On a Saturday night a couple weeks ago I attended a rock gig at a venue here in Des Moines I had not been at before, a bar called Carl’s Place. The bill was local institution North Of Grand, opened-for by Going To Grandma’s. You’ve already probably heard a bit about Fetal Pig here at the Farm, we’ve been recording lately and are playing at the Mews this Saturday night. Going To Grandma’s is like Fetal Pig in that it’s another re-boot of an old band involving Dan Hutchison of Why Make Clocks on guitar and vocals, and his brother Jeff on drums; and also in that its new lineup has a member of Why Make Clocks, Will Tarbox, playing bass in lieu of its original bassist. Both bands were re-launched in what was planned as a one-off show for the birthday of, and at the request of, Dan’s wife Kim, earlier this year. The show got a really good response and it seemed evident that people would like to see these bands some more, and we kinda figured what the hell, after we went to the trouble of re-learning all these songs — or in the case of Will and I, learning them for the first time — and additionally in the case of Will, taking up a whole new instrument — may as well keep it going.

Going To Grandma’s is different from Fetal Pig and the other bands this bunch of guys are involved in, however, in its musical style, being catchy, humorous pop-punk, played with sloppy abandon. Facebook event postings self-deprecatingly boasted, “Come see a bunch of 40-year-old guys sing songs about getting grounded and going to keggers.” Other song topics include zombie movies, shoplifting, and putting the milk back in the refrigerator with the cap off. These are definitely songs they wrote many years ago, though I’m reasonably sure they could write more now, just as good, if they decided to, though there would probably be more songs about shitty jobs or driving or bars.

Why would guys involved in other, “artier,” more “serious” bands, want to resurrect a goofy pop-punk band? Well, one thing that distinguishes Going To Grandma’s musically is that the songs are packed with hooks. Bands working in this style are a dime a dozen, but very few of them write songs this good. So far after both performances I’ve seen, “Beach Nuts” is still running through my head days later.

Another reason perhaps is that audiences love this stuff. I’m not going to complain or suggest that people are unsophisticated when they don’t respond as strongly to material that’s supposedly more sophisticated, because I think it’s part of the band’s job to find their audience instead of whining that it hasn’t found them — but I will say that it’s a hell of a cool feeling as a musician when people actually cheer enthusiastically for you. Sure, such behavior probably isn’t as appropriate a response to a song like Why Make Clocks’ “Christmas Is Ruined.” Even though as an artist you feel a need to convey depth and range of emotion, sometimes it feels great to just be bringing the party.

It’s because music like this has such a broad appeal that I think a lot of musicians and music fans secretly, or perhaps not so secretly, have a special place in their hearts for fun-rock too. At least, I know Dan loves The Descendants, so that’s something. I think there’s an assumption out there that musicians engaged in straightforward pop-punk or in bar-punk (or whatever you’d call the kind of thing North Of Grand and Squidboy do) are exclusively fans of the same sort of thing. I’ve found that the best musicians are persons of wide, eclectic tastes. Sometimes this crosses over into their playing and causes them to play in multiple bands quite different from each other.

To illustrate, let’s take the members of Going To Grandma’s themselves. I’ve already mentioned Dan and Jeff and Will; that leaves Jim Duede on lead guitar and some of the lead vocals. Will, Dan, and Jim are noted metal fans, especially Jim, with various subgenres represented among their collections and regular listening. Will and Dan are of course also into various sorts of indie rock and folk as you’d expect, and I don’t know what all Jeff likes to listen to but he seems to have a sincere appreciation for what would be termed “classic rock” in addition to more “alternative” materials. If you’ve been following my accounts thus far, you know (but in case you haven’t, I’ll summarize) that Dan, Jeff, and myself currently comprise Fetal Pig, and that Fetal Pig play a sort of dissonant, paranoid prog-punk that might be described as a mix of Minutemen and Voivod; and that Dan, Will, and myself likewise comprise Why Make Clocks, who play a somewhat moody brand of indie rock with occasional country sprinkles on it, that usually draws comparisons to Wilco, Crazy Horse, and Built To Spill. What I haven’t talked about a whole lot yet is that the duo of Jeff and Jim is known as Blutiger Fluss, and they employ an assemblage of synthesizers to play ambient electronic music heavily inspired by certain early ’70s German artists. Needless to say this stuff doesn’t exactly pack the rock clubs, but it has its following. Their space-themed compositions like those on their album The Moons Of Jupiter have gotten them some interesting gigs with the Science Center Of Iowa. Even lesser known is that Blutiger Fluss have an intermittently-active alter-ego playing 1980s-styled synth-pop, called Businessmen On Bicycles. This is just the bands these guys are in now, to say nothing of their past, but regarding that I’ll just throw out some band names: Airborne Catholics, The Delirious Conniptions, Mondo Cane.

