Middle of the Map 2017 – Thursday Review
The 2017 edition of Kansas City’s greatest weekend of the year – AKA the Middle of the Map Fest – was maybe one of the best in its history. A smattering of local and national bands descended on Kansas City for 3 days of music and a plethora of fans, hardcore and casual alike, were there to witness it all.
The festivities kicked off at our dear old Mills Record Company location in Westport, where intimate performances charmed a pretty full crowd. To kick off the whole shindig, our store hosted a trio of eclectic performers – a little something for everyone. First up was Jake Wells whose soulful music drifted in-between haunting folk and introspective indie. A calm, chill take to kick off the next 3 days of tons of music for sure.
Embracing the eclectic nature of the festival, KC native Eems took the stage next with just a ukulele, a smorgasbord of effects pedals, a smoke machine and his son videotaping his performance – and what followed was one of the most entertaining sets of the entire weekend. Combining folk, pop, improvisation and beatboxing to create something completely unique, Eems utilized looping effects to give himself a thundering presence despite being alone on stage – which made his venture into the crowd to perform sans microphone that much more special. Complete with his own interpretation of famous songs – such as Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself and even the Folger’s Coffee jingle – Eems left a lasting impact on the crowd at the store.
Rounding out the three-headed lineup at the store for Thursday was singer-songwriter Erik Voeks. Voeks, who has been around for more than two decades, delighted the crowd with Dylan-esque crooning and tales about his staunch opposition to the practice of bullfighting. A true performer in every sense of the word, he seemed to be having so much fun on stage, joking around with the crowd in-between (and sometimes, during) songs. A refreshing way to close the Mills Record Company stage for night one of the festival.
Now, with multiple venues open, it’s usually a challenger to find where to see the next band. Luckily, KC mainstays The Sluts opened the patio stage of the Riot Room and their brand of noisy, no-frills rock and roll helped flip the switch on the festival to turn it into one big party. As a duo, The Sluts make more noise than most five-piece bands playing the same genre. The pounding drum rhythms interlocked with fuzzed-out riffing and Cobain-like scream-singing will turn just about any crowd into a raucous dance party. One of KC’s finest for sure!
Keeping the punk music going into the night, locals The Uncouth set up in the tiny Westport Saloon but proceeded to put on a performance that was worthy of a venue 10x bigger. The group’s brand of Irish-tinged punk conjured up images of the Dropkick Murphy’s and even Rancid, although The Uncouth made sure to drop in a cover of Bonzo Goes to Bitburg prefacing it by saying it’s applicably to the president now as well as the president when it was written. There’s something about politically-charged punk rock coupled with catchy melodies and sing-along choruses that seems easy to do but is incredibly difficult to nail down completely – however The Uncouth did just that and anyone from Kansas City should be proud to call them a hometown band.
If anyone was wondering, 34 was the heaviest band of the festival. Middle of the Map isn’t really known for their heavy bands, but all the same, 34 brought their southern-styled metalcore (you know – actual metalcore) to the Riot Room and bruised everyone’s eardrums. Clad in presidential masks like they were getting ready to star in Point Break, the band bound around the stage and bled pure energy (and a lot of sweat – it was dripping out under each member’s mask) and made their performance unforgettable. 34 needs to be opening every heavy show that comes through Kansas City from now on.
When talking about Kansas City’s best live bands over the past few years, it’s hard not to start that list without The Philistines taking the top spot. Reaching into about as many genres as there are members of the band, The Philistines are always energetic and always match their stage presence with the technical prowess of their musicianship. Whether it’s a slower, drone-like song (that has the 2nd guitarist throwing his guitar over the amp and letting a crowd member strum the strings) or a danceable faster tune, The Philistines make it all look easy. They’re on the cusp of finishing their new album and I, for one, can’t wait for it.
Stay tuned for Friday and Saturday recaps!