Archive | April 2014

Taking the week off / Cloud Nothings tonight!

There didn’t seem to be a whole lot of rock shows going on this week, but there is one taking place tonight that I’d highly recommend: Cloud Nothings (with Protomartyr and John June Year — the latter is a band based out of Clinton, IA) at Gabe’s (19+, $12-$15, show starts at 8:30 PM).

I’ll unfortunately be out of town tonight, but I do enjoy Cloud Nothings’ music.  Their previous album, “Attack on Memory”, had sounds and energy reminiscent of Nirvana’s “In Utero” (probably as a result of Steve Albini producing both of them), and I like the tracks I’ve heard off their new release, “Here and Nowhere Else”.  Should be a good one tonight.

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KRUI at 30

KRUI’s 30th Anniversary Kickoff Concert

ZETA JUNE w/ Crystal City, Mitch Meyer, Jack Baker: 4/24/2014 @ Blue Moose Tap House (Iowa City, IA)

KRUI (89.7 FM) is the University of Iowa’s college radio station (click here to get an idea of the music they air).  I usually enjoy the station, so maybe my expectations going to a show associated with it were set unfairly high.  Before I get to the performances, I want to mention the sound at Blue Moose Tap House was excellent throughout the night.

First up was Jack Baker with an acoustic guitar, playing mostly in blues and funk styles.  His best performance was a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”.  A few songs relied heavily on the tonic-subdominant-dominant (different variations) blues chord structures.  Another song (about “Jolene”, I think…not the Dolly Parton tune) was based on finding a few chords that all sounded good with a shared “D” note (sorta like the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Name” or Dave Matthews’ “Crash”).  The Strokes cover with the different rhythm didn’t work for me, either.  I’m kinda curious about what the lyrics of his first song were…they sounded interesting.

Up next was Mitch Meyer with an electric guitar and, in my opinion, he was the highlight of the show.  Even so, I thought his overall set was hit-and-miss.  The second song he played was a pretty love ballad that was the best song I heard all night.  He followed this with a song he had just written the day before.  As you can imagine, it wasn’t quite polished, but it was also good (and the sound guy helped by adding some reverb to his voice…good call).

Both Mitch and Jack occasionally added accent beats to their respective sets by tapping the bodies of their guitars with their hands.  The effect worked well on Jack’s acoustic songs, but the style might not be as well suited for electric guitars, as the electrical pickups really made this loud on Mitch’s first song.

Another thing I’ve noticed at a few shows now are when solo performers play songs from other or past bands they’ve been in, and they get to a section of the song where they normally play a solo, presumably while the band’s other guitarist would cover the rhythm part.  This happened on Mitch’s last song, and I always think these things stick out as a strange thing when they happen.  If you’re going to solo, consider playing one or two of the important note(s) of each chord on the downbeat (or wherever the changes lie).  Or just skip the solo.

Okay, enough of my unsolicited advice: Mitch, I enjoyed your music!

The third group to perform was Crystal City, a band consisting of three men (guitar / lead vocals, bass, drums) and a woman (trumpet / tambourine / backing vocals).  The first song was a catchy pop tune, but I became less enthusiastic about their set the longer they played once I noticed the majority of their songs centered around the tonic to the subdominant (or vice versa).  Another song was basically the main riff and beat to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” except the last two chords were played on a lower interval (II to V instead of iii to vi).

Despite the repetition found in the majority of their set, I found their second to last song (a ballad) enjoyable as it had a lot more variety to it.  I didn’t catch the name of it, but I believe they said it had been recorded as a solo acoustic performance.  Next month, Crystal City will be playing at Gabe’s as part of a local band showcase, and they’ll later be releasing a new album.

The last band to play was Zeta June, and I believe they would fall under both the “jam band” and “white funk” labels.  I’m not really into this type of music, but I did stay for about four songs.  The first, third and fourth songs didn’t do much for me (the fourth sounded like a slowed-down version of Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” with a straightened out beat).  I have to admit they had a good groove going on their second song of the night, though.  And they took things to a higher level with some funk synthesizer work by one of the guitarists.  If these guys were willing to do it, I could see them moving in a more synth-based direction and successfully creating good electro-funk/pop music that all lots of hipsters are into to these days.  I just don’t think the band members’ hearts would be into it, though.

The event was a little lower turnout than I had expected: I think there were maybe 30-35 people in attendance at its peak.  A lot of factors could’ve contributed to this (rainy weather, it was a mid-week show, 7 PM is an early starting time, it was all-ages, etc.).  I also wonder if KRUI had a lot of input into what entertainment was booked tonight.  At any rate, I’m sure they’ll continue producing high quality radio broadcasts.  Keep on rockin’, KRUI.

