city-ewww…

Is a music writer for Des Moines-based rag cityview an objective journalist or a tool for the establishment?

NOTE: The following article is NOT about Iowa City’s music scene. It pertains to the Des Moines music (and art in general) scene. I would’ve had it published on a more appropriate site, but: 1) The content below is most likely too controversial for any Des Moines music blogger to feel comfortable hosting, 2) At this time I have no plans to write additional articles about the Des Moines scene that would justify creation of an entirely new blog site, and 3) It may still interest readers in Eastern Iowa to get a glimpse of something happening over here in Central Iowa.

About a week ago, one of my friends shared a link to what he described as a “hit piece” that appeared in the November 12, 2014, issue of Des Moines zine cityview. The article, titled “Social Status”, may have been intended as a provocative exposé about the Des Moines Social Club organization. Instead, writer Chad Taylor takes quotes out of context and distorts information, contradicting his self-certified “objective examination” of the subject matter.

When politicians use the word “robust”, it’s often for the purpose of describing things that are, in reality, shoddy (or, in some cases, completely nonfunctional). And when you read the word “objective” in one of Taylor’s articles, it likewise seems to serve as a warning for ulterior motives ahead. I suspect many of our modern buzzwords are uttered so frequently because professors and mentors nationwide are encouraging their pupils to use them for the following reason: If you’re going to outright lie to your audience, it’s better to first identify yourself as a professionally-trained liar.

Recently I’ve been thinking about the Iowa Smokefree Air Act, a state law that outlawed smoking in most private businesses starting in July of 2008. One of the supporters of the smoking ban was Amadeo Rossi, co-owner of Des Moines bars The Lift and Vaudeville Mews. Rossi made trips to the statehouse in 2007 and 2008 and actively lobbied in favor of the bill’s passage. When addressing legislators, he generally spoke about health and safety concerns linked to second-hand smoke. Later in 2008, after the law had been passed, Rossi was quoted sharing a perceived personal benefit of the law about to take effect: “I feel I have a competitive advantage on a level playing field.”

My interpretation of Rossi’s above statement is: 1) Prior to the statewide smoking ban, both the Vaudeville Mews and The Lift took in comparatively less revenue than other nearby bars because they were less attractive destinations for smokers, and 2) Rather than change their own smoke-free policy, Rossi thought it was acceptable to use government as a means to force the other bars into being smoke-free, because it would help his businesses (possibly at the expense of his competitors).

So what does this history lesson from six years ago have to do with the 2014 article about the Des Moines Social Club? Like Rossi, Taylor seems concerned with the idea of maintaining a level playing field for preexisting Des Moines bars.

For the second half of the article, Taylor is most fixated on the subject of how the nonprofit Des Moines Social Club is running its own in-house venue with liquor sales. He quotes someone who suggests the practice could result in “civil suits” and “criminal charges” for those responsible. The friend of mine who forwarded the link wanted to know, in general, “What’s Taylor’s angle?” From what I see, his main goal is to deliver a message on behalf of the long-standing established local music racket scene warning the outsiders (Mannheimer’s originally from New York?!?) of how there could be…problems…if the two sides suddenly find themselves in direct competition for the same group of patrons.

Next to the article, cityview published corresponding inserts showing the names of the top donors (the online version contains a link to see all reported donors) as well as a vow to publish the salaries of the organization’s staff (it remains to be seen if cityview will do this for all nonprofits in the Des Moines Metro, or only the ones they dislike). These actions seem to be nothing more than attempts to intimidate both current and would-be supporters of the Des Moines Social Club – and, by extension, anyone else who would dare to challenge the Empire.

