This is our new calling card.
For a lot of people in central Iowa, the big weekend for live music this spring in Des Moines happened last month. Elton John played Wells Fargo Arena on a Friday night. AC/DC followed on Saturday. The same night, Ani DiFranco hit Hoyt Sherman.
For me, the weekend that had been circled-- mentally, at least-- on my calendar for ages in advance was the one that just passed. Local heroes the Poison Control Center played their album release party at the Vaudeville Mews on Friday night, joined by Des Moines up-and-comers Christopher the Conquered, Wolves in the Attic and Derek Lambert, plus critically acclaimed Saddle Creek folk-poppers the Mynabirds. Scott Yoshimura of another successful local band, the Envy Corps, played the album release party for his new outfit, Canby (previously known as Menlo), on Saturday night, again at the Vaude, accompanied by the debut performance of Golden Veins (a new band featuring members of locals Beati Paolo), plus a set by Omaha's Skypiper. If you came downtown for the year's first farmers' market and didn't stick around for the late show, you missed out.
Little by little by little by little.
Put it this way: Minneapolis rapper Brother Ali, who played Sunday night, was probably the Vaude's biggest draw this weekend, but at that point, I was too exhausted to go. (So if anyone was there and wants to say how it was, please don't hesitate to comment below!)
Let's make it easier than it is.
PCC's new double LP, Sad Sour Future, is already a shoo-in for my albums of the year list, although I feel like I'm too close to the band and its music to review it professionally. It's best if you imagine it as four EPs, the way they originally conceived it-- the title is a nod to Stereolab singles collection Fab Four Suture-- and finally being able to pick up the vinyl has helped me to do just that (it also made sense when one of the members mentioned at the concert that they were inspired by the 70-minutes-plus albums of singer-songwriter Todd Rundgren). Spread across each of the four sides, you can hear four distinct types of songs: Patrick Tape Fleming's guitar-blazing classic-rock love songs, in full 1970s Electric Light Orchestra mode, as filtered through the low-budget psych sensibility of a guy who loves Elephant Six, Guided by Voices and Super Furry Animals; Devin Frank's laconic, slightly askew mini-narratives reminiscent of Pavement or Silver Jews; Joe Terry's poignant, simple and honest tunes that bring to mind Neil Young; and of course, Donald Ephraim Curtis's poppy, hook-filled numbers, including first video selection "Being Gone." Patrick mentioned to me once how each of the band members has such a different clothing style now in the album artwork. I think he was sort of wistful about it, longing for the days they were all more similar. But in my opinion, that's part of what makes PCC so great: Its members are all really interesting and cool, each in really different ways. Unlike all those bands out there with only one or two creative/dynamic members, everybody in this group writes songs-- sharp, well-crafted sing-alongs, at that. They all seem like just your average friendly Iowa dudes when you meet them-- then you see them play, or get to know Patrick's deep knowledge of basically every good rock or pop record ever, or find out about the time Joe stopped talking for a few weeks or gave the amazing impromptu speech upon winning Mews booker Ladd Askland's first annual "Man of the Year Award," or you talk to Devin about his philosophy studies at the University of Missouri, or you chat with Donald, himself a grad student at Iowa, over Twitter about, well, whatever people are twittering about that day. And-- man. Here's hoping that touring drummer David Olson, who will fill in for Donald while Donald is literally "being gone," can play an essential role of his own in the group; that's the kind of band they are.
I'm understanding how it feels
As much as I love the record, though, what makes PCC even more special are their live shows. I've heard it said they were crazier in the early days, even before they opened for Elephant Six-ers Apples in Stereo-- like, back when they were wearing matching costumes to tie in with the idea that they were from the poison control center. I'll never know, but I do know that as many great bands as I'll probably see at 80/35, Pitchfork and wherever else this summer, I probably won't see any-- well, except maybe Robyn-- who work harder to (gasp!) actually ensure you're having a good time. I could bring along just about anybody to a PCC show and be confident they'll enjoy themselves. Friday's set at the Mews leaned more heavily on the new material, as it should have, so some of the usual crowd interaction wasn't there until triumphant finale "Magic Circle Symphony." But still, you had Devin soloing on his head, Patrick jumping off of the drum set and doing the splits, David joining Donald on auxiliary percussion, and members of Christopher the Conquered providing a horn section-- all for a ridiculous $5 ticket price (compare that to the $90 you could've spent for just one ticket to Elton or AC/DC, decades after either act's prime). Positioning myself right in front of the speaker might not have been the best call, but any long-term hearing loss was totally worth it. I'm sure PCC's show in Ames the next night with a reunited Keepers of the Carpet was even crazier, and I bet somehow they managed to top that Sunday in Iowa City, too.