No show review (yet), so here’s a preview

Last night I intended to check out a show at Gabe’s featuring Iowa City’s “Dana T.“, along with Des Moines acts Gloom Balloon and Christopher the Conquered.  Unfortunately, the show time listed online was incorrect, and I decided not to attend because I would’ve needed to stay out pretty late to catch it all.

The show was meant to be an “after party” for another show taking place earlier at the First United Methodist Church featuring John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats (with Iowa City – Fort Collins, CO, duet The Lonelyhearts opening).  Back in the ’90s, it was controversial in my home town’s only (Methodist) church when the pastor occasionally played something outside of the hymnal on an acoustic six-string for services.  Glad to see they’re more tolerant twenty years later!

So, looking ahead on the calendar: The University of Iowa’s college radio station, KRUI, is celebrating their 30th year of broadcasting over the airwaves.  The event takes place at the Blue Moose Tap House and features Zeta June, Crystal City, Mitch Meyer and Jack Baker.  Show starts at 7 PM, admission is $5.  If all goes well, I should eventually have a review to share.

KRUI is one of those rare college stations where the students still seem to be free to air what they want to air (within FCC regulations) during their time slots.  When the DJs are away, you get “The Lab”, which (from what I heard last summer when I’d occasionally drop in via TuneIn) gives you a very unique mix of music and pop culture: Do you like ’60s French pop, audio snippets from episodes of the original Star Trek TV series and the “very, very intense” music of Mark Gormley?  If so, you won’t be disappointed.

A Sapwood-Centric Post

Three weeks ago, I went to a show in which The Sapwoods served as the opener.  Before the performance, lead guitarist David Suchan handed me a copy of their 2012 CD, Electric Glow.  The rhythm section has changed since the album’s release, but the CD still seems to contain similar elements of their recent live performance.

Why review something over a year old?  Bands send promotional material out to lots of places: Radio stations, record stores, local media, record labels.  If you’re a musician, it makes your day to get a response (good, mixed or constructive) and know that someone actually cares about what you’ve created.  After a couple listens, I believe The Sapwoods’ Electric Glow deserves some belated recognition.

Overall, the sound quality of the CD is good and a lot of the tunes are at full volume.  At times, there are layers and layers of guitars (and the acoustic guitars in the background effectively complement the songs).

The ex-rhythm section of Tyler Johnson and Joe Paulsen are solid throughout.  The drums seem to have a little distortion on certain tracks of the album, but I assume that was on purpose.  Suchan’s guitar work is excellent.  Justin Swafford has a good voice and I think he sings about love on at least a few tracks (although I’m not great at picking out lyrics and I’m even worse with interpreting their meaning).

I enjoy the alt-country sound of “Chasing the Ghost” and the fine ballad “Vanish Like the Night”.  I think this CD would make good driving music, especially if you’re going through “DeKalb” on your way to Chicago.  “Golden Fool” is the most adventurous track (riff-rock).  Closing track “Will This Be the End?” starts off with a good riff, followed by a so-so chorus, and finishes strong.

As I said in my earlier review of their live performance from a few weeks ago, some portions of songs tend to get into simpler songwriting territory (the song “27” is a variation on twelve-bar blues, and other songs rely on tonic-subdominant-dominant structures), but there’s enough variety in other places to keep things interesting.  To make a long story short, the band plays good tunes, and Electric Glow would make a nice addition to your growing collection of Iowa music.

I see the band is performing at Uptown Bill’s Coffee House in Iowa City this Thursday (4/17/14) from 7:30-8:30 PM.  There’s a 30-minute open mic beforehand (short!), so who’s opening is anyone’s guess (will it be…YOU?).  I don’t see any mention of a cover charge or anything, either, so that’s a plus.  And you’ll get back home at a decent time.  And the coffee house probably has decent hot chocolate.

The Sapwoods’ Electric Glow on Bandcamp HERE.

Crests and troughs

If you’re an art lover of all forms, Iowa City was a great place to be last week.  The annual Mission Creek Festival had something for everybody.  Now that the dust has settled, things seem relatively quiet this week (it seems things will likewise be quiet in Ames this week).

Even so, I decided to brave an open mic night at The Mill last Monday.  I could’ve sworn I saw a poster with all scheduled performers for the event displayed near the building entrance.  It’s the most organized Open Mic event I’ve ever seen (kudos to J. Knight)!  I suppose the best original tune I heard for the time I stayed was Rick Vornbrock’s “Drunken By Your Love”.  He was getting a lot of use out of some pedal that allowed him to create vocal harmonies on top of his melody based on the chords he was playing, but he was having trouble triggering it because the pedal was too far away from him on his right side.  The pedal either needs to come closer to his foot or, if able, he should stand while playing (I find the pedals are easier to use when upright).

