I haven't even arrived in Des Moines yet and it seems like all my posts are about Vaudeville Mews. This music venue opened in December 2002 and has put the city on the map as a place for new bands and old eccentrics to play while making their way across the Midwest. Smoke-free before that was the law, with a capacity about on par with an intimate venue like Chicago's Schubas, the Mews has played host to pre-fame Fall Out Boy and just the other night brought the wonderful Jonathan Richman to Des Moines. Joanna Newsom, Bonnie Prince Billy, Jens Lekman, and plenty of other bands worth seeing have also passed through its doors. I already spoke with the guy who books the Vaud's shows, Ladd Askland, and the guy who does the sound, Patrick Fleming-- now managing partner Amedeo Rossi, who also organizes the 80/35 Festival, was kind enough to talk with me via e-mail. An edited transcript of our conversation is below.

[One quick side note: Vaudeville Mews is hosting an event July 2 that I somehow overlooked in putting together my summer music preview: An 80/35 pre-party featuring local spazz-popsters the Poison Control Center with Pavement's Bob Nastanovich (!!). Mrs. Des Noise, can we please go?]

1. How has downtown Des Moines changed since you opened the Vaudeville Mews?

AR: Des Moines has a base of risk management in its blood. We are a center of insurance and banking. In the last few years the arts and youth culture have come more to the forefront. Having a good indie club helps. Other clubs have located in the downtown area as well. The advent of online social media levels the playing field in the spread of info. I believe it's been a time of growth.

2. A lot of memorable performers have come through here.. Which shows have been your favorites and why?

AR: My personal favorite is the Pernice Brothers. They are a gem of a poppy band I could relate to. Someone like Devendra Banhart, with his shirtless/shoeless Christ-esque presence made an impression.

3. What's it like putting together a second annual 80/35 festival as opposed to the first one?

AR: It's been hard to deal with the fallout of the economic collapse. A year ago we were a big idea. Now we are a reality and many think highly of the festival so from that perspective it's easier to get people/sponsors involved. Doing it for the first time is always hardest, but it’s a big undertaking.

4. What are the biggest challenges facing you as the manager and co-owner of a music venue in Des Moines?

AR: Paying the bills. It's an up and down business. Live by the show, die by the show. When it's right, it's great. When it's bad, it's horrible. We stay pretty pure and only open for shows.

5. Where do you see the Des Moines music community going from here-- what's next?

AR: More national acts wanting to stop here and more local acts trying to hit the road with the fan base growing.



OK, so I realize it has already felt like summer in Des Moines for a little while now, but there are still a few days until the official first day of the season, so technically this post isn't ridiculously overdue. Technically.

Mrs. Des Noise and I arrive in town June 29. I imagine we will have a lot of unpacking to do. I don't know when the first show is that we'll be able to check out, and I'm sure there are local artists (including recs from the Poison Control Center's Patrick Fleming and Vaudeville Mews booker Ladd Askland) who I will end up seeing but haven't had time to visit on MySpace yet. But in the meantime, here's an extreeeeemely provisional round-up of shows that I'll be trying to check out around town this summer.

One example of what I'm hoping to do here: Jonathan Richman played in town the other night. Not everybody would love him, but anybody could-- he's a warm, giving, funny entertainer, not some kind of "difficult" listen, and he has a big catalogue of great songs. If you didn't already know that, though, there doesn't seem to be a publication yet in town to tell you. The Register's writeup just says, "Modern Lovers frontman, perhaps best known for his role in 'There's Something About Mary'"-- not exactly a ringing endorsement, especially if you've never heard of the Modern Lovers (in which case, please check out their first album right now-- it's one of my favorites of all time). I'm basically hoping to help identify deserving performers like that and let people know about fun shows to see that might have otherwise slipped under their radar.

Such as, ahem: Josh Ritter on July 8, and Japandroids on July 20.

So, without further ado... and all that good stuff...


Thursday, July 2-- Toots and the Maytals @ People's Court
I've never seen Toots and the Maytals. They're legendary in ska/reggae circles, with a couple of tracks on the influential soundtrack to 1972 Jimmy Cliff film The Harder They Come. Barring family responsibilities or other move-in related happenings, I'm so there. No idea how good they'll still be, but it's gotta be interesting. Check out: "Pressure Drop"

Friday, July 3-Saturday, July 4-- 80/35 Festival
You probably know all about 80/35, so I'll just list a few of my favorites. You may not even need me to type these next paragraphs:
July 3, Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Main Stage
7:30 PM – Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks -- The former lead singer for Pavement is one of my music heroes. I will not miss this. For an example of Malkmus's wry, slightly offbeat wisdom, here he is performing Pavement's "We Dance" at the 2007 Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago.

