July 07--The song that aroused one of the biggest ovations and responses during Friday's five-hour Red White & Boom festival was not delivered by one of the five performers on the bill. It was delivered by the P.A. system between sets: "Sweet Caroline," a song Neil Diamond wrote 44 years ago and a song that has sustained love and favor ever since, becoming part of a ritual at concerts and sporting events. Even some of the 5-year-olds in Friday's crowd were singing-along.
Red White & Boom showcases Top 40/pop music and Friday's show at Starlight Theatre, which drew a peak audience of about 5,000, illustrated the strengths and weakness of the genre, which is lacking not in talent but desperately needs some songwriters of Neil Diamond's genius and flair.
Some of the six performers appeared on a barren stage and sang solo to backing tracks, like former "American Idol" contestant Stefano Langone, who serenaded the crowd of mostly female teens and girls with R&B/pop songs like "Cherry on Top" and "Yes to Love." Throughout his set, he showed off a voice that has been trained and polished to carry melodies and sing lyrics that are as sweet as they are generic.
MKTO, a pop/hip-hop duo with TV connections (Nickelodeon's "Gigantic") showed up with an acoustic guitar player and a DJ and got the place bouncing for a bit to songs like "Thank You," a well-crafted exercise in the fusion of mainstream rap and Top 40 pop -- hip-hop with a sunny disposition and no rough edges. They also covered Justin Bieber's effervescent "Beauty and a Beat."
Next up was Hot Chelle Rae, a power-pop foursome (drums, bass, two guitars) from Nashville that can sound at times like the Disney Channel version of All-American Rejects. Their music is energetic and catchy, but songs vary only slightly from each other.
Their set included a few party anthems that weren't Disney material or suitable for the youngest preteens, like "Honestly," which included the lyric: "I'll go out and get drunk again / Make out with all your dumb friends / Tag your face to rub it in"; and "I Like It Like That," a pop hip-hop tune with the rap: "Come back, stay here at my grandma's house / And leave your clothes over there; that's grandma's couch."
After a brief performance by Ariana Grande, another Nickelodeon alum (who was introduced by Kansas City hip-hop heroTech N9ne), the trio Emblem 3 performed -- yet another pop/hip-hop ensemble.
The former "X Factor" finalists arrived on skateboards, which they rode throughout their set. Backed by a live bass and drums and some backing tracks, they performed the feel-good, reggae-infused anthem "Everything's Gonna Be Alright" and another pop-rap tune with a tropical flavor, "Reason." They have not yet released their debut album, but nearly everyone in the place stood and sang-along to the album's single, a catchy puppy-love anthem called "Chloe (You're the One I Want)."
The evening's headliner was Carly Rae Jepsen, a bouncy and bubbly singer-songwriter from Canada. She will be 28 in November but her music appeals to a crowd significantly younger than that. She and her band opened with one of her biggest hits, "This Kiss," a girl-party anthem that pays homage to a young Madonna. She also sang "Sweetie," "Tonight I'm Getting Over You," "Turn Me Up" and her closer, "Call Me Maybe." All were engaging, poppy ballads or anthems about being in love or wanting love or getting out of it -- designed and crafted for girls in the throes of adolescence or those about to arrive there.
It's hard to imagine much of what was played this evening enduring as long and as indelibly as any of Neil Diamond's hits. Rather, like the fireworks that lit up the sky after the show, much of it felt as fleeting and familiar as it did flashy.
To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/phinnagain. Read more from him at our music blog, Back to Rockville, at KansasCity.com.
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