2015 was my quietest year in terms of blogging since Todd and I started Music or Space Shuttle? in late 2011, but it’s not for lack of outstanding experiences around music. The blogging part of my brain just got really lazy.
But after the holidays ran their course, I looked back at the great music that came out in ’15, and the various photos and videos I shot at concerts big and small, and decided I should package it all together. Even if no one else looks at this, it will serve to remind myself just how much fun it is to stay up late for a weeknight show in Iowa City or drive a few hours to St. Louis for a wonderful night at the Pageant or join up with my Riot crew to make Chicago our home for a few days to do a proper festival.
Bjork, the band formerly known as Viet Cong, and Sleater-Kinney all decide to drop new music on us. The Bjork album is beautiful; the Viet Cong release is brutal (in a great way); the Sleater-Kinney album didn’t suck as I feared it might and landed on my top 10 of 2015 at #7.
I did not like Fleet Foxes. At all. But I kinda like what this Father John Misty guy is doing on his own. Yeah. His latest LP, I Love You, Honeybear, held much more than the SiriusXMU staple “Bored in the USA.” “Chateau Lobby #4” and “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me” and “The Ideal Husband” are personal favorites, but really it’s an album you can enjoy front to back (even the electronic song grew on me). By year’s end, I rated it #3 among 2015 releases.
You know those lists you make if you’re a nerd? One of those lists is “Bands I Never Got to See, Goddammit” and mine is painful to read. (The Nirvana entry is the worst.) But here’s the thing: in 2015, I got to cross off a couple of names. The first one: Sleater-Kinney, who played a pretty-close-to-dream setlist at the Slowdown (a pretty cool club in Omaha). Janet pounded her kit, Carrie punctuated her riffs with amazing high leg kicks, and Corin’s voice was in good form. To my surprise they played one of my favorite S-K songs (“Oh!”), and the songs that sounded so good on the new album also sounded great live. And “Dig Me Out” was so great.
Kendrick Lamar drops To Pimp a Butterfly. I immediately liked “Alright,” and also found plenty to like throughout the lenghty LP. Is it OK that I prefer good kid m.A.A.d city, though? Not trying to take a hipster stance here; I just find myself listening to more songs from the previous album when I want to queue up some Kendrick. (Tobias Jesso Jr. put out Goon a day later. Not as good as TPAB, but good all the same.)
Jenny Death, the second part of Death Grips’ double album The Powers That B, leaks online. I’m sure I waited until the album was officially released at month’s end to obtain these songs. Anyway, I put Jenny Death at #10 on my top albums of 2015 list.
Courtney Barnett will be a 2016 entry in the “From the MoSS? Pit” series; Sam, Travis, and our friend Ian from the Riot Fest crew are joining me at First Avenue in April 2016 to see her do her thing. (I swear I’m going to get better about timely posts about concerts.) We will all be enjoying songs from the album she put out on this day, which ended up at #4 on my top albums of 2015 list.
Mission Creek show #1: Real Estate. I’d seen them the year before at Pitchfork, and the venue (outdoors, summer) and the time of day (late afternoon, sun lazily going down) were perfect for the band’s aesthetic. But they put on a nice nighttime show in the Englert Theatre, as it turns out. Their sound is so clean, so pure. Nice way to open my trifecta of 2015 Mission Creek shows, and it was the lone show of the festival that brought together me, my MoSS? boys Todd and Sam, and our honorary MoSS? brother Travis.
