For guilty-pleasure pop in Kansas City, U can't touch Red, White and Boom.

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For guilty-pleasure pop in Kansas City, U can't touch Red, White and Boom.

Believe it or not, dozens of self-respecting scenesters share an acute interest in Justin Timberlake and/or Christina Aguilera. And this isn't the faux-fan-gone-wrong phenomenon, like when trendsetters got a bit too excited about singing Britney Spears tunes at karaoke nights. (After a while, cognitive dissonance started to override ironic intent, and -- oops! -- indie folks became convinced that "Baby One More Time" really was a great song.) No, the mussed-hair masses truly dig the dirrty duo, but the cruel cool world keeps them closeted, their appreciation limited to singing along with the radio while driving alone.

Instead of outing these pop fetishists, I'd rather feed the frenzy by letting them know they missed a standout show in St. Louis on July 5. Now, some such fans might have eluded detection by following the dress-your-event edict, in which case they, like thousands of others, donned tube tops and micro-minis. But there was only one recognizable hipster in attendance, wearing a green Lawrence Arms shirt and a backpack lined with obscure band buttons. Alas, she made a poor case study. "I'm only here because of my niece," admitted Wendy. "I'd rather be watching the Casket Lottery."

Well, the Casket Lottery rocks and all, but every once in a while you've gotta see someone walk onto an arena stage with an orange duct-tape asterisk over her crotch. Aguilera remains fashion-challenged, but her stage show has improved dramatically. A torch-jazz vocalist who could reduce Norah Jones to cinders, Aguilera previously wasted her work on horny dudes who watch her videos on mute and mall-addled teens who didn't get the "Billie Holiday? I love him" joke in Clueless. But with the help of a flexible back-up band, Aguilera revamped her old hits and performed strikingly soulful renditions of the new numbers.

Timberlake brazenly opened with "Rock Your Body," his best tune and the funkiest Off the Wall-style track Michael Jackson never recorded. He waited until after this heavily choreographed production to showcase his vocal skills as well as some nifty superpowers, like his ability to conjure pyrotechnics (after beatboxing solos) by pointing his finger.

Kansas City missed out on this spectacle, but pop fans could take comfort in the reliably bizarre Red, White and Boom extravaganza at Verizon Amphitheater on July 9. Always an intriguing mix of has-beens, almost-theres and never-will-bes, this annual festival provides such interesting contrasts that decent songs become an afterthought.

Red, White and Boom's audience seemed as random as its lineup. There were two major groups, though: squealing kids and older folks who never got over missing Hammer the first time around. There was also one young punk in a Dead Kennedys shirt, but he wasn't there to ride Ginuwine's pony. "I hate all this gay-ass music," he complained before an adult escort dragged him through the gate.

The onstage happenings sporadically approached the entertainment value of the people-watching. Most of the early acts had about fifteen minutes in front of the crowd, long enough for Blu Cantrell to sass her way through her two hits; for Jennifer Love-Hewitt to giggle at least fifteen times; for Ginuwine to ask, "Is there room for me in those jeans?"; for Stacey Orrico to slip a pair of jeans under her dress in an apparent last-minute attempt to impress Ginuwine; and for the charismatic Kelly Clarkson to overcome an early fall and win over the crowd.

Actually, Red, White and Boom might have been better if every performer had been limited to fifteen minutes. That way, Hootie and the Blowfish's Darius Rucker might have stuck to the hits instead of pseudo-rapping an urban medley of Nelly, Snoop Dogg and Blackstreet; Lisa Marie Presley's mix of mumbled vocals and bumbled arrangements would've been cut mercifully short; and Hammer could have jettisoned his unreleased songs, saving spectators from hearing cringeworthy lines about love climbing mountains and flowing like fountains.

Hammer did provide the night's highlight, though, with a boisterous version of "U Can't Touch This" during a driving downpour. The rain washed away inhibitions as if it were beer from the heavens falling into people's open mouths. After teasing "2 Legit 2 Quit," Hammer never performed an encore, a chain of events that seemed to call his legitimacy into question. But he returned about an hour later for an impromptu reprise of "U Can't Touch This" with the Goo Goo Dolls. It was one of those only-at-Red, White and Boom moments that keeps the area's pop-hungry populace satisfied.

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