I’d be curious to hear from any active musicians reading this who are currently or have in the past been involved in a little community like this, where a small knotty collection of people in various combinations create nearly as many bands of differing musical styles among them as there are people. I’ve found myself in such a situation once before in Cedar Falls, that which I now refer to as the “Garage” or “Ragman Records” scene. Most of the people involved were high-school kids during most of that time, and I was the weird older guy hanging out and collaborating with them because I was so excited by their creative energy. Ever since they started breaking off to other cities I’ve really missed that scene, and now I think I may have wound up in another one.

Another thing about this gig that really got me thinking was the vibe of the venue and the event. For some years most of the gigs I’ve played (hometown gigs especially) have taken place at places that are considered rock clubs, that is, the music venue is the main attraction. The Reverb operated that way early on before becoming more bar-oriented on their move to Spicoli’s, which got rolling not long before I moved to Des Moines; Vaudeville Mews doesn’t even open up as a bar if there aren’t acts booked for the night. But Carl’s Place is different — a neighborhood bar that happens to host live music on occasion, especially focusing on the more popular local bands. When Why Make Clocks has played in Omaha and elsewhere out-of-town we’ve sometimes played at this type of place — the 49’r, O’Leavers. It’s not a rock club gig, it’s a bar gig, and it’s a totally different feel, and I believe in many ways more advantageous circumstances.

It still helps to have a draw in a bar gig, but it’s also a better place to build one — you don’t just only get people who are there because of the bands (which might not be many), you get people who are there to hang out and would be there even if you weren’t. Perhaps not having a cover helps. There’s a loose, fun vibe of people who are there to have a good time together. I think that’s an especially good environment for a music show. The crowd is people who are among friends and open to hearing something new.

You’re also less likely to have 4 or 5 bands crammed into a night, so you don’t always end up being limited to a 35 minute set, which I personally think is too short. I really don’t like having more than three bands in a night, and preferably two. The shorter sets don’t really present me enough to get the feel of a band whose stuff I don’t already know. A 35 or 40 minute set isn’t even as long as a whole album, man!

There are downsides, but I think they’re small ones. The PA is more likely to be vocal-only and might not be very good. I think that’s fine though, your band should just sound good anyway. If your music sounds like mush without the perfect equipment, maybe your music just sounds like mush and you should rethink some things. Also it’s not as easy to get on these gigs, these places don’t usually have a dedicated booking person or a lot of focus put into seeking out bands. You kind of have to know someone who knows someone, and they tend to focus more on local outfits than touring acts. In the case of Going To Grandma’s, it was North Of Grand who asked them to do the show.

Also, certain kinds of performances or music may not work as well in this environment. I can’t quite imagine a band like Burmese going over well in such a setting, likewise Blutiger Fluss or even Distant Trains. Stuff like Going To Grandma’s and North Of Grand works especially well, though; North Of Grand seems to be the band doing the most business in these kind of places here in Des Moines (Hull Avenue Tavern comes to mind as another place they seem to frequent) and it seems to go well for them. I conjecture that a Why Make Clocks or Fetal Pig would do well with it too. There is a certain openness to hearing something different. Let’s not forget that punk rock itself had some of its early roots in something called “pub rock.”

To sum up, I had a really good time at this show, and it got me thinking that I personally could go for playing more of these kind of gigs, as well as attending more of them in non-performing capacity.

My old No Consensus bandmate Jon Grim lives up in St. Paul and he’s a band called Ten Arms Of The Squid. He’s also quite talented with video. Here’s a Ten Arms Of The Squid music video:

For more Jon Grim awesomeness, including a classic Sno-Mans video, check out his YouTube channel.

Saturday night January 1 at 9:30pm, come nurse the last of your hangover at Vaudeville Mews with Fetal Pig sandwiched between The New Bodies and Dresden Style. 21+ $5

Iowa’s #1 noisecore label (and that’s noisecore in the lo-fi, grind-y, mass-of-distortion sense, as opposed to the proggy Converge sense) — the fine people who saw fit to reissue a bunch of Sockeye stuff a few years ago, much to the gratitude of Sockeye fans — home to such Iowa-based bands as Captain 3 Leg, Grand Old Lady, and Billy Crystal Meth and a whole crazy underground scene around the unlikely hometown of Ottumwa — Mortville Noise has released something quite interesting that’s getting some good responses: a 100-band noise compilation CD. I haven’t heard the thing yet, but even though I haven’t followed the noisecore scene as closely as I did for most of the ’90s, my interest was piqued by some familiar names on it: Agathocles, Nut Screamer, Earwigs, as well as Iowa greats Black Market Fetus and NYC doom crew Batillus. The whole thing sounds really interesting, and Mortville is good people. Check out the promo video if you think you can handle it:

Sad news. As usual with a story of this magnitude, there isn’t much more I can say that hasn’t already been covered elsewhere. So here’s a couple of links.

