Make a Mixtape, It Always Helps- 80/35 Music Festival 2014

Chris Ford and Patrick Tape Fleming of Gloom Balloon

Chris Ford and Patrick Tape Fleming of Gloom Balloon

I almost bought into it. I did. I dunno if it is my natural depression, my often weirdly intense paranoia or the fact that I spend too much time on the internet, but the somewhat harsh outcry and the excruciating six week wait between band announcements and I almost caved into a thought that I just wouldn’t like this year’s 80/35, or maybe even worse, I nearly became apathetic to it. I knew I would go, and all the good things about the festival that I have spoke of the last two years were going to happen: the community building, the resume building, the memory building would all be there. But would I care? Continue reading

Review: Emily Reo, Tires, Cuddle Formation and Ramona Muse @ Des Moines Social Club

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That’s a wallet I bought from Cuddle Formation. It’s pink and has stars. On the inside is scrawled “Balance: LOL” and “PIN: 6969420”. This is my wallet now. The one I use everyday to house my driver’s license and health insurance card and such is pink and has stars and says “Balance: LOL”. I threw away my brown leather wallet and transferred all of my identification and other personal effects into this wallet. I am almost 34 years old.

I have a problem where I forget just how old I am. This has been a long-standing issue where I don’t realize just how a person of my age and responsibilities should behave. In my teens, I still collected toys. In my twenties I worried and fretted about what people I went to high school thought about me. Now, I often forget that I am in my thirties with two kids and no job. Time just moves quicker than I realize.

Here is the thing about mental age: the rest of the world just keeps right on spinning. Time refuses to stand still, even if you do. People change and expect you to have done the same. People get older, sometimes they pass, and as you age you have to realize that more and more of the people you grew up with are gone, if not physically then they are different people than they were, and you probably should grow, too. Your possessions increase and so do your responsibilities, which then means that your possessions need to change to match your responsibilities and if you remain attached to things to showcase your youth while also trying to match your responsibilities you suddenly have a house full of crap you don’t really need. Even if you want to pretend you’re still 22, the rest of the world expects you to be 34. There are certain expectations of what a mid-thirties father should probably be. He should be working towards something, and should be well on his way to getting there. He should already have a moderate amount of success and should be parlaying that success into even more success so his family doesn’t have want or need.

That’s the dream, right? Or at least that’s my dream. To be as aged as the rest of the world sees me and needs me to be so my family can always be taken care of. I suppose the real dream is that the world just leaves me be and I can somehow co-exist with what I want to be and what I have to be to make sure my family is always taken care of, but the sad reality is that you need to have some sort of conformity. I need to give up the some of the trappings of youth and just get with the program. To grow and understand just what my position in life should be, but I often fall back into the trap of immaturity. I feel like once I realize that I am an adult and also how to be an adult I can then go be an adult.

It’s thoughts like that that lead you to going to shows with the fight of being in your thirties but wanting to behave like you’re in your mid-twenties. You overcompensate. You go with the thought that you can experience art, but you end up networking. You go with the idea that you can write things like:

“Cuddle Formation has a sound that differs from their band name. To me, I expected bouncy, peppy and happy. Maybe even cartoony. But it turns out it is weird, ambient and slightly dark. Also, beautiful as Cuddle Formation plays with noise, sound and light in a way that brings out a pulchritude that you wouldn’t expect. Maybe just an appreciation and joy of beauty that can bring people together. Maybe they’ll even embrace because of it. Huh, I guess Cuddle Formation is apt, afterall.”

And actually get swept up in that thought and not just write it. (It’s true, by the way.)