Mission Creek show #2: Shovels & Rope. This was year 2 of what might be an annual tradition, if Mission Creek keeps up its booking pattern: me and my bestie Sondra taking in the Friday night Englert show. (She went to Sleigh Bells while 8.5 months pregnant…that’s concert cred I don’t think I could attain even if I had the proper lady parts.) The first year it was The Head and the Heart, which we both looked forward to with crazy anticipation. This time around, though, neither of us were all that familiar with S&R (read: I glanced at their bio, listened to a couple of tracks online, figured Sondra would like them, bought the tickets). I think I can speak for the both of us in saying that S&R cleared the high bar set by Head/Heart. Those two are pure joy on stage (and, as we plunged into their discography, on record, too) and clearly enjoy making music together (and human beings, as it was announced that Cary Ann Hearst was pregnant). It might take a reunited Civil Wars to raise the stakes in 2016…
Mission Creek show #3: Father John Misty with opener King Tuff. OK, so the opening act set off the fire alarm when the singer’s leather jacket met up with the stage pyrotechnics, and yet King Tuff was easily the SECOND-hottest act to grace the Englert stage that night. Josh Tillman has it goin’ on, folks. He pretty much owned the room with his soulful vocals, slinky moves, and damn great songs. Even the cheesy neon backdrop worked. I was comfortably seated about halfway back, which was probably good because his magnetic charm had quite the effect on fans closer to the stage. My ancedotal evidence: one of my former work colleagues ended up burying her face into his shirt. It’s funny, partly because this is totally a Brittany B move, but also because it conjured up imagery of Veronica wiping Jesus’ face, and is it any surprise that a Father John Misty moment would relate to religion somehow? Anyway, a great way to close 2015 Mission Creek; I think I would rate this show as my favorite MC show so far, ever.
Jamie xx releases In Colour, which, after much internal debate, emerged as my favorite album of 2015. For most of the final third of the year, I had Beach House’s Depression Cherry in the top spot, but in the end, I found myself more satisfied with the front-to-back listening experience In Colour provides. “Girl” and “Seesaw” are my two clear favorites, but there’s not a song on here that I feel like skipping when I put on the album. (Sure, I wouldn’t include the instrumental interludes if I were curating a mixtape, but within the context of the album, they too are fantastic.) I am aware that Jamie xx has been involved in my album of the year three times in the past seven (2009 and 2012 with the xx), and what can I say? They are absolutely genius, and Jamie perhaps stepped up as the mastermind behind the magic with this solo-branded effort.
Tame Impala turns the Pageant in St. Louis into the coolest kaleidoscope ever. We (Travis and I) had nice seats in the center balcony, and we enjoyed some good pizza and beer across the street before the show. Every time I go to the Pageant, I leave wishing such a venue existed in Iowa City (its capacity of 2300 surpasses the Englert’s 725, and the Pageant sound is immaculate in my experiences) and, more importantly, that such a venue could receive proper support in Iowa City. Would 2,000 people show up for Tame Impala in Iowa City, especially if the show weren’t scheduled during the week of Mission Creek?
But this isn’t about the fact that I often have to drive more than 100 miles, sometimes 250, to see the bands I like. It’s about Tame Impala previewing tunes from its forthcoming third album and playing just about every one of my favorite songs from the first two LPs. Travis and I did have to snicker a bit about how seemingly all of Kevin’s lyrics reflect his inability to talk to/score with chicks, which we find highly suspect.
Kacey Musgraves releases Pageant Material, which lands at #5 on my best of 2015 list, and I nearly flipped a coin between this and Courtney Barnett for #4. The title track lyrics are arguably the most entertaining I heard all year. “Somebody to Love” is a very moving tune that sheds any cowgirl texture and replaces the vibe with a cool drone. And she puts on a hell of a show, which I got to experience later in 2015.
TRIPLE SIX FIVE FORKED TONGUE GET GET GET GET GOT GOT GOT GOT BORN WITH A SKI MASK ON MY FACE I’VE SEEN FOOTAGE I STAY NOIDED HUSTLE BONES COMING OUT MY MOUTH GRAB YOUR FUCKIN CHAIN AND DRAG YOU THROUGH THE PARKING LANE WHILE EVERYONE’S LIKE NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO VISITED TESLA’S GRAVE FOR THE NINTH TIME TODAY SPREAD EAGLE CROSS THE BLAWWWWWWCK UP MY SLEEVES UP MY SLEEVES I BREAK MIRRORS WITH MY FACE IN THE UNITED STATES HALF COCKED FULL TILT RABID DOG FILTH ARRRRGH KNOW WHAT I’M SAYING (FUCK IT) ANKLES TIED TO CINDER BLOCKS AYE AYE I’M BOUNCING IT GOES IT GOES IT GOES IT GOES GUILLOTIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINE YUH! YOU’RE FIT TO LEARN ABOUT THE MEANING OF A BEATDOWN MADNESS CHAOS IN THE BRAIN I WANT IT I NEED IT NEED IT TO MAKE ME FEEL HEATED
Yep. Death Grips showed up for a concert and atoned for any previous misses we’d experienced over the past three years. I’m usually too old to get in the mix these days, but yours truly turned back the years (and wore flip-flops like a dumbass…thankfully all my toes survived). Travis also attempted to bring beers into the chaos and I ended up wearing about 89% of my beverage…but it’s all good. Need to do it again soon.