9:30 PM – Public Enemy -- With a screeching, urban sound and politics just as hard to ignore, Public Enemy's impact on hip-hop upon arrival in the 1980s can hardly be overstated. I caught them at Pitchfork last year, but I didn't have a really good view. Let's see if clock-wearing emcee Flavor Flav mentions his VH1 reality show again-- he received boos for it when I saw them. Here's "Rebel Without a Pause" from the 2008 p4k festival.

July 4, Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Main Stage
3:15 PM – Man Man -- I'm told I will probably start the day in Urbandale for a parade and beer, so I have no idea if I'll be at the festival by 3:15 p.m. But if I am, I will definitely see these crazy gypsy carnie boho-hobos. Here's something I wrote about them once; here they are acting weird with their song "Hurly Burly" in the background (sorry, not trying to shill for p4k-- these are just the links I know!)

7:00 PM – Broken Social Scene -- Confession: I don't love these dudes the way some of my friends do. But I do love Feist, who was associated with this free-flowing Canadian collective. And Broken Social Scene-ster Dave Newfeld produced the first album by Los Campesinos!, last year's fantastic Hold On Now, Youngster!. All of which will probably be more than enough to have me watching their set. Here's "Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl", from my favorite BSS album, 2002's You Forgot It in People.

Meredith West Stage
5:15 PM – Cymbals Eat Guitars -- Another band I don't love the way my friends do, but still feel like I might come to like. These New Yorkers recently self-released their debut album, Why There Are Mountains, and it draws on a bunch of classic 1990s indie-rock reference points. I'm still not convinced they have the songs that bands like Built to Spill or Modest Mouse had, but I'll gladly check out their live show. Check out: "Wind Phoenix".

So, that's 80/35. I'm sure I'll see some other stuff and write about it here.

Wednesday, July 8 -- The Veronicas @ People's Court
Slick, catchy Australian electro-pop with mall-punk energy-- um, think Avril Lavigne. Color me curious. Especially after this single. But I'll be at the next event instead...

** Wednesday, July 8 -- Josh Ritter @ Vaudeville Mews
Josh Ritter is a folk-tinged, occasionally rockin' singer, guitarist, and songwriter from Moscow, Idaho. He has steadily expanded his songwriting range-- from the rootsy Americana of "Harrisburg" and "The Other Side" to the war-weary allusiveness of "Thin Blue Flame" and "Temptation of Adam"-- and his sound, too... the last time I saw him he was at Central Park with the New York Pops, but I've seen him probably about a half a dozen times since 2002 or so. One of my favorites. Here's something I wrote about him once; here's one of his many, many great songs, "Lillian, Egypt".

Thursday, July 9-- Boys Like Girls @ People's Court
I'm pretty sure I don't really like these guys. Only one way to find out...

Friday, July 10-- Gov't Mule @ Simon Estes Riverfront Amphitheatre
Allman Brothers offshoot rambles on. I might not go to this. But then again, I've never seen 'em, and I like guitars, so.

Thursday, July 16-- American Idol winner David Cook @ Simon Estes Riverfront Amphitheatre
Bigger confession than the one about Broken Social Scene: I have never watched an entire episode of American Idol. So I should definitely write about this.

Thursday, July 16-- Patrick Fleming @ Des Moines Social Club
...Unless I go to this. I probably won't be at 80/35 in time to see the Poison Control Center at noon on July 4 due to family obligations, but tonight their lead singer will be playing solo.

** Monday, July 20-- Japandroids @ Vaudeville Mews
These Canadians have what might be my favorite album of the year so far. When they play Vaudeville Mews, I will have already seen them the previous weekend at the p4k festival. I will go see them again, probably screaming my lungs out along with their scrappy two-man punk songs about girls and growing up. Here's what I already wrote about my favorite song by them. Here's the song, "Young Hearts Spark Fire".

Tuesday, July 21-- Gomez @ People's Court
Never been a huge fan of these anthemic Brits, and I'll probably be too exhausted to go. But I do know of people who like 'em.

Tuesday, July 21-- Steve Earle @ Hoyt Sherman
I would, on the other hand, gladly go see this alt-country legend. He's currently touring behind Townes, an album of Townes Van Zandt covers.

Wednesday, July 22-- Gogol Bordello @ People's Court
If you like Man Man at 80/35, you may want to check out this band led by Ukrainian-born Eugene Hutz. I think Man Man are better, but these dudes will still probably be interesting to check out. Madonna thought so.

