The Vibrant Sound has been getting a lot of love in Provo since the recent release of their first album, Downtown, and deservedly so. The group blends a myriad of styles to create a musical amalgamation that brings people of all stripes to Velour on a regular basis — indies, Molly Mormon/Peter Priesthoods, beauty queens, Provo all-stars, summer sales tools, those that wear socks with sandals, etc. To these concert-goers, songwriter-vocalist McKay Stevens’ socially conscious raps are part just-edgy-enough-to-feel-dangerous hip-hop, part comprehensive American history lesson.
Coincidentally, “79th And Flight” is probably the least politically oriented of the band’s songs. With Stevens taking a brief hiatus from his role as the Provo music scene’s resident moral conscience, the Vibrant Sound rips through a fun ditty that defines the term “summer jam.” Featuring rhymes about the likes of Pacman and Vision Street Wear, ’80s references ad infinitum and a catchy chorus, this track is the perfect way to soundtrack your last week of summer vacation. So enjoy it, people: turn up some Vibrant Sound and soak up your last week of freedom. The Beast beckons.
Welcome back to the second edition of Rhombus’ Weekend Update. (Much thanks to Lorne Michaels and the folks at SNL for not suing me for copyright infringement yet.) This week we’ll tell you all the do’s and don’ts for your holiday festivities. We’ll tell you the events going down in Utah Valley and you get to figure the rest out on your own — just try not to set anything too large on fire.
WEEKEND UPDATE: Special 4th of July Edition
America’s Freedom Festival: Balloon Fest | Saturday, 6:30 a.m., Provo High School (1125 N. University Ave., Provo)
There’s a lot of weird crap that people do on the Fourth that you don’t get to see very often otherwise. A massive launching of hot air balloons at 6:30 a.m. would be one of those things. I don’t think I’ve seen a hot air balloon since I was 10-years-old and, to be honest, I don’t even know where I’d begin to look. Fortunately, they happen to be bringing them into our backyard. So if you like big colorful, floating spheres and can stomach the early wake-up call, here’s a way to start your holiday off right.
America’s Freedom Festival: Grand Parade | Saturday, 9:00 a.m., University Avenue (Provo)
I’ve never been one for parades. I don’t really understand the people who must watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade every single year and if, for some unfortunate reason, they are busy at the time of its airing, they TiVo it. I don’t get that. (Maybe it’s the floats: they have no power over me.) Provo’s annual parade will have significantly less glitz than its big city counterpart, but it always receives rave reviews. People literally started camping out for spots along the parade route a few days ago. I don’t understand this, but I believe this must say something about the parade. Who knows — I could end up horribly disappointed. But at least I’ll know I satisfied my curiosity. I pray I do not lead you astray.
The Vibrant Sound | Saturday, 5:30 p.m., Tabernacle Stage (University Ave. and Center St., Provo), Free
I know, I know: we stumped for the Vibrant Sound last week as well. And while I promise that Rhombus is not becoming the band’s personal propaganda arm, I will say this: if you haven’t read our review for last weekend’s release party, do so. Then, come to the show. It’s for your own good really. If you missed out on Saturday’s awesome performance, you now have a second chance and — even better news — it’s free! The band’s blend of hip-hop, soul, R&B and funk defines what summer music should be. I can’t think of any better way to enjoy your early evening.
Stadium of Fire: The Jonas Brothers | Saturday, 8 p.m., LaVell Edwards Stadium (Provo)
I’m very ambivalent about this event’s status. Positive: huge fireworks display. Intriguing: the cultural phenomenon of the Jonas Brothers. Less intriguing: the music of the Jonas Brothers. Equivalent to the black plague: Glenn Beck. Between these conflicting factors, it is difficult to make a cut-and-dried judgment of the intrinsic or extrinsic worth of this event. In the end, it probably comes down to price. Tons of tickets are still available for this year’s show (unlike when music goddess Miley Cyrus came last year), which means scalpers are going to be getting real antsy just before showtime. If you can get a cheap ticket, it might (might!) be worth checking out. If not, just sit outside and watch the fireworks. Hopefully you won’t be able to hear the bellowing of the great Beck — it would probably be wise to retain as many brain cells as possible.
