On Professionalism Featuring The Giving Tree Band and Twins

Twins at Vaudeville Mews - 5-15-14

Twins at Vaudeville Mews – 5-15-14

I got my first taste of the “business” side of the scene back in 2008. For a couple of years, I was booking shows for the Des Moines Social Club and I pretty much knew about a quarter of what I should’ve in order to be truly successful. When the first official space opened on Locust Ave, I booked mostly locals, but occasionally I would get a request from a touring band, and I did my best to be accommodating. I was hamstrung a bit by running a space that was trying not to do a cover charge and also by having a small room looking for more of a coffee shop vibe. The touring bands had to take a guarantee (but I always felt we were more than fair in what we offered) and sometimes had to play to crowds who were more interested in hanging out than they were the bands. It was an uncomfortable vibe at times, but I feel like most of the bands enjoyed themselves. At minimum they were happy to get a paycheck and almost always played well. Except once.

I booked a band from somewhere in the Midwest. I want to say Minneapolis. Might’ve been Madison. If I were better at holding grudges, I would remember. They were to play at 9pm. At 9pm there were three people in the bar. They decided not to play. This blew my mind. While I wasn’t happy with the turnout, we did what we could. Sometimes things just go south. It’s not like their paycheck was tied to the door. They were getting their money whether there were 3 or 300. I mean, I get it. I have access to my traffic numbers and my heart sinks a little bit when I click on a piece I am proud of and see how many (or rather how few) have actually read it. But sometimes you just have to make art for the sake of making art.

Now, I understand that writing and performing are two different things, but I think that’s what held me back for so long. I feel (or at least hope) that I have stopped writing for the attention it brings and started just writing. Sometimes, I half-ass things, but that’s because I half-ass things. It’s who I am. But here I am, half drunk on bad scotch, writing about two shows I saw two weeks ago, just so that I can write. No one needs my take on these shows at this point, but I just want to write about them. Even if the people who do read it hate it, so what, I wrote something.

I think that’s why I had such an enjoyable time catching both Twins at Vaudeville Mews and The Giving Tree Band at Wooly’s, because while there were some obvious differences: the size of venue, a “hometown” (Twins are from Cedar Falls, but whatever, they’re from here) show versus being on tour, etc., both bands did something that I respect beyond just being solid musicians. They performed. They proved that sometimes when you believe in what you’re doing and the art you’re making, it doesn’t matter if there are 50 of your friends crowded up front singing along, or 50 people who like your band, but not enough to stand anywhere near that stage.

My night actually started at Wooly’s. The Giving Tree Band were slated to go on at 7, but at a quarter after, they hadn’t. Now, I understand that this is a common occurrence, but standing around in a venue that holds 800 with 1/100th of that actually in attendance made me feel really awkward. I felt bad that a quality touring band was going to play to such a sparse crowd and worried that the show wasn’t going to be able to overcome the lack of crowd. So, I did what any coward would do. I left. I decided that I didn’t need to talk about the Giving Tree Band. So, I hauled ass the 10-ish blocks just in time to catch Twins at Vaudeville Mews.

All ages shows are such hit and miss sometimes, with shows starting at 5, there has to be at least a portion of the population that see such an early start time and just bail. Twins had a solid crowd. Not a sellout or anything, but a solid crowd. Most importantly they were an engaged crowd. The people that came to the show came to see them and to be a part of their live show. Twins fed off of that, bantering with the crowd whenever they could. It doesn’t hurt that Twins might be the best live band in the state. I would say they are the best live band from the UNI area (funny enough is that the only other band that I think touches them from that area is Dylan Sires and Neighbors, and they’re all from the same family. Well, I thought it was funny…)

While the rest of the band holds their own and the quartet are an in sync power pop machine, the live show is driven by the manic antics of Joel Sires. He twirls and spins and his expressive face is captivating. Whether he is singing or simply as back up, he still seems to lose himself in the performance. They played for about an hour, mostly tracks off their newest album Tomboys on Parade, and with time to spare they hit some of my favorites off of their seemingly criminally ignored first album Funny Faces.

