Had my first Des Moines gig as a local last night, and if there are any omens to take from it I think they are good ones. Arrived a few minutes late for load-in and started setting up right away. The only folks around were sound-man, bartender, and the members of The Firing Line, who seemed oddly concerned that their gear, some of which was already on the stage, might be in my way, though it most definitely wasn’t. I was also entertained by overhearing them discussing the sounds of different parts of the drum kit, describing each as sounding like different weather phenomena.
Took the stage about 5:30 on the dot, to a pretty decent crowd for an early Sunday evening show. Derek was doing an excellent job on the sound, I was surprised to be able to hear my own vocals for a change. It definitely does a lot for my singing when I can hear it, and my singing usually needs all the help it can get. I was pretty on, nailing the loops in the right place and everything. I debuted my cover of Nomeansno’s “The River,” done with just a bare guitar and vocals arrangement. I love that song, but the original is a loud, heavy affair with huge bass guitar and an avalanche of toms from the drummer. Not an easy thing to carry off solo with just a jangly electric guitar. But I think the song has a rather folky core to it, so I try to perform it with a little bit of a Will Whitmore vibe. Iowa doom-folk represent, word. All in all I think the set went over quite well.
If you just saw the kids from The Firing Line standing around on the street, you might mistake them for your garden variety emo-teens. You probably wouldn’t guess that their band presents, intentionally or not, a rather unique take on oldschool stoner riffage featuring a shrapnel guitar tone that’s more Big Black than Blue Cheer, a fat Juno synth in lieu of a bass player, and the kind of epic aspirations that made their set back-heavy with a three-part, largely instrumental prog-suite. Self-indulgent? You bet. But that’s kind of the point of this kind of headtrip music. Even though the drummer is still working on finding his groove and frequently lets a fill go on half a beat too long, this is fun noise to get lost in. Hypothetically if I was looking to donate my Hawkwind records to some youngsters who I thought would make good use of whatever inspiration they drew from them, these guys would be top candidates.
Betty Buzzkill self-deprecatingly called themselves an “old-folks cover band” before launching into a tight set of tastefully chosen punk and alt-rock classics – The Ramones, The Replacements, Babes In Toyland, and I think I caught some Cheap Trick in there. A party band for the sort of middle-age OG punk rockers you see hanging out at Locust Tap. Rarin’ to get up there and show the kids how it’s done. I’d like to see them in more of a party setting where they could play all night. The world needs more bands like this. It’s kind of along the lines of what The Cactus Rats were going for.
These early Sunday shows at the Mews deserve your consideration. The early time slot is great for folks who want to get their dose of rock but have to get to work in the morning. The only potential drawback is that they overlap dinner time. This works to the advantage of House Of Bricks, who also put on evening shows, since they serve food, but it resulted in my missing out on The Reddmen while I popped out to get a calzone from Sarpino’s. I was hoping to get back in time to catch at least part of their set, but I left in the break before and got back in the break after, and observed that the crowd seemed to have thinned out a bit meanwhile. I remember not thinking a whole lot of the songs on their MySpace (well-executed yet totally not my thing, is how I remember it), but that’s not much to go on, I often don’t really “get” a band until I see them live. It’s a real shame I missed their set because they were such a friendly group of folks. So I felt pretty bad about it.
Full disclosure, it was Blueblood who got me hooked up with this gig. With that out of the way, shit they were good. I totally get where they’re going with the whole “soul” angle they work in their promotional materials. The singer has the kind of pipes you don’t usually hear employed in the indie guitar rock field, a rich tone with agility and muscle to spare, that invites comparison to some classic soul shouters. Musically the band hit the expected and welcome Strokes and Walkmen kinds of sounds, but also switched it up with some good old R & B grooves and even a dash of reggae at one point. “The Faster We Lived,” the lead track on their MySpace and closing track on their EP, illustrates this stylistic mixture the most starkly, charging out of the gate like a Rooftop Vigilantes intro before transforming suddenly into a heartfelt slow-burn blues number. I recommend checking these guys out. I hear they’re headed westwards on their way to SxSW.
While I had some passing interest in Castanets, who were to headline the later show that night, something told me I should probably head home instead. Indeed, Leah was having a heard time with the little guy. He has some colic and reflux issues that frequently cause him discomfort resulting in relentless crying, and she needed a break.
Also, encouragingly, word of my exploits seems to be getting around town. Dan, the bartender, who I previously had met at The Lift, mentioned that he’d heard I was playing with Why Make Clocks. Either people are talking about me, or people are paying attention to stuff I write on the internets. Either way, it’s good.
Speaking of internets, I’d like to put in a plug for Bandcamp and also my page thereon. You can listen to all of “Title Of Photograph” there, and you can download any or all of it for free if 128 Kbps MP3 is good enough for you, or name your price to buy a download in any of several higher-quality formats. It’s hella sweet. I think you can pretty much integrate the play/download/buy widgets into your own site at will, which is what I plan on doing soon with a new music-oriented site of some kind.