Taylor also used a large portion of his article towards bringing the leadership of Des Moines Social Club’s Executive Director Zachary Mannheimer into question. The organization’s decision to loan money to Mannheimer in order for him to pay off his debts is undeniably newsworthy, but the twisting of words to make him appear worse than the raw information suggests is just plain unprofessional (yet, sadly, not uncommon for the writer). And that part about how we should be outraged our tax dollars are going to the organization by way of grants also misses the mark: If the money wasn’t received by the Des Moines Social Club, it would still be available to other organizations for similar purposes. When a liberal pretends to be a fiscal conservative, the results are sometimes clumsy.

It would be rude of me to not mention that Joe Lawler (writer for The Minaret) and Taylor co-host a weekly half-hour radio show on Des Moines FM radio station KFMG, where a certain beneficiary from the Iowa Smokefree Air Act’s passage just so happens to be on the Board of Directors.

Someone else I spoke with about the overall subject matter remarked, “I hope cityview doesn’t go after all those liquor-serving nonprofit American Legion Halls next.” Me too.

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Bye Bye!

About seven months ago I began working in the Iowa City area, which kept me here a few nights a week and allowed me to check out some of the local bands and venues.  Next week I start a new job that will take me away from Iowa City, essentially bringing the IC Noise music blog to a close.

Here are my closing thoughts on the Iowa City music scene: There are fewer active local indie rock bands than I imagined when I first arrived here.  The most common genre of music played by local groups seems to be of the “jam band” variety.  There are some nice venues here and the occasional open calendar dates lead me to believe local and outside bands could easily find gigs here.

Here are some final IC Noise statistics:

First post: March 29, 2014

Last post: October 12, 2014

Shows reviewed: 12

Albums reviewed: 2

Posthumous Rank Is: Garbage Scow Captain, Class 3

Thanks for reading!

Build Your Own Scene

I recently got into a discussion with someone regarding issues with music venues (for the record, I didn’t start it!). One of the first things I thought of was the music scene in Ames at the turn of the century.

One of my brothers-in-law had the idea to produce a TV show for Iowa State University’s television station featuring several local bands of the time. He would occasionally fill me in on news about the scene, including how many members were now in Poison Control Center and how I should check out a cool new band called Frankenixon. He (and others) also mentioned the lack of good venues in Ames.

A year or so later, the pianist / lead singer of Frankenixon, and her then-husband, accidentally created the greatest music venue in town and did their part to somewhat alleviate the problem with the lack of decent venues for local bands. The place eventually became known as “The Practice Space”. A great article has already been written about it, so I don’t have to do it all over again (click HERE).

Now, back to my recent discussion here in 2014: I was contemplating whether similar types of spaces would go over well in Iowa City and elsewhere. Here’s the formula that seemed to lead to the creation and success of The Practice Space, and how it compares to present-day Iowa City:

1. Is there a music-supporting couple with no kids who live in a loft apartment in a business district where they can get away with loud music at night during non-business hours and not have the cops called on them by people who share walls with the space? And are they okay with having strangers in their place using their bathroom, being around all of their personal belongings and potentially doing illegal things just outside the space? And would the couple pass the profit to the bands to make it worthwhile for them? As you can see, there were a lot of factors in play with the situation. And it takes a rare type of person to agree to put up with all of these things…but there are a few crazy people willing to facilitate such an atmosphere!

2. Would people come to the shows? Judging from Iowa City-area residents’ past showing of support of live music events (some even attend mid-week shows here), I’d say this is a yes.

3. Would enough local bands be interested in playing at the space? I’m not sure. Judging by the established venues’ events calendars, it seems like there are occasional dates with nothing going on. There are also days filled with other activities like comedy / improv, open DJ-ing and jam sessions, karaoke, dance parties, etc. The impression I get is there may be a lower number of active bands in Iowa City these days, compared to ten years ago. On the other hand, maybe the venues aren’t trying to book live bands every night (for more variety, maximizing profits, etc.) or the bands aren’t crazy about playing at the established venues for a variety of reasons (low or no financial return for their services, communication issues with booking, etc.). An alternative space could generate some interest in bands who may have given up on the current venues.