Wilco puts out a free album that I download and never listen to, not once.
Beach House releases Depression Cherry, which nearly crossed the finish line in the lead but ended up settling for my #2 album of 2015. All the same, this album and the band’s impeccable back catalog did entice me into an all-nighter trip to STL to see the band live…more on that later.
That night, I attend the Iowa Soul Festival in Iowa City to see Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. It’s raining pretty hard. I saw one act with a very large and very talented guitarist, and I heard the Dap-Kings do about five minutes before lightning decided to take over the Iowa skies. No Sharon Jones show for me. Drove home in torrential downpour. Can’t win ’em all.
Family concert night! My better half and our son pile into our friends’ truck and hit River Roots Live over in the Quad Cities. It was $10 to get in (and I think the kids were free?), and Kacey Musgraves was headlining. BBQ stands lined the walkway, and our friends’ two children joined our boy in bouncy house tomfoolery before we all snagged good seats to see Kacey. She was on point, running through the lion’s share of the songs on her two albums. The beer prices actually weren’t bad compared with Riot Fest or Lolla, and the QC has a decent local craft beer selection that was available here. I probably exploited the relatively cheap beer prices to the point of being a bit off-kilter. The evidence of such inebriation existed in a video file (since erased, too bad) where you could clearly hear me “singing” along. Oh god, it was bad. And if you’ve ever seen me participate in karaoke night at the Red Lion in Cedar Rapids, you would know I have no shame.
But I did feel like my photo game was still on point. A photo similar to the one you see above currently sits framed in my basement, awaiting my eventual arrangement of a pop culture-themed room. Seeing as I’m putting out a 2015-in-review piece nearly a month into 2016, you can imagine how soon that room will come together.
RIOT FEST. I loved the 2014 version, primarily because I was so excited to see one of the big bands each of the three nights (Slayer, Descendents, The Cure). But this year I found myself looking at three days packed with intriguing artists, rather than playing the waiting game until the headliners finally took the stage. The new location was a vast improvement on the 2014 park. Plus, our crew ended up renting a place that had a rooftop patio, a grill, and a hot tub. Much better than your typical hotel room, especially with six humans sharing the quarters.
DAY ONE: We start with Death, the stars of recent documentary A Band Called Death. These guys still got it, as do the next group we caught, Fishbone. I had seen them twenty-some years before, but I think the intensity level is the same. Angelo Moore was in fine form. Caught Living Colour from a distance, made sure to catch the obligatory “Cult of Personality” before moving along. I split off from the group at some point to catch Anthrax rather than seeing Faith No More. Mistake? If you ask Ian and Travis, yeah, as FNM topped their festival highlights. Instead, I got “Caught in a Mosh”…
While the rest of the crew caught Motorhead (R.I.P. Lemmy), I went over to see Ice Cube, who was reuniting with Ren and Yella to do some classic Straight Outta Compton tunes as part of his set. It was OK, I guess. They cut the songs short to eliminate Eazy’s verses rather than have someone else stand in. I think my favorite part of the set was getting this watercolor-looking photo of a dude’s mohawk standing tall among the smoke wafting through the crowd.
We tried in vain to get a cab. At one point we were outside a prison, so we asked one of the guards entering the facility if she knew if cabs trafficked this area. Her response: “You don’t want to get a cab around here.” Um, Uber? Can you come get us? (And within a minute, our Uber arrived. Nice.) The hot tub felt awesome.
