Shows like Friday’s Kiss the Summer Hello mini-fest are not meant to please music critics. They’re meant to please a predominantly female teen audience weaned on Top 40 radio pop, of the variety programmed by the show’s promoter, WKSE Kiss 98.5 FM. And Friday’s show seemed to be pleasing about 10,000 members of that demographic. What a lowly music critic thought of the show almost seems beside the point. This was basically a huge high school party with a massive sound system and a fair number of pop star cameo appearances. The music offered a soundtrack for a social gathering.
The show, headlined by Jason Derulo and Austin Mahone, was the first to take place at Canalside since Global Spectrum took over management of the site. As far as maiden voyages go, this one appeared to be smooth sailing.
Considering the rampant construction surrounding the waterfront area, and the resulting blocked or closed roads, an influx of thousands of concertgoers could’ve meant a bottlenecking disaster at the site. But, despite some initial confusion regarding exactly where the main entrance to the concert grounds was – no longer near the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park, as it has been for years, but rather at the corner of Hanover Street, near the HarborCenter construction site – the throngs of teens and their parents steadily moved into the concert area. By show time – opener Timeflies hit the stage at 6:15 p.m. – most of the masses had made it into the venue.
The weather on the waterfront couldn’t have been more cooperative throughout the evening, and the Canalside site is broad and vast enough to allow for comfortable mingling around the perimeter vending areas for anyone wishing to avoid the packed areas surrounding the front of the stage. On Friday, a friendly vibe pervaded.
This was both hilarious and telling; Kiss the Summer Hello was definitely a “Give the people what they want” type of affair, and apparently, what they wanted was a glorified version of karaoke performed by young men who seem to have spent far more time developing their abs than they’ve spent developing their musical artistry.
Mahone – who appeared to be the prime attraction Friday, with show-closer Jason Derulo coming in a close second – never took his shirt all the way off, but he did stop gyrating and performing choreographed dance moves long enough to lift his Buffalo Bills jersey up to reveal a sculpted abdomen. And the crowd offered a collective shriek. As far as I know, no one asked for their money back.
If you’re wondering why this review has so far concentrated on ephemera – the site, the weather, the abs – the reason is this: The music wasn’t much to speak of.
Among the eight acts performing Friday, only one resembled an actual band – MKTO.
The rest were either DJs or singers performing along to recordings. There didn’t seem to be any lip-syncing going on, but most of the music coming through the PA was not being generated in real time. There was electro-pop, hip-hop, R&B and straight-up boy-band fare, but none of it was striking, inventive or musically sophisticated, nor was it meant to be. This was the view from the middle of the road, after all.
The musical highlights of the evening came courtesy of DJ Cassidy, primarily because he was spinning other people’s records.
Also outstanding was the segment of Timeflies’ set that found frontman Cal freestyling a rap based on Buffalo landmarks; his on-the-spot improvised rap name-checked the Bills, Sabres coach Ted Nolan, the “Chip Strip,” La Nova pizzeria, Mighty Taco and the Goo Goo Dolls in a breathless rush. It was both brilliant and well-received.
Elsewhere, Kaylin & Myles married hip-hop and pop; Somo offered his take on R. Kelly’s sex-obsessed R&B and brought a soft-porn element to the teen-centered show, which seemed wholly inappropriate; sibling act AJR dabbled with boy-band pop and got the crowd to sing along to its version of the Darius Rucker-associated “Wagon Wheel”; and MKTO, the fast-rising duo made up of Malcolm Kelly and Tony Oller and their band, wed alternative pop to hip-hop with considerable enthusiasm and ample stage presence.
Kiss the Summer Hello seemed to be a major success on every level, from the concertgoer’s perspective.
Everyone but the music critic seemed pleased. Mission accomplished, then.