Sunday, August 9-- Patrick Fleming @ Ames Progressive Space
Another chance to see Poison Control Center's lead singer play solo.

Friday, August 14-- Gary Allan @ Iowa State Fair
Hey, this is one of the new country guys I kind of like.

Saturday, August 15-- Peter Frampton and Gin Blossoms @ Iowa State Fair
Um, it's an option. I was just ranting rudely at a good friend about how I like Gin Blossoms better than R.E.M. I don't think that was actually true, but I do think they got a bad rap from the critics.

Sunday, August 16-- Big & Rich @ Iowa State Fair
I feel like my buddy Tom in Chicago would want me to go to this one.

Friday, August 21-- Brooks & Dunn and Jamey Johnson @ Iowa State Fair
Oh, hell yeah. I went to high school with Dunn's daughter (for a year-- it was in Nashville, of course). And I like Jamey Johnson, even if I don't think he's as good as other rock critics dabbling in country might say he is.

Saturday, August 22-- Kelly Clarkson @ Iowa State Fair
I think I'm the only human being who wasn't impressed by "Since U Been Gone". (I'd rather listen to that Strokes-Christina Aguilera mash-up, Freelance Hellraiser's "A Stroke of Genius", thanks.) But I will totally try to check this out, if only to do my duty as a music journalist.

Sunday, August 23-- Journey with Heart @ Iowa State Fair
This will probably be my day of rest. Sorry. "Don't Stop Believing" isn't even that great! (Mrs. Des Noise, like the rest of America, disagrees.)

Friday, Sept. 11-- Britney Spears @ Wells Fargo Arena
This is the way I always pay tribute to the victims of September 11.

Saturday, Sept. 26-- The Airborne Toxic Event @ People's Court
When I read the Don Delillo book from which this band got their name, I thought it was overrated, the sort of thing a celebrity might say is great just to feel smart-- the postmodern Old Man and the Sea. OK, I was still just a freshman in college. There's a very good chance I was wrong.

Other picks (I'll probably attend some of these):
Patrick Fleming: Casper and the Cookies Aug. 6 at the Vaudeville Mews, David Dondero July 31 at Ames Progressive Space, and Alexis Gideon in September

Ladd Askland: Soy Un Caballo on June 21, Francis Harold and the Holograms on July 7, Josh Ritter on July 8, Poppets on July 14, Japandroids on July 20, Those Darlins on July 22, Theodore on July 30, Casper and the Cookies on August 6, Red Pony Clock on Aug 21, and It's True on August 28.

OK, I know I'm missing a lot. So what is it?



Ask anyone about the current Des Moines music scene, and the first band name that seems to come up is the Poison Control Center. Originally from Ames, the foursome followed a handful of releases for their own Bi-Fi Records with debut LP A Collage of Impressions on Minneapolis-based Afternoon Records in 2007. Now, I'm not necessarily the type to discriminate by genre-- as you'll probably see, I'm just as likely to fall for a Top 40 hit or electronic dance track as a potential Gummy Award winner-- but I gotta say it's exciting to hear a band making such lovingly skewed, Elephant 6-style indie pop in my soon-to-be home city.

Singer/guitarist Patrick Tapes Fleming shares my affection for Welsh weirdos the Super Furry Animals, among other things, and he also does sound at Vaudeville Mews. Our edited e-mail conversation is below. (I repeated a few of the same questions I already asked Ladd Askland, 'cause I still have a lot to learn before I actually know what I'm talking about here. I'll catch up fast, I swear!)
1. What's next for the Poison Control Center?

PF: Well we just spent 10 days on the banks of the Mississippi river recording our 2nd full length record with Pat Stolley of Daytrotter fame. PCC is pretty spread out right now (I live in Ames, [drummer/singer] Ephraim in Iowa City, [guitarist/singer] Devin in Columbia, Mo., and [bassist/singer] Joe just moved to Ashville, N.C.). So for the past 6 months we have been doing this thing called "DEMO OF THE DAY" where we e-mail each other demos we have written, since we all 4 write songs. And we went into the studio NEVER having played any of them together.. so we took 3 days filtered through the 38 songs, practiced them and we ended up recording 12 songs!

We said whatever we get put to tape in this week that is the album, NO IF's, ANDS, or buts about it!