DAY TWO: Was pleased to discover FIDLAR at this fest. They were a lot of fun, especially the part where one of the band members crowd-surfed and then upon returning to the stage was pretty much tackled by security, much to the puzzlement/anger of his bandmates. To be fair he did look like your average Riot Fest whippersnapper.
Travis and I checked out Swervedriver, although it was a tad depressing when we got there, like two minutes before the band was scheduled to go on, and yet we were able to get within a row of the front rail. I did think they were an odd booking compared with the rest of the bill, and it was an early set, but come on. Thankfully the place filled up to a respectable level once they started playing. I was happy with the music, anyway.
Ran over to the other side of the park to catch Captain Sensible and the Damned. I kinda get Swervedriver being forced to play an early slot, but I really thought the Damned at Riot Fest would land a later, more high-profile spot. But oh well, I found myself a good spot on Sensible’s side of the stage and pogo’d around for an hour. Neat neat neat!
Then it was back to the other side again to meet up with the crew at Thurston Moore Band. It was cool to see Deb Googe play live again (not nearly as magical as the My Bloody Valentine show, but still…) as well as Thurston’s apparent hetero life partner Steve Shelley. Thurston got himself off for 45 minutes to mixed reviews (in other words, Rog hated it, Ian loved it, Trav liked/loved it, I was good with it).
After getting a bite to eat, we all watched Echo and the Bunnymen, which was fun for the whole family. Then Roger and I camped out on the Rancid side of the park, and got up in the mix when it was time for …And Out Come the Wolves, played in its entirety. It was a lot of fun to shout along with “Olympia, WA” and “Timebomb” and “Alleyways and Avenues” and “Ruby Soho” and “Roots Radical” and all the rest. And wouldn’t you know it, I once again ended up running into the Brothers Warden at a concert/festival. They also enjoyed the glory that is a Rancid pit.
I watched Iggy Pop and his hot dog skin from a distance to close out the night.
DAY THREE: After all the joking we’d done about bees at Riot Fest this year and the year previous, it finally came back to bite me…well, sting me, I guess. I caught a jab in the back during the De La Soul set. Pos, Dove, and Mace had us moving like crazy, which stirred up the bees, and one flew up the back of my shirt and couldn’t get out, so STING. I put on a brave face and didn’t complain about it (much).
Roger and I endured a horrible set by Kongos in order to sprint to the gate when the Kongos crowd dispersed. We had different motives, to a degree: I desperately wanted to be up close and personal for Rodrigo y Gabriela, and Rog was dead-set on front-and-center action for THE D (which I was excited about as well). We got up to the second row of people, and then a guy asked who was here to see Rod y Gab, and when I shouted “ME” he traded me his spot on the rail. And after some Kongos fans got picks and setlists or whatever, they vacated the rail and Rog was in. We were dead-fucking-center, and both Rod y Gab and THE D delivered. So worth sitting through that Kongos crap. We did pass the time high-fiving the crowd surfers who had been pulled over the rail one stage over during the Andrew WK set. I found a new way to amuse myself: every time I extended my hand for the five, I also yelled out, “YOU DID IT!” About half the time the person on the other end of the handslap was like “FUCK YEAH I DID DO IT!”; about 30 percent of the time, the person was all like “Um, thanks, wait, what?”; the other 20 percent were pretty much all “FUCK YOU, DICK.” It was fun.
If you’re not familiar with this duo, but you watched Breaking Bad, then you sorta know their music. Go listen to “Diablo Rojo” or “Vikingman” or their cover of Metallica’s “Orion”…or better yet, just go to YouTube and search for some of their live work. They like to cover thrash metal in their flamenco-inspired way, and they did just that at Riot Fest, with a medley of Metallica and Megadeth tunes. At one point, as Rodrigo took up a stance to give his strings a good workout, I yelled from the front row, “YEAH RODRRRRRRRRIGO!” and he looked down at me, gave me a slight nod, turned back to his fretboard, and went to town. I AM A FUCKING NERD BUT SO WHAT RODRIGO GAVE ME THE NOD!!!!!
