Live Music Preview: Fall 2010

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Iowa City is unusual for a city its size, when it comes to music events. It’s partly geographic (an easy day’s drive from all the major cities of the Midwest), it’s partly The University of Iowa and its thousands of eager youngsters ready to rock and it’s partly because of you, the concert going connoisseurs, the cultivated citizenry of the Athens of the Midwest. The Iowa City audience has a reputation with musicians as a place that’s willing to greet challenging music with enthusiasm. We get many quality shows, but not (like Chicago or New York) so many that the audience has become jaded or lost interest. At heart, we are a small town and we think it’s really cool to see a big name act in a relatively small club. In the area of live music, this fall Iowa City is at peak performance. So many great acts are coming—some of which have been well-known for decades, others only now on the brink of international discovery—that we just had to put together this special edition preview. We’re highlighting the shows that have us excited because we’re fans too, and we’re ready to get stoked.




Sept. 8, 9:30 p.m. | IMU Main Lounge [all ages] One of the smartest and most gifted rappers on the scene, Nas stands out from his contemporaries making songs about dances and the club. While he is best known for his legendary 1994 album Illmatic, Nas has been a consistent leader in the evolution of hardcore hip-hop, East Coast hip-hop and hip-hop as an art form because of his continually sharp word play, crisp production, intelligent lyrics, political awareness and vivid tales about the struggle that is life in urban America. Over 15 years into the game, Nas is a rapper that gets respect from all parts of the hip-hop community. It’s not hyperbolic to say that most hip-hop fans own a copy of Illmatic or know a couple of his verses by heart. Iowa City will get the opportunity to see this hip-hop pioneer on the 8th of September in the Main Lounge of the IMU, sharing the stage with his Distant Relatives collaborator (and headliner in his own right), reggae superstar Damian Marley.

For the Casiotone Painfull y Alone

Sept. 9, 7 p.m. | Public Space One [all ages] For over ten years, Owen Ashworth has been making analog-coated bedroom rock as Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. After several albums of drum-machine rhythms, warm synthesizers, and biting lyricism about life in the middle-class, Ashworth is packing it in. Along the way he’s become a DIY icon, not just for the homemade and charming ambiance of his records, but for his decidedly independent touring ethos: He often plays in living rooms, DIY venues, and arts spaces eschewing the “professional” gloss of clubs. He returns to PS One for one last show on his farewell tour.


Sept. 4, 9 p.m. | The Yacht Club [21+]


Dennis McMurrin, known to fans as “Daddy-O,” has been the king of feel-good funk in Eastern Iowa for close to 40 years. Dennis and the Demolition Band regularly blew up the Yacht Club in the late ‘80s with his guitar pyrotechnics, and bringing him back may have been Scott Kading’s prime motivation to buy and re-open the bar. There are many shredders in the world, but McMurrin is peerless when it comes to fusing virtuosity with funk; he’s the only white man alive who should be allowed to cover James Brown’s “Cold Sweat.” Going to his monthly residency isn’t a graduation requirement at the University, but it should be.




Built to Spill HEATBOX


Sept. 10, 9 p.m. | Yacht Club [21+] Like a beatboxin’ cyborg from the suburbs, Heatbox and his Nintendo neurons will remote control you, make you move in weird ways, robo-rock your brain, leave you begging him to come up for air. But that’s the thing. Cyborgs don’t breathe. So you’ll just have to keep dancing. This show is also a CD release party for IC funk/hip-hop ensemble Uniphonics, sure to be a lively, irie affair.

Sept. 20, 10 p.m. | Blue Moose Tap House [21+] Built to Spill, the guitar-focused brainchild of Doug Martsch, has always been a fascinating band, whether it’s been through the ground-breaking guitar pop of There’s Nothing Wrong with Love (1994), the sprawling masterworks of Perfect From Now On (1997), or the razor-sharp licks of Keep it Like a Secret (1999). Formed in 1992 in Boise, ID, Built to Spill’s angular jams—one part Pavement/Tripping Daisy ‘90s slacker rock, one part Neil Young/Crazyhorse expansiveness—laid the groundwork for countless future indie darlings, in particular Modest Mouse. They have no less than three modern-classic albums to their credit—four if you include their live record (with a twenty-minute cover of “Cortez the Killer”!)—and continue to be an impressive act into the 2000’s. Their live shows have become highly regarded for their loose, exploratory nature: Hey, why not dip into a 15-minute reggae cut or an epic meditation on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (both happened at their last show in Iowa City.) For sure, Built to Spill’s long-awaited return to Iowa City is an important event, the kind of show that should bring out a wide age range of older guitar-heads and younger indie kids looking to soak up a crucial history lesson.