We actually recorded the album on a 1-inch, 24-track tape machine I just sold to Pat Stolley that was once owned by the guy who is now CARROT TOP and Jon Lovitz's manager.. 2009 is the first year in 5 years we haven't toured at all and I'm getting pretty antsy to hit the road again.. last year we went on 4 tours and it was amazing.. The last one we did was with the Apples in Stereo and we got Bill Doss of the Olivia Tremor Control to do "Jumping Fences" (OTC song) with us in Dallas and I need more of those kinda crazy dream come true magical moments in my life that only come with touring! Hopefully when the record gets released we can get back out there in the trenches! But I can't say for sure!

2. How would you describe the Des Moines music scene?

PF: Well it's really vibrant right now and the best it's been in the 10 years that I have lived here. There is a 60-year-old banker who works at US BANK in Ames and he told me today his wife has been getting mad at him since he has been spending so many nights at the Ames Progressive Space watching bands! It's really becoming a place where you can spend every night watching great music if you want. In 1999 when I moved here you had to wait till the weekend to see any music.. Or drive to Chicago, Omaha, or Minneapolis to see the touring bands that you like. I started bringing my favorite bands to Des Moines just 'cause I was sick of driving to Minneapolis and having to use a FAKE ID to see ELF POWER or whatever. Ladd and the Vaudeville Mews has done an amazing job of bringing in great touring bands and giving locals a chance to play with these bands! Also the amount of DIY and house shows has grown as well! It honestly feels like a community. I know that's cliché, but I have toured from coast to coast and I feel like we have something small but special here.

3. Any other local bands we should be watching?

PF: Oh so many to name but I will give you a quick few for your first months in town.. Christopher the Conquered, Wolves in the Attic, Pennyhawk, Derek Lambert, Brad Unit, the Autumn Project, Aeon Grey, Volcano Boys.. just to name a couple! I could give you 5 bands per style of music but I'm already an Allman Brother in this interview-- get it, "Rambling Man"? Got my bad joke in, OK. Next.

4. What shows are you most looking forward to this summer?

PF: Well 80/35 of course. Not too often [Stephen] Malkmus, Broken Social Scene, Chuck D, and Man Man are eating hummus and chips 15 feet from you. And I always get excited when friends are playing in town so Casper and the Cookies in August, David Dondero in July, and Alexis Gideon in September!

5. All right, I'll give... I'm a huge Jonathan Richman fan. Anything you can tell me about his performance at the Vaude last night?

PF: Fantastic crowd that was totally into it and Jonathan and Tommy ruled! We got a bunch of classics and quite a few off the latest album! It was the 2nd time I have seen him this year and I must say he makes me so inspired to play music! ABSOLUTE GENIUS!
You can catch the Poison Control Center this Fourth of July at the 80/35 Festival. Patrick Fleming plays solo at the Des Moines Social Club July 16 and Ames Progressive Space Aug. 9.



When Mrs. Des Noise was growing up in what she describes as a "one-horse town" that is now a sprawling suburb, the high school kids used to drive around Des Moines' empty downtown after football games in a teenage ritual called "scooping the loop." When we were back in Iowa two years ago for our wedding, a couple of our friends headed downtown one night just to see what was going on. They didn't find much. Now the downtown is a vibrant place, abuzz with restaurants and nightlife. Just ask The New York Times' Adam Nagourney.

One of the downtown spots I'm most looking forward to checking out: Vaudeville Mews. This music venue and bar has played host to Bonnie Prince Billy, Jens Lekman, Joanna Newsom, and plenty of other artists you'd have to take the L train to see in Brooklyn alongside crowds of arms-folded trendwatchers with blogs (um, wait a minute...). Ladd Askland is the booker for the Mews, and he kindly responded to my questions about Des Moines and the venue via e-mail. Our edited conversation is below.
1. How would you describe the Des Moines music scene?

LA: At this point, I'd say it's expanding musically. When I first started doing shows eight years ago, there was a heavy emphasis on hardcore, hard rock, and maybe punk. Over the years I've seen increases in folk, pop, noise, rock, and I'm really glad. I always wish there were more local bands floating around and especially styles I enjoy, but right now, I like the folks I work with and people seem excited about music with local festivals, 80/35 Festival, new DIY spots popping up, a nice camaraderie.

2. What are your favorite shows coming up this summer?

LA: Jonathan Richman [tonight] (June 10), Soy Un Caballo on June 21, Francis Harold and the Holograms on July 7, Josh Ritter on July 8, Poppets on July 14, Japandroids on July 20, Those Darlins on July 22, Theodore on July 30, Casper and the Cookies on August 6, Red Pony Clock on Aug 21, and It's True on August 28.