4. Would bands from out of town come to perform? Decent bands and musicians from all over the place were willing to come to Ames (a place known for its collegiate agricultural and engineering programs, and not for liberal arts). There should be no problem getting out-of-town bands to play here.

I’m not convinced a space like The Practice Space would be a great idea for Iowa City, but I could see it going well in other nearby cities (Cedar Rapids???) where there seem to be fewer venues.

Battling Tops

BATTLE OF THE BANDS (Preliminary Round #4) featuring FLASH IN A PAN, SOUL PHLEGM, DEF-KITTIE BLINDOGG, SAPWOODS: 9/25/2014 @ Iowa City Yacht Club (Iowa City, IA)

The Yacht Club held their final preliminary round of a “Battle of the Bands” contest.

Flash in a Pan: They’re a quartet with bluegrass instrumentation (fiddle, banjo, upright bass and acoustic guitar), but they typically don’t play in a traditional bluegrass style. In addition to some original tunes, they managed to cover The Strokes, Modest Mouse, Wu-Tang Clan and the Russian folk song “Korobeiniki“.

Overall I found the group entertaining. They had good group musicianship and used some intelligent arrangements, but they did occasionally struggle with little details, such as how to end a song together.

Soul Phlegm: I’d categorize them in the blues/jam genres, although one song had an R&B-type groove going for it. The music reminded me a bit of Blues Traveler (the singer also plays some harmonica).

Soul Phlegm won their preliminary round and will play in the finals on October 25th, so I’ll hold off from stating any opinions on the group at this time (don’t want to sway you, next month’s potential judges, one way or the other!). I will say this, however: The lyrics in one song sounded like, “Payin’ to the grave / Rubbin’ them rubbin’ them cinemas”. I’m pretty sure these weren’t the actual words but, if they are, then I have no idea what they mean. The group mentioned they’re planning to release an EP at the end of the year.

Def-Kittie BlinDogg: A rock quartet (two guitars, bass and drums). I enjoyed this group overall. They mostly played original rock songs (and a ballad called “Unclogging Sinks”), and the group seemed to be having a good time doing their thing. The guitarists’ vocals blend well together. The bassist switched styles well, from traditional rock to happy bass lines to a good groove to accompany the best rap performance of the night (courtesy of the lead guitarist).

Sapwoods: Although the group took the stage at 12:30 AM, a crowd did stick around to hear them. Both guitars could be heard in the mix, which is always a good thing. The group recently parted ways with their drummer, which noticeably changed the sound and style of some tunes (“Perdition” was a little on the fast side, but “Serve You Right” was played in a mature style that matched the studio recording). The highlight of the set (and, in my opinion, the entire night), though, was “Vanish Like the Night”. Even though the band didn’t win the first round of the contest, I think singer Justin Swafford would’ve won a contest for “best hat”.

So there you have it! As I wrote earlier, the final Battle of the Bands show takes place on Saturday, October 25th (again at the Yacht Club with a $5 cover, 19+). In addition to Soul Phlegm, you can catch performances by Velcro Moxie, Flannel Season, B-Star and Surrounded by Giants.

Shows I May Check Out – September & October

The main focus of this blog is to cover mid-week live music events in the Iowa City area — or that’s supposed to be the focus, anyway.  Some things have kept me from going to shows lately, but I thought making a list of notable mid-week shows over the next couple months may inspire me to get out more (and maybe others will find a few of the picks appealing enough to check out for themselves).  So here it goes:

(All shows are 19+ unless otherwise noted)

BATTLE OF THE BANDS (all Thursdays in September) – Yacht Club, 8 PM ($5).  Features lots of Iowa City-based bands.  Finals is on Saturday, Oct. 11.

Tues. 9/16: BLACK LIPS w/ The King Khan & BBQ Show, Younger – Blue Moose, 9 PM ($15).