Clint Curtis, Best Supporting Actor
Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival 2010
More on this weekend, plus upcoming Des Moines shows and PCC's full tour dates, after the jump:
Well, silence is something/
but it sure ain't golden.
Watching PCC's openers was informative, even though I'd seen a couple of them multiple times before. We had a few friends along who don't go to the Mews often, so I was trying to see the show through their eyes (or, more accurately, through my own hyper-sensitive, probably overly pessimistic speculations about how they were perceiving the show). So I know everybody else said Wolves in the Attic's set of Sonic Youth-minded noise-pop-- it occurred to me that if you like Surfer Blood, you might like Wolves, too; both have a bit of Weezer-y catchiness at their center-- was their tightest ever, and it did sound good. But I was also noticing how much louder it seemed than normal. The Mynabirds, whom I hadn't really heard before, brought lovely, Neko Case-ish vocals, and I enjoyed their set, too-- but I was pretty self-conscious about whether or not their blase stage presence would be boring to our friends after that noisy Wolves set and high-volume interludes from DJ Kinky Kyro (I needn't have worried; one of the aforementioned friends bought a CD). Christopher the Conquered, always entertaining, played my favorite set I had ever seen them play, changing things up a little bit and helping the songs reveal themselves to me even more than before; I don't know exactly what they did, but their tour with Leslie & the Lys has only made the group's stage presence better and better, and like PCC they're a band that brings you a one-of-a-kind experience rather than simply reciting their album. On Saturday, frontman Chris Ford didn't even go over the top as far as he did during an excellent GDP set a few weeks ago, but he didn't have to; the songs, and his tight but improvised-feeling interaction with the band, came across powerfully enough that the CD buyer, despite having to leave early, wants to see them again... Oh, and I feel bad because I always seem to end up missing Derek's sets, since a couple of times now he has played first on a five-band bill, but he's another friend, I dig the Elliott Smith-esque tunes on his album (here's a link to the MySpace again), and it sounds like there was already a pretty good turnout by the end of his set. So that's awesome.
That you doubted yourself/
Just proves you did right.
Just proves you did right.
Saturday night was mellower but no less accomplished. I don't really know the Envy Corps that well, but I've enjoyed Canby's music since I first caught them at last year's Dogtown Festival when they were still called Menlo. Yoshimura has a modest, distinct voice, the type of understated, intimate tone that would fit in (as I've probably said before) pretty easily on a label like Omaha's Saddle Creek or Seattle's Barsuk. It would be easy to mistake the songs for yet more post-Michael Cera wimpiness-- the first words are "I've got doubt in my mind," after all-- but these guys know what they're doing, and there's nothing wimpy about a male in 2010 singing, "We stayed chaste/ but God knows what I was thinking." Hell, there's nothing wimpy about doubt; it's essential to a democracy, in my opinion, and giving people the benefit of the doubt is part of what was revolutionary about Christianity, although cable news hosts and New York Times columnists and preachers alike, of all political persuasions, who snicker at or question the motives of people who disagree with them have clearly forgotten this. I'm only just getting to know Canby's album, simply titled Rat, but it sounds quite a bit like their live shows: professional, sophisticated, melodic and impeccably tasteful indie rock/pop, with a touch of horns. Ballad "The World on a Stick" is still one of my favorites, probably because the lyrics are easier to pick out live; in concert the harmonies on the a cappella portion brought to mind Simon & Garfunkel, while at home they made me think more of (Simon & Garfunkel-influenced) Swedish popster Jens Lekman, a personal favorite. Canby don't move around as much on stage as PCC, but I think that would be contrary to the band's personality, based on their songs. With unprepossessing craftsmanship and a clear seriousness of purpose, Canby is another group I could see catching on if they get exposure. The meek may be all over TV and movies nowadays, but they still haven't inherited the Earth, not really.
I was also pleasantly surprised by Golden Veins, the latest project of three Des Moines friends who have played in other bands, most notably Beati Paoli, over the years. This time the setup involved a bewilderingly complex array of electronics, and the sound was closer to the dark, reverb-drenched synth-pop of Joy Division, New Order and other bands on the U.K.'s iconic Factory Records label. Snippets of spoken-word chatter filled in between songs, also bringing to mind my beloved Saint Etienne. Frontman Gregory Goode's dramatic vocals have a bit of the flair of yet another gifted Brit, Morrissey, although I should say I think his stage presence was best when he approached the mic on its stand rather than moving around with it (not sure why, just the only constructive criticism that came to mind-- please feel free to ignore it, Greg, and great chatting with you after the show!). "Gravitational Collapse," dedicated to Joy Division's Ian Curtis, was a standout. Goode promised Golden Veins will have an unusual approach to releasing things, and this seems like an ambitiously conceived project, so I will be curious to find out what comes next from these guys.
