The artists change every year, but the idea doesn’t.
Kissmas Bash is a party for fans of Top 40 radio in general, and local Top 40 station KISS 98.5 FM in particular. KISS annually gathers in a package tour comprising artists on its playlist, and invites its listeners to convene in First Niagara Center to party in the name of largely forgettable pop music. It’s either one of the year’s biggest nights, or a prolonged form of torture, depending on whom you ask, how old you are, and what you “use” music for in your daily life.
Kissmas Bash is a sellout just about every year, but Thursday, some rather dicey weather – and for dicey, read “howling winds, brutal temperatures and squalls of snow” – meant a reduced attendance. Still, even with the daunting driving conditions, by an hour or so into the show, First Niagara Center was just about three-quarters full, and the joint was hopping.
An informal poll of folks gathered near the box office just prior to show time suggested that the favored band of the evening was the Jonas Brothers, scheduled to close (and therefore headline) the event. In fact, the Jonas Brothers have officially broken up, and only siblings Joe and Nick Jonas were on the bill Thursday. No matter – tweets from concertgoers, displayed on twin video screens flanking the stage prior to the show, and during the between-act intervals, favored the Jonas brood as well.
“This could be the last Jonas Bros show ever, can’t wait!” read one tweet, and a seemingly endless flow of others echoed similar sentiments. (The most hilarious tweet of the evening was posted by “@Twerkin4Biebs,” an alias, apparently, for someone with an aversion to the letters e, u, g and h,– hence the tweet, “Liv Laf Lov”. OMG, that is so awesome!)
When Kissmas Bash is at its best, there is a diversity of acts tenuously connected by the fact that they have hits on mainstream pop radio. When it isn’t, all the acts sound interchangeable, and ennui sets in, or doesn’t, depending on what you’re into. Thursday’s show walked the tightrope between the lame and the inspired, boasting a roster top-heavy with boy-band fare and Disney-esque pop, but also packing a surprise or two.
The first of these surprises came in the form of Canadian twin sibling duo Tegan & Sara, who opened the show with a set that leaned heavily toward indie-pop, rather than Top 40. The sisters arrived onstage to kick off the evening following a roughly 20-minute delay, meant to allow late arrivals an opportunity to get to their seats.
Only a few hundred had made it that far when Tegan & Sara started, but by the duo’s second song, most of the floor was full, and by the set’s conclusion, the upper levels were filling in.
That was a good thing, because Tegan & Sara played a brief but powerful show that married ’80s alternative to contemporary indie pop. Backed by a drummer, bassist and guitarist, and sharing vocal and keyboard duties, the sisters made organic, interesting pop music, without any of the pejorative connotations that rational minds might associate with contemporary pop. Bless them!
Boy-band-on-the-rise Midnight Red followed, and held among their ranks one Colton Rudloff, a 22-year-old Buffalo native whose self-made YouTube videos earned him the fifth slot on the Midnight Red roster. The crowd made this “one of their own” feel welcome, and hats off to Rudloff, who now has a gig with the group slated to open for the insanely popular boy-band One Direction this summer.
These guys can sing, too – a technical foul-up meant that the five vocalists had to dive into an impromptu a-capella tune early in their set, which they did with skill and conviction.
A cover of Rihanna’s “Diamonds” was not an inspired choice, though it was well sung; the hit “Take Me Home” and the soon-to-be-hit “Hell Yeah” fared far better, and Midnight Red received adoration from the crowd.
The less said about DJ/remix trio Cash Cash the better, but they shouldn’t be let off the hook completely. The “group’s” set consisted of the three “playing” songs like a bunch of wedding DJs who’d slugged down way too many energy drinks.
My cap will forever be tipped to DJs who employ turntables and vintage vinyl in a virtuosic, real-time display of musical collage art. But Cash Cash used micro-synths, iPads, and mix-deck controllers, with nary a turntable in sight, while each took turns with the microphone and did the embarrassingly cliché “Buffalo, get your hands in the air!” thing.
People seemed to love this. But people need to expect more for themselves – especially the young people who comprised most of the audience Thursday. You’re young, and you deserve more, but you won’t get it if you don’t demand it. The art you venerate will help define our culture in the future. Why take the low road?
Ahh, don’t get me started. It was just a pop concert, after all.