The guy playing fiddle also shouts
into a megaphone or something 
and bludgeons a child's drum set.

While Justin Bieber was making his Des Moines arena debut, I was at a bar where there is no division between urinal and stall in the men's room. Not that I have anything particularly against the guy: He's a 16-year-old teen idol. They pretty much have the formula down by now. This latest is a guitar-strumming puppy lover whose 2009 debut album,  My World 2.0, expertly outfits 1950s teenybopper sweetness in up-to-last-year's-minute radio-killa synths. Swedish pop prankster Eric Berglund, whose ceo project just put out one of my favorite albums of the year, hasn't heard of him.

So instead, I went to see local instrumental-rock impresarios the Autumn Project, who create a sustained trance by never breaking between each epic build, nor skimping on smoke-machine showmanship; Denver, Colorado-based Woodsman, whose two-drummer psych-rock isn't totally instrumental, but often treats vocals as another fabric to warp; Statocyst, a Des Moines experimental duo who beat up a guitar, fiddle, voice-obscuring device of some kind, and the tiniest drum set you ever saw (I hadn't heard of them yet, but after I figured out it was their set and not the soundcheck, I was totally grinning and impressed); and Ames-based atmospheric minimalists Maid Marian (tonight just Trista Reis without brother Tre).

The Autumn Project work in the dark.
My camera doesn't.

It said in the Des Moines Register that Bieber "seemed unmoved." He was "singing and dancing the motions like any other night." This after bringing a "lucky young fan" to tears by presenting her with a floral bouquet. Enjoy the ride, kid; not everybody can be Justin Timberlake, but Usher's cosign still counts for something-- as it probably should, that divorce album notwithstanding.

A few notes:

The Kevin Costner Robin Hood, all the way.

You know, I didn't see too much of Maid Marian's set, sadly, but I've heard really good things about the cassette. I'm looking forward to checking that out and catching her/them again with Candy Claws on July 19 (man, that's a day after the Pitchfork Festival, right?). What I did see was a woozy performance of country-gospel hymn "I'll Fly Away" backed by organ, which was neat. (Sorry, there was a change in the lineup order so I got there too late.)

To show him playing those tiny drums would be
a spoiler.

As bummed I was I didn't see more of Maid Marian, I'm glad I didn't miss Statocyst, at least. They remind me a little of seeing Excepter a couple of times in New York: the cryptic vocal weirdness, the conceptually self-possessed stage presence (unfortunately, my report on Excepter's 2006 CMJ doesn't appear to be online anymore since Pitchfork's latest redesign). Anyway, here's Mrs. Des Noise, last night, about the fiddler/drummer/vocalist/drum-kicker with the vest and hat: "Say he looks like a gondolier." Of the guy who made the guitar drone: "Make sure to mention the other boy's slouched socks." My favorite moment-- right up until the big violent I-see-dead-people her-head-is-in-the-box Kevin-Spacey-is-the-killer ending-- was when, after squatting at the tiniest drum set ever, the fiddling gondolier plunged from all the ambient haze into a swampy rock beat, flashing a mischievous grin. Here he was when he was standing up and bending down into the drum-level microphone with a bow in his mouth: "Are you guys ready to get really crazy?"

Woodsman were actually standing up most of the time.

Woodsman? Well, they locked into a pretty trippy groove with two drummers and no bass. The drummer on the left was moving his right foot like there was a pedal but it wasn't connected to anything; we were wondering, what was up with that? A couple of times the guitar started trilling on some high notes and the songs would hit these visceral climaxes. Other places in between it would be murky, ambient, hypnotic. (Sorry, there are only so many words for it.) The tunes will build and build and build, so you gotta spend some time. There were vocals, which for some reason I hadn't expected. Anyway, was feeling it. Pretty neat they seem to be getting attention. Heard that one of the guys from Woodsman runs Fire Talk, which is putting out a 7" by fellow Denver band Tennis, who happened to put out a video today (below). Cute, lo-fi, summery, well-crafted songs-- to Best Coast as like Dum Dum Girls are to Vivian Girls, except nothing at all like that. Tennis plays the Vaudeville Mews on August 19. (In addition to Fire Talk, they're also on the recently sooo-spot-on Washington, D.C., beachy lo-fi label Underwater Peoples.) (But can the Vaudeville Mews play tennis?) Very, very amped.

"Can we get these lights, like, pretty low?"

It's hard to say much about an Autumn Project show because it's all instrumental prowess, sometimes gentle and sometimes cathartic. I guess they probably wouldn't mind being compared to like Mogwai or Godspeed You! Black Emperor, right? Good band, good dudes. Stood right up in front, with ear plugs this time, for the first couple of what I guess you call pieces even though they all flow seamlessly one into the next. It's absorbing music. The Autumn Project play here again July 16, with Why Make Clocks.

Is the internet for Beliebers?

80/35 this weekend, son.

P.S. Sorry if this looked funny last night. Apparently my Compaq types on Blogger in a totally different font than my Mac does, for no apparent reason. I guess it is a free service...

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