3. I've never been to Vaudeville Mews. What should I expect?

LA: Darkness :) It's a long narrow room with a full bar as you walk in. Usually, a friendly staff at the door and bar service. The clientele change consistently since we do a heavily eclectic mix of music. We have seats and tables lined up in the back and an open room most of the time up front near the stage. The stage is intimate in height, so very personal with an artist. We have a balcony so you can peer down. Additionally a pool table and some booth seating upstairs as well. You have to walk past the stage when entering the restrooms, but not as distracting as maybe imagined. I really love the space. It's a third home :)

4. Any local bands to watch?

LA: My faves: The Poison Control Center www.myspace.com/thepcc Wolves In The Attic www.myspace.com/wolvesintheatticband Pennyhawk www.myspace.com/katekennedymusic

5. What would you change or improve about what's going on musically in Des Moines?

LA: More bands! More folks creating exciting new music. Also, with the general public, giving new music a chance, exploring new terrain. Some open minded experimentalists, I want and love you!



Finally somebody said it: there is nothing beyond Jersey; Jack Kerouac made all that shit up, he was a science-fiction writer...
- Lester Bangs, a noted "rock critic"

This is me. This blog isn't about me, but I understand this is how blogs are supposed to start: with an introductory post of some kind. Right?

So here goes all kinds of nothing...

Hi, everybody! My name's Marc. I write regularly for Pitchfork.com, and I have also written about music for Playboy.com, SPIN, the Village Voice, Paste, the Chicago Tribune, and other publications, with varying levels of (in many cases extreme) irregularity. I have lived in New York City for the past five years, and at the end of the month my wife and I are returning to her hometown of Des Moines.


Shows at Vaudeville Mews and People's Court. Burritos at El Bait Shop. Beers at the High Life Lounge. Fireworks after Iowa Cubs games. The 80/35 Festival. We're pretty psyched to get involved in all the fun stuff going on around town. The quote at the top of this post is intended with utmost irony. (Maybe imagine you're reading it in the voice of Stephen Colbert.) But I hope it speaks to whatever it is I'm trying to accomplish here.

What is that? ...What is that? Huh, well, I'd mainly like this blog to do two things:

First, and most importantly, Des Noise will be a place for fellow Des Moines people to hear about noteworthy music happenings in our area and beyond. I'll post news, previews, reviews, photos, etc., as my mood and free time dictate (this is just for fun, after all). Stay tuned for a roundup of must-see shows this summer, as well as potentially Q&As with downtown Des Moines' music insiders. I'm not trying to compete with existing local music news sources, just share another perspective. I'll definitely be critical when I think something sucks, but we're all in this together.

Second, but also importantly (to me, anyway), Des Noise will be a place for fellow music obsessives everywhere to get an alternate take on current music culture. C'mon: Nobody needs another blog with photos of people taking photos of some blog-bait show in Brooklyn. A thoughtful, passionate description of what's happening in an up-and-coming Midwestern city with a resurgent downtown? In the first state to vote for Barack Obama during the presidential primary season? One of the first states to allow gay marriage? I hope a few of my friends, or at the very least my haters, will find that kind of interesting/amusing/enlightening. Or even if not, that they'll read it anyway. I'll try to be a decent science-fiction writer. (Better than William Shatner!)

So with all that out of the way, I should amend what I wrote at the top of this here whatsit, right below the Lester Bangs quote. Des Noise isn't about me... and it is. Contrary to what professional tastemakers and amateur snobs alike would have you believe (whether from financial self-interest or just their own smug sense of superiority), music isn't handed down on stone tablets, to be put up on some pedestal, encased in glass, declared "objectively" great, and-- dios mio, man-- never breathed on except when sneering at fans of music you don't like. Music is about people: how it makes us feel, how we interact with it, and what it tells us about ourselves and our world. It's about the good times out dancing like nobody's watching, and it's about the hard times staying in and fighting back tears. At best, in whatever small way, I'd like Des Noise to reflect some of that limitless possibility.

I'm interested in where music meets our lives and helps us, in those rare but unforgettable instants, feel like we're part of something bigger.

That's where you come in. If this blog is sort of about me, then it's also, well, sort of about you. Especially if you live in Des Moines. And especially if you're reading this, wherever you live. So please, get involved-- comment, e-mail, send me suggestions, tell me I'm a douchebag, ask me if I'm related to Hulk, come up and punch me in the face at shows... however the spirit moves you! That's how this works. I hope?

You'll also be able to follow Des Noise on Twitter and Tumblr. If you're into that sort of thing.

Thank you so much for your time! I promise the rest of my posts won't be this self-indulgent. Except when they are. I can't wait to see you-- on the town and online.


P.S. Please don't actually punch me in the face at shows. Not so much for my own sake, but my mom-- she'd worry.