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.

Real talk? Free Energy, a bunch of dudes from Philly with deep Minnesota roots, used to strike me as sort of a "That '70s Band," with all those Thin Lizzy licks and glam-rock stomps. Plus at times they sounded too much like the '90s' best '70s worshipping-band, my beloved Weezer. So I held out on them for a little while. But everybody from Pitchfork writers to a bunch of Des Moines-ians (?) who caught Free Energy during Daytrotter's Barnstormer tour this summer kept telling me how awesome they were (not to mention their co-sign from LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy). They were right. Especially live.  Especially this time.

A week from now Free Energy will be in New York, one-third of the way through a short set of dates with Weezer, one big step closer to achieving that rock'n'roll dream. Last night they were making their Des Moines debut, at a 200-ish-capacity venue downtown. Lead singer Paul Sprangers was wearing a faded blue Minnesota Twins T-shirt. One of the two guitarists was in a faded black Aerosmith T-shirt. Sprangers said the show was going to start off slow, because he needed to work into it after busting his lip and having to get stitches the other night in Kansas City when he slammed his face into somebody's guitar. The show didn't stay slow for long.

There's something charged in the air.
I wasn't taking notes or anything, but I can tell you they played all the biggies from their debut album out this year via DFA, the very catchy Stuck on Nothing: "Free Energy," "Dream City," "Bang Pop," "All I Know," "Hope Child," plus killer 2009 B-side "Something in Common," closing with what I now know is the Boss's "I'm Goin' Down." In a way, I could see Free Energy growing into this decade's Oasis. The genius of the direct 1970s references is it bypasses whole generations of bands that hardly anybody outside the music-hoarding set really knows. So instead of having to recommend them as sounding like, I dunno, shoegaze or some other genre that never really caught on commercially in the U.S., you just say they sound like "classic rock." Sort of like how when Oasis came around, instead of comparing them to the Stone Roses or whatever you could skip back to the Beatles. This only works when nobody else is doing it with those particular bands, I guess. Another similarity is that both have such simple, occasionally hilarious lyrics centering around the exact same topic: "Tonight, I'm a rock'n'roll star." 

Neon lips like a rainbow kid.
Anyway, everybody around me who knew the words shouted along, and we clapped along during the parts where you were supposed to clap along, and there was a lot of pogoing and booty-shaking and many fists were pumped (as you can see from the photos). Our friend Tracy got up on stage and told a joke. Sprangers told her comedy is tough. He also name-checked Des Moines friends We Hate Music twice. Keepers of the Carpet, a long-running Ames band of around the same vintage as the Poison Control Center, played ebulliently crunching Weezer-style power-pop sing-alongs last night-- it was my first time seeing them, and apparently it could be their last show, but I was super impressed, especially because of their gorgeous, theatrical, "Bohemian Rhapsody"-ish three-part harmonies: I don't hear stuff like that real often. Bob Nastanovich (not "Pavement's Bob Nastanovich" now-- the reunion tour ended last month in South America-- just "Bob Nastanovich from Des Moines," he reminded Aaron Z. upon meeting him) was spinning records for about an hour and a half before Keepers and then again after each set, including the Clean and Galaxie 500 and Salt-N-Pepa and a bunch of other great bands whose names I forget, also Nancy Sinatra's "Lightning's Girl" which he had on a weird import that was a lot like this-- I asked Logan to please turn it up for that one. Free Energy came out to the theme from Ghostbusters, their choice not Bob's. At one point they passed the mic around in the front few rows so we could all sing along with one of the refrains ("All I Know," maybe? "Something in Common"). Before the show I bought a tape ($5). The only even somewhat non-awesome moment was when Sprangers pointed out that the night he hurt his lip they were opening for Jimmy Eat World (Ian Cohen, I see you!) and he seemed unsure whether we'd think that was cool or not. C'mon, those first three albums are great.

My heart says crazy things.


  1. Nice Review! The show kicked ass. Feel free to embed this Youtube video I made last night of "Something in Common," if you wish: