Until a few months ago I’d been seeing House Of Bricks as one of those bar/venues in decline, you know the ones that seem to book mostly the same has-been/also-ran folks repeatedly. This is the place that seemed proud of the fact that Green Jello still played there, after all. It did have some things going for it, though. For one, they have pretty good food. When I first came to Des Moines I worked a couple blocks away and would occasionally go there for lunch when I was feeling the need for something a little bit coma-inducing to be washed down with a beer. Also, they did seem to manage to bring in some fairly current metal acts, though usually none of the sort I was interested in.
Of late, the place seems on a comeback. I began to take notice when I went there for the Red Fang show a few months back. Then recently the place started showing more and more evidence of a pretty major remodel, which seems to be oriented towards adding an upper level or perhaps rooftop patio. And, it turns out, Fetal Pig has had a few pretty good gigs there lately. We even got paid for most of them, which I guess hasn’t been the case for any gig Dan had done there in several years. This is, of course, a function of turnout, and a lot of things play into making that happen. Also the staff have been very cool and friendly, the sound system is quality, and the sound man, even though he consistently shows up late and appears pretty blasé about his work, obviously knows what he’s doing and always gets a really good sound. Some recent experiences there have been fun enough to make the atmosphere of certain recent Mews trips look downright depressing in comparison.
I was unsure of how the abrasive dirty slash-and-burn grind of Cop Bar would go over, which is probably why we, or somebody (I don’t know what degree of input Dan had) hedged the bet on the bill a little bit and got Love Songs For Lonely Monsters, an up and coming local band that’s well liked and joins melodic pop-punk songwriting to bracing textural guitar sounds and light prog touches. This made for a bill with a nice variety to it, and to my delight, everything was met with enthusiasm from a sizable and lively crowd of diverse ages and appearances.
Cop Bar had just freshly assembled (literally they were slipping them into covers and writing on the discs with Sharpies there in the venue before the show started) their newest release, a split 3″ CD-R with Captain 3 Leg. Each band plays six songs in a little over four and a half minutes per band, ending with a track consisting of all the other songs layered over each other, and each section receiving an introduction from Joe Jack Talcum announcing the next band over squirrely Casio music, and all wrapped up in cover art by Manhorse. C3L are up first with recordings rebuilt from newly unearthed drum tracks from an aborted circa-2000 recording session. They have noticeably more of a death metal influence in the riffs and guitar tone than do the crustier sounding Cop Bar, who here extend much the same thing as on No Justice Just Law except perhaps with even more incomprehensible vocals. It all goes by in a bit of a blur but it’s plenty worth the three bucks. For the show Sam wore some kind of plush Godzilla head and threw his microphone around and was an all-around madman. His performing style, plus the short songs and funny song titles, seemed to win the place over easily.
I don’t remember whether Fetal Pig played next or Love Songs For Lonely Monsters did. It was I think my third time seeing them and they’ve come along way from the first one which was at DG’s in Ames opening for We Are Country Mice (who I guess are just called Country Mice now) with Why Make Clocks in the middle. One thing about LS4LM is they have quite a lot of sound, what with the combination of Nick Park’s ‘gazey use of guitar effects (a prominent feature he also brings to Wolves In The Attic) and Justin Neuenschwander’s 12-string. Add to that that lead singer Amy Badger sometimes playes a third guitar or a flute and Justin sometimes throws down some keyboards, it’s not hard to imagine that their sound could get muddy if the room or PA or sound guy isn’t the best, but this show and the last that I saw of them (at Gas Lamp, a much smaller stage and room) they’ve managed to sound nice and clear, whereas at DG’s they seemed to be new and still getting the kinks worked out. Sam dug them too. They have a split cassette EP with Iowa City electronic pop trio Datagun out which is really good, especially if you like tape hiss. Or they did anyway; they might be sold out of them by now.
