Filing in through the front door, the immediate rush of air conditioning was a relief on such a muggy summer evening. Fans made their way first to the bar, then into the stage area, filling the room. As TOMI walked through the crowd, cheers rippled through the audience, making their way from back to front. A magnetic performer, TOMI took possession of the room from the very first note, packing an almost unprecedented power into her wide-ranging vocals. Her music provides the perfect combination of rock and pop: some songs led the audience to dance, others to head-banging. The joy and abandon in the air was just as palpable as the outside heat, and radiated off the talkative TOMI, who spent time in-between songs sharing the stories behind them. Some of these were heartbreaking; she spoke of crying in a locker room at a yoga studio after a breakup, and a former friend suffering from addiction (she doesn’t think he ever heard the song she wrote about him, but she hopes he does at some point and recognizes it). Then, of course, there were some funnier ones, such as working a day job as a secretary in which she had to smile all the time. For her very last song, she delighted the crowd by debuting a new, sparkly guitar named Pam.
It’s clear that for TOMI, the Mercury Lounge and her latest EP, What Kind of Love, is only the beginning.
Ciaran Lavery, an Irish singer/songwriter, performed an intimate solo set at New York City’s Rockwood Music Hall on June 22nd.
Playing to a small, darkened room, a reverent silence took hold of the audience the moment Lavery began his first song. Switching back and forth between acoustic guitar and piano, his sparse accompaniments allowed his gentle, hushed voice to soar. With introspective, narrative lyrics, Lavery is a poetic storyteller. His ballads pull at your heartstrings, his words run the gamut of emotional experience. As a performer, he makes meaningful eye contact with each member of his audience, drawing his listeners further into his world.
In-between songs, Lavery continued his stories, revealing his sense of humor. Speaking of nervousness on an airplane, he once tried to relax by watching, as a dog lover, Marley and Me. He wasn’t, however, aware of the ending. Lavery also had a revelation while listening to the radio on a long drive, attempting to figure out the meaning of the genre “soft rock.” With a creeping sense of dread, he put it together: he is soft rock. Lavery easily pulled laughs from his listeners’ throats as he framed simple, universal experiences as ones of casual mirth.
I write this, now, in the early morning, mere hours after Hayley Williams, Taylor York, Zac Farro, and their cohorts in Paramore walked off the stage at Kansas City’s picturesque Starlight Theatre. I have always – since I was blessed enough to go to my first show at age 9 – preached the importance of live music in all of our lives. I took many of my friends to their first concerts growing up, have had some stellar moments myself, and have had the joyous opportunity to experience live performance consistently in my life. I won’t go more in depth into it all, but I think you get the picture. I’ve been around this block once or twice.
I’ve even seen Paramore before. Albeit, it’s been years since I was able to introduce the magic of Hayley Williams to a handful of my friends at Warped Tour 2007. And perhaps that magic wore off a bit, as I became slightly more jaded by my experiences, and didn’t feel the need to pursue Paramore’s musicianship as they climbed in popularity. It was never out of disdain for the band, or even a dislike of the music. In fact, as singles like “The Only Exception”, “Still Into You”, “Ain’t It Fun”, and others surfaced, I found myself enjoying them insanely in rotation on the radio. Because Paramore has that pop appeal, their songs incredibly catchy and produced to perfection.
But the words are what really get me. At the core of it all, I am a big believer in lyricism. If you miss the mark instrumentally, but you have a mellifluous chorus full of double entendre, intelligent verbiage, or raw emotion, then I’m likely to listen. Hayley Williams does that.
Hayley Williams did that last night. Songs the band had written at differing points in life, songs that others have been into since the moment the album dropped in 2017, those songs reached my ears last night. Perhaps I’ve heard them once or twice, perhaps more. But last night, I was prepared. Last night, I listened.
Hayley explained that After Laughter is her favorite work of theirs to date, as long as they’ve been enchanting fans around the world. This struck me as odd, as the synthy, 80s-influenced work followed a current mainstream pattern that hit me wrong to begin with. But she explained that the album was about something deeper, their individual struggles – including her divorce and struggle with mental health – masked with this upbeat, insatiable soundscape. But she said she enjoyed that aspect, because it wasn’t fooling anyone but they could still have fun on stage during tour.
And, really, that was such an inspiring sentiment. Increasingly, people are coming out of the woodwork, detailing their struggles with their health, whatever form that may take. I, myself, have struggled immensely with diagnosed anxiety and other health issues, and find it so incredibly refreshing when an artist who has experienced success becomes vulnerable for the benefit of the world around them. If only everyone could be that courageous.
