The two veteran acts played vastly different Grand Rapids venues on Friday night with vastly different approaches. The recaps and photo galleries at Local Spins.
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During tour rehearsals this week at Grand Rapids’ Goon Lagoon recording studio, Tobin Sprout and his band joked about whether certain guitar licks or musical passages were “drool-worthy” in terms of intensity.
Well, there were plenty of drool-worthy moments in the band’s Midwest tour kickoff Friday night at Grand Rapids’ Listening Room in the first official ticketed show at the intimate, 200-capacity venue since March 2020.
Weaving Sprout’s psychedelic indie-rock gems with subdued, Americana-fueled material from his latest album, “Empty Horses,” the band confidently and smartly uncorked the sort of performance that we don’t see enough of these days: well-crafted, lyrically compelling material driven by infectious melodies, fuzzy, jangly and thoughtful guitar leads and punk-hued energy balanced by gorgeous, soft balladry.
Accompanied by guitarist Tommy Schichtel and twin brothers, Gary Vermillion on drums and Steve Vermillion on bass, with Drew Howard on pedal steel guitar, the 66-year-old Sprout – who resides in Leland, Mich. – delivered a career retrospective covering more than two dozen songs over an hour and 45 minutes.
The selections ranged from pensive, tender-hearted, Civil War-inspired tracks from “Empty Horses” (“Wings Prelude” “No Shame”) with Sprout on piano to loud, punk-powered gems such as “The Last Man Well Know to Kingpin,” Guided By Voices’ “Spiderfighter” and “Corners Are Glowing,” which had Schichtel reveling in his element — on his knees in front of his amplifier creating ravishing feedback.
If there were any first-night glitches – vocally or instrumentally – they were obscured by the revelry of Sprout’s music, which qualifies him as an unassuming, underrated musical superstar living in the relative isolation of a tiny Michigan hamlet.
The band even wrapped up its main set with a troika of gloriously performed covers: The Byrds’ “My Back Pages,” The Yardbirds’ “Heart Full of Soul” and Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s “Cinnamon Girl,” inducing a rousing standing ovation from an appreciative audience.
KANSAS CARRIES ON IN PROG-ROCK FASHION AT MEIJER GARDENS
The night’s drool-worthiness likely also applied to the cadre of prog-rock and classic rock fans gathered about 6 miles away at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park for a sold-out concert starring Kansas, with Grand Rapids’ own Serita’s Black Rose duo getting the night started on a soulful rocking note.
Unlike the cozy indoor vibe of Listening Room, Kansas took full advantage of the sprawling stage at the Meijer Gardens amphitheater, with 1,900 concertgoers on hand.
Kicking things off with 1977’s iconic “Point of Know Return,” Kansas quickly gave the hazy and humid evening a burst of organ-fueled rock ’n’ roll color to the delight of gathered devotees.
With original members Phil Ehart on drums and Rich Williams on guitar, Kansas followed that opener with the guitar-driven “What’s On My Mind” from 1976’s “Leftoverture.”
The band also gave a nod to playing West Michigan as an emerging act in the mid-1970s, mentioning their tour stop at The Thunder Chicken on Alpine Avenue.
“They’re great to see live because they still have so much energy,” said longtime fan Michael Lee, of Wyoming, who was wearing a Kansas shirt. He attended the show with his son, Scott Lee, who agreed with his dad that the band “put on a kickass show.”
Of course, that show wouldn’t have been complete without favorites such as “Dust in the Wind” and “Carry On Wayward Son,” with the latter comprising the concert’s encore – and just another excuse, we suppose, for fans to drool.
PHOTO GALLERY: Tobin Sprout at Listening Room
Photos by Anna Sink
Photos by Jamie Geysbeek