Truman | Saturday, 2:00 p.m., Tabernacle Stage (University Ave. and Center St., Provo), Free
There’s a fine line between the highly original and clever music made by the Vibrant Sound and the — I’ll say this nicely — distasteful, Maroon 5-cover-band-esque sound of Truman. If you really have nothing to do at 2:00 p.m., go listen to Songs About Jane a couple more times. I promise that it will sound the same — only better and with less smugness. The problem with the Truman brothers (sons of Diamond Rio keyboardist, Dan Truman) is not that they make Provo’s worst music (they don’t — I saw a guy literally playing a saw last week), but that they seem so impressed with their own mediocrity. Having the right connections is a great blessing in the music industry and I have no doubt that Truman could some day end up being “big stars,” due to said connections. But great record sales and a famous last name do not good music make — just ask the Jonas Brothers.
“Disco Night” | Saturday, 9:00 p.m., Classic Fun Center (250 S. State, Orem), $6
Let’s just be honest: disco was never cool. Even when disco was “cool,” it wasn’t cool. I realize college students have a penchant for doing otherwise stupid, ghastly things in the name of “humor” and “ironicism,” but please — my dear friends — please abstain from trying to resurrect disco. It wasn’t cool in the 70s and it won’t be cool now. A benevolent God won’t allow it.
It’s hard to neatly box up the music of the Vibrant Sound into one cut-and-dried genre, but that didn’t matter much to the packed crowd that attended the band’s album release party at Velour Live Music Gallery in Provo on Saturday evening.
Marley and Hayley Hernandez opened the show with their brand of quiet acoustic pop. The duo’s set of original tunes called to mind the music of Colbie Caillat, only with more brains and better harmonies. (What happened to her anyway? Did she die or something?) While both Hernandezes may or may not take issue with such a broad characterization of their music, the fact remains that their catchy melodies and ethereal voices were the perfect way to ease into a night’s worth of great music.
RuRu, the stage name for 17-year-old singer-songwriter Isaac Russell, filled in the middle portion of the bill with a truly stunning performance. Eschewing the drums, pedal steel and electric guitar of his usual full band set-up, Russell took the stage armed with only an acoustic guitar and a remarkably plush-looking armchair. With a sparse backing band, comprised of only a keyboard and bass guitar, the young folk phenom enraptured the audience with a slew of stripped-down versions of tracks from his 2008 album, Elizabeth, as well as some new cuts that showed a possible glimpse of Russell’s future progression as an artist.
While his usual bombast and intensely emotional stagecraft were significantly reined in by the more subdued setting, Russell still managed to wring every last emotional and musical drop from his material. The understated arrangements placed more emphasis on the songs’ beautiful composition and dense lyricism, often delving into poetic discussions of love, loss and death. One of the set’s many highlights came when Russell invited his older brother, Spencer, and Caitlin Duncan (both of local indie-eclectic band Mudbison) onstage to provide backing vocals on the aching ballad, “Excuse.” With the crowd in the palm of his hand, Russell masterfully spun his tale of sickness, heartache and death over a cascade of shimmering “oohs” and “ahhs” from his guests. The moment perfectly encapsulated the talent and potential possessed by the young songwriter, and undoubtedly resulted in a couple sold copies of Elizabeth at the merchandise table.
Following the laid-bare folk of Russell is no easy task, let alone if your music sounds like that of the Vibrant Sound. Mixing a plethora of influences, including hip-hop, soul, R&B, funk and rock, McKay Stevens and Company certainly kicked the show’s energy up a notch from their very first note. From the moment the band launched into bouncy opener “Summertime” with Stevens’ spot-on rendition of Will Smith’s “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme song, the audience was ready to dance and it was immediately clear who they had come to see.
The band tore through a nine song set featuring numerous guests, including Provo’s favorite son, Joshua James, on keys, and comprised mostly of material off their newly released debut album, Downtown. While they also threw in a re-imagined cover or two — including a straight-up filthy (and that’s a good thing) cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” complete with Stevens laying down original rhymes, and a slow-burning version of the 80s pop classic “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” featuring Scott Shepard of The New Nervous on lead vocals — the Vibrant Sound shined brightest on their original material.
The political overtones of “The Industrial Revolution” and “The Proletariat” were not lost on the ears of the crowd, regardless of their minds’ acceptance (or lack thereof) of the messages. The mostly white audience — this is Provo after all — even responded enthusiastically to the black history anthem “Abolitionist Newspaper,” which prominently features Stevens rapping about African-American liberation over snippets of Martin Luther King speeches.