Wed. 9/17: SHONEN KNIFE w/ Habibi – The Mill, 9 PM ($12 adv / $14 day of show)

Tues. 9/23: TWIN PEAKS w/ Ne-Hi – Blue Moose, 7 PM ($10/$12 *ALL AGES*)

Tues. 9/23: HEAVY GLOW w/ The Sapwoods, Milk Duct Tape – Gabe’s, 9 PM (Free)

Wed. 9/24: MODERN KIN – Gabe’s, 9 PM (Free)

Mon. 10/13: SHARON VAN ETTEN w/ Tiny Ruins – Gabe’s, 8 PM ($15, people under 19 can attend after 10 PM only if accompanied by an adult, according to the site…)

Thurs. 10/30: REIGNING SOUND w/ Alexis Stevens – The Mill, 9 PM ($14/$16).

Obligatory Apology Post

Yes, I’m still here. No, I haven’t been to any shows in or near Iowa City lately. Yes, I’ve been busy with both good and bad things. No, I won’t go into detail here. Yes, the U of I students are back so more shows will be happening at the bars. No, I’m not familiar with electronic group Cosby Sweater

Daylight

SAPWOODS: 7/31/2014 @ S.T. Morrison Park (Coralville, IA)

On Thursdays during the summer months, you can find a farmers’ market and free live music at S.T. Morrison Park in Coralville.  The City of Coralville’s Parks and Recreation Department organizes a diverse summer music series (more info here).

Last Thursday’s featured band was — you guessed it — The Sapwoods!  Here’s a summary:

1. It was another beautiful summer night.  You should’ve been here…

2. The Sapwoods can play outdoor festivals.  They performed from 6:30-8 PM, with few stops in between songs.  There was no shortage of original material — only one cover song was featured in the set.  They kept the crowd interested throughout, even with the Sun out the whole time AND no alcohol sales (to my knowledge).

3. What was the cover song?  The Beatles’ “Oh! Darling“.  Although the performance was a little unpolished, I believe it marked the first time the group featured keyboardist Miranda Peyton as the lead vocalist (she also played guitar for the song).  Peyton has a nice voice and the lineup switch adds even more variety and future possibilities for the band.

And what was the overall reaction from concert-goers?  People had positive things to say about Justin Swafford’s singing and songwriting, as well as some criticism for the mix that kept David Suchan’s lead guitar (and, eventually, Peyton’s keyboard) too low.  I also interviewed the two toughest-looking dudes in the park (one was sporting a Mohawk) to get their take on the group and they, too, enjoyed the sounds.

So there you have it.  If any towns in Iowa are looking for a change of pace from the traditional rock or country cover band to play at your stage, bandshell, food-based festival, etc., The Sapwoods should be a consideration.

Chorus Looper Bow

FURIA w/ Black Bull Nova, “Hand-Me-Down Silicone”: 7/24/2014 @ The Mill (Iowa City, IA)

I hadn’t been to The Mill in a while, and it was nice to find myself back there again. The show was billed as having two bands, but a third band also performed (more on that later).

The first group to play was Black Bull Nova. Some of the early songs in the set used chorus effects in the guitar and bass, giving them an ’80s vibe. The singer also uses a little vibrato in his vocals, so these things combined made me think of The Smiths at first. Some of the songs towards the end featured B-minor chords, for some reason, and had more of a Latin rhythm. One of the songs was basically a slower version of “Lay Lady Lay”. The group is capable of good songwriting and creating nice soundscapes, but only about half of the songs really caught my attention (I thought the first half of the set was stronger than the second). Overall, I’d say they’re a decent band and I’d be excited to hear more of their stuff in the future.

The Mill had a big crowd on Thursday, and I suspect it had a lot to do with a trio that played second (they jokingly used the name “Hand-Me-Down Silicone” for their set). I don’t know if this was a new band, or just some past IC residents back in town and performing for old time’s sake. Their set started with just an electric cellist using a looper pedal. A second member (a guitarist) came to the stage for the next looping experiment, but the rhythm seemed to be off (this isn’t the first time I’ve heard things go awry with looper pedal performances). Then they added a third member and the rest of the set turned more folkie. There were a few mistakes here and there (again, I think this is either a new group or some people who were back in town and didn’t get a lot of time to rehearse, so some issues were to be expected), but there were some enjoyable moments.

