80/35 Festival just finished up, it was pretty cool. I debated with myself whether to write anything about it at all since everyone else is bound to, and anyway I probably missed a lot of stuff. This was my second 80/35, and the first I had main-stage tickets for. One thing I think is cool about 80/35 is that even if you can’t muster the cash for tickets, there’s still a lot of stuff to see: there are free stages; no tickets are needed to hang around the various vendor tents; one such tent, that of Yellowbrock magazine, hosted some acoustic performances, including Poison Control Center and Des Moines’ own American Idol contestant, this past season’s Katelyn Epperly, with her pre-Idol bandmate Nick Frampton, the duo now known as Katelyn & The Bruises. Plus Des Moines Social Club, located right nest door to the second stage, puts some bands on for free in their Sideshow Lounge area. This year’s “third” stage had a new emphasis on electronica, DJs, and hip-hop. I didn’t catch much of that, but the second stage featured no lesser lights than Califone, William Elliott Whitmore, and local rising stars Canby, Christopher The Conquered, and Cashes Rivers. This is a pretty cool time to be a music fan in Des Moines.

However, I must admit that a combination of factors kept me from seeing a lot of stuff:

  • being still in the process of unpacking from our recent move, not to mention still recovering from said move, in the sore-and-tired department
  • having an 18-month-old, which requires certain preparations and/or accommodations
  • being rather down on social activity in general of late, and pretty much hating people overall
  • having pretty much no idea who any of the third-stage hip-hoppers were, and hence whether any of them held any interest for me
  • weather that alternated between oppressive heat and humidity, and rain

Most of what I turned up for was the main-stage acts, which this year were just too compelling for me to pass up. Related to that last item, my favorite moments of the festival both directly involved rain:

  • A gentle rain that begin falling, as if on cue, precisely as Yo La Tengo hit the final chord of their final number “Pass The Hatchet”
  • The Walkmen soldiering on through their set in a driving cloudburst, even as the water shorted out their organ, a very appreciative crowd cheering them on

It was great to see Yo La Tengo with Leah. In a way, Yo La Tengo is kind of “our band” in the way some couples have an “our song.” Before we were dating she hadn’t heard them, and I like to think she fell for me when I played Electr-O-Pura for her. Then, in November 1997 when we had been dating about four and a half months, I got her to go see them with me at Gabe’s in Iowa City, something that’s one of our most special memories of our relationship. I was super glad that this time our 18-month-old son Wesley got to share the experience with us.

Right after Yo La Tengo I did catch half of William Elliott Whitmore’s country-soul stylings. He made shout-outs to Why Make Clocks and Ed Gray.

And I must say that I am glad I caught The Walkmen’s set. I kinda-sort liked them before, based on several really beautiful moments on Bows & Arrows I found when I got it a few years ago, but other parts of that album, and much of their first, Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone (boy, if that isn’t a title I’ve really related to a few times), coming off as so languid as to be nearly shapeless, left me a bit unsure. Their most lovably shambolic qualities were definitely in effect yesterday, but I think that the appreciativeness of the crowd made it difficult for them to maintain a properly cool indie-rocker disinterested facade, and they were revealed to be guys who really love and care about what they’re doing. Their floatier numbers somehow made a bit more sense live, but maybe it was just the mood of the overcast day. In short, they were pretty awesome. The newer numbers, that I recognized by how little I recognized them, sounded even better than some of the material from the first two albums that I knew. So I’m looking to pick me up a copy of You & Me once I’m slightly less broke-ass.

I had to go out alone for Spoon, and it wasn’t as fun to be there by myself. I ran into some friends and ended up mostly chatting with them instead of watching the band, as there was such a heavy crowd that it was hard to get a good view of the stage. The problem with big shows is how big they are. Spoon sounded great, though, with kudos due to the sound crew. The band played several of my favorite of their songs, and I thought it was cool how they brought along a big ol’ horn section. The horns even did riffs that on album were done on guitars. The dubby effects on the vocals that they used so much on Transference were thrown in all over the place during their set.

I didn’t bother sticking around for Modest Mouse on the second night, I was pretty much burned out at that point and just wanted to lay around.

Anyway, good festival, et cetera.

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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