Once is not enough to know.
"I know it's not cool to like your hometown, but..." Santah singer/guitarist Stan McConnell offered last night at Vaudeville Mews, then asked people to cheer for Des Moines. Ladd, Devin and I wooed. Santah are a uniquely monikered five-piece band-- "Stan ... likes to say he was trying to challenge the creative conventions and concepts for the name Santa," keyboard player Tommy Trafton tells Paste-- formed at the University of Illinois. McConnell has a "soaring" voice, as Ladd pointed out during the set, and he does some nice harmonies with sister Vivian. The basic sound is arty, folk-tinged rock, with pealing organ sounds from the keyboard and dramatic, almost wrenching guitar stabs, where those pretty vocals are at the center of things but not necessarily always comprehensible, though it's all highly proficient, carefully constructed stuff. I guess this puts them somewhere along a continuum from, like, Brooklyn chamber-pop heavyweights Grizzly Bear to L.A.'s Cold War Kids-- you can decide where, but I thought they were pretty solid and I'll be curious to hear how Santah sound after more time on the road. The band recorded self-released debut White Noise Bed at late Wilco member Jay Bennett's Pieholden Studios, just weeks after Bennett's death, which sounds like it was a sad, weird experience, and also suggests that if you're a Wilco fan you might like these dudes. My favorite song of Santah's, "Neighbors & Cousins (Are We Lovers)," has more of a rickety garage-rock quality to it, and chord changes that might put you in mind of David Bowie's "Heroes" or LCD Soundsystem's "All I Want," plus a bit of a "Moulty"-ish spoken-word interlude: "Is anybody out there confused? Oh, me too." Though it's been said, many times, by many bloggers: Happy holidays, Santah.

The future isn't far away.
The big thrill for me was seeing local high school dudes the Seed of Something again last night. They've been playing around town a bunch now, but the last time I saw them was months and months ago, even before the Poison Control Center's show with them at Des Moines Social Club in August. I had gone to, like, three shows in a row before that, so I figured I would sit back for a while and let them progress, and man, it's not that I was surprised last night or anything, but it was just great to see how much they really have come into their own since then. One of the singers, Stone, is Ladd's brother, so I've always been rooting for these guys, but they put on a super rocking set this time, above and beyond what I remember, starting with a raucous like two-chord wonder that could hold its own against a lot of the current garage-rock/lo-fi scene, probably-- it was really loud, too! Also there was a PCC cover and a Guided By Voices cover. It was fun watching a bunch of teenagers freaking out to that stuff. I guess the '90s really are back? Oh and I heard the Chatty Cathys and new band Pocket Aristotle were good earlier in the night. Nice to hear some local talent coming up. The Seed of Something had a new demo CD to give away, but I got to the merch table too late to score one-- next time.

Speaking of what's coming up, I'm not gonna do a whole concert listing right now, though there's an interesting-sounding covers show later this week and CD release party for local band Parlours next month, but here's one event I won't be missing: Asklandaganza, at Vaudeville Mews, January 15, featuring Wolves in the Attic, Canyons, the Seed of Something, the Poison Control Center, Land Of Blood And Sunshine, Derek Lambert & the Prairie Fires.



Do you love her? / Do you wonder / Why the starship shines above?
As I was passing one of the guitar players from Free Energy on the way out last night at Vaudeville Mews, I thanked him for a good show, and he thanked Des Moines for everybody freaking out so much. I said something about how that's how I knew going in that it couldn't possibly be a bad night: They're a fun band, and a pretty significant chunk of the people I know in town were gonna be there going wild and dancing and jumping up and down and shouting and hyping up the guys on stage. I guess from their record I expected them to be glamorous like the Strokes. It turns out they're lovable schlubs like Pavement. Give or take a little creative facial hair and exactly one (1) bandana in the style of the E Street Band's Little Steven. The rockstar thing, the larger-than-life talk, it's all part of living out this semi-obsolete fantasy, of a guitar band being absolutely huge, and trying to make the fantasy into reality.



We are young and still alive / And now the time is on our side.

