Iowa City Music Scene Showcase – Day One

IOWA CITY MUSIC SCENE SHOWCASE (A LOT OF BANDS): 5/9/2014 @ Yacht Club & Gabe’s (Iowa City, IA)

Last Friday I decided to check out the first night (of two — I couldn’t make it for the second night) of an “Iowa City Music Scene Showcase” taking place at both Gabe’s and the Yacht Club.  My initial plan was to spend more time at the latter, since I haven’t yet written about any shows there.  I really like the atmosphere at the Yacht Club, as the performance area is in a dark but decent-sized basement with an appropriately-sized PA system (not overbearing).  Many times I prefer the smaller venues and basement shows to the bigger venues.  The Yacht Club also has a Galaga arcade machine (and some pinball machine) in the back.

The $7 cover allowed access at both venues, and I did get to see a lot of bands (although I didn’t stay out for the very last performances of the night), but the only group that really got my attention was an all-girl trio called Maiden Mars.  They have a throwback ’90s girl-band thing going for them.  The vocals and upbeat tempos are kinda Sleater-Kinney, but the guitar relies heavily on power chords (and occasional solos) that makes me think of other all-girl bands from the 90s.  Maiden Mars doesn’t sound like a “riot grrl” band (Babes in Toyland, L7, Bikini Kill, 7 Year Bitch, etc.).  They’re not as experimental as Helium.  Maybe they’re more like Frogpond (although I haven’t heard them in a very long time)?

Although the group has a cool thing going, I worry for them as they progress and setlists inevitably get longer because things may get too repetitive for the audience.  Friday’s performance clocked in at 25 minutes, which seemed just right.  I also should’ve paid more attention to see if the bassist’s technique needed a little adjustment (were some of the notes early on being played a bit short / muted?).  Overall, I’d recommend going to a Maiden Mars performance if you get a chance.

And now, the (eventual) complaint section: I did end up going back and forth between the Yacht Club and Gabe’s.  One of the groups I heard a bit of was The Feralings, who had the instrumentation of a bluegrass band (mandolin, banjo, acoustic guitar and upright bass), but the first part of their set seemed to indicate they play originals in a folk-country style, rather than playing traditional bluegrass (nothing wrong with that).  Also: This was the first time I had not been overpowered by the upstairs PA system at Gabe’s (kudos to the lady running sound there, and also for being a lady running sound for a venue in the first place — a very uncommon feat!).

Anyway, this bluegrass instrumentation-outfitted band took at least a half-hour to sound-check.  The instruments were individually miked and musicians’ sound monitors needed adjustment.  The guitarist (who seems to do the most picking of the bunch) took the longest amount of time, going as far as asking for EQ adjustments on the sounds coming through his monitor.  I completely understand the importance for musicians to hear what they need in their monitors in order to play together and sing in tune with each other, but previous bluegrass groups I’ve seen usually get a single microphone (for all instruments AND vocals) to huddle around, with great results for both the band and the audience.  Maybe the sound person should’ve required the one-mic setup (if she had the right type of mic to use and the building’s acoutiscs would cooperate), or maybe the band needs to be more open to getting closer to each other and playing acoustically instead of spreading out across a whole stage with more electronic dependence.  The Feralings were decent once they started playing, but the initial setup just seemed a bit much from my perspective.

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