Instead, you spend a whole lot of time analyzing why you’re there and not trying to find a job and being insular when you should appreciate what you have in front of you. You end up envying Ramona Muse because of the freedom and confidence she exudes and then almost cursing her for the same things because you are no longer young and free and are super jealous. You end up missing a dynamic talent like Emily Reo so you can talk to someone who could potentially impact your career aspirations, whatever they may be. You worry that Tires is going to destroy your hearing instead of being excited that Tires is going to destroy your hearing (thanks to legendary and award-winning Iowa concert goer Andrew Smith for giving me an extra pair of ear plugs. They were needed.) You have constant internal debates as to whether the money for cover, beers and one accidental over-priced bourbon (C’mon, Bulliet is like the same price per bottle as Jameson, no way it should be four dollars more per glass) could’ve been better spent on things like toilet paper and applesauce. Then sometimes after consuming those drinks your brain revolts with this being old bullshit and you buy a pink wallet with cartoon stars. LOL.

It is the balance that needs to be achieved. Aging is fine, and should be understood and accepted, but not at a complete loss of what makes you you. If I could offer one piece of advice to a graduating class it would be, “Live in the now, appreciate the then and anticipate what will be.” But this mindset doesn’t happen immediately. It has to be developed, cultured and nurtured. If you push too quickly into it, you buy a wallet that is pink and has stars and says “6969420” instead of household goods so you can rage against what the world needs you to be in the silliest way possible.

I woke the next day completely embarrassed by my purchase, but I realize now that there has to be that balance. That I still have a little bit of that immaturity to me while trying to improve. So, I’m going to keep it as my wallet. I wanted that wallet, so I have that wallet. It will be my link to the past as I move toward the future. A reminder of the person I was and the person I am and the person I will be. I did end up scribbling over the inside stuff, because I am for sure too old to have a wallet that says “6969420”.

Review: Har Mar Superstar w/ Gloom Balloon and MAIDS – Des Moines Social Club 4/5/14

Har Mar Superstar. Photo by Joe Crimmings.

Har Mar Superstar. Photo by Joe Crimmings.

The best parties are the ones where you’re comfortable in your surroundings. Where you can let go of your image concerns and just have as much fun as possible. After I left the show, I ended up at a little Irish bar close to my house. Being unemployed, I generally only leave the house three or four times a week now, and usually only for about an hour at a time. Given the go ahead to take in this show by my wife, I slightly abused her permission just for the change in scenery, even if that scenery was just poorly lit and smelling of spilled beer and popcorn.

When I arrived at the bar, I sat down and ordered my usual Jameson on the rocks and looked up to catch the score of the second Final Four game between Wisconsin and Kentucky. Over in the corner, tables had been moved and a makeshift dance floor had sprung up, with several people dancing to Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie”. To my right three guys in suits were waiting for shots. The bartender poured three shots of Macallan 12, not a bad choice, but these were grown men who should’ve known better than to take a shot of a solid scotch. Then he poured in Frangelico and Drambuie. Intrigued, I butted in and asked just what the hell they thought they were doing to such a decent scotch and why they didn’t just drink like a grownup. Okay, I didn’t quite put it like that.

“Yeah, we are kind of destroying it, aren’t we. I mean we could just use regular scotch, but The Macallan just tastes the best.” one of the suited men said. He was probably near my age, mid-thirties. He was a little barrel of a man with wire framed glasses and thinning hair. His suit was nice, but a little wrinkled, like he had been sitting on the jacket for an extended period of time. He smiled a huge smile and put his arm around my shoulders, “You know, what the groom wants, tonight, he gets.” He gestured over to a guy in a black tux jacket, with his shirt halfway undone and a and untied tie draped around his neck. Standing next to him was his bride in a form fitting white gown and slight train. They were both a little older, and maybe it was a second wedding for each. Which would make sense that they just had a reception at their favorite bar. They looked really happy. Drunk, sure, but also really happy. Here they were, surrounded by family, everyone is laughing, dancing and at that moment, they had absolutely zero cares. It took me actually seeing the bride and groom to realize that everyone was having the time of their lives and that I had straight crashed a wedding reception.

I excused myself to the suited men and apologized for intruding. He kept his arm around me and sat me back down.