See? It's an exciting time for Des Moines music. And I didn't even mention the latest announcement of the line-up for this year's 80/35 festival.
- As I Lay Dying at People's Court May 3
- Owl City at Val Air Ballroom May 4
- Harlem w/ the Jitz at Vaudeville Mews May 5
- Mayday Parade at People's Court May 5
- Aquaserge (ex- Stereolab, Acid Mothers Temple), Casper and the Cookies, The Huxley Maxwell Exit, Pink Kodiak, Rhonda is a Dead Bitch at Vaudeville Mews May 7
- Leslie & the Badgers, Ferrably Lionheart, Monday Mourners at Vaudeville Mews May 9
- Des Moines Social Club's Subjective Circus: Christopher the Conquered May 15
- Baroness at Vaudeville Mews May 17
- Shearing Pinx (w/ Nu Sensai) at Vaudeville Mews May 17
- MONO w/ the Twilight Sad at Vaudeville Mews May 18
- Mark Mallman w/ Why Make Clocks at Vaudeville Mews May 19
- Mark Mallman, JOOKABOX, Yourself and the Air, Thomas Oldham at Vaudeville Mews May 19 (two shows)
- Crystal City Record Release Party (w/ Derek Lambert, Gabe Cordova, the River Monks) at Vaudeville Mews May 21 (5 p.m.)
- Maxila Blue's Record Release Party at Vaudeville Mews May 21
- Dan Bern May 22
- Love of Everything (member of Make Believe, Joan of Arc), Sudden & Subtle, Gabe Cordova at Vaudeville Mews May 24
- Bodeans at Nitefall on the River May 27
- Pocahaunted (with the Jitz, Land of Blood and Sunshine) at Vaudeville Mews June 4 (early show before this also includes locals Nuclear Rodeo, New Bodies, and Last Call Casualties opening for pop-punks the Forecast)
- Damien Jurado at Vaudeville Mews June 6
- Mini Mansions (member of Queens of the Stone Age), Superchief, Mason Cain, Mumfords at Vaudeville Mews June 8
- Pearly Gate Music at Vaudeville Mews June 9
- Wheels on Fire, Coyote Slingshot, The Seed of Something at Vaudeville Mews June 9
- So Much Fun, Chatty Cathys, The Seed of Something, E.V.O. at Vaudeville Mews June 16
- The Melvins at House of Bricks June 27
- 80/35 Festival July 3-July 4: MODEST MOUSE, SPOON, many more
- Old 97's at Nitefall on the River July 22
- Black Mountain July 26
- Phoenix at 7 Flags Event Center, Aug. 10
- Keith Urban at Iowa State Fair Aug. 13
- Pat Benatar w/ REO Speedwagon at Iowa State Fair Aug. 17
- Darius Rucker at Iowa State Fair Aug. 19
- Sugarland at Iowa State Fair Aug. 21
- Sheryl Crow at Iowa State Fair Aug. 22
PCC tour dates:
06/10 St. Paul, MN Turf Club
06/11 Milwaukee, WI Club Garibaldi’s
06/12 Champaign, IL Mike ‘n Molly’s
06/13 Chicago, IL Schubas
06/14 North Manchester, IN The Firehouse
06/15 Pittsburgh, PA Garfield Artworks
06/16 Jamacia Plain, MA Midway Cafe
06/17 Hamden, CT The Space
06/18 New York City, NY Pianos
06/19 Philadelphia, PA The Manhattan Room
06/20 Brooklyn, NY Bruar Falls
06/21 Arlington, VA Galaxy Hut
06/22 Chapel Hill, NC The Cave
06/23 Athens, GA Caldonia
06/24 Birmingham, AL The Nick
06/25 Nashville, TN The Basement
06/26 Columbia, MI The Blue Fugue
06/27 Lawrence, KS Replay Lounge
06/28 Kansas City, MO The Record Bar
06/30 Omaha, NE The Slowdown
07/01Lincoln, NE Bourbon Theater
07/07 Fargo, ND The Aquarium
07/09 Missoula, MT The Badlander
07/13 Seattle, WA The High Dive
07/17 Reno, NV Biggest Little City Club
07/20 Los Angeles, CA Echo Curio
07/23 Albuquerque, NM Burt’s Tiki Lounge
07/24 Denver, CO Denver Underground Music Showcase