The songwriting team-up of Samuel Locke-Ward and Jason Hennesy at the center of the band Miracles Of God is just one of those few things in the universe that makes total sense. It’s a bit of a pity that they don’t play more shows than they do, but it’s also perfectly understandable given the members’ abundant other projects. The other day Sam announced on his blog that Miracles Of God has booked some shows! They’re in March! None of them are in Des Moines! But it sounds like they’re looking to book more… Anyone want to help me come up with a sweet Des Moines gig for these cats?

Among the pleasant surprises of 2010 were a new studio album by the veteran psychedelic rock band Hawkwind, fortuitously hot on the heels of the 3-way tribute split Hawkwind Triad by Minsk, US Christmas, and Harvestman. While Hawkwind still release live recordings on a pretty regular basis, their last studio outing was five years prior.

Any new Hawkwind album is going to be judged against such classics as Hall Of The Mountain Grill and Warrior On The Edge Of Time, even when the comparison doesn’t really fit. People seem to ignore, willfully even, the progression and changes (inevitable, especially given the notorious lineup changes) that an honest assessment of their 40-year catalog would reveal, even as their commitment to mind-expansion and space exploration stays true to Dave Brock’s vision.

Blood Of The Earth is a very different album to what Hawkwind got up to in the early ’70s, and it’s arguably a better album than a lot of the studio material they came up with later. One thing that caught my ear was what sounds like an influence from the sounds of UK dance rock from Madchester to grebo to big-beat to digital hardcore and things in between. And why not? Hawkwind were pioneers in the use of synthesizers in rock music, and their early “Space Ritual” live shows formed the blueprint for raves. The persistent electronic rhythms on a number of the tracks on Blood Of The Earth are integrated with natural drums to form a foundation on which to build the kind of wild jams we love Hawkwind for, yet always gratefully reigned into a single-digit number of minutes. A generous layer of untamed synthesizer noises is applied over the more uptempo rocking tracks, bringing a sonic density approaching that of Pigface’s Fook/Notes From Thee Underground period, while on the slower numbers the synths take on more of a new-age feel. Flanged guitar licks that sound like ’80s fighter jets peek around all the corners. There are various elements that seem “retro” until you consider that Hawkwind basically invented them in the first place.

The track that is closest to the driving space-rock sound Hawkwind pioneered and that is still most immediately associated with them is the punkish “Wraith,” where the lead vocal (not sure if it’s Brock, or Niall Hone, who has co-writing credit) bears a pleasingly aggressive resemblance to Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke, or alternately (oddly enough), Chris Connelly’s work with Murder Inc. This voice returns later on “Prometheus,” another of the album’s highlights.

If there’s a down spot on the album, it’s when they lack a bit of fire on a remake one of their classic early-’70s songs “You Better Believe It,” and throw in an aimless slow “Maggot Brain”-like jam in the middle of it, seemingly apropos of nothing. But on another revisitation of old material, they rework “Sweet Obsession” from a 1984 Dave Brock solo album to a pounding digital hardcore/Andrew WK beat, capture a bit of the spirit of Hawkwind’s late-’70s period when they began to trade warlike space opera for sci-fi whimsy, add some festive synth-horns, and wind up with another one of the album’s highlights.

Hawkwind have done a [nice](http://092.me) job of combining elements from throughout their history on Blood Of The Earth. It’s not a perfect album, neither is it a “return to form,” but I think it’s greatly underrated.

I’m not sure how qualified I am to comment on rap music. I know if a lyric amuses me and if a beat makes me nod my head and feel good. But I’m not sure whether I’m qualified to comment on what’s a good flow or a sloppy one, or the minutia of what makes a beat cool. I was into rap music for a time in my early teens, which would be late ’80s, after friends turned me on to Run DMC, Kool Moe Dee, Whodini, The Fat Boys, and later on Ice-T, NWA’s first album, and Dr. Dre’s classic The Chronic. I later fell out of it when the gangsta thing transitioned from Ice-T’s gritty, cautionary perspective on the thug life to something a bit harder for me to relate to, and rapping itself seemed to give up skillful use of language in favor of incoherent shouting and posturing. I realize now that there were still rap records being made in those days that I might have liked, but I didn’t hear about them at the time, and my interests moved on to thrash metal, then industrial, then noise, then indie rock.

