This Saturday Evening past, I decided to make a trek down to Iowa City to see Tornavalanche play at The Picador. I’d liked what I’d heard of Tornavalanche’s music so far, and having former members of Ten Grand certainly is a point in any band’s favor for me, especially when one of them is Joel “J-Hole” Anderson. Also I hadn’t been to the Picador since it was Gabe’s, but had heard that they had cleaned the place up considerably. And also I thought it might be nice to pay a visit to my old friend Sam Locke-Ward (aka “Samb Eggnog”), himself a musician of considerable note in the Iowa City area.

Going to rock shows and hanging with folks like Sam always seems to help my energy and my spirits. If I don’t get some recommended allowance of rock action in my psychological diet, I can get really in a funk and then I’m not very nice to anyone most of the time. So I’ve been trying to make a point to become a fixture on Iowa’s underground music scene lately, if not as a performer necessarily, then at least as a spectator and perhaps co-conspirator.

I arrived at Sam’s place in the early evening and he was kind of wrapped up in a Heroes marathon on the TV that he intended to watch all of. We popped out to the convenience store for some beers however, and on the way got to talking about what he’s up to with music stuff these days. Sam still heads the band Miracles Of God (sorry for the outdated website there –seems like bands don’t bother updating their regular sites anymore and instead do everything through their MySpace page. Rather a shame, that, but probably because nobody has managed to bring content management to indie bands very well yet), his wife Grace leads another band Petit Mal; they share a house with avant-folk troubadour Ed Gray (MySpace) and together the bunch of them operate the Hot Potato Records label, an operation that, small as it is, I found that I had greatly underestimated the size of once I stumbled into their merchandise-storage-slash-office room. Miracles has an upcoming tour with cult outsider-cheese crooner Harvey Sid Fisher which sounds like it will be one hell of a show.

Once Sam and I got talking about all this, his plan of watching the Heroes Marathon got derailed for a while as he introduced me to music and video of Harvey Sid and showed me a video of a show by one of his other bands, The Kickass Tarantulas. The video was taken at the show that Libyan Hit Squad played, and watching it, I could see what Craig and the guys were talking about when they were praising this act and convinced that Iowa, or perhaps it was the Midwest, is this mecca of hardcore garage rock. The show was nuts – trashy rock played by a 9-piece band with a horn section, and the singer, a genuinely disturbing presence that probably could rival the early 70’s Iggy, screaming his heart out.

Anyway, Sam and I had a lot of fun together, just hanging out at his place talking musiciany stuff. He generously gave me CDs of Ed Gray, Petit Mal, and Harvey Sid. I told him some of my ideas about building software to help indie bands. Looking around the merch/office room of Hot Potato Records, I was convinced yet again that there’s seriously a need for that kind of thing, especially if it isn’t a pain in the ass to use.

I headed down to The Picador, and sure enough they had cleaned up the place – but from the looks of things, they did it with the intent of it being Gabe’s only better. The upstairs men’s room still doesn’t have a light in it, and I suspect this may have been kept that way for historical accuracy or tradition or something. But it does have real urinals now and doesn’t smell so god awful. I don’t know how they manage to keep it so clean – they must go in there with flashlights to clean it or something.

I chatted up Ed Gray and Joel a bit, and said hi to J-Briz, but mostly hung out by myself most of the show.

I didn’t catch the name of the first band, it wasn’t on any flyers I could find, and the only merch up was The Horde’s t-shirts – I think a certain van having a couple flat tires may have had something to do with this – really a bummer, since I rather wanted to pick up a Tornavalanche CD. Anyway they were a guitar-and-drums two-piece with a 50s blues tinge to it. The guitarist/vocalist’s guitar playing was at times eerily similar to my own guitar style, so the whole deal reminded me a bit of when Tyler and I play together. They were quite good, if anybody knows what they were called, drop me a line.

The Horde brought out my 13-year-old self with their classic thrash-metal stylings somewhere between Iron Maiden and old Slayer. It was the headbangingest moment in my life since the S.O.D. show in Seattle. Two heavy-set bearded guitarists who looked like they could be twins, with those spiky-pointy metal guitars (looked like a Warlock and a Flying V) stood on either side of the stage bobbing their heads in unison as they cranked out machine-tight riffs and harmony-leads; the lead singer front and center, muscley six and a half foot tall easy, wielding a big ol’ Rickenbacker bass like some kind of Viking warrior while growling out lines like “UNLEASH THE GODS OF WAR!!!” For an indie-rocker kind of crowd, people really seemed to be digging it, headbanging and throwing up horns. I think metal is officially cool again, now that it’s gotten away from Neanderthal two-chord detuned shit with alternated rapping and whining. This is a good thing, yes.

Haymarket Riot, from Chicago, reminded me a bit of Jawbox. Or I guess, I should say Burning Airlines now. Or wait no, it’s a different band that guy’s got now, I forget the name. I’m so out of the loop. Anyway, simple-mathy intertwining guitar lines and all of that kind of thing. Also quite good. The show was batting a thousand so far.

Tornavalanche didn’t disappoint either. Two drummers hammering out dance-ready motorik beats pretty much form the foundation of their tunes; throw in some bass that’s flirting with the edges of funk, and more of those machiney two-note guitar parts. Give it a long-winded kind of Krautrock trance-repetitiveness so that six songs is pretty much a set, and you’ve got the general gist of it. I was feeling a bit tired and achey from standing around for a few hours, so I sat it out and watched from a chair a little ways behind the crowd gathered up front, but enjoyed it all the same. In fact, the sound system sounds best from around the middle of the room anyway.

Crashed on a couch at Sam’s and drove back home Sunday morning while they were all still asleep, invigorated and inspired and all that. Rock and roll is good for you. Well it’s good for me anyway.

Charlie Schiz

Charlie Schiz
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. I've been weird all my life. It's my time to shine.

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