Last Saturday night April 2nd, if you’re a Des Moines music fan who wasn’t at either Gross Domestic Product, or the English Beat show at 504 Club, or seeing the classic Guided By Voices lineup at Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City, or at whatever Residents show Matthew Dake of You Are Home said he was going to, chances are you were either at home or where I was, the Jucifer show at Vaudeville Mews. Apparently that’s a few of you because it was a decent crowd.
The first thing people always think/say about Jucifer is their volume level. They bring along an epic wall of speakers for Mrs. Jucifer’s guitar, show up hours in advance of the show to set them all up and test them out, and they sit there taking up half the stage while all the opening bands play. It’s pretty impressive and I don’t envy their job lugging that gear around and setting it up night after night, but it’s easy to end up thinking that that’s pretty much all there is to them. But the experience is a draw in itself.
Longshadowmen, in the Isaac + drummer duo lineup, opened the show, Isaac bringing his Leslie and an Ampeg 8×10 bass rig to play his guitar through. Apparently he adjusts the presentation to suit what he’s booked with. This setup gave his blues riffs a sound of rusty machinery. Sad Fucks were pretty meh for me, except that something about what they seemed to be going for reminded me of the Eggnogs. But they could stand to cut loose and variate things a bit more. Their multi-color-mohawked bassist graciously lent me his bass when I broke a string on mine during Fetal Pig’s set and couldn’t get a new one installed quick enough. It was his backup though, because he had also broken a string during their set. Coincidence. After our set came Midnight Ghost Train, touring with Jucifer, who brought the southern-fried riff-crunch. I wonder if anyone at, say, The Obelisk or Meteorcity has yet turned on to these guys, they were pretty great.
I think the acoustics of the Mews favored Jucifer better than the last/first time I saw them, when The Cactus Rats opened for them at The Reverb (old location in downtown in Cedar Falls) a bunch of years ago. It was loud but not as painfully so as before, so I was actually able to make out the guitar riffs clearly enough to get that what they’re doing is actually rather musical. Being able to let one long chord ring out for several seconds and then nail the next one dead-on without even looking at each other is quite a skill too. Given that I had fully expected to be in a grouchy mood by this time, they actually cheered me up a bit and were engaging enough for me to stick around for their whole set.
Week before last had some fun goings-on in it too. Tuesday the 22nd Dan and I did a two-piece acoustic-ish version of Why Make Clocks in between Longshadowmen — this time as acoustic guitar through the house system, Longshadowlady’s ghostly backup vocals, and some dramatic/spastic guest drumming from the drummer of Spirits Of The Red City (supposedly known as a free-jazz guy from Chicago) — and the headliner Spirits Of The Red City. Next to nobody showed up so we had an intimate evening of playing music for each other. There is little “city” about Spirits Of The Red City, they come off like some plains cult based out of a remote old farmhouse, standing or seated all near each other, wearing antique clothes, talking amongst themselves, playing spooky ghost-folk, inviting the audience such as there was to sit on the stage with them. For their first number, a musical setting of this weird old nursery rhyme, they also included a puppet show, which they set up from an old suitcase with a scrolling backdrop, using marionettes made from animal skulls. These crummy blackberry phone photos probably don’t do it justice, but it was very nicely done. They turned out to be a quite friendly crew, I get the impression Isaac is old friends with them.
That Friday Fetal Pig played an early all-ages show with The Great Sabatini and Omens. Both were great. We got asked to play last, which is usually a bad sign, but not so much this time, as people stuck around. Omens is local, includes Luke Rauch of Druids on guitar, and has a little more hardcore vibe in them than does Druids but no less sludgy detunedness. The Great Sabatini were another loud stoner-doom band with no bass guitars — actually their bassist couldn’t make it, so the guitarist with the super long hair and whimsical wax-curled mustache filled in some low end with an octave pedal. They were probably one of the nicest friendliest bands I’ve ever been on a bill with, but that matters less to you as the music fan than that they rocked hard, putting up an amiable fun approach to big cosmic gloomy doom riffs.
