Archive | July 2014

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.



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.


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.

Preview: A few show options for next week

After looking at the Iowa City venues’ calendars for next week, it looks like there are a few shows worth mentioning:

– THE SLEEPWALKERS, Twins (Yacht Club, Thursday 7/10, $5, 19+).  Two power-pop bands take the stage.  Judging from the online tunes I tracked down tonight, one is more influenced by ’70s power-pop like Badfinger and Thin Lizzy, while the other takes their cues from later ’80s power-pop music like The Replacements.  If you like any of those bands, you’ll probably enjoy this show.

– WEEDEATER, aseethe, In the Mouth of Radness, O’enos (Blue Moose, Thursday 7/10, $10, 19+).  If you’re into more hardcore music, this is the show for you. You may hear some drop-D (or possibly even drop-C) tunage, vocal grunting, dramatic pauses, sudden time changes, etc.

– SAPWOODS, Midwest, The Ashe Brothers (The Mill, Friday 7/11, $8, 19+).  The Sapwoods headline a show next Friday.  I’m not sure who / what “Midwest” is (very difficult to find them via internet search).  The Ashe Brothers play a mix of folk, jam and psychedelia.

Of the three, I’ll probably attend (and eventually write about) the show at the Yacht Club.  I haven’t seen Twins perform yet (although I had seen Teddy Boys — one of their earlier incarnations — perform at least once), The Sleepwalkers should be fun, the basement atmosphere of the Yacht Club is appealing, the show shouldn’t go on too long (just two bands) and the price is right.

I was initially excited about the Weedeater show, but I discovered they’re a band from North Carolina and not the sludge/rap band from Storm Lake, regrouping to play “Slacker” again (too bad).  I’d hang out at The Sapwoods show but I’ll be out of town that night.

REVIEW: The Sapwoods – Peaks and Valleys

Peaks and Valleys
Independent release, 2014

I’m late in getting a review out for The Sapwoods’ new album, Peaks and Valleys.  I’ve listened to it more than a few times since their CD release show earlier this month.

The band’s previous album (Electric Glow, 2012), featured a different rhythm section.  I’ve seen the group perform four times this year and I immediately noticed the slower tempos found on some of the CD tracks when compared to their faster live performances.  I imagine this may be partly due to a new, young rhythm section experiencing their first encounters with recording sessions, and gradually gaining more experience and confidence as they go along.  There seem to be a few small rhythm mistakes in the early tracks, and possibly a loose snare on some tracks, but the new members play well overall.  Derrick Cook is a high-energy drummer who’s a lot of fun to watch at the live shows, and the CD fortunately features a lot of his great fills.  Brian Speer keeps things pretty simple on the bass…for now.  Miranda Peyton is the band’s new secret weapon, adding her backing vocals as well as some fitting keyboard tones.

Original members Justin Swafford (lead vocals, guitar, songwriter) and David Suchan (lead guitar) both make great guitar sounds throughout the album, and Justin’s singing is strong and enjoyable.  The group’s Bandcamp site includes the lyrics to all tracks, which is helpful to people like me who are terrible at deciphering lyrics.

The CD starts out with “Relax, Be Real, Be Yourself”, which is an energetic, catchy rocker.  “Let Go” has a fun House of Large Sizes riff-rock thing going on.  The closing track, “Steady on the Breaks”, has some great guitar sounds at the end (the song grew on me).

Album highlights “Serve You Right” and “The Offer” provide different extremes of alt-country (the band once again does this genre very well).  Another standout track, “Perdition”, is The Sapwoods’ version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”…it’s a beautiful soundscape while it lasts.  I also enjoy the dirty rock riffs found in the second-to-last track, “Same Old Reeling”.

Even the songs that didn’t win me over have some enjoyable elements (Peyton’s keyboards in “Drifters”, the dual guitar solo in “Two Wounded Soldiers” and Suchan’s countrified lead guitar work in “Back to You”).  There’s a good amount of diversity within the album to keep you listening.

I encourage you to check out Peaks and Valleys (here!) and go hear The Sapwoods live when they come to play in your town.