So yeah, we had prime spots for Tenacious D, right next to a guy who pulled a Chris move (me in the third person, yep) and had been on the rail for eight hours waiting for The D. (I did that for the Cure in 2014.) It was a lot of fun, kicking off with “Tribute” and getting most every song you’d expect to hear, I suppose, although I really could have used a rendition of “Lee” somewhere in the set. And I had another interactive moment a la Rodrigo, this time with Jables. Song gets over, we’re all clapping, Jack looks down at the crowd, locks eyes with me. Now with Rodrigo, it all went smoothly, but I initiated that one. This time, I was put on the spot. And like a deer in headlights, I got run over.
I gave him a dorky smile and a big ol’ thumbs-up.
And he furrowed his brow, shrugged, made a face that you can only interpret as “um, okaaaayyyy,” and our moment ended. #isuck
But after The D played their final note and left the stage, one of the security staff, with whom we made conversation throughout the afternoon/evening between sets, scooped up a guitar pick KG had attempted to throw the crowd. The fans were losing their shit trying to get it, but he told the adoring masses, “Nope, I gotta hook up my guy right here,” and handed me the pick. He must have recognized me from Lolla 2013 and Riot 2014; I honestly did recognize him. The guy who had waited eight hours on the rail was choking back tears of agony when he saw the pick enter my grasp; it must have KILLED him to see me then give it to Rog, the true D disciple.
Then the Prodigy played to close out the night and we all went back to the pad and the next day we returned to our miserable lives. Although my co-workers couldn’t help but notice the post-Riot Fest mood enhancement, at least for a few days. I could tell they liked my stories a lot; I should be sure to nag them to read Music or Space Shuttle?!
Chvrches releases Every Open Eye, a solid follow-up to the beloved The Bones of What You Believe. Didn’t instantly grab me the way the debut did, but it was a “grower” that settled in at #8 on my best of 2015 list. I would go on to see them twice in the span of 15 days…with mixed results.
But the bigger news from this day…
RIDE. Todd and I trekked over to Chicago to see the shoegazers do their thing at the Riviera. To actually hear songs from Nowhere was a dream come true. “Seagull” might be the best live song I’ve ever experienced. So intense. Mixed in some great tracks from Going Blank Again and Chelsea Girl, along with the one really cool song from Tarantula. Blissfully shoegazed, Todd and I retreated to the ‘burbs and found a bar with like a zillion beers from which to choose, along with the 10+% Not Your Father’s Root Beer (aka Headache in a Goblet). Kinda wish I’d stayed in Chicago another night, as Alcest played on the 26th, but alas, it was not to be. But I did have another concert to attend this weekend…
I shared a FB photo of Beach House that had been posted by the Pageant, one of those deals where “share this and you’ll be entered into a drawing for 2 free tix!!!!1” which, of course, I didn’t win. But Sam saw my share and was like, “Hey, I know the show’s on a Sunday night and it’s all the way down in STL and you have to work at 8 am on Monday morning but if you really want to go I’d probably be down with that.”
Red Bull was purchased. I drove to Sam’s place. Sam drove us to STL. We hit the pizza/beer place across the street. Jessica Pratt provided some decent opener tunes. And then Beach House rewarded our all-nighter trip with that special band of intense chill that I love so much. Kinda cool that they opened with a couple of tunes from their first album, including “Master of None,” which the Weeknd used masterfully on his first mixtape. And of course we got “Sparks” and “Levitation” and “Space Song” from Depression Cherry and “Wild” and “Wishes” from Bloom and it was all pretty much beautiful. Then Sam drove us home, with me catching ZZZZZs from probably about Canton until Iowa City. Then I drove home, got another three hours of sleep, and went to work. (And probably got home from work that evening and went straight to bed.)
Deafheaven releases New Bermuda. When they released Sunbather, I thought it was pretty cool from a musical standpoint but wasn’t big on the vocals. But then I saw them at Pitchfork in 2014, and was converted. I looked forward to the new album, and was not disappointed. I put it at #9 on my best of 2015 list.