The headliner was Furia, a band from Northfield, MN (40 miles South of the Twin Cities). I found this group to be really enjoyable. Most songs featured an acoustic guitar, a mandolin (bowed or picked) and a Hammond organ…believe it or not, it works! The mandolin player would sometimes switch to another acoustic guitar or a banjo. In addition to the creative instrumentation, the arrangements were well thought out and kept your attention. The singer / guitarist has a pleasant alto voice that also benefits the group. I stayed for seven songs of theirs before heading out (it was getting late), but I really would’ve liked to have stayed for their whole set. I highly recommend checking out Furia if they come back this way.

Illi-Ugh

Last night I headed over to Gabe’s to hear a folk-pop trio from Sioux City called Illium.  The band was a no-show, which is too bad because they would’ve had a bit of a crowd to play for (people were hanging out, even with some last-minute improvised acoustic music filling in for their absence).

Tomorrow night I may go check out a show at The Mill featuring Furia (from Northfield, MN), with Cedar Rapids band Bull Black Nova opening.  Music starts at 9 PM, $8 cover, 19+.  Those who want to get more bang for their buck may instead head to the Blue Moose, where you can hear five acts for $10.

Quadruplets

SLEEPWALKERS w/ Twins, Good Habits, Younger7/10/2014 @ Yacht Club (Iowa City, IA)

The show was originally advertised by the venue as starting at 10 PM and having just two bands perform (Sleepwalkers as headliner, Twins as opener), but the bill somehow doubled to include the bands Younger and Good Habits (while staying at the low cover of $5…way to go, Yacht Club!).  I was running a little late, as I took the Dubuque St exit, only to find the road was underwater with no alternate routes from there to get downtown, so I had to double back on the interstate to find another way there).  I believe Twins (from Waterloo, not from Germany) began their set right as I took the stairs down to the Yacht Club basement (about 10:20 PM), so I missed the entire performance by Younger.

After hearing Twins perform live, I’d say their sound is more reminiscent of Rockpile (Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe) than Thin Lizzy or Badfinger, but I wasn’t too far off.  Twins plays some enjoyable throwback ’70s power pop and they had the crowd dancing.  They’re a straightforward guitar-based band that I’d definitely be interested in hearing again.  The set was short (eight songs total) and a few people asked for an encore…I didn’t disagree with that sentiment.

Sleepwalkers (from Milwaukee) played third.  These guys play guitar rock, but I couldn’t pinpoint what their sound was reminiscent of (I’d still guess late-period Replacements).  I found their songwriting to be a little too formulaic: There was an over-reliance on the tonic, subdominant and dominants for verses and choruses to songs, as well as the falling subdominant suspension (4-3) to the supertonic (2), but they did at least intersperse with some other chords to disguise the basic formulas underneath.  Overall, they’re a good-sounding, well-rehearsed indie bar band (they also had some good banter between songs), but I don’t think any of their tunes will stick in your head the next day.  There just wasn’t a lot of variety in the set.

I hadn’t heard of Good Habits (Iowa City) before.  The trio seems to be a garage-punk hybrid.  The first few songs didn’t win me over, but they did eventually crank out some older-style punk tunes that got my attention.  Their fourth song was a bouncy type of punk music and the catchiest thing of the night (of what I heard).  One of the songs towards the end of the set had a chorus with the same chords as “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”, which I thought was fitting.  I heard elements of Black Flag, Mudhoney and Cloud Nothings.  The drummer played some good fills.  Hopefully the guitarist’s amp issues aren’t serious.  One bit of advice: The bassist may want to stay on the mic when doing backing vocals instead of gradually drifting away before the end of each line.