“Hey, stay! It’s cool. We’re all friends!” I’m not sure if he had the authority to do that. He slapped me on the back, a little bit harder than he probably intended and I raised my glass to him as the left with their despicable concoction. Looking around, there were people dancing, drinking, talking, even some singing when a song with lyrics came on. They all were having a blast. So much so, that they didn’t care that there was a dude drinking by himself in a black hoodie while all the revelry was going on.

Har Mar Superstar, Gloom Balloon and MAIDS all sort of fit this wedding reception aesthetic perfectly. The music these guys make is fun to dance to, sure, but it is more the reckless abandon in which they present themselves and their art. That’s the beauty of a wedding reception, you’re allowed to let loose, because this is family, these are friends and they’re all people who aren’t going to judge and are probably behaving the same way. All three of these acts give you the same feelings, whether it’s through presentation, charisma, music or all three.

With Har Mar Superstar and Gloom Balloon, part of it is that these guys are just so charismatic and unflinching. They both force you to believe in them and their art. Gloom Balloon is such an avant-garde presentation that sometimes you need that charisma just to not get lost in the weirdness of the video projections and samples. He forces you to believe in what he is saying and, most importantly, how he chooses to say it. His antics are so over the top and his charisma is such a force of nature, that you buy into it all.

This was the first time I have seen him perform since I listened to the album. Knowing how deep and emotional the songs were for Patrick Tape Fleming and what the lyrics have to say, to see people laughing at him spinning around and dancing and, uh, stabbing himself in the face with a screwdriver, I felt like it kind of took away from the emotional impact. However, the most interesting part of Gloom Balloon can be the dichotomy of the music versus the lyrics, the performance art aspect adds a whole other layer.

MAIDS are charismatic, sure, but they’re both subdued performers. They aren’t whirlwinds like Gloom Balloon or dynamos like Har Mar Superstar. The music is just so good, that you find yourself getting lost in the art, not necessarily the artists. The video projection of Mickey Davis and Danny Heggen’s silhouettes filled with lights, lines and letters mixed with the disco beats act just as well to get you in the mood and remind you that it is okay to dance in public. They ended with a new track, “Takes a Little Magic”, that might be the best new song I have heard this year by anyone in any genre from anywhere.

Har Mar Superstar musically was everything I expected. His backing band sounded awesome (I should note that everyone sounded great. The theater at Des Moines Social Club compacts the sound in a great way and the production was incredible). His performance, though, was way more captivating than imagined. He is a short, balding, chubby guy from Minnesota, and yet he has this animal magnetism and sex appeal that I just didn’t expect. I mean, I had heard tales of how he likes to get down to his briefs at shows (he only went topless on this occasion. His various layers on top all were peeled away, but his pants stayed on) but I sort of thought is was a performance choice, not one that made the audience go “whooo!” like he was a Chippendale. And yet, there he was, bumping and grinding and seducing despite the fact that he looked more like a sandwich artist than an R&B icon.

His songs are funky and his dance moves are great, but it is the whole package that really sells this. He is so unassuming, and yet he just pours confidence. So much so that audience members can’t help but be sucked in. His confidence makes others confident and his live shows are such a joyous party that no one feels like they don’t belong or that they can’t have the time of their lives. I almost feel bad even describing his looks in a slightly negative way, because honestly, when he performs it just doesn’t matter.

Seriously, that’s the key to having a good time, I think. Realize what doesn’t matter and disregard it and treat everyday like a wedding reception.

Review: Dick Prall w/ Max Jury 3/22/14

My wife and I enjoying a rare night out. Photo from Scott Morgan and Juice Magazine.

My wife and I enjoying a rare night out. Photo from Scott Morgan and Juice Magazine.