After Twins set, I was able to run back across the river to Wooly’s to catch at least part of the Giving Tree Band. Sadly, the room hadn’t filled up much more than when I left, with maybe three dozen people total. Maybe even more egregious was that all of those people chose to sit at the tables towards the back of the room, so there was a fifty foot divide between band and audience. At one point, I went to the front and leaned on the stage, but after a few seconds, I again felt super awkward being in such an empty room. I have been at small shows before and I have been to shows by myself before, but when it is a room the size of Wooly’s, it is really noticeable just how alone you are. I began to drift through the room, a bit lost and distracted. When I finally settled I noticed two things: there were guys at the back of the room who likely paid money to go to a live show and then played cribbage, which seems pretty assholy to me, and Giving Tree Band weren’t fazed at all.

I would’ve figured the lack of vibe in the room itself would be noticeable, and maybe it was at the beginning of the set, but by the time I caught them, they were in a solid groove. Their art and their music and maybe just a groove of being veteran performers carried them through. Their music is roots-rock and really fun. In a different timeline, they’re Avett Brothers popular, as they really hit that same harmony and charm while playing bounce-able, enjoyable music.

What I think was most evident about both Twins and The Giving Tree Band is that they seem like the type of bands that just love to make music. That the art itself is what drives them. I have seen Twins and The Giving Tree Band play to big crowds before, and it doesn’t seem like their style or ability changes much in front of a packed house or just a roomful of friends or an empty room full of people sitting yards away. I am a little embarrassed by the turnout for The Giving Tree Band and I hope they are willing to give Des Moines another shot, and I hope Des Moines gives them one, as well. Their energy and ability seems really up the alley of many people in Des Moines, if they could just get in front of the right audience. They might be the perfect band for a Simon Estes Amphitheater type show as their jam tendencies would speak well to the outdoor showcase (they played 80/35 in 2010, so they have played that type of show to that type of audience).

Back in 2011 I saw a band I really liked with like five other people. They were awesome. I put them as one of my favorite performances of the year in my year end column and one of the five other people gave me guff for it simply because there were only five people. I just felt like they were extra special that night. It’s just a special feeling when the great ones hit a high level, and you know that it is for themselves as much as the audience.

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Unemployment Soundtrack: The River Monks – Home is the House

An empty Doritos bag makes a perfect toy for a one-year-old. The crinkle is an entrancing noise that he seems to love. It is different from the electronic beeps from his fake iPad, the singing kitty cat and the Tom Cochrane sampling motorcycle. He grabs the bag and shakes and smiles a five-toothed smile, does that stupid little baby laugh of his, “huh-her”, and throws crumbs all over the black hand-me-down rug we have in our living room while our puppy laps up the mess. I should probably take it away from him, but he’s enjoying himself and not currently screaming in my face.

It has been 12 weeks since I was laid off, and it is beginning to wear on me. When I first lost my job, I was nervous but also a little pumped. I figured I would take a month, hang out with my son, write a bunch of stuff, and then just swoop in a get a new job wherever I wanted. I finally had experience outside of retail, my resume’s solid and I have quality references pouring out of my orifices. So, this was going to be my big awakening. This time was to be my coming out party where I could do whatever I wanted and try to discover a way to make what that thing my profession.

Here is the reality. I don’t have a job yet. I haven’t even had an interview. What I felt was a solid resume, great references and a charming cover letter, is in fact a bullshit resume and a lazy cover letter that I can’t seem to overcome. Where I thought this would be a good opportunity to re-discover myself and learn to be self-motivated, I have mostly worn out the cushions in my couch with my ever increasing posterior while my phone explodes with people looking for money and the mailman delivers collection notices. I discovered that the thing I wanted to do most was drink beer, eat chips, watch wrestling, get fat, and hit refresh on my Facebook page 40-50 times a day while my son toddles around and throws stuff on the floor.