Cop Bar headed up the road to Ames where they played the following night at The Space. Opening the set was Human Satan, an improvisational duo made up of Nate Lodgson on trumpet, and a drummer. It seemed a tad self-indulgent and tossed-off but they only played for about fifteen minutes so whatever. I think I drank a beer in the parking lot. Cop Bar did a pretty similar show to what they’d done at House Of Bricks but to the smaller room and crowd who dug it just as much.
CM4KT, from DeKalb, IL, were new to me despite that apparently they’re part of the GetLoFi circuit-bending community that includes the Ring Toss Twins who were on that show Brian and Ember had me up to Decorah for. In the center was a combination drummer and player of colorful circuit-bent toys and gizmos set up on shelves above his kick drum. His ability to keep the beat going while manipulating the various dials and buttons in front of him between drum hits was quite impressive. The guitarist had some homebrew electronic modifications to his guitar along with some interesting pedals and toys he held up to the pickups. I’d say their appeal went beyond just the novelty of seeing them use weird gear, though, which is a refreshing thing to be able to say about this kind of act. The gadgets added a layer of interesting psychedelic noise and whimsy over a foundation of raw primitive blues-rock. They had a recording for sale that was available only as an audio-only VHS tape, I can’t imagine they’re managing to sell many of those. I think most peoples’ VCRs bit the dust years ago and it’s near impossible to buy a new one now. (3″ CD-Rs are bad enough, the only player/drive I have that will take them is on my wife’s computer.) Their other merch item was contact microphones made out of bottle caps, which they’re currently doing a tour of hackerspaces down south, giving workshops on how to build them.
Longshadowmen wrapped up the night with another Longshadowmen show. They’re remarkably consistent so far as I’ve seen this lineup. How to describe them? Raw electric blues played loud as fuck and dripping with off-the-grid paranoia over hypnotically repetitive chord progressions and Matt Dake’s avant-jazz drum flourishes. It was announced to be Matt’s last show on drums for them, though, as he has other projects he’s looking to devote more energy to. I’m curious what those are, The Jerkles do seem to be doing more gigs than usual lately.
Next Fetal Pig went to Ottumwa to play the Music Union Hall, a DIY venue in the upper floor of the Green Street Hall Mall, an old building in Ottumwa which the Bolingers and crew bought up to house various ventures such as the Flipside piercing shop and a cool horror movie shop called Insane’s Asylum. (I bought a used CD of Morbid Angel’s Altars Of Madness for five bucks.) They also host various sorts of events in this open upper floor area, many of them related to their International Video Game Hall Of Fame. These guys are a big piece of what’s making Ottumwa cool these days, besides all the musicians. This actually turned out to be one of our coolest shows in a while, cool enough for Jeff to declare “no more bars!” When we arrived there was some sort of video game fest going on and we met a guy who saw Fetal Pig in Iowa City circa ’94 and was really excited that the band was still around, then after load-in we met Andy and Sandy and Troy for some dinner.
Broken Point Of View came on first, they were all right if you like stuff like Shinedown as much as they do. Their guitars were all run direct to the PA through Pods or something. Not really my kind of thing but the place was nicely full and people were getting really into everything, dancing around and generally having a great time. Even Spooty, the proprietor, was in good spirits despite his considerable duties coordinating and overseeing and cleaning up. Early on during Broken Point Of View’s set I perchanced to wander the neighborhood a bit in search of a cash machine, and found live music happening in no less than two other places within a couple blocks of the show — one a nearby bar where some young fellows were covering some Skynrd, and the other an Eagles hall or something of that sort where through the wall from the sidewalk I could hear some good ole boys (and gals) doing old country-western classics. I’ve told you before that Ottumwa’s got it going on.
The Mighty Accelerator were on next and the party was in full swing. The guitar leads Andy has been obligated to take on since Travis moved away he pulled off, less flashy but much better than I’d expected given how worried about them he’d claimed to be. Fetal Pig played. North To The Future were less country and more hard rockin’ than they sound on the EP but recognizably the same great songs. A+ gig, would play there again.