I went back out the next night because the bill had two bands on it I love. When I’d heard locals Rhonda Is A Dead Bitch had a show coming up I was like “yeah I want to go,” and then when I later heard Pharmacy Spirits (from Lincoln) were on the bill too, it became more of a “HELL YEAH I want to go!” Opening band Kong Vs. Kong was kind of a cheezy punk rock cover band that I think I heard was basically the guys from Horseshoe Spatulas. I mean, who opens their set with “Search And Destroy?” You’d better be a Grade-A Badass to try and pull that off. Their playing was tight, but what they were doing seemed out of place. I think Betty Buzzkill already kinda does it better, or at least more believably.
Rhonda were set to go on second but someone tried to talk them into going on last. I am just so sick of this happening. Forgive me if I sound bitter, but it’s been done to me dozens of times. Basically what happens is either the headliner(s) are feeling lazy and want to finish early so they can go party or something, or there’s a particular band that they’re irrationally scared will clear the place out (if there were a “local band most likely to clear a room” title, admittedly Rhonda would be a strong candidate, and proudly so), or I don’t know what, but for some reason they have the soundman or somebody approach some little-known, ill-respected or challenging band on the bill and ask them to “headline,” which sounds to an inexperienced musician like you’re getting a kind of promotion from “opener” status, but by which they really mean, play to an empty room at 1 in the fucking morning. Maybe this happens because somebody overbooks the show in the first place. No 10PM show should have 5 acts on it and I personally think 4 is pushing it and 3 is the sweet spot; if I were booking I would require a pretty compelling reason to add a 4th act to any show. Bookers need to focus on putting together a quality show for the music fans instead of on trying to be a nice guy doing favors for every friend-of-a-friend in a band that emails asking if they can jump on some particular bill (usually one that happens to have a particularly tasty headliner). It’s also confusing for the people that come out for the show too, when the order of bands gets shuffled around at the last minute. Fucking booking guys should try being in bands and see how they like that shit getting pulled on them when they go play out of town. Rant over.
Thankfully Jason and crew stood their ground and went on second like originally intended. They could stand to work on the speed of their set-up, but we’ll just leave that there. First time I saw them I liked them because they made such an unholy racket. Then they surprised me by coming out with a record with a heavy presence of 70s electronics vibe on it, and at the release show they pulled in a tight succinct set of short guitar-noise-pop numbers. This time they were in a cosmic shoegaze mode like a mashup of My Bloody Valentine with Hawkwind. Logan, on sound, seemed to have difficulty dealing with Jason’s wall of distortion. The loud noise jams over hypnotic repeating chord progressions meandered into trying-your-patience lengths until the house lights were brought up on them, much to Jason’s delight. And, as it turns out, the room didn’t clear out after all.
I love Pharmacy Spirits’ Teen Challenge album, which they now had vinyl copies of for sale. Under better monetary circumstances I’d have likely bought one. Their lineup was down to a three-piece this show, and I’m not sure Jim Reilly is accustomed to doing the lead guitar parts, as he seemed to have an excessive predilection for just randomly flailing at his guitar making noise instead of the great melodies they usually have. They went at it with reckless energy to spare, which went over gangbusters with most of the crowd, but for me seemed needlessly sloppy and tossed-off, and as such a little bit disappointing.
Look Out Loretta did a cowpunk kind of thing and did it quite well. My friend Ben M down in Dallas would really dig them. They’re worth keeping an eye on. The headliner (official as well as actual) who went on at 1AM, but to a house that was still rockin’ with rowdy music fans, was a fellow named St. Christopher, also from Lincoln, who I guess was going to some kind of punk-bluesman thing, standing up on stage by himself in a suit playing a hollowbody guitar through a Marshall, stomping on an amplified board and shouting tunelessly about getting drunk. Didn’t really turn me on much, maybe I was tired.
No shows coming up as of now. I’d really love to get out around Iowa and play some gigs, preferably clumped into little mini-tours to make it worthwhile, but I have inadequate transportation equipment to the purpose and am ill-situated to do anything about it. If perchance I can ride along in your van for a few days, get in touch. I’ve just recorded a bunch of stuff, both Distant Trains and Chuck Hoffman material. Meanwhile, we’re mixing the Fetal Pig record in a couple weeks and we have some really trick-looking Fetal Pig t-shirts available, designed by Nathan Thrailkill and printed by Nate Fetus, and every one we sell gets us a little closer to putting out the album.