My friends Andy and Ryan over at We Hate Music have been counting down to Free Energy's inaugural show in Des Moines for, what, weeks now? Months? And with good reason. When Minnesota native son Paul Sprangers and the rest of his now-Philly-based band-- who kick off a set of dates with Weezer later this month-- descend on Vaudeville Mews this Wednesday night, I don't see how it could fail to be an awesome time. Some people around here may have caught Sprangers when he was fronting Hockey Night, a band that recorded for late, sadly missed Bay Area punk label Lookout!. These days Free Energy have teamed up with another much-loved label, New York's DFA, where they worked with label co-founder and LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy to help craft 2010 debut album Stuck on Nothing: a classic-rock-tinged pop record in that fun, summer barbecue kind of way. It looks like we might not be barbecuing around here for a while, so until Wednesday night, here are five answers (plus an extra one, just in case) Sprangers was kind enough to share with me via e-mail. Also please definitely listen to his interview with the We Hate Music dudes.

1. You're from Red Wing, Minnesota, and when you were with your old band, Hockey Night, I know you played Des Moines at least once. Any standout memories of our fair city? It's OK to be brutally honest.

PS: yes. i love des moines. being brutally honest.

hockey night played the vaudeville mews a couple times. always good.

there was a weird frat/dance bar down the street that had psychedelic stuff on the tvs. that was cool.

2. Any advice for musicians in a smaller city trying to get fans and get noticed?

PS: i would say to all musicians in smaller cities and towns: you are at a huge advantage right now.

you can pay less rent than the kool-aid drinking hipsters in the big cities. your cost of living is lower.

practice your ass off, write tons of songs, and MAYBE, eventually, put some music online. that's only if you're getting SOME Kind of positive feedback. even if it's from your best friend or your mom or whatever. do nothing but write, record, and play live. get some shitty job and don't buy useless shit. get your furniture off the streets and wear the same jeans for years.

this is what i did/do.

i am going to die making art. nothing else is important to me.

actually, girls are a very close second.

3. Along the same lines, I know you've said you guys still consider yourselves as being a Minnesota band. And I think that's pretty significant. I don't know about Minneapolis, but I feel like I've picked up a different vibe when it comes to being a music fan in Des Moines than in NYC, or even a bigger Midwestern city like Chicago. And not just that people come out for different shows than they might on the Lower East Side, either. What do you think is different about being into music and going to shows here in the Midwest versus on the East Coast? Or am I just imagining things?

PS: i don't know. a fan is a fan. i lived in nyc and went to as many shows as i could and loved every second. always.

maybe midwest kids are a bit more desperate for live shows? whereas on the east coast you can throw a rock in any direction and hit a live show.

4. For us music geeks, it's year-end list time. I've seen you raving about Rihanna's "Rude Boy," which is awesome. Any other favorite 2010 albums or tracks we should check out? 

PS: titus andronicus, hollerado, miniature tigers, drink up buttercup, kurt vile, war on drugs, gang, gayngs, sun airway, bear in heaven, kanye, robyn, beach house, EASTBOUND AND DOWN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

also, LOUIE! check this show out. louis c.k. writes and directs.

brilliant. silly. funny. sad.

5. My buddy Travis says if and when he and his better half, Missy, get married, you guys once said you might play their wedding. Uh, no pressure! But I'm curious: What do you imagine a hypothetical Free Energy wedding gig would be like?

PS: kegs. loud p.a. system. confetti explosions. zip line into hot tub filled with champagne.

chutes and ladders (LIFE SIZE!!).

bridesmaids orgy. 

6. People used to compare Hockey Night to Pavement; I saw an interview where you said you didn't listen to Pavement anymore. In the same interview, you (justifiably!) raved about Thin Lizzy; Stuck on Nothing is an album with a lot of classic rock reference points, including, if I'm not mistaken, some Thin Lizzy-style guitar harmonies. So, should we expect another big shift on the next Free Energy album?

PS: yes.

what connects "born in the u.s.a" to inxs' "kick?" synths? clinical production? wet snares and slapback on vocals?

all of these are correct.

the new free energy is gonna be huge, bombastic, clean, gnarly, melodic, dancey, live, and more like the late stones than it probably should.

thank you!