Yes, I’m back. WE’RE back. The MoSS? boys are all still alive and kicking. But life sometimes happens.
But unlike those guys, who continue to immerse themselves in the new stuff, my year on the road consisted of a tour through what I imagine is the stuff populating the used-CD bins at Record Collector these days.
I ain’t got no complaints …
Less Than Jake (Wooly’s in Des Moines, January)
The year started with this throwback of a show, which was really just a night for all my boys to reunite and celebrate 1997-98 all over again, when we were all just out of college and partying every night like you’re supposed to when you’re 23. There was a time when Losing Streak was the soundtrack to that party and it ranked among my very favorite albums. Well, those days are long in the past, but that album can still take me back to that moment in time. Of course, they only played one or two songs from it.
Oh, and Reel Big Fish opened the show … I felt like I was at a Milwaukee Beers BASEketball game.
Barry Manilow (CenturyLink Center in Omaha, February)
“I’m just going because my mom wants to see him.”
That’s was my excuse if anyone asked. Truth be told, I just used that as an excuse because yes, I’m a closet Fanilow. “Weekend in New England” and “Could It Be Magic?” make me misty. Shut up! When I was 4, my mom bought my brother and me t-shirts at the mall with our names on the back and ANY iron-on patch we wanted on the front. Logan got a Star Wars patch (the “a” and the “n” from his name quickly rubbed off his shirt, leaving only Log … which I still call him 38 years later). What did I get? You guessed it … a Barry Manilow patch. Shut up! I guess it was all those times I was forced to sing “Can’t Smile Without You” in the car because it was “cute” (I’m lucky I didn’t get beaten up more).
Anyway … it was enchanting (yes, I said enchanting), and I got some quality time with Mom in the process. And sadly, I’d never had better seats to a show in my life. Ever … only for them to be trumped about four months later.
Sleater-Kinney (Omaha and St. Louis, Feb./April)
I’ve already covered this one sufficiently. And nothing has changed, except for the fact that I love this band more now than I did then. I’m praying they take another run through the Midwest soon.
Foxygen at the Mission Creek Festival (Blue Moose in Iowa City, April)
This was the only show of the week I went to differing from Chris’ itinerary. We both caught Real Estate and Father John Misty (with King Tuff … those dudes were bad-ass). But he chose Shovels and Rope on Friday, and I chose this one. Glad I did.
A super-energetic show. Sam France has that androgynous look like some ’70s British glam rocker and the band has this wall of backup singers, like they’re Ike and Tina Turner or something, including one that looked like a sex-kitten version of Abbi from Broad City. Yes, I was captivated. I remember saying to Michelle, friend of MoSS? and my partner in the evening’s festivities, that the whole thing was like some hyperactive psychedelic version of Meat Loaf.
After the show, we bumped into honorary MoSS?-Man Travis …
“That was awesome,” he said with his typical chuckle and grin. “They were like psycho Meat Loaf or something, right?”
Bastard stole my line. Case closed.
Diarrhea Planet (Gabe’s in Iowa City, April)
Great stuff. But if I took away anything about this show, it was the realization that from here on out, I will never NOT take earplugs to a show at Gabe’s. These guys play three-guitar punk rock with shredding solos. And as I stood and watched, I could SEE the guitarists’ fingers moving up and down the fret boards with Yngwie Malmsteen-like dexterity, but all I could HEAR was harsh, distorted fuzz. On a whim, I just stuck my fingers in my ears … then and only then could I hear the flurry of notes. I love me some Gabe’s – it’s been my home base for over 20 years now – but the sound needs improvement (it has for a while). I used to worry that the day I started wearing earplugs would be the day I was officially old. I still love it loud, but I just want to hear what’s actually happening. That ain’t old.
Mastodon (Five Flags Center
in Des Moines, May)
The Sword (Gabe’s in Iowa City, October)
I love this doom metal shit, the sludgy stuff coming out of the south, especially – Mastodon, Baroness, Kylesa out of Georgia, and The Sword out of Austin, Texas. I never want to grow up, apparently, because for as cultured as I like to think I’ve become over the years, I still love heavy metal and slasher movies. I hope that never changes.
Royal Blood (Wooly’s in Des Moines, May)
In the era of two-man bands or even no-bass player bands (think White Stripes, Black Keys or Sleater-Kinney), those bands’ guitarists always find a way to replicate the bottom-end sound where the bass would be. Check out Corin Tucker on “A New Wave” or Jack White on “The Denial Twist” for good examples of this.
But I’ve never seen anyone replicate a screaming guitar lick on a bass before, while still playing bass at the same time. It’s a mindfuck when you see it. But that’s what Mike Kerr does in Royal Blood. Plus, it’s just good old-fashioned hard rock. I like these guys. Quite a bit, actually.
After the show, I asked their sound guy how Mike Kerr did it. “It’s gotta be just a series of effects pedals, right?” I asked. But he basically told me – in that very regal, polite way that only a Brit can – to go fuck myself.
