WEST HOLLYWOOD, California — "We're cool, we're different," Fiction Plane's Joe Sumner sang at Tuesday's kickoff of the MTV You Hear It First Tour, unknowingly providing the perfect description of the outing.
And judging by the performances, the bands on the House of Blues bill, which also included Kenna and the Exies, are certainly different — from each other and from the flavors currently controlling rock radio. Adding to the uniqueness of the rock edition of the tour (Bubba Sparxxx and Common are headlining an urban version) is that there's not yet a legitimate hit between the three acts.
Fiction Plane opened their set channeling heavy Nirvana influences into a decidedly British rock foundation — like Bush, but with the garage rock wail and curious coolness of the Strokes.
After opening with the title track to their debut, Everything Will Never Be OK, the foursome put a surprisingly romantic twist on the cynical "Hate."
Frontman Joe Sumner makes nothing of being Sting's son (see "Fiction Plane Sulk, Sneer And Mope — Who The Heck Is Sting?"), but it's hard to forget live. Even the way he frames his mouth around the microphone with his hands at his sides is reminiscent of his dad. And when he melodically sings intense lines other artists would scream, it recalls one of the charms of the Police's more rocking tunes.
In just a 30-minute set, Sumner changed the tone frequently, donning an acoustic guitar for the mellower "Fallow," then bouncing around the stage a la Korn for the highlight of the set, "Listen to My Babe."
Kenna is certainly the most distinctive act on the You Hear It First Tour, as his Neptunes-produced music brings together neo-soul with '80s-inspired synth pop. His idols are U2, and his preachy stage presence sometimes brings Bono to mind, but his music sounds more like Cee-Lo covering the Cars.
Dressed in a black sport coat and vintage jeans, Kenna took the stage thanking MTV (even though he was not featured in a You Hear It First segment, his "Hell Bent" video received airplay even when the singer was between record labels) and singing one of the more Depeche Mode-ish songs from his debut, New Sacred Cow (see "Kenna Leaves The Shadows Of Fred Durst, Neptunes For His Own Spotlight").
For his second number, Kenna broke out his current single, "Freetime," a dance-friendly treat he celebrated by doing his signature duck-walk-like moves across the stage. Flanked with dual keyboards and harmonizing background vocals, the song was equally engaging live as on his album.
"Man Fading" followed, giving the audience another head-bobber. A few concertgoers trickled away from the stage, as Kenna's unique style can be either love it or hate it, but most of the room seemed mesmerized by the set.
As the show went on, however, Kenna grew frustrated as his monitors began failing. "I'm sorry, I can hardly hear myself," he said, struggling to keep his smile.
Los Angeles' own Exies brought a drum riser and curtain along to verify their position as headliners, though the crowd reacted with the same kind of enthusiasm it showed the previous performers.
Opening with "Calm & Collapsed," the band immediately showcased its fervent blend of the infectious songwriting patterns of the Foo Fighters and the sheer guitar-driven force of Metallica (see "The Exies: Melodic Hollywood Existentialism").
"It's good to be home," singer Scott Stephens said. "We've played every other city recently, but not here."
"Kickout," was a highlight, with Stephens doing his own kicks off the drum riser, although the biggest crowd-pleaser was the single "My Goddess," easily the Exies' defining song.
Fiction Plane, Kenna and the Exies next hit Anaheim, California, on Friday. The urban version of the You Hear It First Tour, which also features Anthony Hamilton and Jin, kicks off July 27 in New York (see "Common, Bubba, Kenna On Inaugural You Hear It First Tour").
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.