In the past year certain experiences have turned a little part of my attention back to appreciating rap music again, or at least some of it. One such experience was receiving a formal introduction to the works of Coolzey, and seeing him and his present tour-mate Raashan Ahmad perform live at Vaudeville Mews (Bru Lei and Purple Asteroid Cadillac, also on the bill that night, weren’t half bad either); another was stumbling onto an online debate on the “demise” of hip-hop, a concept I was myself sympathetic to, between a well-known music critic and a couple of little-known rappers. I found the little-known rappers’ commentary so compelling and witty that it piqued my interest in their music, especially upon finding out that their group carried the provocative name Das Racist — which I’m guessing is a reference to the “That’s racist!” Internet meme drawn from Wonder Showzen. The debate’s larger context of race comes up a lot on Das Racists’s lyrics, but in a way that isn’t clear whether it’s meant as serious commentary or lighthearted humor or both. It seems to be referenced early in the album when one of the members of Das Racist (I can’t identify them by their voices since, in a break from standard rap practice, they don’t make a point of constantly shouting their names at you) declares that he’s “sick of arguing with white dudes on the Internet.” Perhaps what makes us willing to listen to an honest, non-self-censored perspective on this subject from these particular guys is what we perceive as their outsider status in relation to it, e.g., who better to comment on America’s black/white racial dichotomy than some ambiguously brown dudes with Hispanic- and Indian-sounding names? I mean yeah, those are races too, but I guess most white people sort of think of them as “other.” They do make a point to openly celebrate their brownness right at the start of the album in the song “Who’s That? Brooown!” But this is another subject I’m underqualified to talk about. I don’t relate to most American mass culture either because it’s all made in big cities on the East and West coasts and I’m from Iowa (“potatoes!”). Also, I’m burned the fuck out on politics as of years ago.

Anyway, there’s more to these guys that one topic. Shut Up, Dude is full of giddy absurdism and wry observations on urban life. The song that Das Racist initially made a splash with, “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” is on here, and there’s been a lot made of it being some kind of commentary on rampant consumerism. I’m not entirely sure about that myself — much of the lyrics seem to be of a nonsensical or self-deprecating bent — but it’s a great track both for its infectiousness and for being the first time somebody has taken that rather funny phenomena of combination fast-food joints that started popping up a few years ago (I myself have eaten at both a combination Long John Silvers and A & W, and a combination Long John Silvers and KFC where I’m pretty sure they shared a fryer) and made it the central subject of a song. The song seems to center around a story line of two guys who are trying to meet up, each asserting to the other over their cell phones that they are at a particular combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, yet who somehow keep missing each other in the crowd.

Shut Up, Dude, like its follow-up Sit Down, Man, was released as a free download and bills itself as a “mixtape” but I think this classification is probably just a bit of slippery legalism to get around the US’s draconian legal stance on sampling (see Copyright Criminals sometime if you haven’t already). Let’s be real, these are collections of original songs. They’re albums. I have yet to really get cozied up to Sit Down, Man, but Shut Up, Dude is definitely one of my favorite albums of the year. Even though at times it just sounds like they’re free-associating, spitting out anything that sort-of rhymes with no regard for narrative or subject, what I can’t shake about the album is how I have so much darn fun listening to it. There’s a couple of kinda dopey weed-rap bits near the end but even those are delivered with Das Racist’s trademark literate humor over some pretty tasty beats. And I, too, am a fan of the $1 24-ounce cans of Arizona iced tea. I’d been looking for an artist or three to come around and bring the fun back to rap, and these guys delivered.

It’s a rough-mix, unmastered, and I intentionally encoded it in a low-ish bitrate, but I thought it would be [nice](http://092.me) to give folks a little taste of this Fetal Pig record we’ve been working on. You’re welcome!

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Dan seemed pretty hyped on this album, but by then I’d already listened to it about a half dozen times and wasn’t quite getting it. It has many fine ingredients for a metal album, to be sure. At any given point the album will remind you of a sludgey Mastodon or Bison BC, built around a relentless procession of big pummeling battle riffs and howling, raspy vocals.

The trouble I had with it was that there is rather a lack of variation, a lack of “moments.” I’ve listened to it nearly ten times now and still the only thing that sticks out for me is the closing 10-minute epic “Day of Rest” for the [nice](http://092.me) hypnotic Neurosis groove it gets going. Otherwise, it’s memorable in the way that being beaten relentlessly for 43 minutes would be: the whole experience itself is memorable, but you’re hard-pressed to recall any specific details. Is it heavy? Hell yeah, but so are a hundred other albums out this year. Moreover, after each listen to Full Of Hell, I felt like I’d just listened to a collection of riffs, rather than a collection of songs.