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Around Hear

Fans of modern rock might find this weekend's concert offerings dis-Spiriting.

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Huey Lewis once claimed in a song that the heart of rock and roll is still beating in Kansas City, a declaration Tech N9ne references -- with thumping stethoscope-in-stereo sound effects -- in his slammin' single "It's Alive." When even cutting-edge lyricists start spreading The News, maybe it really is hip to be square. That might be the SpiritFest's only hope -- this year's lineup is purely L7, without the alt-rock drawing power and indie credibility of, say, L7. Scenesters bemoaned the elimination of the modern-rock stage last year, but SpiritFest 2001 makes last year's event, which starred Guided by Voices and Kottonmouth Kings, look like Lollapalooza. Lewis, whose songs played a crucial role in Back to the Future, should feel at home on a super-McFly three-day bill that also includes The B-52's, Eddie Money and Cheap Trick.

Despite appearances, SpiritFest publicist Jeff Campbell (who's been with the organization since 1993) insists there are no plans to permanently change the name of the event to Spirit-of-'76-Fest. "It just turned out that way," he says of this Labor Day weekend's retro-leaning lineup. "We always get the best talent you can for the budget. You keep your eyes and ears open for who's touring and who's routable to the market. Sometimes you get lucky, and sometimes you don't. I think this year we got lucky."

Well, real luck would be Madonna (in Chicago on August 28 and 29) turning "Lucky Star" into a production number in front of the Liberty Memorial. Kansas City fans won't be subjected to Loverboy (in Denver on August 31) playing selections from Get Lucky, but neither are they likely to be working for the weekend as if they had a date with past SpiritFest luminaries Bob Dylan, Santana, Moby or Weezer.

"We got them right as they hit," Campbell says of the latter two acts. "It's difficult for us to gauge, but sometimes it works out."

Snapdragon, this year's unopposed winner in the most-likely-to-succeed category, livens up Friday night's proceedings with a refreshing blast of potential. Blending raspy vocals and guitar crunch with radio-friendly hooks and a photogenic female singer, Snapdragon figures to make noise nationally soon after its SpiritFest appearance. A brand-new group touring in support of an album (The Family Jewels) that was released on August 14, Snapdragon will soon be making its living on the festival circuit, but it has yet to play an event quite like SpiritFest (although it did play a few dates with The Go-Go's).

"Totally cool," singer Summer Rose gushes about playing with Money and The B-52's. (As a teenager, Rose toured casinos and dive bars in a cover band -- sadly, none of this year's SpiritFest acts ever appeared on its Fleetwood Mac/Heart-heavy set lists.) "Newer singers aren't quite as soulful. The older singers, like Pat Benatar, were more ballsy," she says. "Twenty years ago, there was a lot more passion being put into the music."

Bands from Snapdragon's era do have one advantage over the older acts: limber legs. Rose, a former Olympic-hopeful gymnast, figures to do much more sh-sh-shakin' than the 52-year-old Money. "I don't know -- do you think we'll move around more than Eddie Money?" Rose asks keyboardist Rick Jude, her songwriting partner. "Probably. But you know, that Rick Springfield guy's got some moves."

Springfield, for once, won't be playing SpiritFest, marking one notable improvement from last year's event. Another is that local bands return to the big stage after last year's internment in balmy tents. Because of scheduling logistics, however, most of these groups won't be able to play in the time slot that would be most flattering for their styles. SuperNauts, a group of seasoned musicians trapped in teenage bodies (that plays as if its guitars were tuned to classic-rock radio), would fit perfectly in the slot before Eddie Money -- but Snapdragon provides an anachronistic interruption between the two. Brody and the Groove Busters' rockin' blues segues easily enough into Lewis' lighthearted doo-wop pop on Saturday night, but it seems rude for Disco Dick to shove his Mirror Balls between the soulful testimony of The Gadjits and the tuneful melodicism of Daybirds. As for Tech N9ne, his hell-spawned hip-hop is so much darker and edgier than anything else on the bill that he'd scorch his neighbors on either side of the schedule regardless of where he was placed. (The closest runner-up would be The B-52's because of its pure oddity, but it's difficult to place a group whose singer guested on "Shiny Happy People" in the same galaxy with the man behind "Psycho Bitch" and "Suicide Letters.") So it's just as well that he provides a jarring interlude between Moaning Lisa and Creature Comforts.

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