So, this is the first step towards making a change. The days I don’t write something music related I’m going to try to journal. I know, I have been through this where I say “Hey! I’m back for good now!” and then I disappear for weeks at a time. I’m hoping that by documenting my thoughts often, it will help motivate me into doing more than just inhaling chips and watching professional wrestling. So as to keep this music-ish, I will also post what I am listening to, with the hope that you will also listen to it.

(Author’s note: I am eating chips as I type this.)

I took my son to a park in Windsor Heights. Whenever I go to Windsor Heights I always think of my Comp professor. He was a grey-hair man from Ireland whose face showed an exasperation with life that his personality worked hard to overcome. He told lots of interesting stories about his life with such youthful vigor that forced you to ignore that most of the stories he told took place decades before many of the students were even born. He handed out lots of compliments and vicious criticisms when he needed to. He also was probably under-qualified to be teaching the class. Well, his qualifications may have been there, but when it came to actual technical knowledge, he probably shouldn’t have been teaching Comp. He was convinced to the point of argument that the plural of sheep was sheeps.

(Funny thing is, the woman who taught the Creative Writing class I took probably was better suited to Comp. She was a complete ball-buster about punctuation and grammar and kind of hated creativity. Also, she once yelled at two other students and I because we were two minutes late to her class, then invoked 9/11 as to why we should be sorry for being late to her class. Something about how since the tragic events unfolded, we should all have more respect for authority. To be fair, it was 9/13 and we were all a little edgy, but come on. Sorry, I’m digressing.)

Since he was Irish, he took exception to Windsor Heights, due to the British Royal Family. He thought Windsor Heights was trying to be more high-society than it actually was. Now, while being pretty much correct about a large portion of Windsor Heights and their delusions of grandeur, their name comes from the founder of the town and has very little to do with royalty. He also once got Will Smith confused with James Earl Jones, so this kind of silliness was expected.

Though I poke fun, he was instrumental in teaching me my strength as a writer comes less as a technical writer, an ad copy writer or a journalist and more as a storyteller. At the time, I was writing a column for a professional wrestling website, and I absolutely sucked. I discovered some of those recently and I realized just how bad I was then. I was atrocious. I started one column off with a happy birthday to my now wife, which I assume was both an easy way to avoid buying a gift and a cheap way to show my readers that I had a girlfriend. Through him I realized that I needed to drop the schtick and just write with honesty and an occasional attempt at humor, whether it worked or not, and avoid trying to write like everyone else. To get rid of what doesn’t work (everything) and embrace what does (being myself and accepting the ulcers that come with putting myself out there).

I think I need to embody that idea a little more. I need to embrace what works for me and what doesn’t. Currently, what doesn’t work for me professionally is everything, so I need to tweak what I’m doing. Maybe it means more effort or maybe it just means a different effort. I guess I just need to figure that out.

Premiere: End the Wrld featuring Adrien Daller – I Don’t Have Anything


(Photo by Cody Osen)

Last year, I was introduced to End the Wrld, a project of Des Moines producer/musician Phil Young. End the Wrld’s first track, “5 to 9”, feautres vocals from Anna Gebhart and is this delightful disco-meets-Lady-Gaga-meets-Queer-Eye’s-theme-song-meets-the third-level-of-Double-Dragon track that kind of astounded me and made me very happy. One track in, and I got very excited for the future of this project.

It took a long 7 months for the second End the Wrld track to surface, this time a more modern dream-pop track with Gebhart and Dustin Kniffen providing vocals. While nowhere near the dicso blitz of “5 to 9”, the track is beautiful and a worthy successor. 7 months, though. That’s just not fair.

Luckily, End the Wrld let a little less time pass to release the third track, “I Don’t Have Anything”. “I Don’t Have Anything” is another disco track (produced by Young, but also featuring Jordan Mayland and Cory Wendel) in the same vein as “5 to 9”, but Adrien Daller (of Trouble Lights) gives it her own lyrical spin. For such a happy, bouncing track, it is actually kind of a sad story being told. The contrast of this Moroder-esque music with a tale of damaged love is a really neat, and surprisingly deep for such a sugary piece of business.