If there was ever a place to find a cultural disconnect, this would be it — but there was none to be found. It is often said that music can bridge cultures and races, and span creeds and ideologies. It seems the Vibrant Sound have discovered how to do just that — and make you dance and sing along at the same time.
Steve Pierce is the co-founder and editor of Rhombus. He generally thinks hip-hop is dead, but the Vibrant Sound gives him hope. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/steve_pierce.
It’s the weekend and, as such, the next two nights will undoubtedly be marked by thousands of college students sitting in their apartments, repeating the same tired refrain: “There’s nothing to do in Provo.”
While Provo isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis of nightlife, it certainly isn’t dead. There are cool things going on — you just need to know where to look. This is where we at Rhombus want to step in and offer you some advice. We’ve included below a list of some awesome, Rhombus-approved activities going down in the Provo/Orem/SLC area this weekend, as well as some must-avoid schlock that will do nothing but turn your nubile, young brains to mush.
So please peruse our merry list and check back next week for more delectable weekend exploits. And remember — if you still find yourself sitting on the couch this weekend, it’s not our fault.
WEEKEND UPDATE: June 26th & 27th
The Good: Chris Merritt | Friday, 8:00 p.m., Velour Live Music Gallery (135 N. University Ave., Provo), $7
Contrary to popular opinion, Chris Merritt isn’t god in human form. The Merritt worship in Provo seems to have reached a record high in recent years and unnecessarily so. Don’t get me wrong: he’s a fine artist and certainly better than most alternatives. But the fact remains that his entire shtick is a shameless aping of Ben Folds. Given young Mormons’ natural proclivities for piano-based pop songs, the match was inevitable. However, regardless of the hype, Merritt is a legitimate artist with some great songs. (I challenge anyone to try and listen to “Dance Karate” without shaking their groove thing.) His Friday night show at Velour was especially booked by the venue’s owner, Corey Fox, as a rare solo show, featuring just the artist and his piano. Merritt billed the performance as an “intimate, sit-down, storyteller-type show” on his blog. As such, it won’t be a regular, standing-room-only show. There will only be about 150 seats available so, if you choose to attend, go early.
The Vibrant Sound (with RuRu and Marlee & Hayley Hernandez) | Saturday, 8:30 p.m., Velour Live Music Gallery, $7 This may very well be the local concert of the summer. Serving as the album release party for the Vibrant Sound’s new disc, Downtown, the show is sure to be packed with good tunes and fun times. To take it up even another notch (as if the much-anticipated VS disc wasn’t enough), folk phenom Isaac Russell, a.k.a. RuRu, will also be playing and — I’m not exaggerating here — you need to be there. Your musical salvation depends on it. Big things have been happening for young Isaac recently and the kid is going places, so take the opportunity to see him for pennies while you can. McKay Stevens has put together a top-notch lineup for his band’s long-awaited album release and Velour will undoubtedly be rocking all night. If you do only one thing this weekend, this should be it!
The Bad: The Cab | Friday, 7:00 p.m., Kilby Court, $12
I can only imagine two things worse than seeing the Cab perform live: a) seeing Boys Like Girls perform live (July 7th! Oh no!), or b) being slowly beaten to death with my own arms. Enough said. Stay far, far away.
Away We Go | Broadway Centre Cinemas (111 E. Broadway, SLC), Rated R Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeff Daniels, Catherine O’Hara Directed by Sam Mendes | Written by Dave Eggers & Vendela Vida
Good independent films don’t come to Utah very often. Just a few weeks ago, I was bemoaning the fact that Away We Go wasn’t playing anywhere in the state on its opening weekend. My prayers were answered. This heartfelt indie flick has been receiving rave reviews and it’s easy to see why, given the ingredients. Mastermind Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) is in the director’s chair, working from the first original screenplay penned by perhaps the finest writer of our generation, Dave Eggers. Throw in a dynamite cast of outstanding actors and it’s easy to see why Away We Go has myself (and others) so excited.
The Bad: Transformer: Revenge of the Fallen | All Theatres, Rated PG-13 Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Robots, Explosions, etc. Directed by Michael Bay | Written by Ehren Kruger & Roberto Orci
I will confess that I haven’t seen the second installation of Transformers yet and have no intent to do so. If the first Transformers film weren’t bad enough to convince you of the sequel’s complete and utter stupidity, just soak in what our good friend Roger Ebert (not the most discerning of critics) had to say about this monstrosity:
“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys. If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination.
Yikes. But really, what else did you expect? It is Michael Bay…