Usually the University of Iowa Homecoming concert elicits yawns. Not this year. Chvrches played a free show on the Pentacrest. Thankfully the Soul Festival weather didn’t ruin this Pentacrest show. Will and I had tickets to see the band two weeks later in Kansas City, but we decided to hit this show as well, seeing as it was free and all. (Glad we did, as you’ll read in the October 23 entry.) The new songs sounded great, and they played a good deal of the first album, saving “The Mother We Share” for the end. Will was fading fast toward the end of the show, but that song perked him up. I hope to see them at an indoor venue not named the Uptown Theatre in Kansas City.
Bully at the Mill. I know it was Homecoming weekend at the UI and there were a lot of stupid things happening in town that night, but there should have been WAAAAAAY more people at the Bully concert. Thankfully me, Todd, and Jess weren’t among the poor saps who missed out on a great rock show. I must admit I don’t listen to the Bully album all that often but man did those songs work in a live setting.
One of the opening bands was called Heat. Not The Heat. Not El Heat, like what the Miami Heat put on their jerseys to celebrate Latino culture. Just…Heat. Like the De Niro/Pacino(/Kilmer?) movie. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Neon Indian releases VEGA INTL. Night School. Worth the four-year wait? Well, it was really good. “The Glitzy Hive” should have been the biggest song in the world, and tunes such as “Smut!” and “Slumlord” were top-notch. I’ve got this at #6 on the best of 2015 list.
Will and I go see Chvrches for the second time in two weeks. It might seem funny that a band like Chvrches could possibly be too loud, but it was unbearable. And of course I forgot to bring earplugs for Will, so imagine the agony he was enduring if I thought it was too loud. We stuck it out for maybe five or six songs before we left. Even out in the parking lot across the street, we were physically assaulted by the sound. You could feel the vibrations. This theatre was maybe a little bigger than the Englert; no need to have the shit that loud. If nothing else, Will did get a sweet poster from the merch table. I told him to consider it a souvenir from the Iowa City show, and that we’d never speak of the Uptown Theatre ever again. On the plus side, the family enjoyed the rest of the weekend in KC, hitting the Plaza, eating Jack Stack BBQ, and taking in Science City at Union Station.
Small Black returns to Iowa City, playing a show at the Mill. Last time they were in town, they opened for Washed Out; this time, they topped the bill. They did quite well as the headliner. The most recent album, Best Blues, is pretty great, right up there with Limits of Desire, in my book. We even had a chance to chat briefly with Josh Kolenik. Cool guy. Hope he experiences bigger and better things in the future.
The Bright Light Social Hour met arguably their biggest fan (Ian, from my Riot Fest crew) in Iowa City on this night. I’m sure they made a few more diehard fans with their scorching performance.
Six days before Episode VII: The Force Awakens opened, I had the pleasure of watching/hearing the St. Louis Symphony perform selected works by John Williams. So we got to hear some tunes from Jurassic Park, Home Alone, the Harry Potter films, Catch Me If You Can, The Cowboys, Superman, and, of course, the Star Wars saga. Probably the coolest moment for me, aside from the main Star Wars theme, was a song from Episode I: The Phantom Menace, believe it or not. It was from the Darth Maul/Qui-Gon Jinn/Obi-Wan Kenobi lightsaber duel scene; the symphony was joined by a choir that provided the vocal portion of the score. It was incredible, that song, the whole concert. The conductor was an absolute showman; his between-song banter was outstanding. An interesting way to close out my 2015 live music calendar.
And The Force Awakens lived up to, nay, surpassed my expectations. Can’t wait to see Episode VIII, but that’s something like 18 months away! Guess I’ll have to go see some more concerts in the meantime. Already got tickets for Courtney Barnett, The Cure, and Riot Fest 2016…
To recap, my top 10 albums of 2015:
Jamie xx, In Colour
Beach House, Depression Cherry
Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear
Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think…
Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material
Neon Indian, VEGA INTL. Night School
Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
Chvrches, Every Open Eye
Deafheaven, New Bermuda
Death Grips, Jenny Death