I’m really excited that I get to debut this track. I am also happy to say that they plan to perform the track live on Saturday, May 10th at the grand opening of the Des Moines Social Club’s permanent home at 900 Mulberry (an event that also features Dustin Smith and the Sunday Silos, Land of Blood and Sunshine and a keynote address by David Byrne). So click the track and share this with as many people as possible. Maybe if enough of us show how much we like it, new tracks will be released at a greater clip.

Review: Lesbian Poetry – Self-Titled

lesboPo

My time as a shut-in has not been going well. I lost my job two months ago and I sort of assumed with all of my new free time I would be able to really dive headfirst into this whole writing thing. Maybe I could improve my editing skills a bit and really put some effort into what I was doing. What has happened is I dove headfirst into hitting refresh on my Facebook page for new posts to appear, 1980’s professional wrestling and trying to figure out why my one year old is crying.

All of of this laziness and lack of adult interaction has driven me a bit mad. I find myself increasingly angry towards things of little consequence. My most recent anger has been towards internet commenters being rude towards things I care about, and even things I don’t necessarily. Here is an example: Lazerfest recently announced that they are changing venues from the outdoor space in Boone to Wells Fargo Arena. With just 12 days to go, this has put some people in a bind. I understand that changing travel plans can be a nightmare, and people have the right to be upset. I just don’t understand what the point of going to the comments section of an article about their move and complaining accomplishes.

What angers me the most, however, is the people who comment with something along the lines of “I wasn’t going to this crap festival because the lineup sucks and if your (because they seemingly always use the wrong “you’re/your”) going your stupid and deserve to be screwed. lol (because they always put “lol” at the end).” I just don’t get what sense of pleasure people get by going onto a public forum and stating that you don’t like what other people like. That you’re somehow a better human because you don’t like Queens of the Stone Age. I mean, I don’t like Theory of a Deadman but other than a poor joke on my Facebook, I don’t go around blasting those who do, especially in an open, public forum where you’re obviously just looking to pick an internet fight.

The normal thing to do is make a wanking motion and move on with your day. For whatever reason, I can’t let this shit go. I often type up long-winded screeds in response to jerks, but I almost always delete them because I know they won’t change anyone’s mind. Then that bugs me because I feel helpless towards these people. Then the helplessness seeps deeper into me and it’s just, ugh.

What does any of this have to do with Lesbian Poetry? Nothing, I guess, except that it might be the perfect album to chase away the pain of petty foibles. There is just something about Lesbian Poetry that just makes insignificant things just that.

Some bands and artists are presented in a way that they overcome pettiness and bring sheer beauty to the proceedings with their arrangements and their presentation. The pure scope, much like the electric feeling of a thunderstorm or the rushing waves of the ocean, makes that which doesn’t matter slide.

That isn’t Lesbian Poetry. They attack the overwhelming feeling of everyday life in a different, maybe more substantial way. Gone are the trappings of production and in it’s place is honesty, simplicity and a different sort of ability. An ability to tell a story. An ability to let you get lost for a moment in the words of someone else and a clear understanding about what songwriting can be when stripped down to its most simple form.

Lesbian Poetry is a simple band with a simple sound, but they aren’t simple people. What I like most about them is that the overall vibe and confidence they exude. It isn’t about being the greatest performer or the greatest musician, it is about telling their stories in their way with little regards towards what the outside world might think.

What separates this album from others is that it isn’t just a simple DIY album made on very little money because that was the only resources. It is an album presented in a DIY, low budget way because that is the best way to present it. So, it is that confidence that rings through whether it is the wonderful “Trolleys and Limousines” or the spoken word/acapella coming out tale “Joe and I”. I think “Joe and I” might be the best track to show my theory. It is obviously the simplest track, being that it is presented with no musical accompaniment, but is told with such confidence that I was spellbound.

That’s what makes Lesbian Poetry, both the band and album, so intriguing. It is the confidence to be yourself, to present your art and to be one with your life. Comfortable in their own life, their own skin and their own art. So comfortable that it makes you wonder why you cared so much about petty things to begin with.