40TH FIDDLERS’ PICNIC Sept. 19, noon - 6 p.m. | Johnson County Fairgrounds [all ages] These Eastern Iowa pickers might not grace the cover of Rolling Stone any time soon (then again, they might), but that’s fine with us—established traditions like this one have very little to prove. For the 40th year, Eastern Iowa’s finest old-time, bluegrass, Celtic, country and folk musicians are getting together to take part in a continuous stage show for all to enjoy. Antique instruments will be on display and free banjo, guitar, mandolin, and fiddle workshops will be provided from 2 -3 p.m. (Beginners and children are encouraged.)

Colour Revolt + Pomogranates & Birth Rites

Sept. 22, 6 p.m. | Blue Moose Tap House [all ages] Not since the Constantines has a band hit so hard and so passionately that you can virtually hear their hearts bleeding all over their sleeves. Both rough-edged and sensitive, Southern rockers Colour Revolt construct angular guitar jams which focus on the failures of love, growing up, and playing in rock n’ roll bands. With deft lyrics and raw guitars, this is bar rock of the highest order. Pony up a ticket and a pitcher of beer and you’ll be ready to enjoy this show.




Oct. 6, 8 p.m. | The Englert Theatre [all ages] For over fifty years, she’s been a central figure in American music. From her early collaborations with Bob Dylan, to her tireless activism for civil rights and peace, to her later involvement with Dylan’s legendary Rolling Thunder Review, to her thousands of live performances all over the world, Baez has lived a life of passionate engagement with the world and several generations of fans. It all began with her voice: pure of tone, with a rich vibrato and perfect intonation. Her first recordings in 1960 were the definitive performances of the Child Ballads central to English folk music. Since then, she’s made a brief visit to the Top 40 with her cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” celebrated her Hispanic heritage with albums of songs in Spanish, and introduced the Englishspeaking world to legendary Argentinean singer Mercedes Sosa with an album of duets. Her voice may have shaded darker over the years, but it hasn’t lost its clarity and power. She’s the woman who sang “We Shall Overcome” to Martin Luther King Jr., and if you join her at the Englert, you’ll have a chance to sing along.


Sept. 22-25 | Greene Square Park, Cedar Rapids [all ages] CSPS’s world music festival is in its third year and looking better than ever, offering four days of free music that you simply will not find anywhere else in this area, probably ever again. From the mind-altering, polyphonic a capella of Corsican quartet Barbara Fortuna to the 12-piece Romanian gypsy punk of Mahala Rai Banda, and featuring dance music from Colombia’s Cimarrón, Kenyan ensemble Kenge Kenge and Brooklyn-based Nation Beat, you won’t want to miss this unique festival.




ThOSe DARLINs Sept. 24, 9 p.m. | The Mill [21+] Southern through and through, Those Darlins will bring their own brand of cowpunk through Iowa City on the 24th of September. Easily blending the twangy sounds of the Appalachians with the speed of punk rock and a bit of pop sensibility, Those Darlins are fast, catchy, and write really great simple songs. Known for the strength of their live show, Those Darlins will put on quite a performance at the Mill, sharing the bill with garage rockers Turbo Fruits.


Oct. 1, 7 p.m. | The Mill [all ages] Since their formation in 2002, The Thermals have prided themselves on an excellent live show, lead singer/guitarist Hutch Harris sometimes taking it to the extreme of removing all his clothing on stage. Although the lineup has been somewhat revolving over the past eight years, their unique sound has remained a constant. Coining the term “postpop-punk,” the band have become experts on catchy melodies, wacky yet intelligent lyrics, and downright danceable pop-punk structures. Their unique sound has caught the eye of many indie rock giants—the band has been tapped to work with members of Death Cab for Cutie, Fugazi and Explosions in the Sky, just to name a few— and such attention is not undeserved. Their live show is a do-notmiss.




IRON & WINE Oct. 12, 8 p.m. | IMU Main Lounge [all ages] If you haven’t heard of Iron & Wine, then maybe you should finally post that “For Sale” sign outside of the rock you’ve been living under. The indie/folk giant not only sports an immense catalogue of whispery, finger-picking tunes, often laden with lazy slide guitars and a plethora of traditional folk instruments, but has also found himself on the soundtracks of a handful of cultural-phenomena films including Garden State, I’m Not There and Twilight.


