So Cow: "To Do List" (live in Brooklyn last summer)

It's a lot easier to write a summer concert preview when summer has already started, right? June has already seen some fine sets from the Beets, Coyote Slingshot, Wheels on Fire, and Damien Jurado, among others (still kicking myself for missing Pocahaunted). Interpol unfortunately canceled their June 28 gig at People's and failed to include Des Moines on their rescheduled tour-- all together now, let's shake our fists at Bono-- but there are still plenty of exciting live gigs coming up in Des Moines this summer. Off the top of my head, I'm very, very amped about So Cow, Woodsman, the Autumn Project, Maid Marian, 80/35 (of course!), the Poison Control Center's 80/35 after parties, Candy Claws, Devo, Phoenix, and Best Coast, for starters.

What follows is an incomplete, completely subjective lineup of shows I thought somebody reading this blog might be curious about. I tried to get a mix of local and national acts, but at this point I still only know so many local acts, so there's definitely nothing intentional if I forgot anyone. I put an asterisk next to shows I'm almost definitely gonna attend. (Unfortunately, I won't be at So Cow because I'll be out of town, but you should still totally go.)

Check the venue websites for times; Vaudeville Mews often has both an early show and a late show, due to liquor laws. Anyway, here goes nothing again:

June (what little is left of it)

Summer Jam: Night Ranger, LA Guns, Skid Row, Warrant, Winger, Dokken and Sweet. Saturday, June 26. Blank Park Zoo.

** Tyvek, with So Cow, Wolves in the Attic. Sunday, June 27, Vaudeville Mews. I was just regaining consciousness after a nap when Tyvek opened for Love Is All here in April. So I wasn't at all prepared for the Detroit lo-fi rockers' high-energy assault, and I don't have anything smart to say about it. Apparently I missed new Des Noise faves Coyote Slingshot, too. But Tyvek sounded pretty good, and they're on respected label Siltbreeze, so they're a strong bet for your Sunday night. The band it really kills me I'll have to miss this weekend is Dublin's So Cow. They're here all the way from Ireland, and lead singer Brian Kelly writes the kind of clever, sweet, endearing songs I can imagine anyone in town loving-- the edges are a bit ragged, yeah, but in a ramshackle, you-can-do-this-too way rather than to repel the uncool. I reviewed So Cow's wonderful self-titled album here; see some really intelligent things my Pitchfork colleague Nitsuh Abebe says about them here. Wolves in the Attic are one of my favorite local bands (and were before, full disclosure, I got to know basically all the members); expect really loud, Sonic Youth-inspired indie rock. Anyway, So Cow are the closest thing for most of the summer to the surefire awesome of past Mews bookings like Love Is All, Japandroids, Jonathan Richman, Josh Ritter, Jens Lekman, etc., so I really recommend going if you can; I've seen them live before, and they're for real.

The Melvins. Sunday, June 27. House of Bricks. These avant-garde California metalheads are legendary in their circles.

Big Country Bash: Gretchen Wilson, Rodney Atkins, Jason Michael Carroll, Trailer Choir, Jerrod Niemann, Sarah Darling and Jason Brown. Sunday, June 27. Blank Park Zoo.

Why Make Clocks, with Pink Kodiak. Monday, June 28. Vaudeville Mews. Solid local lineup. I mentioned Why Make Clocks before here. I'd go if I were going to be around.

** Woodsman, with the Autumn Project, Maid Marian. Wednesday, June 30. Vaudeville Mews. Denver's Woodsman are warm, woozy, electro-psych instrumental band with releases on a couple of the more interesting labels these days, Lefse and Mexican Summer. The Autumn Project are a towering local instrumental post-rock group I haven't seen in a while; anybody who went to the Mono show here last month should check them out (full disclosure: I hear it might be baritone guitarist and bassist John Huffman's birthday?). Ames' own Maid Marian come highly recommended as well, and I'm looking forward to checking out the tape on Sweat Power (Coyote Slingshot)-- so far sounds a bit like Beach House: slow, keyboard-based, elegant female vocals.