The day after I met her, I said I was going to marry her. That’s such a dumb thing to say, but I just knew she was the one. She, however, didn’t know. I never asked, I never over-pursued, but I knew from the moment I met her that she would be the one to share all of these adult milestones: marriage, grown-up friends, houses, careers, new lives, untimely deaths, all of that. Here we are, fourteen years later, more than a third of either of our lives, and wouldn’t you know it, I was right.

I’d like to say there are things people don’t tell you about long term relationships, and that maybe I should be surprised about how life works by now, but lots of things are a straight cliche. As we get older, and with outside forces seemingly conspiring against us, our youthful exuberance gets replaced by middle-aged fatigue. We still rarely fight or even raise our voices to each other, but on the occasions where we do snip or snap at each other, it is almost legit just life beating us down. Poverty and children mean we don’t get out as much as we would like and mean that our tempers are shorter than they were. I really wanted to see Dick Prall, and I really wanted my wife to be part of it.

I would love to tell you all about Max Jury’s set. About his ability and rapport with the audience. How his performing and presentation improve with each show and help him match his gifted songwriting. I would also love to talk all about Dick Prall’s set. How he segued from some of his slower, more introspective tunes into a catchier and bounceable performance. How his overwhelming talent shined through with each lyric, grin and brow-wipe.

But here is the truth, while I paid attention when I could, and made notes here and there, the focus was on my wife and just being in love for once in my life. Not being parents, not being adults, just being two people who actually enjoy each others company. Max Jury is awesome, and Dick Prall is always incredible, but the highlight of the night was blowing five dollars on “House of the Dead”, shooting zombies and shouting things at the screen with my wife. Just two people, having fun and enjoying their time together.

I would love to get into the specifics of each performance but here is the only one that really mattered to me: Max Jury and Dick Prall provided an enjoyable evening to put my beautiful wife on my arm and smile at each other and tell stupid jokes to each other and dammit just enjoy each other. So, their performance was a complete success.

Reviews: Fleetwood Mac, Artquake and My Mental Health

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Safety in Numbers: The Space For Ames Music Marathon 2013

Is Home Is' Mickey Davis

Is Home Is’ Mickey Davis

When I was a kid, there used to be houses with blue stars in the window. It was to let you know that if you needed a place to go to escape a kidnapper or a bully or whatever, you could go there and there was a nice person who totally wasn’t a psycho who could look after you until a parent or guardian was able to look after you. In 2013, it is kind of a hilarious notion that you could just trust some random stranger with your flesh and blood, just because they had a placard in their window, but that was what they lead you to believe. If there was a blue star, it was safe.

The Space For Ames should have a blue star in its front window. There is this gentle vibe from the people who frequent the place that tells me there is no wrong way to create art at The Space For Ames. Even the room itself has this glow that says you are allowed to come here and try whatever you want, judgment free. The peace sign made of recycling, the holes in the ceiling and the art on the wall all spoke to what this room allowed people to do and that they shouldn’t be afraid to do it. This is as safe a spot to create art as I’ve ever been in.

While the safety certainly comes from the aura, it doesn’t hurt that it also feels like a clubhouse. The Space is this roughly 13′ by 20′ box tucked in a hidden mall in Campustown surrounded by a Korean restaurant and a Domino’s. The room itself is a drywall closet that arguably has no real business being a venue, but somehow this tiny room has enough heart to support whatever pre-conceived notions you can build based off of its appearance. For five years, The Space For Ames has hosted a ton of eclectic art events, a lot of music, but a lot of other things including plays, art openings and yoga. On its birthday each year, The Space holds an epic marathon of music and this year’s was the biggest of them all. Starting at noon and carrying on long past after I left at 2:15 am, The Space hosted 55 Iowa bands of varying disciplines and genres, twenty minutes at a time.