KILLAH Nov. 3 | Blue Moose Tap House [all ages]

THUNDER POWER Oct. 14, 9 p.m. | Gabe’s Don’t let the name mislead you­­—there is little ‘thunder’ in this ensemble’s repertoire. Rather, the Omaha band’s ‘power’ lies more in their generous, cascading melodies and subtly shifting harmonies. Instead of complicating and cluttering these already compact pop songs with studio witchcraft, Thunder Power draw on the beguiling arrangements of Bacharach or, more recently, the early ‘00 works of Sam Prekop, complete with tumbling, introspective and ever-so earnest lyricism. Featuring a band that specializes in creating warmth, this show is sure to highlight the warmth of the room’s range in sound.

PHANTOGRAM Oct. 21, 6 p.m. | Blue Moose Tap House [all ages] This electronic rock duo is astounding. They’ve already gained notoriety in Iowa City for upstaging an Antlers headlining show at the Blue Moose Tap House. Now they return, as sure as ever, with their slick beats, lilting vocals, and sick guitar hooks to tear up Iowa City in their own right. Be sure to check out their excellent Daytrotter session before coming to the show (www.


+ Down the LIne, Mike Droho and the Compass Rose

Oct. 22, 6 p.m. | Gabe’s [21+]

One of the most popular rappers in the game right now, Ghostface Killah is an original member of the Wu-Tang Clan. Known well for his off-kilter, stream-of-consciousness flow which can shift from topics as extreme as dealing drugs to his diabetes as well as his straight love of wallabies (the shoes, not the marsupials), Ghostface is a prolific rhymer, appearing on all of the Wu group albums as well as many Wu-Tang solo albums, including Raekwon’s legendary Only Built for Cuban Linx and GZA’s classic Liquid Swords. In addition, Ghostface has done guest appearances for artists as varied as System of a Down and MF Doom. While this would be enough for most emcees (and is more than many of them have done), Ghostface cemented hip-hop legend status with two solo albums, 1996’s Ironman and 2000’s Supreme Clientele. For the second time in as many years, Iowa City will be graced by the presence of the Wu-Tang Clan when Ghostface comes to town on November 3rd, hyping the crowd and getting crazy at The Blue Moose. Although this is a treat on its own, Ghostface’s appearance will be an all ages show, so old heads and new heads can rock as one.

When she decided to pursue music, earnest, soulful, acousticstrummin’ pop singer Daphne Willis didn’t waste any time. At twenty, she taught herself the basics, started playing shows and quickly recorded a demo. Her powerful voice, catchy songcrafting and lyrics beyond her years caught the attention of Nashville-based Vanguard Records, which offered her (now 23) a record deal. Whether touring solo or with her all-star band (imagine the Dave Matthews Band fronted by Corinne Bailey Rae), Daphne always gives it LITTLE VILLAGE all she’s got, which is quite a lot.




JAY FARRAR Nov. 3, 9 p.m. | The Mill [21+] A founding member of perhaps the most important alt. country band of all time, Uncle Tupelo, Jay Farrar shared vocal and songwriting duties with future Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy. After the Tupelo split-up, Farrar went on to form the seminal alt. country rockers Son Volt. He continues to be an original voice and progressive thinker in the genre.

KATE NASH Nov. 8, 8 p.m. | The Englert Theatre [all ages]

AZURE RAY + TIM FITE Nov. 4, 7 p.m. | The Mill [all ages] Carrying the sometimes-maudlin and always-beautiful ‘90s dream-pop aesthetic into the 21st century, songwriters Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink have been making music as Azure Ray since they were kids. In 2001, they released their gorgeous selftitled debut, a Mazzy Star-gazing affair that paired brutal and heartbreaking lyrics with delicate instrumentation—like wounds and the gauze that surrounds them. Soon these Alabama friends were picked up by Saddle Creek records, and became one of the staples of that label in the early part of this decade. Critically adored, the duo disbanded in 2003 but has reunited for Drawing Down the Moon, which comes out this month.