Justin Bieber. Wednesday, June 30. Wells Fargo Arena.


Spoon: "Is Love Forever?" (Live on "Jimmy Kimmel")

** 80/35 Festival: Modest Mouse, Spoon, Yo La Tengo, Walkmen, the Cool Kids, Holly Golightly, Avi Buffalo, the Heavy, Earl Greyhound, Dawes, William Elliot Whitmore, Christopher the Conquered, Canby, Dar Williams, Slightly Stoopid, Railroad Earth, Particle, Family Groove Company, and more. Saturday, July 3-Sunday, July 4. Downtown Des Moines. (Full disclosure: I volunteered for the booking committee this year. But I don't think I really did anything that felt like work.)

** The Poison Control Center. Saturday, July 3-Sunday, July 4. Vaudeville Mews. (80/35 After Party.) I've said enough about how great these Ames indie rockers are. Check out a little bit of the praise here. (Full disclosure: I've gotten to know these guys, too. Curse all these friendly, nice Midwesterners foiling my attempts to maintain critical distance!)

Waxeater, with Golden Veins, NERV, the Seed of Something. Monday, July 5. Vaudeville Mews. I wrote about Golden Veins (ex-Beati Paoli) previously here.

Ingrid Michaelson. Thursday, July 8. Simon Estes Amphitheater. I don't know much about this New York singer/songwriter, except that she has played 80/35 and friends tell me she's good. Might be one to check out!

Hanwell, with So Much Fun. Saturday, July 10. Vaudeville Mews. Another solid local lineup.

Abstract Rude, with Musab (Sab the Artist), DJ Tramlife, Gaiden Gadema w/ Richie Daggers, Young Tripp. Sunday, July 11. Vaudeville Mews. I met Richie Daggers at the Vaud when he overheard me talking about Nicki Minaj. I was wondering what rap Des Moines residents who really like rap listen to. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm totally down with Aeon Grey and Maxilla Blue, but it always seems like they're billed as rap for people who don't usually listen to rap, you know? Daggers gave me the name of Young Tripp, making comparisons to Nas's Illmatic. So maybe this would be a good one to check out.

The Autumn Project, with Why Make Clocks, others. Friday, July 16. Vaudeville Mews. I'll be out of town; otherwise there would be stars next to this local show. See June 30.

Samantha Crain, with Canby. Sunday, July 18. Vaudeville Mews. Same as above. I've seen and enjoyed Canby, one of the best local indie rock groups, a number of times, and I've liked what I've heard from Oklahoma roots-rocker Crain. I keep thinking I particularly love a song from her that the dude from Bon Iver covered, but I just spent the last 20 minutes searching Google and my computer for any trace of such a thing and I must've dreamed it. Should be a good show, though.

** YellowFever, with the Land of Blood and Sunshine, Deep Sleep Waltzing, the Seed of Something. Monday, July 19. Vaudeville Mews. (Early show.) Austin's YellowFever play skewed guitar pop with 1960s-style melodies and alluringly aloof female vocals recalling post-punk groups like the Slits. With local groups, including Marshalltown's Land of Blood and Sunshine, whom I've seen a couple of times now and am still trying to figure otu. If I can still stand after a weekend at the Pitchfork festival, I'll definitely be at this.

** Candy Claws, with Maid Marian. Monday, July 19. Vaudeville Mews. (Late show.) This Fort Collins, Colo. duo are very much a part of whatever the heck we're calling "chillwave" these days. Right bros? I wrote about them here.

Old 97's. Thursday, July 22. Simon Estes Amphitheater.

** Devo. Saturday, July 24. Simon Estes Amphitheater. New-wave legends within walking distance vs. $50 ticket price. I'd like to be there, so we'll see. In the meantime, here's New York rap duo Das Racist icing these bros backstage at The Colbert Report.

** Black Mountain. Monday, July 26. Vaudeville Mews. Sludgy Canadian psych-rockers on Bloomington, Indiana's excellent Jagjaguwar label should please Led Zeppelin fans for blocks around.

