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Saturday, 06 April 2013 12:44

Festival review: Middle of the Map (night 1) targets Kansas City with sets from White Lung, Brett Gretzky, DJ Mahf, Steddy P and O, Giant Man, Thursday, April 4

Festival review: Middle of the Map (night 1) targets Kansas City with sets from White Lung, Brett Gretzky, DJ Mahf, Steddy P and O, Giant Man, Thursday, April 4
Written by Blair Stiles

After a seven-hour sojourn with stops at Williamsburg's Crane's Country Store, the inimitable Ozarkland and Columbia, Mo. for alcoholic slushies from Tropical Liqueurs, the crew of Stephen Baier and Nick Blackburn of Dots Not Feather, Joel Burton of Bear Hive and myself find our hotel room in the Hilton Garden Inn.

After subdued miles of round-robin song choices we surrender to the plump beds on sight. Once we refresh, we carve out a schedule for the first night of Middle of the Map Fest. Thursday's line-up is built to peruse. No temptation is too great, and it makes sense to amble venue-to-venue with a loose idea of what act would be on stage.

The check-in process outside the Record Bar is a breeze. Nathan Reusch, coordinator of MotM is there. He is affable, articulate and answers questions with the attentiveness and urgency of a parent. While waiting outside Record Bar, a white school bus pulls up next to the venue with LED disco ball and streamers ablaze. We declare, "We HAVE to get on that at some point in the night." This is Kansas City's sober version of Ken Kesey's Further bus.

White Lung hurtled through a set that began 15 minutes prior to the time that appeared on MotM's online schedule. We glimpse two songs before lead singer Mish Way releases the band into the night and presumably back to Vancouver. Way sneers and spits lyrics -- "Wipe that look from your face, I'll drop you back from where you came" -- with epidermis eating vocal acid. As White Lung unloads, Chromeo's "Two Step" comes over the speakers. It is Rothbury 2009 once more.

The Riot Room is half a mile away and St. Louis hip-hop duo Brett Gretzky are scheduled to perform. MotM patrons greet us during the walk with enthusiastic hellos and smiles. The demographic here is similar to the scene back home in St. Louis. Young city-smart boys and girls of various ethnicities stream through Westport illuminated by the neon signs of tattoo parlors.

In the Riot Room Brett Gretzky is midway through a set pickled with songs off the upcoming "Crows" and the pleasurable self-titled debut. J-Bomb wrestles with a silly falsetto during "Why Can't We Be Together" as Farout holds his mic close to his chest and quips innocent bits of wit regarding J-Bomb's key choices. DJ Mahf spins behind them as a megawatt smile adorns his face.

When J-Bomb and Farout bounce verses back and forth they create a charming dichotomy wherein J-Bomb plays the jester and Farout the sage. The latter introduces "Topic of Discussion" with a discourse: "We're gonna pretend we're going real deep but really we're talking shit." Steddy P arrives in time to back lyrics and take over the stage once Brett Gretzky's set closes out. Try as I might I cannot find J-Bomb or Farout to thank them for being as enjoyable as I hoped.

After I bang my leg one one of the fire hydrants placed inconveniently in the middle the sidewalk -- apparently designed to maim those who imbibe and have poor night vision -- it becomes imperative to take the white whale of a bus from the crew. I limp like a proud thoroughbred after being pulled up lame during the Kentucky Derby into Record Bar. After a drink the gang departs for Riot Room where O, Giant Man is playing in minutes.

Already a few songs in, O, Giant Man's Christopher Robbins adopts the signature monotone drawl of Why?'s Yoni Wolf as Jake and Rick Schulenberg and Andy Wendling supply Robbins with a sound indicative of the confidence that made the Strokes "Is This It" and "Room of Fire" indelible. They change the tempo of their songs in a danceable, helter-skelter fashion that appears to please the congested floor. No one knows the lyrics, but everyone wiggles like a bumped JELL-O mold.

Crystal Owens of St. Louis' Palace guides me from the bar where I scrawl things like "I WANT TO BE IN THIS BAND" in my notebook and juggle a Stone IPA to the front row. Robbins is now a foot away and his Kansas City pride is on display. His baseball hat bears "KC" and tattooed to his upper right arm is a Kansas City Chiefs logo. As he drops to his knees during O, Giant Man's last song, he scratches at the neck of his guitar while the rest of the band hurtles from third base to home. He stands up and the band collects itself.

The crowd screams "One more song!" as O, Giant Man leaves the stage all sweat and smiles.

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