WOLF PARADE Nov.18, 8 p.m. | The Englert Theatre [all ages] Wolf Parade conquers the stereotype of a super-group. While most eventually suffer from clashing egos, fall into an indistinct sound, or just become bad, Wolf Parade has managed to consistently put out a sound that is definitely their own. The creative minds of its members are each represented and fleshed out, sonically eliminating the ego problem. If you’re looking for a sound description, look at some of the bands Wolf Parade’s members have contributed to: Sunset Rubdown, Handsome Furs, Hot Hot Heat, and Arcade Fire. Wolf Parade is a usually upbeat, sometimes frantic, but always interesting conglomeration of these very different bands. In Wolf Parade you might hear echoes of these side projects but, rather than detract, these echoes only serve to remind you of the band’s stunning originality.


Kate Nash exploded onto the scene in 2007 with her quirky and eminently relatable hit “Foundations,” a hookladen narrative about a delightfully dysfunctional couple. The song earned her a slew of fans, though very little indie cred—Pitchfork scoffed, and at the Record Collector they were literally giving away the 7” single. Still, Nash fits squarely within the rich tradition of snarky UK pop songwriting, from Kirsty MacColl and Nellie McKay to The Streets. Her debut album, Made of Bricks, was fun and slightly raunchy; follow-up My Best Friend is You was released last year to less attention, but with equally great songwriting. She’s astute, entertaining, and has a great accent, which puts this one firmly in the must-see category.

VENUES Until we get a new Hancher Auditorium, Iowa City is without a premier concert hall with four-figure capacity. But never fear, there’s no shortage of capable venues, medium-sized and small, bringing outstanding touring shows and local heroes to the stage. Learn them, love them and bookmark their websites.

SCOPE Blue Moose Tap House 211 Iowa Ave., Iowa City Founded: 2009 | Capacity: The Blue Room (upstairs): 200 Main stage (downstairs): 500 Legendary Show: Camera Obscura during Mission Creek (2010) Keep your ears open for huge shows in the downstairs Tap House stage and more intimate sets upstairs in the Blue Room.

CSPS 1103 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids

IMU Ballroom, and more

Gabe’s 330 E. Washington St., Iowa City

Legendary Show: Modest Mouse at the IMU ballroom (2005)

Re-opened: 2010 | Capacity: 350 upstairs / 250 downstairs

Student-run SCOPE productions puts on shows at venues big and small, on campus and off. SCOPE offers students valuable experience in big-time entertainment negotiation, promotion and production and townies a chance to see some of the biggest names in mainstream talent.

Legendary Show: Guided by Voices and My Morning Jacket (2002) The placard over the door continues to change (originally called Fox & Walkers), but no other joint in all of Iowa City has housed the kind of legends of pop music, underground or otherwise, consistently, through the decades.


The Mill 120 E. Burlington St., Iowa City

Founded: 2010 Capacity: Around 200

Founded: 1991 | Capacity: 200

Founded: 1962 | Capacity: 300

Legendary Show: Ani DiFranco, just before she blowing up (1994)

Legendary Show: The Decemberists with Okkervil River (2005)

Originally a Czech social hall built in 1891, now one of the busiest art centers in Iowa offering concerts, films, classes and gallery exhibitions. It’s always worth the short drive up I-380.

Not just for folkies anymore, the Mill is on the map for touring bands in all genres. If you ever leave Iowa City you better bring some stories about the Mill, or else no one will believe you lived here.

Legendary Show: Secret Circus (2010) This spot caters to the DIY artists and musicians in town and draws like-minded touring acts. It eschews the need for the traditional bar atmosphere, preferring to focus on the art and audience alike.

Yacht Club Englert Theatre

Public Space One

13 S. Linn St., Iowa City

221 E. Washington St., Iowa City

129 E. Washington St., Iowa City

Re-opened: 2003

Re-opened: 2004 | Capacity: 700+

Founded: 2002 | Capacity: 100

Legendary Show: JJ Grey and Mofro (2008)

Legendary Show: GZA, performing his classic album Liquid Swords (2009)

Legendary Show: Swedish folk-er The Tallest Man on Earth (2009)

Plenty of intimacy and more than a touch of grandeur, staging local and touring theatre groups, orchestras, operas and gangsta rappers.

A smaller venue, perhaps, but hugely capable, and, with its everchanging walls and its open doors, the volunteer-run non-profit PS1 is a versatile expression of Iowa City itself.

Best known as the center of the local jam band scene, you’ll find all genres getting down in this funky basement bar. Watch out for Flight School—the Tuesday night dance party is a who’s who of local and out-of-town DJs.