** June Panic. Tuesday, July 27. Vaudeville Mews. North Dakota's June Panic is one of those guys who can't stop writing songs regardless of the recording quality, in the mold of Capstan Shafts, Guided By Voices, etc.

Poppets. Tuesday, July 27. Vaudeville Mews. This Swedish punk duo played here last summer, but I don't think I gave them a fair shake. It'd be cool to see them again.

The All-Girl Boys Choir, with Squidboy. Sunday, Aug. 1. Vaudeville Mews. Not too familiar with the All-Girl Boys Choir, but longtime local indie-rockers Squidboy are always worth stopping by the Vaude.

Electric Leaves, with Why Make Clocks. Tuesday, Aug. 3. Vaudeville Mews.

Jamey Johnson. Thursday, Aug. 5. Val Air Ballroom. Here's what I said about this country outlaw's performance at last summer's state fair.

** The Delta Mirror, with Golden Veins. Friday, Aug. 6. Vaudeville Mews. Here's what I wrote for Pitchfork about the Delta Mirror; for Golden Veins, see July 5.

Black Keys, with Morning Benders. Sunday, Aug. 8. Val Air Ballroom. Morning Benders played here not too long ago, but I'd be curious to see them again.

Rooney. Monday, Aug. 9. Vaudeville Mews.

Toro Y Moi: "Blessa"

** Phoenix, with Toro Y Moi. Tuesday, Aug. 10. 7 Flags Event Center. French band Phoenix had one of the best records of last year, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, and it still blows my mind that they'll be playing in Clive. I once overheard somebody around town saying they're kind of weird, but they're really not at all, except for occasionally fanciful lyrics-- you've heard these guys in car commercials for a reason. With Toro Y Moi, who have one of my favorite albums of this year. Here's what I wrote about them for SPIN.

Keith Urban. Friday, Aug. 13. Iowa State Fair.

The Battle Royale. Saturday, Aug. 14. Vaudeville Mews.

** Vanilla Ice, with Tone Loc. Sunday, Aug. 15. Iowa State Fair. Hey, it's free! And I probably still know more of the words to "Ice Ice Baby" than I'd like to admit.

Tegan and Sara. Tuesday, Aug. 17. Hoyt Sherman Place.

Pat Benatar, with REO Speedwagon. Tuesday, Aug. 17. Iowa State Fair.

Broken Spindles. Wednesday, Aug. 18. Vaudeville Mews.

Darius Rucker. Thursday, Aug. 19. Iowa State Fair.

Sugarland. Saturday, Aug. 21. Iowa State Fair.

Sheryl Crow. Sunday, Aug. 22. Iowa State Fair.

American Idol Live Tour. Tuesday, Aug. 31. Wells Fargo Arena.


Best Coast: "When I'm With You"

** Best Coast, with Male Bonding. Friday, Sept. 17. Grinnell College.

November (OK, not even arguably summer, but just looking ahead here)

Electric Six, with the Constellations, the Jitz. Tuesday, Nov. 2. Vaudeville Mews.

All right, what did I miss? See you out there.




A topless little guy in face paint and shorts and no shoes waving a homemade flag and howling into a microphone accompanied by only an iPod. A mustachioed recorder player huddled cross-legged on the stage floor behind another colorfully hand-drawn banner while the rest of the band bashed out fuzzily good-natured pop out in front. A dude in a yellow Elvis T-shirt joining in a set of blistering garage rock. Another mustache, this time on a solitary singer-songwriter who mixed self-consciously bombastic post-Jeff Buckley balladry with self-consciously awkward stand-up comedy. A new band from some familiar local faces in their live debut.

That's an incomplete sampling of the live performances I was able to catch Wednesday and Thursday nights last week at Vaudeville Mews:



I lost my voice, you lost your mind. 