Last weekend’s gig at Gabe’s in Iowa City definitely seemed to be promoted as a metal show. That seems to work all right for Fetal Pig, though. Still, if this was a metal show, it was of that metal fringe scene that I dig. Metal is catching on with post-hardcore “indie” rockers who can’t quite get down with the “chill” or hippie vibes of indie shit these days and always preferred the harder edge that “alternative” forms of guitar rock had in decades past, and it’s an interesting phenomenon for both good and ill. I get the impression that that’s kind of where we fit in, and also where this show was coming from, and the show was a winner all the way through.
Starting things off was 100° Centipede, no relation. This was their first show, and as I understand it the lead singer is a longtime well known and well liked figure around the Iowa City music scene, though this is his first crack at performing. He and his band were a boatload of metallic scuz-rock fun, though. For an idea where they’re coming from, they have a song about a certain Nick the Prick, a reference that will be caught by anyone who’s hung around Iowa City enough at certain times in the past 20 years or so.
Fetal Pig were scheduled second due to expectations that some of The Mighty Acceleratör would be arriving late, but it turned out that they made it on time after all. The crowd did thin a tad after our set but was still respectable (it was quite large to begin with, I think a lot of people in town were excited about 100° Centipede) and had lost nothing in enthusiasm. Acceleratör’s performance was a bit unusual among the sets I’ve seen so far by them, in that it was a bit looser, even a bit sloppy, and Joe played a much more raucous frontman than usual, getting out in front and engaging with the audience, something Dan and I had both been wishing he’d do a bit more of. Dan turned to me during the set and said he’d got the idea that they’re going for a bit of a Murder Junkies thing.
Los Voltage sounded pretty neat though I mainly hung out manning the merch during their set. Kind of an old-school hardcore punk sound with some exaggerated guitar delay effects. Loud. Cop Bar was maybe even a little more unhinged than what I’d seen before, perhaps for the hometown crowd; Andy characterized it afterwards as like an excellent spoof of grindcore, which, let’s face it, is pretty silly music, though that’s no reason not to enjoy it. It’s those grindcore bands most willing to laugh at themselves that he and I seem to like best anyway.
The other night we went to Ames to play at The Space and got to hang out with Nathan Thrailkill, who did all our awesome artwork for the record and was in town that night. It was a low-key show and maybe we were too loud for the tight little corner of the room we were set up in but nobody complained. Forget the Times, from Chicago, opened it up as a three-piece of two guitars and a drummer doing improvised noise rock that was in similar territory to early Wrong but with a bit more post-rock groove, though I thought I maybe detected a bit of Dead C inspiration in there too. A didgeridoo was employed at some point, apropos of nothing in particular. They jammed continuously for about 20 minutes and personally, I could have used another ten or twenty because I was enjoying it. One of the guitar players runs a label called Already Dead Tapes and they had a wide assortment of recorded material for sale on cassette, offering a special of three tapes for $10 so I got both Forget The Times tapes plus one of nice meditative synth drones by somebody named Kyle Landstra. Forget The Times have an LP out too but I’m still in process of scraping together cash for a working turntable on which to play the records I already have. Donations happily accepted. They have it up on their bandcamp though so maybe I’ll snag a download sometime.
I don’t like to toot my own horn as you can tell by the lack of details I’m providing about our sets at these shows, but the crowd response to us has been really positive and exciting when I’ve been able to process it. It feels weird being in a band people like this much for a change. I want to sincerely thank everyone who came out to these shows, especially the ones that made those cheering noises.
Recent interesting acquisitions: A 3″ CD-R called Under The Cloud of Sleep by someone calling themselves Du Hexen Hase. No contact info on the package. #45 of 47. One 17-minute spaced out improvised track of electronic washes and minimal guitar. Cover art is a photo of emu against an overcast sky. No idea when it came out. And some very cool Earwigs stuff I’ll jabber more about later.