The band slowed their set down for “26”, Hayley’s ode to her 26th year that she wrote for After Laughter. I focused on the lyrics. And I identified with them. This song was me when I was 26. I was scared, I felt limited creatively and emotionally, and I felt alone. Hayley’s inability to hold it all completely together during this song increased its vulnerability, deepened her connection with the audience. Because, after all, I believe everyone can relate to that song on some level, and it made for a beautiful moment during the show.
You best believe Paramore rallied into the evening, bringing out fan favorites like “Misery Business”, “crushcrushcrush”, “Hard Times”, and “Ignorance”, and – though they chose not to regale us with my personal favorite, “For a Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic” – I realized that I’m on a very similar journey in my life. If we take time to open our eyes, we really all are. We are all “fake happy” sometimes. We go out of our way to please others, allowing ourselves to stay in dark places. We fall and we want to cry and we feel unsupported. We feel like there is no space for success in our lives. We have bad days.
But it’s live music, it’s that connection we all have to one another – enjoying musicianship and life in what can only be described as a sacred space – that keeps us all floating. We’ll all hit “26”. We’ll all have that “Still Into You” love. (I’m lucky. That’s the Paramore song I have been living out lately.) We all want “Ignorance” to be our best friends. We just need to be open to being vulnerable. And – without worshipping the artist themselves – we can find inspiration in what these musicians create.
I know I did. Since last night, I can’t stop writing. I had a dance party this morning to my two new vinyls (After Laughter, Riot!) already. And I feel awake.
Local band YOU MONSTER YOU opened the evening around 6pm, with a performance at the Applause Club inside the venue. As Paramore fans streamed in, they welcomed them with their fun and upbeat brand of alt punk rock. “This is a song that sounds like it’s about leaving a small town behind and moving somewhere else, but really it’s about crippling depression,” frontman Trent Munsinger explained to the crowd about their track “Dodge”, which perhaps opened up the mental health theme of the evening.
The band was full of quips, quite the entertainment to get the crowd ready for an evening of Jay Som, Foster The People, and Paramore. A couple of songs into their set, You Monster You performed one of their original songs for the first time in front of a crowd, with a stand-in guitarist. They hit all the right spots with it, and at the end Trent confessed he was happy it wasn’t a train wreck, while the band noted it was “a solid B+.”
For those of you who are not yet privy to the rising music scene in Kansas City, now is the time to do your research. Boulevardia – the midwest beer and music fest that started to call Kemper Arena and the West Bottoms home five years ago – has exploded into a much bigger event, drawing crowds from all over the United States to tap brand new and limited run beers, check out bands in both rustic venues and in front of a very spacey-looking building (Kemper Arena, about to become HyVee Arena), and to ride a ferris wheel in an undoubtedly urban and growing area. This year featured forty bands – including, but certainly not limited to Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, Radkey, Manchester Orchestra, Sir Sly, Guster, Bleachers, and Kansas City’s own Tech N9ne -, craftspeople and artists from around the metropolitan area, and a silent disco experience. (The best part about that? It was outside, instead of in a tent, so looky-lous could stop and watch for a bit if life called for it.)
2018 featured an array of additional rides – you know, besides that vibrant, beautiful ferris wheel – and a Royals outfield experience. And even though this event seems to happen on the hottest and muggiest weekend of the year every single year, we were too busy watching numerous parades of contortionists and acrobats and clowns and people full of PRIDE and enjoying the midwest’s best in beers that we almost didn’t even notice it.
But that’s the magic of Boulevardia. Enjoy these Day 1 photos, and check back in to see some highlights from Day 2 as well!
On Monday, June 11th – on one of the most miserably hot days of the year so far – we headed out to The Riot Room in Kansas City to pack ourselves from wall to wall like sardines and enjoy the musical stylings of Meg Myers. She admitted while on stage that it was one of her first live performances in years, and the KC crowd was pleased to have been blessed with that honor. From the very first notes of “Done”, through “Sorry”, new single “Take Me to the Disco”, “Monster”, “Make a Shadow”, and more all the way through the last notes of “Numb”, she incited an energy in her fans that is rare to find elsewhere.
Wearing mauve high waisted pants, a black crop top, and two tiny buns on the top of her head, Myers seemed to cool the room off with her robust, long-ranging vocals and the intense heart she puts into every single line she sings. Although personal favorites included “Make a Shadow” and “I’m Not Sorry”, her widest known track – “Desire” – was a riot to witness live, as the entire room was privy to every word.
The crowd that gathered was interesting as well, with no particular demographic in mind. It seems her heart and her talent is wide-reaching, touching young hearts all the way to the Jimmy Buffet-looking crowd. (You understand everything about this, don’t lie.) Her set was a reminder of the pure passion involved in the music listening experience.
Meg Myers’ cohorts on this magical night? None other than Kansas City’s Other Americans. We got what photos we could of the sold out show, between heads and as close as we could get to the madness!
Pop can sometimes feel like an afterthought in the rock and country-saturated musical landscape of Nashville, but Thursday night’s show at the East Room made it clear that Nashville’s pop scene is anything but marginal. POP MONSTER (a dual release party for local artists Whoa Dakota and Athena, hosted by Popsquad) showed that pop in Nashville is as varied and exciting as the people involved can imagine it to be. Four artists with unique takes on the different shapes pop can take proved what the Nashville pop scene is truly capable of: churning out emotionally nuanced and stylistically ambitious bangers.
Meaux opened the evening strong with her sensual electro-pop, a fusion of soulful and experimental sounds that provided an effortlessly changing landscape for her rich voice to traverse. Her powerful pipes and impressive dance moves energized the room as she stalked the stage in a split length red cape. Color-shifting gauzy lights set the tone in the room, a cozy dream cave that looked as if it had been styled by the collective efforts of Prince and the Little Prince. Between sets the alchemy in the room was maintained through a mixture of 90’s throwbacks and electro-pop, the dreamy vibes in the room conducted by the cotton candy stellariums (made by Athena) hovering moodily above the crowd.
Next was Soren Bryce, a Brooklyn local who’s no stranger to the Nashville music scene. Soren’s writing and performance seems to transform to keep up with the rapid pace of her own ever-expanding taste. It’s a testament to how talented Soren is that she can take a left turn away from the fantastic music on her last unreleased EP (largely synth-based) to the more guitar-centric rock we heard on Thursday—and accomplish it so effortlessly. Clearly there’s no genre of music that Soren can’t master, as demonstrated by her fantastic set: a grungy pop punk watercolor that borrowed from Kurt Cobain, Lorde, Joe Jackson, Elliot Smith and Fiona Apple without ever losing its own distinctive style. Soren’s varied influences find her a sound all her own, as well as a gravity at the mike that holds the center of any room she’s playing for. The thread that weaves through her stylistic choices is always her voice, melodic with an expansive range that she wielded precisely like a scalpel to cut through the colorful fog in the venue.
Soren Bryce by Rhea Foote
Athena played third in a powerhouse performance that you’d never know was her debut effort. She was right at home in front of an audience, prowling the stage in silver spandex like a modern day Xenon, an early 2000s fever dream kicking through pink fog clouds in Adidas stripes. Athena approached her performance with a fierce vulnerability, swinging from charm to rage to melancholy in a way that always felt authentic. She brought the crowd into her circle of trust and pulled them along for her journey—and despite (or because of) the emotional depth each song was catchier than the next, equal parts Paramore and Nelly Furtado, Athena bopping around the stage with her heart in her hands. If this was only her first show, I’d recommend showing up for Athena’s second show.
When Jesse Ott aka Whoa Dakota took the stage, she wasn’t afraid to own the space, immediately splaying herself out on the attached runway while the crowd encircled her. The show also served as a release party for the new single “Right Now” off of her upcoming album “Patterns,” but she saved that for the end of the show, satisfying the audience in the lead-up with her electrifying and adventurous performance. Her bold, anthemic sound imbued all of her songs with an epic energy, getting the crowd dancing and hollering along with her as she navigated the room in her floral bodysuit. It had the feel of a good block party—the raucous happiness, variety, community energy. Whoa Dakota delivered with their surprise guests, hauling Alanna Royalle and Jung Youth out of the crowd to sing and rap respectively alongside her, with Robert Gay joining on trumpet and Anthony Jorissen on sax. During “Patterns,” the hit for which a music video recently came out, it seemed like the whole room was bellowing all the words alongside her. The show’s joyful climax was a surprise birthday celebration for Ott’s 28th birthday, including a rendition of the birthday song led by friends from Pet Envy and Molly Rocket, and punctuated by an amazing display of cupcakes this reviewer found to be delicious.
by brandon de la cruz
Whoa Dakota’s ambitious, ecstatic performance was the perfect series of exclamation points on which to end the evening. Each performer showcased a different side of pop music and played to the infinite potential within Nashville’s nuanced pop scene. It was especially heartening to see a fantastic, well-executed show that just happened to be led both in front of and behind the scenes by female talent. Without billing itself as a girl power show, POP MONSTER reminded us that there’s a surplus of talented women with vision leaving their marks on the Nashville music scene—and with shows this collaborative and joyful, we should definitely be supporting that.