Sunday September 5th, 1999 at Liberty Memorial Park
in Kansas City, MO
Exit 159, The Believe It Or Nots, Reflector, Rex Hobart
On each day of Spirit Fest, the showcase pavilion features music of a specific genre. Friday was reggae, Saturday was the blues and Sunday was country. If you would have wandered by the Lazer new rock stage Sunday during Rex Hobart's set you definitely would have been confused. I can't imagine anything on Sunday's country music stage could rival the performance and music of Rex Hobart.
Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys opened up the third and final day of the 1999 Spirit Fest on a lonesome note. Rex's clear vocals and engaging lyrics tell the stories of love and lovers lost, long solitary roads, and disingenuous friends - everything that makes a classic country song. Though Rex and his beaten acoustic guitar are really the focus of the band, The Misery Boys are excellent at setting the mood with steel, electric, & bass guitars, and today, with a fill-in drummer that didn't miss a beat.
Each time I see Rex play, my admiration grows. His genuine connection with the audience and his entire performance blow away everyone else in Kansas City. Even outside of his normal environment (playing an opening slot to an outdoor audience sitting 100 feet away that has never seen him before) he was witty, accommodating, humble and charming. Yet another great show for Rex and his Misery Boys.
Before Reflector played, drummer Jake Cardwell came up to me and confessed they couldn't play a forty-five minute set, "We can play twenty-five minutes, that's it." And true to his word, Reflector began their twenty-five minute set with a burst of noise and emotion, and I don't think they looked up from their instruments until it was all over.
Reflector is an incredibly dynamic and powerful band, and they play music for themselves because they have to, not for an audience. Because of this, fans have made a special connection with Reflector - a much more participatory relationship than most fans have with bands they enjoy. Seeing Reflector on seven foot stage separated by a four foot barricade from their audience was akin to seeing a lion in a cage at a cheap zoo. Reflector are best in a dimly lit room (or even a basement), with no stage and with fans only a few feet from the band. Even though the band played well and sounded good, the intimacy wasn't there and I was a little disappointed.
The crowd endured a long pause between bands as The Believe It Or Nots set up to play on borrowed gear. This would be the band's farewell performance. After five years of playing every house party, bar and major outdoor festival in two states, vocalist./guitarist Mike Angelettii announced he was leaving town to put his film degree to some work. Spirit Fest was the band's last hurrah.
Frontman/guitarist/vocalist Greg Franklin pulled out all the stops, entertaining the crowd and soliciting audience participation. With the help of the dancing cow (a masked friend in a cow costume complete with pink udders) they incited the crowd to clap, sing and dance along by tossing out a steady diet of beach balls, Frisbees, inflatable hammers and, for the closer Hand Me My Broadsword, plastic swords.
For many this was the performance of Spirit Fest. The band's overblown blend of arena rock and indie rock, had found it's perfect forum... unfortunately on their last show.
In the Kansas City, like most towns, there is a band hierarchy. While The Believe It Or Nots had worked their way up to a level which afforded them good gigs, high visibility and minor radio airplay, they still had a ways to go. The next level includes names like Ultimate Fakebook and The Creature Comforts and then there is a layer above that which is inhabited by Exit 159.
I'll come out and say it now that I'm not the biggest Exit 159 fan. There are elements of their music that I really love and they do so many things right, but there is also something too polished and commercial that leaves a saccharine taste in my mouth - maybe it is just that everyone in the band is too damn cute.
Exit 159 formed about two years ago when vocalist/guitarist Kristie Stremel left her major-label band Frogpond to pursue something different. The something different has turned out to be alternative pop songs that are familiar, accessible and just edgy enough to make it interesting. The recent addition of vocalist/guitarist Tawni Freeland (from The Glitter Kicks) has not only brought the band's cute quotient way up, but has thickened the band in very nice ways.
As the sun set, the band played to almost a thousand fans who smiled, danced and sang along. Although there wasn't a whole lot of flash in their performance, the band was cordial with the enamored audience and rewarded them with a cover of Rick Springfield's I've Done Everything For You along side of their favourite hits from the last album and a half and a handful of new songs.
After the band finished their set I was faced with a remaining line-up of two national acts, neither of which held much promise, so I left for home, selling my press pass for $10 on the way out.