Ford trucks, apple pies, bald eagles!
The winter chill for shows around here is over. Highlights for me in the next few months include Iron & Wine, John Vanderslice with Damien Jurado, the sixth annual Gross Domestic Product local music festival, the Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City (I'll definitely be making it out there for at least Das Racist), Queens of the Stone Age, Taylor Swift, the Poison Control Center, Christopher the Conquered, Wolves in the Attic, Mark Mallman with Portland Seattle indie dudes BOAT, Rural Albert Advantage (in Ames), Woodsman, Giant Cloud, I Was Totally Destroying It with locals Cashes Rivers and Parlours, Birds & Batteries, and a lot more (Love Songs for Lonely Monsters, the Seed of Something, Rhonda Is a Dead Bitch, and on and on). What am I missing?



I was up all night with squares and pentagrams.
"Don't get too close to the artists" is probably the number one rule of being an occasionally professional music-criticky type person. That's always been a huge priority for me, too. In the early days, like 2003 and 2004, before lots of people had my e-mail address or would want to use it for anything even if they did, PopMatters would send me a batch of CDs I knew next to nothing about, or I would get ahold of albums for Pitchfork reviews based on them being assigned to me (not me asking for them). So it was easy to disconnect yourself from the people making the records. I was your stereotypical blogger in his bedroom, typing by night for an audience I didn't know, about bands I definitely didn't know, often not even via the weird proxy of e-mail conversations with publicists. Sure, there'd be the occasional hiccup, like when my lifelong buddy Matt Wright was an awesome music publicist or eventual manager for Blitzen Trapper (linked article predates Matt's manager-ship, thank goodness); I always feel like it's unfair for me to write about bands if I know there's no way I would feel comfortable saying anything really mean about them, when there are so many other bands who don't have any personal connection with me and wouldn't have that advantage (sometimes getting really mean things written about them). Even if I thought I would like the band's record no matter what, that I was totally uninfluenced by anything personal, man-- how can you be sure? What if bias is built in subconsciously, so you can be totally off-base and not even realize it, just as in so many other areas of life? Exactly what level of detachment is acceptable to ensure you're really giving readers as objective an evaluation as possible, and does it really make sense to demand objectivity when it comes to something as personal and subjective as pop music, underground music, whatever? Do I like How to Dress Well because I like How to Dress Well, or do I like How to Dress Well because we both like Shai?  I struggle with this still.

The more you get involved in writing about music, the more involved you get in the quote-unquote music industry-- which was the last thing I ever wanted (if there are two types of music writers-- those who get into music writing so they can be a part of the music industry, and those who get into music writing so they can be a part of writing-- I've always liked to think of myself as the latter). You wind up exchanging e-mails with small-scale artists who you really like and who really could benefit from your kind words. You talk with publicists, do-it-yourself record label owners. You see your reviews having real-life negative effects on people who don't seem like jerks. You don't want to be a jerk, either. You especially don't want to punish someone for the absolutely heinous artistic crime of being really, really nice and not annoying. But you still gotta try to stay detached, objective, because the people listening out there in internet land don't share even that modicum of industry baggage, and because you're a critic. Somehow, living in Brooklyn, I didn't really know many people in bands, at least not people that I didn't know first from work or school-- even though I did accidentally make Sufjan Stevens wait once to use the men's room, and I'm pretty sure that one guy on Avenue A in 2004 or 2005 was really Ryan Adams because isn't "no, but I get that all the time" just the sort of thing Ryan Adams would tell the stranger in front of you who also thought he looked like Ryan Adams, and I guess the National and members of the Hold Steady and Elephant 6 mainstay/Lil Wayne touring bassist Heather McIntosh from the Instruments (who I met because I heard her talking American-accented English in the crowd during Radiohead's main stage set in Roskilde, Denmark, where she was playing bass the next day in Gnarls Barkley's band) all also lived in my old neighborhood. Sorry if that  comes off name-droppy, because the point is just the opposite: I know I'm not potentially too close to the artists.

This is a great year for feeling potentially too close to the artists.



