying display of skill. The Roots are, without a doubt, hip-hop legends. They’re also fucking rock and roll, man. They’re whatever you want them to be, baby, but most of all they are the soul of music. It was cold as hell on this night, and the rain never stopped. But for those stimulating two hours, thanks to some of the most consistently mind-blowing performers in the business, the Starlight was on fire.
One of those potent performers we’ve witnessed in our careers had to have been Flint Eastwood when she stopped by the Granada in February. Jax Anderson absolute stole the show to a point where no amount of words, photos, or videos could do the show justice. The Detroit-based, high-octane singer had an entire, open stage at her disposal, and she used every square inch of it.
Every single one of her songs was a rager. Her larger-than-life presence leered over the edge of the stage, towering over the people while they anthemically screamed (not sang, screamed) choruses back to her. She defiantly whipped her braids all over, conjuring a party of grand proportions. She let the music completely take over her being, moving her wherever it desired.
Imagine such a feeling of freedom in your life that you can stand in front of thousands of members of your community and proudly display every facet and detail of your sexuality. That’s where Kansas City native Janelle Monáe’s journey landed her in October when she headlined the Open Spaces festival at the Starlight. The musical superstar stood upon an ivory tower on stage and bore it all in front of the community that made her the performance genius she is today.
Donning a bold, checkered pattern of red, white, and black on her bodysuit (and hat to match), the Electric Lady delivered one explosive performance after another for her Dirty Computers. Accompanied by a squad of (often pantsless) dancers with seductive moves and throbbing thighs, the R&B singer was the very embodiment of sexuality. It was only this Spring, after all, when she came out as pansexual in a highly-coveted Rolling Stone interview that followed her into her old stomping grounds in KCK.On this night, it was all on the table as she performed songs off the recently released Dirty Computer and 2013’s The Electric Lady. Every song was a statement on sexuality and reason to celebrate it. Monáe, no longer candid about these desires, goes above and beyond by using her position to help make the path smoother for others exploring their identities. “No matter who you love, or how you love, you are welcome at my show,” she proclaimed right after shouting “Happy Pride!” But it was “Pynk” where she replicated the highly suggestive visuals in the music video that had everyone blushing (or blushing as much as a bold set of Janelle Monáe fans can). Sporting her famous vagina pants, the entire performance wasn’t so much suggestive as it was declarative. This was a time for self-love! Yes, that self-love! And more! Self-love and self-care were the themes of the night. In fact, they’re the themes of the year. Yes, this is a time for self-care on a personal level, like celebrating one’s body and the way a person chooses to love. But it’s also a time for self-care on a grander level, like making sure the world is a safe place for everyone to experience the freedom to love.
The show was one of those monumental events that you just know becomes an important placeholder in Kansas City’s rich musical history, and it was marked joyously and triumphantly by Monáe’s sexual awakening. Maybe for one young music lover in the audience, this was the show that became their sexual awakening, too. 2018 tackled sex head-on, and Monáe was right there on the front lines.
So, we have to confide in you, dear reader, about a problem that tends to plague music journalists. You see, at every point in their career, a music journalist covers David Byrne. That show, however it is presented, tends to change everything they know about music to a point where nothing, NOTHING, seems like it’ll ever top it. It tends to send us into deep depressions, wondering if we’ll ever feel that spark that comes from watching live music again, because nothing will ever, EVER, reach the high of a David Byrne show. As a coping mechanism, we’ve lovingly dubbed this experience a “David Byrne-out.”
So there’s a reason why his American Utopia tour stop at the Kauffman Center in April made the #1 spot on our list this year, and there’s a reason why the sold-out crowd was already giving standing ovations by the second song.The show really did encompass just about every sense. Set within a cube of dangling silver chains, the show played with lights to create shadows and silhouettes in a disorienting affair. The space within that cube remained open and playful, as (despite having several musicians onstage) not a single wire or instrument touched the floor. We want to repeat that for you, but in bold. Not a single wire or instrument touched the floor. Every drum, guitar, and microphone was strapped onto the players, all clad in matching gray suits… even the synth was suspended in space. The lineup was drum-heavy, adding a marching band vibe complete with intense choreography that complimented the lyrics of many of his recent releases, as well as Talking Heads classics. Just about every unusual percussion instrument you could think of showed up, creating a world unfamiliar to the average music viewer (but not at all unfamiliar to someone like David Byrne). When the musicians weren’t playing, they were striking poses and beaming at the audience. Their faces were so full of expression as they danced and carried out the formations in front of strobing lights and fog. They even used the lights to cast shadows through their drum heads, which they held in front of their faces and angled towards the spotlights. It was easy to fall in love with the personality of each and every musician onstage over the course of those two hours (though we were already a fan of one of the many drummers onstage, Aaron Johnston, a Kansas native who previously played with Brazilian Girls). This was a David Byrne concert, but it wasn’t the David Byrne show. It was the ensemble of creative, dancing, and striking performers that really made it an engaging experience for anyone connecting with these songs. This was an artistic endeavor just as unworldly and unique as the maestro behind it.
We are not allowed to record video of shows at the Kauffman Center, but another fan did, and you can watch it below: