By Steven Anthony at 10:46 AM Tuesday, August 9th 2011
This past weekend, thousands of fans flocked to the Kansas Speedway in the heart of Kansas City for the inaugural year of the Kanrocksas Music Festival. With Lollapalooza only 500 miles away, featuring the same major headliners (Eminem & Muse), Kanrocksas ticket sales fell short of expectations but still managed to draw in approximately 30,000 on each day of the festival.
Three huge stages and a massive DJ tent were constructed in the middle of the Speedway, each hosting a number of artists over Friday and Saturday. Overpriced water and beer was available for sale, but the festival did offer free water refill stations that on more than one occasion became makeshift “cool-down” showers for some festival goers attempting to escape the hot Kansas sun. Local food trucks had located themselves in the middle of the festival grounds offering fairly inexpensive (and good!) food.
Then of course we have the music.
The first major performance on Friday came from Fitz And The Tantrums, who took to the festival’s main stage to deliver a powerful dose of material from last year’s stellar Pickin’ Up The Pieces. Lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick and the lovely Noelle Scaggs had the crowd dancing within the first 30 seconds of Breakin’ The Chains of Love, and kept things moving along throughout their set. The material from their record sounds better live, and with the proper room to breathe each song seemed like a perfect cut of retro soul-tinged pop. Covers of the Raconteurs’ Steady As She Goes and the Eurthymics’ Sweet Dreams sounded great after passing through the Fitz’ filter, and the crowd was more than happy to sing along.
Almost a half hour late, D12 took to Stageasaurus Rex at the other end of the Speedway. The group attracted a large crowd, many questioning whether or not Eminem would show up during the set. Ultimately he did not, and the audience’s interest in D12 began dropping even as some of the group’s biggest hits were played. Both Purple Pills and Under The Influence had decent levels of crowd participation (people love yelling “suck my dick” at the top of their lungs), but for the most part D12’s set fizzled, hampered by an uninteresting stage performance and what seemed like phoned-in performances by the group.
Back on the main stage, the Arctic Monkeys powered through a brief 45-minute set, offering one of the first real rock performances of the day. Vocalist Alex Turner had more than enough charisma to drive the crowd wild, but the vast majority seemed disinterested, even irritated that the band was playing in front of them. Regardless the band sounded phenomenal, managing to pack just shy of 15 songs into their set.
Driven by a thunderous drum track courtesy of Matt Helder, Brianstorm was an early highlight of their show, inspiring a few in the audience to actually take notice of what was unfolding in front of them. Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair from the mostly-great Suck It And See was also an attention grabber, allowing Nick O’Malley a chance to extend a sonic bitch-slap via a pounding bass line to those who seemed bored in the crowd.
Kid Cudi took to the main stage shortly after 6PM, grinning from ear to ear as he peered out over the biggest crowd that had gathered so far at the festival. Opening with the odd REVOFEV, Cudi controlled the audience, having them sing the track’s main hook while he leaped all over the stage. Soundtrack 2 My Life and Marijuana showcased a very spacey, mellow musical style that seemed to mesmerize the vast majority of people in the crowd.
Flanked by giant inflatable astronauts, Primus took to the second stage with their unique brand of… well, whatever the fuck it is. Claypool and drummer Jay Lane locked together for some truly ridiculous rhythm work, highlighted during the new track Hennepin Crawler and the old favorite Jerry Was A Race Car Driver. Since no major acts were on any of the other stages during Primus’ set, quite a crowd had gathered to hear the group and most seemed to enjoy the weird sounds created by Claypool & Co.
Shortly after Primus, The Flaming Lips arrived on stage, complete with a giant disco ball and Mr. Coyne’s human-sized inflatable bubble. During The Fear, Wayne traveled over the crowd in his bubble, eliciting screams and smiles from those towards the front. As he made his way back to the stage and left the huge hamster bll, the band started a sing-along version of She Don’t Use Jelly.
Wizard of Oz-themed dancers flocked to the stage while Wayne showered the first few rows with tons of confetti, helping to create the Lips’ unique, over-the-top stage show. Musically, fans were treated to a quick set of greatest hits, including Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1 and What Is the Light? All too soon the Lips were closing their set with the poignant Do You Realize??. More confetti and balloons showered on the crowd, giving the festival the full (albeit short) Flaming Lips experience.
Amidst a huge video screen and a backdrop designed to look like crushed cars, Eminem rose to the main stage shortly after his scheduled time of 11PM. For the next 90 minutes he rushed through a huge number of tracks, both newer Recovery-era songs and the greatest hits that made him a household name years ago.
For some reason, however, Eminem relied heavily on a backing track. As the hits kept coming, Eminem could be seen pulling the mic away from his mouth as the lyrical fire continued coming like nothing had stopped. It was jarring to see someone with so much confidence on stage resort to using a backing track, yet every time one glanced up to the video screens on either side of the stage it became clear that Eminem was not performing completely live. His backing vocalist was more of the same; every time she opened her mouth to sing a hook, either Dido, Rihanna or Hayley Williams’ voice escaped her throat, causing wayward glances from many in the crowd.
Ultimately though, it didn’t seem to matter much to the 30k+ crowd. They were more than happy that Eminem was standing in front of them occasionally rapping his own lines. Eminem and hype man Mr. Porter traded off lines the entire set, encouraging the crowd to sing each and every hook present during the set.
After a fairly standard take The Way I Am, D12 rushed out on stage for a fiery mini-set of Fight Music and Purple Pills. While D12 sans-Eminem had flopped at their own set earlier in the day, here on stage with Em they seemed more at home and the crowd loved every second of it.
Immediately following the D12 appearance, Eminem welcomed Royce Da 5’9 for a double dose of Fast Lane and set highlight Lighters. As the uncharacteristically poppy backing track blasted from the speakers and the crowd sang along with the irresistible Bruno Mars’ hook, thousands of lighters and the dull glow of cell phone screens lit up the Kansas Speedway.
As a biting version of Lose Yourself closed the show, fireworks started lighting up the sky at the other end of the Speedway. Marking the end of the first day of shows, the crowd began shuffling out. Buzzing with conversations about what they had just seen on stage, the majority of those in the crowd seemed to be more than happy with Eminem’s show.