In what has become the screaming teenybopper event of the summeror, at least, the first -- Kiss 98.5 held its annual Kiss the Summer Hello concert at Coca-Cola Field Saturday night, serving a predominantly sugar-pop selection of seven of the station's chart-toppers to the adult-supervised, unadulterated approval of the adolescents who made up most of the 5,000-plus in attendance.
The top ratings that Kiss earns are proof that the station knows how to give its audience what it wants, and it is no secret that kids respond to music made with enthusiasm, giving them a chance to jump, dance and sing simple hooks. This is not deep stuff, although the station gives the event depth by collaborating with Yroswell, the Roswell Park Cancer Institute youth initiative that "provides resources for cancer and coping, education and studies, as well as future careers in medicine and science."
With this year's effort, station representatives reported during the concert that their ongoing partnership, in tandem with the Bald for Bucks campaign, has eclipsed the $1 million mark.
While most of the evening's music stayed in the shallow end, some artists stood out by digging deeper, beginning with opening act Chris Rene, a vocalist-guitarist from Santa Cruz, Calif., who set the bar for energy and musicianship with a soul-rap-pop sound served along with a keyboardist, deejay bassist and drummer, driving his own work, "Young Homie," and a cover of Sublime's "Santeria."
Not much of the rest of the show matched Rene's engaging, uplifting message. More common was a sense of sass, taken to outright intimidating levels by Oklahoman spitfire Cady Groves, who proved the old saying, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." Backed by a full band and with a fine voice that didn't need frequent vocal tracking -- but was served with it anyway -- Groves shrieked at the audience to sing along to songs like "Not Afraid of You" and "This Little Girl," which, she explained, during somehow charming banter, as inspired by her producer-turned-cheating boyfriend who -- she said numerous times -- "ruined my life." Watch out for Groves on the charts and just watch out for her.
Bizarre Brit Neon Hitch followed with a forgettable set, aside from her outright selling of sex, made obvious by the original title of her hit, "Love U Betta." The conga/deejay combo behind her was cool, but she's not much of a singer and offered zero substance. Considerably classier but still missing something was Cambridge, Mass., rapper Sammy Adams, backed solely by a deejay, who did get the crowd jumping for most of his set with songs like "Only One." So, too, did California dance-rap diva Dev -- but so, too, did she fail to offer any substance. In fact, Dev displayed a disturbing trend in songs like "Bass Down Low" and "Like a G6" -- apparently this brat-rap sing-talk style is catching on.
Philadelphia hip-hop duo Chiddy Bang offered the longest and, arguably, most dynamic set of the evening. World record freestyler Chidera "Chiddy" Anamege fed ferocious raps over producer/drummer Noah "Xaphoon Jones" Beresin's precise drumming and a wide range of beats/hooks from Sam Frank's smooth, falsetto soul singing on "Talkin to Myself." Their work featured a recorded string section and Jones' own bass and keys, as well as Swedish duo Icona Pop's kid-like chorus on "Mind Your Manners."
Closing the show was Mission, B.C., starlet Carly Rae Jepsen, whose "Call Me Maybe" was introduced as currently the most downloaded song in the world. The affable Jepsen and her quartet were joined by a crowd from the field in closing with the song, but not before a disco-drummed dream-pop take on Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," a mellower side of the same treatment applied to "Call Me Maybe."
One wonders how many of the gathered screaming teens will soon discover deeper artists such as Mitchell and leave the shallow end. Call me optimistic, maybe.
Kiss the Summer Hello
Saturday afternoon in Coca-Cola Field.