I first heard about Damien Jurado via Audiogalaxy, which was my music downloading service of choice through much of college. My school was way out front in blocking Napster, so from early on you needed to find an alternative. Programs like iMesh and KaZaA had more Napster-like interfaces, so they were probably more popular with my friends-- oh man, I wish I could still find the article I submitted to short-lived MainCampus.com (those guys briefly paid college kids for content, would you believe it?) breaking all this stuff down-- but I always thought Audiogalaxy was superior. You could search all the files that had ever been shared on the network, not only the files of the other users who happened to be online at that moment, and if somebody came back online a few hours later with the file you wanted, the software would automatically download it for you. There was also actual editorial on the website, written by smart people like Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff, and I'm pretty sure that's how I would've found Jurado. Maybe I was browsing "indie folk"?

Anyway, the first song I heard by Jurado was almost definitely "Ohio," from 1999's Rehearsals for Departure (his second record for Sub Pop -- he's on Secretly Canadian now). Real heartbreaking "sad bastard" stuff, the kind of thing I probably used to put on WinAmp playlists next to Elliott Smith and Richard Buckner and Pedro the Lion-- the last of whom even toured with Jurado back around 2002. Pitchfork founder Ryan Schreiber once called it "an elaborate and painfully sad tale of a girl deciding to return home years after being kidnapped by her father"-- I didn't even catch the kidnapping stuff, but I was done in by the image of this soft-voiced dude asking the woman he adores, "How far is Ohio?", as she laughs and goes back to her family, leaving him doing-- god knows what, what does a guy do who can't look on a map and find Ohio? "She belongs to her mother and the state of Ohio/ I wish she belonged to me." I also downloaded "Honey Baby" from that album, I'm pretty sure, but it didn't do anything for me, and I've dutifully listened to Jurado's albums over the years but not really had a connection with anything on them like I did with "Ohio." 

Jurado didn't say much for most of his set at Vaudeville Mews on Sunday night, but it wasn't like Dum Dum Girls, where you could sense this almost palpable distaste-- it seemed like that's who he was, a quiet, understated dude. "I just don't feel comfortable in crowds," Jurado sings on his new album, Saint Bartlett, probably my favorite full-length I've heard from him (although now I really do owe it to myself to go back and listen to the rest of his discography again). Understated Jurado may be, but his voice was probably the biggest draw of the show-- it's an instrument he's obviously honed over all these years, and there were times, backed by a five-piece band, when Saint Barlett's songs compared favorably to the big-sky folk-rock of early My Morning Jacket or Band of Horses, both groups that fit soaring, howling-at-the-moon tenors within ragged guitar crunch. A real lonesome sound.

At one point somebody in the audience asked if Jurado could do any sad songs, and he said that's all I do man, and then he joked that "oh, you're joking." But he really did seem to brighten up around this point, telling us about how he had been busking on the sidewalk earlier, making up lyrics to tease passers-by-- something about a man on a cellphone, and then something else about this newlywed couple and how his wife told him to be nice to them so he was nice, I mean he only sang that they should consummate their marriage right here in the road, he didn't do the Beatles song from the White Album or anything. He said he's actually a happy guy, too, but the best songs were sad and occasionally geography-oriented-- "Kansas City," "Rachel and Cali." He did several songs without the band at the end of the night, and one of them was "Ohio," which he said he didn't like but would do because someone in the audience had specially requested it, and you wonder if it was about a girl he knew before his wife or something so he had to say he didn't like it, because it's still a gorgeous tune. My eyes were kind of wet, but I'm a sentimental guy. The song I know best by him is the theme song to KEXP's morning show with DJ John Richards-- which he didn't play so I don't know if he still likes it, but then again I didn't request it either.

There were free pencils but if you wanted him to sign your record there was a fan who really liked him who asked to borrow your Sharpie and kept wondering if he was going to be around later that night and asked him to draw a black eye on his face in a tour poster. That last part we thought was kind of weird but whatever.

P.S. There was also a mention of Richard Swift, fellow Secretly Canadian artist and producer of Saint Bartlett, when somebody in the crowd asked, "Who's on your guitar?" At first Jurado just said the name and you thought man that's kind of dismissive but then he warmed up and explained. At the end of the night he said he didn't know what to expect playing Des Moines but he seemed genuinely pleased at the warmth of the reception he (deservedly) got.

P.P.S. There was also an auxiliary percussionist playing a bottle of Crown Royal.