The Riot Room's annual Local Artist Overthrow fought hard to take its place on one of the busiest weekends that Kansas City's midtown has seen since the sun decided to make a seasonal appearance. With Rockfest raging down the road, and with that pub crawl we all love to hate and hate to love monopolizing the Saturday day drunk, Westport was a veritable stomping ground for festivalgoers and party hoppers. Add to that a string of miserably cold, damp weather and you've got one confusing mess of a weekend.
It's no surprise then that attendance at the Local Artist Overthrow, which featured more than 20 of some of the the area's best local bands, was sporadic. But that didn't seem to phase the bands, which brought the heat with polished sets, new songs and old favorites, and some enviable stage energy.
Though I stopped by the Riot Room to check out Friday's festivities, too, I only brought my notepad and camera with me for Saturday's local music bonanza. I can say, though, that some of Friday's highlights included a particularly rousing opening set from atmospheric rockers Brainbow, which ended with some participatory hand clapping and free-form wailing, courtesy of the audience. New local outfit Sundiver also played to a generally large and positive crowd, and Maps for Travelers brought its usual brand of solid, slaying indie rock to the stage. Friday night ended with a dance party, courtesy of Stevie Cruz on the 1's and 2's, in a whiskey and yard-beer haze that cut right through the cold.
Given that I did my best to enjoy Friday night, and that Westport was crawling with, um, pub crawlers, I was a little late arriving to the Riot Room on Saturday evening. But hey, 7:30 p.m. is an early start to most typical midtown Saturdays. I walked in during the Me Like Bees set, and though I have to say I admittedly missed nearly all of it, I continued to hear great things about the band and its early show throughout the rest of the evening. Up first for me was indie-wave trio Continents on the patio stage, a set that was unfortunately the most poorly attended of the night. With the various happenings around town, the early time slot, and the bad weather, Continents fought through some disappointing circumstances to bring its impossibly catchy psychedelic garage-wave to Riot's patio. And though attendance might have been lacking, those who did see the band had nothing but high praise to say of the set.
Though the Riot Room staff did a great job of planning the event on a tight schedule that butted the set times of indoor and outdoor bands right next to each other, I found that it became increasingly hard to catch whole sets from every group. Next up for me was the end of Appropriate Grammar's show, at a more comfortable temperature inside. Under the bright red lights of the Riot Room stage, the first thing I noticed was bassist Claire Adams' shoeless feet -- an admittedly strange visual cue to catch -- though I attribute that to my infatuation with female bassists. Appropriate Grammar's sound is a clean one -- polished and full, with all typical elements of straightforward indie rock accounted for (and accounted for well). Singer Nick McKenna's voice harbors the unification of folk intuition with punk style and sits nicely on top of the heavy rhythm drumming of Steve Gardels.
Three bands into Saturday's show, and I was already feeling pretty stoked about the event, surprising given that Kansas City has played host to a myriad of local and national music festivals over the last month. I feared that concertgoers may have been too weathered and weary to attend, in force, yet another local music fest, but as I walked outside to catch a set from the Future Kings, my fears were quelled. Now the patio's attendance was growing steadily, and people were swigging back the cocktails to keep warm. As the Future Kings, led by singer Jules Starr and her drummer brother, Brett Pippin, rocked through experimental indie numbers that featured lots of beautiful vocal harmonies, the crowd swayed and danced along, growing in its energy and enthusiasm. By the end of the set, the crowd demanded an encore from the Future Kings. As the sound girl said: "Give the people what they want."
After the Future Kings' encore, I took a little bit of a break from the rushing about to enjoy some friendly chatter and a refreshing beverage. Though I missed the Red Tailed Hawks' performance on the inside stage, I was fired up and ready to catch a rowdy set from Not a Planet, now a trio that's been one busy band lately, traveling on several national tours and frequently playing area shows in Columbia and St. Louis. Front and center for the Not a Planet show was drummer Liam Sumnicht's grandmother, an adorable addition to the smiling, dancing crowd that no longer even seemed to notice the cold. Maybe it's because of a penchant for touring, or maybe it's due to lead singer Nathan Corsi's roots in the Brooklyn indie scene, but of all the local bands that played the Overthrow, Not a Planet was the most emphatically oriented crowd-pleaser. Between ubiquitous shouts of "Are you having fun yet?" and a collective audience shout-out (as Sumnicht instructed, "Let's send it all the way down to those people at Rockfest!"), the Not a Planet show was definitely the most involved -- and everyone seemed to be into it.
Now it was time to spend a few sets indoors with two of the most highly anticipated sets of the night. Up first was St. Louis psych-pop collective Troubadour Dali, the band in the lineup that I was personally most excited to see. Two overhead projectors flashed live images of filters, gels, and oils that were splashed and manipulated during the set by two women, and psychedelic waves of patterns and colors speckled the faces of the band. Troubadour Dali rocked and wailed through a heavy set of hypnotic neo-folk that was reminiscent of the 1960s and '70s, and laced with tinges of modern indie pop. It was certainly a treat to have a St. Louis band included in a local-music showcase, and they proved to be one of the best sets of the night.
I stayed inside for the rest of the night, catching local favorites Minden next. Fresh off the release of its new single, "Swift Way On," and an in-studio performance on 96.5 the Buzz last weekend, Minden brought exactly what was to be expected from a band whose rise to local fame has been quick and flashy. The set was clean, with the air of veteran stage musicians; it might have been its most solid show yet. By now, those who have been following the band across local stages are familiar with their catchy songs that drip with pop sensibilities and slightly urban beats. Minden brought nothing less to the table Saturday night, playing to a packed house -- perhaps the most crowded performance of the evening -- complete with super-fans singing along, bobbing their heads and tapping their feet. When Minden ended its set, it felt like it could have easily been the end of the showcase. But there was still more to come.
At this point, the patio was overtaken by a dance party from DJ Sheppa. Having spent my limited dancing skills with Stevie Cruz the night before, I opted to stay inside and end the night with electro-pop duo Parts of Speech. One of my new favorite local bands, Parts of Speech combines live drumming with keys and synths behind singer Brandon Knocke's impossibly smooth and pure vocal work. Parts of Speech was the perfect way to end the weekend, with electronic sounds that are danceable while retaining their indie-folk roots -- a sound that you can both dance and relax to.
In the end, the Local Artist Overthrow was a successful weekend of local music that beat the odds of bad weather and an overbooked midtown agenda to showcase some of the area's best local acts. But I have to admit, now that it's over, I'll be OK if I don't see another local showcase for a while. Oh wait -- see you at Lawrence's Spring Into Summer fest
next weekend ...