Next week is also looking a little slow, so I may finally get around to a CD I’m overdue in reviewing.  Can anyone confirm 1884 really was the last time Iowa City had a riot?

MIssion Creek Festival Goodness, Pt. I

LAURIE ANDERSON: 4/1/2014 @ Englert Theatre (Iowa City, IA)

I first became aware of Laurie Anderson at a young age, thanks to one of my uncles who captured an episode of the cable music video show “Night Flight” on a VHS tape.  I believe the theme for the episode was new wave bands (Devo, Talking Heads, B-52’s), but they also made room for broadcasting all eight and a half minutes of Anderson’s “O Superman”.  I mostly played that VHS tape over and over to watch the Devo and B-52’s videos, but I did end up seeing “O Superman” enough to work out a short a capella impression of the song for my own personal amusement.

Anderson was in town giving a presentation called “Some of My Projects”, allowing us a glimpse at some of her works in progress.  She’s not the most polished speaker, but this is true of a lot of creative people whose brains just don’t work the same way as others.  Even so, she’d still hold your attention because you knew the stories were going somewhere and would pay off in the end (usually with “Wow, I’ve never thought of ____ in that way.”).  She also revealed herself as having the “artist” mentality in thinking about her finished projects in the terms of “What could I have done better?”, rather than just being able to sit back and enjoy her cool artistic creations.

Those in attendance were fortunate to hear tales of her worldwide adventures as well as a few of her written stories, see some visual sketches and snippets of a video project.  Her pieces would often start out humorously and then unexpectedly take a sobering turn to more serious subject matter.  I found her presentation inspiring and, judging by the warm reception from the audience, I believe many others did as well.

Mission Creek Festival Goodness, Pt. II

WARPAINT w/ Alex Body, Annalibera: 4/1/2014 @ Gabe’s (Iowa City, IA)
Laurie Anderson’s presentation ran long (I think it ended around 9:15).  I quickly exited the Englert Theatre to head one block over to Gabe’s.  There was a line outside.  Were these last-minute ticket-buyers?  No, this was just the line to get in, tickets or no tickets.

Around 9:30, I entered the venue and made my way upstairs, just missing Des Moines group Annalibera’s set.  Oh well, maybe it was for the best.

In my late teens – early twenties (late ’90s – early “oughts”), I went to at least two shows at Gabe’s: One was for The Melvins, and the other was for J. Mascis & The Fog.  They were two of the loudest indoor shows I’ve ever been to.  I remember the room sound being extremely bass-heavy to the point where it would bury other frequencies and you could physically feel the frequencies in your gut.  Fifteen years later, I’m afraid to report the sound of the P.A. system and room hasn’t changed much.  It looked like the walls contained some sound-dampening panels, so I’m not sure if that’s been added since my last visit or not.

The sound issues, in my opinion, didn’t help the set for the next musician, Alex Body (from Iowa City).  It seemed like every other song was drowned out by the venue-emphasized low tones found in the programmed synth bass and drum parts.  I imagine fans of loud bass systems for vehicles would love coming to shows here, but it’s just not my thing.

Alex definitely has a great skill with creating collages of electronic sounds.  Of the songs I could hear, I found the arrangements and sounds interesting.  His overall song structure also featured more than one section, which qualifies his music as being more complex than The Helio Sequence.

As for stage presence, Alex’s show comes off more like karaoke performances (singing along with prerecorded accompaniment) than they are live performances, as only a small amount of buttons, keys or dials seemed to be adjusted through each song.  I wonder how much more exciting his set could be if he incorporated more live, hands-on music making by both himself and others to play the same music and get the crowd more interested in what’s being heard.

Warpaint (Los Angeles, CA) was the headlining group.  Most of their songs seemed to follow a formula: I get the impression the tunes are written with the bass and drums first to create a hook, while all the other stuff (guitar, vocals, keyboard) takes a secondary role.  A lot of their songs just looped the same hook for three minutes or more.  That’s not a completely bad thing if you’re looking for a night of groove-driven pop music.

The rhythm section was pretty solid all night, but I was too far away to really see what all was going on (in addition to a large crowd, there was a fog machine obscuring some of the view).  It sounded like there were some prerecorded or electronic-enhanced drum beats complementing the live drums, and I think there was a guy with electronic stuff hidden away on one side of the stage, so maybe he was the source.

I don’t really know the group’s songs, but I had previously heard “Undertow” and enjoyed their live performance of the song.  It reminds me of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” in that, at it’s core, the song is only two chords (okay, there’s a switch to a third chord occasionally for “Undertow”), but they use so enough variations in the arrangement to keep it interesting.

Some in the crowd wanted an encore, and the band obliged.  It was past my bedtime, however, so I called it a night.