Could you deliver a message to my mom and dad?
There's something weirdly revealing about seeing a band play an under-attended weeknight show in Des Moines. The great ones, like Sweden's Love Is All, thrive on the energy what little audience is in attendance throws their way, making for an intimate, unforgettable experience. Others, like L.A.'s Dum Dum Girls, strut around like they're too big to be here, as Christopher Owens from tourmates Girls-- who really did think his band was too big to be here and decided to skip that stop on the tour, but showed up in the audience anyway-- wanders around in a hunched pose with a weasel-ish expression. There's probably a famous quote out there I'm not remembering about how when bands play New York, they know they're playing for an audience that sees a ton of bands come through, so they have to put on their best show; seeing bands in Des Moines gives you an idea how they might play when they think hardly anyone is looking.

I wasn't really sure what to expect from Fergus & Geronimo, a Denton, Texas-based duo who have since resettled in Brooklyn. When I interviewed them for eMusic, at first I was afraid our conversation was going to look pretty boring in Q&A form-- that is, until I played back the tape and realized they were actually sort of hilarious, just mostly at my expense (I'm the guy who, as they touted how much they supposedly love sports and claimed they moved to New York City because the New York Jets had won the Super Bowl-- think about that for a second-- said something like, "Oh man, there's not enough indie-rock bands or whatever you want to call them that are into sports-- I mean, I love sports!"). But their debut album, Unlearn, on Sub Pop imprint Hardly Art, is a smart, sardonic update on plenty of classic 1960s garage rock and pop, the kind of record that might throw you off at first with its heavy irony and primitive feel but really grows on you as you find yourself noticing more and more details. So I was curious how they'd respond to a Monday evening crowd in Des Moines.

The crowd last night was even thinner than I might have expected, with not a lot of guys and only one woman in the audience. Ames-based openers Nuclear Rodeo put on another solid set of sort of Weezer-ish power-pop, maybe a little louder and more raucous this time, and joined by a keyboard player, but-- well, Mondays are Mondays, and I guess most people's friends were like my wife, or Chet Boom's girlfriend, or Ben and Travis and Moffitt, who had to work early in the next morning or were out of town or whatever. But I was happy to find that Fergus & Geronimo still put on a really fun set for the modest sausage party that was there. Jason Kelly, aka Geronimo, has big glasses and slightly mussed brown hair, looking a bit like the indie-film director Andrew Bujalski, and splits his time between guitar and keyboard. Andy Savage, aka Fergus, has more of a blonde Kurt Cobain mop, and spends the evening behind the drum kit. They each trade off lead vocals, and are joined live by a bass player and another guitarist.

Jason admitted to being slightly stoned, and Ladd bought the band a round of shots, so it might not have been Fergus & Geronimo's tightest performance ever or anything. But I was impressed by a lot of things, including: Jason's voice in-real-life sounding all raw and soulful and gritty like Otis Redding or Jagger or something on standout "Powerful Lovin'"; the new song they had just written in the van that day (something about "strange wool"?) they played before segueing into "Powerful Lovin'" and then cutting things off when the shots came onstage and then going back into it again because they saw that's what the people wanted; the other new song they had written in that van today (this time something about Roman numerals); "Baby Don't You Cry"; the way Jason really sticks his tongue out exaggeratedly when doing "la-la-las"; "World Never Stops"; the high praise Jason gave the Iowa sunset; Andy or somebody else saying how they were all sleep-deprived and wanted to get laid and me just thinking man they're in the wrong place tonight because the only girl here has a boyfriend; and how I wished after the last song they had still played "Wanna Know What I Would Do?" because that one hits sort of close to home. I hope someone offered them a place to stay-- another danger of playing Des Moines. I bought a 7".

So all right, I've seen a bunch of other shows since I last posted about one, including the Poison Control Center (below) playing a bunch of new stuff at Des Moines' new Club 504 venue, and there's a bunch more great stuff coming up (I already bought a ticket for Das Racist in Iowa City). I owe you a spring concert preview. I owe you a lot of things. Unfortunately, I also owe my editors, and they're the ones who pay the bills. Every day I'm hustling like Lykke Li. Until soon.

So I've been writing this ballet...