Red, White, and Boom
There must be a specific circle of hell reserved for radio-station festivals. And speaking of hellish, why would anyone spend 12 hours in muggy summer weather for the chance to dance to the tape of his or her one hit? Although surrounded on all sides by rustic farmland, Sandstone Amphitheatre is no Garden of Eden. It’s a vast concrete wasteland where even the life-sustaining water costs a pricey $4. Yet a great multitude of pop music fans braved the heat and price-gouging in hopes of getting close to their favorite MTV TRL exports.
I walked in just in time to see the up-and-coming girl group Blaque start its set. It took the R&B trio several minutes to cue its “background music” and to get its scantily clad boy-toy dancers out and grinding, but when the play button was finally pushed, Blaque members strutted their stuff through three choreographed numbers. It was like the Ms. Fitness Aerobics competitions on ESPN 2 — riveting, but for all the wrong reasons. Often, the blaring background music overshadowed the women’s actual singing. If this is what young America expects from live performances, then rock and roll truly is dead.
After a short break, Vertical Horizon delivered a number of selections from its well-received debut album, Everything You Want. The highly stylized band suffered at the hands of a shitty mix that cranked the bass up to No Limit levels, but it still managed to sound remarkably good. Whenever they could, mostly during choruses, the vastly underdressed prepubescent fans eagerly sang along with Vertical Horizon’s modern-rock hits.
Pink, the next artist to take the stage, is short and pert with annoying pink locks and a surprisingly strong voice. She had four dancing boys to Blaque’s three, and she performed only two songs, one of which was her hit “There You Go.” Because she had recently opened for ‘N Sync in front of roughly the same audience, apparently she felt a longer set than this satisfying tease would have been redundant.
I find it deliciously funny that Pink and Melissa Etheridge were sandwiched together on the bill. If you don’t immediately see the humor of this pairing, then you are probably too young for this review and should ask mommy or daddy whether the filtering software is still working. The explosive set by the local girl done good clearly provided the afternoon’s highlight. Etheridge came out in leather pants, wielded an acoustic guitar, and simply rocked the place. She laughed and joked with the crowd, telling us that she was the only performer on the bill who knew she was in Bonner Springs and not Kansas City, and she urged us all to visit the Agricultural Hall of Fame next door, even though she admitted she had no idea what could possibly be in the Agricultural Hall of Fame. She also said this was her first time on the Sandstone stage, which is quite sad when you think about it, given the many inferior musicians who have had their 15 minutes in the spotlight at the massive venue.
Destiny’s Child followed Etheridge, which, in my opinion, was criminal. Then again, this harmonious four-piece has more Mix 93.3 hits on its hands, so it “earned” the higher billing. The all-female quartet rewarded its request-line-hogging fans with a set that blended Say What? karaoke with Soul Train-style line dancing. The taped background music often included vocal lines, freeing the crooners to dance suggestively to the crowd’s delight.
After a l-o-o-o-n-g intermission, Bon Jovi emerged, and the crowd went entirely ape-shit as the Jersey boys plugged in and started the rock. A guy in red zebra-stripe pants started giving lap dances while Jon Bon Jovi informed the crowd that he could taste our sweat. My answer to both: Yuck!
Jon noted that it had been a long time since he’d visited Kansas City and claimed it was good to see us again, apparently failing to note that most of the fans in attendance were, at best, in utero when a Bon Jovi tour last graced the heartland. His band ripped through such classics as “Living On A Prayer” and “You Give Love A Bad Name” before rating the evening’s first encore and responding with “Wanted Dead or Alive.” It was an admirable yet derivative set. To put it bluntly, Bon Jovi can expect fellow Garden State native Bruce Springsteen to call and ask for his act back.
As night fell on the prairie, Enrique Iglesias brought 11 musicians on stage for his 40-minute set. The stocking-cap-wearing teen idol and his enormous band opened with the smash hit “Bailamos,” sending a throng of 13-year-old girls into Barbie-Dream-House fantasy land. Enrique took one lucky girl, who swore she was 17 although she looked no older than 12, onto the stage to sing to her, kiss her, hug her, and let her squeeze his buns throughout the song’s duration. His set-ending performance of another hit, “Rhythm Divine,” concluded with a massive glitter cannon spewing confetti all over the venue. It was spectacular, and it provided somewhat of an orgasmic release for all the twitching teens who were still tittering about the Latin heartthrob.
After Mix 93.3’s DJs indulged in seemingly endless banter, Third Eye Blind finally opened with “Graduate,” or at least an under-mixed, winded, out-of-breath rendition of it. It was only the first song, and lead Blindman Stephan Jenkins was severely out of gas. He was gulping for air every line, slaughtering a great song because he was too out of shape to sing every line. It’s ironic that he once called Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty fat, because he had trouble all night long keeping up with his band.
Speaking of his bandmates, the background guitarist/keyboard player was banished to a remote corner of the stage, while the bass player, clad in leather pants and hat, closely resembled the biker guy from the Village People, and the guitarist sported a funky kind of camouflage pants that could have made him the Army dude. Give them a few points for being fashion outlaws, but for a group that spent the entire spring on the road in support of its new album, Third Eye Blind sounded awfully unpolished. It was a poor showing from a band that received the closing slot, and by its second song, “Losing A Whole Year,” the crowd began to trickle out of the venue. When Third Eye Blind got to its latest single, the trickle had become a flood of escaping audience members. I made it through a few more songs, but I too succumbed. By “Jumper,” after a sick, sad rendition of the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated,” I jumped. After seven hours in the sun, I felt dirty and cheated, and I watched the fireworks display from my rearview mirror as I raced toward home.