My original plan was to spend the entire 15 plus hours there, jotting down notes and maybe presenting a bit of a list column documenting each act, but real life interfered, as per usual. I had to lurch around in day job hell until 10pm, then race home for a change of clothes, then haul up to Ames hopefully by 11:15 to catch Brooks Strause. Here is the cross section of the festival I made:

11:15 – Brooks Strause
11:35 – H.D. Harmsen & the Electrophones
11:55 – Flavor Basket
12:15 – Secret Freedom
12:35 – Is Home Is
12:55 – Mumford’s
1:15 – Stewardesses
1:35 – Christopher the Conquered
1:55 – Surgery

From that list, there were several I was excited to see. But there was a big three that I had to catch (it was four, but, well, I guess see my note regarding Stewardesses): the coffee-house genius of Brooks Strause, the pop fire of Harmsen, and the industrial lust of Surgery. I was familiar with all three, but had yet to catch any of them live. A nice twenty minute set where I could get a taste, form an opinion, and move on. Almost like an artistic wine tasting. If I hated them, I could just spit, and move on to the next artist. So, while I would love to talk about Mumford’s, Is Home Is and CtC again, eh. I think we all know where I stand with them (hint: they’re awesome), I’m going to focus on these three. Quick and dirty on Flavor Basket and Secret Freedom: I missed Flavor Basket and most of Secret Freedom because I had to run out to my car and drink a beer (The Space is alcohol free) because I am despicable and can’t be in a social situation without at least a little booze.

And let me knock out Stewardesses here, as well. I was excited for their set, only I ended up having a long discussion with someone, quite unexpectedly, that took me out of their set, both physically for a time and mentally afterward. I wanted to watch, and they were actually one of four that I wanted to see, but yeah, it didn’t happen. Sorry. I will do my best to make it up to them.

Brooks Strause is a brilliant singer songwriter. His performance reminded me a bit of when I caught Jeff Mangum in Ames back in September. He was bearded and a little slouched, much like Mangum. Also, while he was super talented, his emotion is what carried him, much like Mangum. His ability to put his heart on his sleeve was hypnotic and what he had to say and how he chose to say it was wrapped in this emotional blanket and etched on his face. Only, the emotions weren’t just his. He projected in a way that you couldn’t help but feel what he felt and believe what he believed. I feel like if he sang a song about robbing a bank, I would have slipped panty hose over my head before he was finished. At minimum, I would’ve driven the getaway car.

HD Harmsen is a handsome and charismatic pop star. His backing band are powerful enough to turn dinosaur bones into petroleum. That is as enjoyable a way to spend twenty minutes as anything. There just doesn’t seem to be any reason why he can’t be a gigantic star. Where Strause had everyone in the palm of his hand just simply by performing, Harmsen was a classic charmer. Making eye contact with everyone and playing to the crowd as much as time allowed. His live set held enough of my attention that I am even more excited to see what his debut album will bring later this year.

The final band I caught was Fairfield’s Surgery. Surgery are a three piece synth and guitar industrial act that pulls a lot from 80’s acts like Depeche Mode. I was completely blown away. Musically, they are unlike almost any other band I have come across in Iowa, just dark beats and scary sex. There is just this aura of danger and debauchery that comes not only from the sounds they make, but from the performance style of lead singer Joseph Mayfield. He is so in tune with the music and what he is supposed to do as a performer that you can’t help but be simultaneously scared and titillated. While performing, he is a madman who oozes an uncomfortable amount of lust towards himself and everyone around him. Musically, though, they are dark beats mixed with a hypnosis guitar. They were amazing and their three song set left me wanting more and questioning several thoughts about myself that I am pretty sure I had concretely settled on years ago.

While all the acts I was able to catch in full were stunning in their own way, the real star on this night was The Space, itself. It seriously felt like a true judgment free zone. Where fearless artists can make the art they want and perform it in front of a grateful and understanding audience. Here’s to five more years as a safe place for people to make possibly dangerous art.

Jeff Mangum w/ Music Tapes and Poison Control Center 9/22/12

A view from the stage at Ames City Auditorium. (via their website)

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