The Barry Manilow show gave me the best seats I’ve ever had for any show ever. Until this one. Second row center and seated, with no buffer between Billy and me (the front row in the center was for handicapped seating, but there were no handicapped people at the show, so it was just as good as front row). This show had sold out immediately months earlier, but I just knew the ungodly-priced VIP tickets would end up on the market again. Checked the day before, at just the right time, and bam, got four at a discount.
But no one wanted to go with me. I, of course, asked the MoSS? boys first (we’ll always have the fantasy draft, after all). Too short of notice. Finally, I got some takers in old reliables Kat and Von.
I loved this show. A stripped-down acoustic set. Yes, it was largely devoid of many hits or deep cuts from the 1991-95 era (more on that later), but at the same time, it didn’t feel like a rock concert. Lots of stuff from Adore (which I was cool with – “For Martha” was excellent, and the arrangement on “To Sheila” was KILLER), a couple of new ones, some Zwan stuff, some solo stuff, all meticulously arranged and presented almost like a Broadway show, with a locked-in songbook. I knew what I was getting.
But this was Des Moines. Home of a ton of buttrock FM radio. A lot of the people who bought tickets, guaranteed, probably didn’t read the fine print about what this show was going to be and expected to hear the big, loud anthems. They didn’t get them. I mean, he did play “Tonight Tonight,” “Today,” “Mayonaise” and “1979,” but mostly? Yeah, they didn’t get them.
Needless to say, it got ugly. For the first hour or so of the show, he had the room in the palm of his hand. But when people started realizing that this show must be winding down and they still hadn’t heard “Cherub Rock” and “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” they started getting antsy. During the end of the show, people started yelling out requests, which Billy actually took in stride, until some jackass yelled, “Play ‘1979’ again!” At that point, the famous Corgan petulance reared its ugly head. All tour long at that point, he had taken some requests for the final encore (including one stop when he played the entire Gish album in less than six minutes). But for us, he came out and played “Spaceboy” and got the fuck outta there.
Look, I’ve been very vocal over the years about how his refusal to play the old stuff is petty (basically, he feels like if he plays the stuff from Gish, Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie, he’s no better than Warrant playing “Cherry Pie” at the state fair. “I’m still making new music, dammit. You should want to hear that,” he thinks). There is a middle ground. People will listen to the new stuff if they know you’re gonna reward the years and years of loyalty with a few of the deep cuts. He needs to realize this.
But on that night, in that room, under those circumstances, I was on his side. We (I mean Iowans in general here) looked like hayseeds and it reinforced my fear that this was one of the reasons that Iowa is just the warm-up show for Chicago or Detroit.
I got into it pretty intensely with Chris about this afterward. A snippet of our correspondence:
“I can’t be on his side if he can’t entice me to attend. He can’t be bothered to include true fan rewards like Crush or Suffer or Obscured or Soma or Hummer. These are not hits. These are legacy-affirming songs but because they were written in the 20th century he won’t play them, even though he’ll play 1979 and Tonight and Today. If he wants an entire room of disciples without having to play the entire Greatest Hits tracklist, he would do this.”
I agreed with every word of this (my response: “I knew this was coming. And I know your stance. In fact, how many times have we had this discussion … and I AGREED with you? Because you know that I do”), but the contents of his acoustic tour were well-documented. It’s just that I bet no one was playing attention.
Well, I bet Todd would’ve loved it … I think.
80-35 Festival (Des Moines, July)
Jenny Lewis (she of Rilo Kiley, playing with the Watson Twins, and Jenny and Johnny) was awesome. Wilco was as good as they usually always are. Cloud Nothings sound better live than on their record. Run The Jewels were the balls. And Weezer played maybe the quintessential example of a perfect festival gig – every hit, a few deep cuts, a couple new ones, and the huge ones to shut it down.
In addition, on Friday night, I caught the Ataris play at the Gas Lamp … and the show was opened by Rational Anthem, my current favorite Iowa City band. Originally from Florida, they hooked up with fellow Iowa City punks Lipstick Homicide (also awesome) somewhere on the road and relocated to Iowa City when they realized that at any given moment, they were within a four- or five-hour drive of Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City and Omaha. If you like fun pop punk, check them out.
Against Me! (Wooly’s in Des Moines, July)
Tom Gabel was the shit. Best voice in punk rock. That was always the draw with Against Me!. Laura Jane Grace? Now she has the best voice in punk rock. I love this band.
Cheap Trick (RAGBRAI stop at the Coralville Marriott, July)
“Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees I’ve seen live” list as of July 2015: The Rolling Stones, Van Halen, Metallica, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, B.B. King, Neil Young, Buddy Guy, the Pretenders, Fleetwood Mac, Lou Reed, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, U2, R.E.M., Beastie Boys, Guns N’ Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Public Enemy, Kiss, Nirvana, Green Day, Parliament (well, George Clinton), Run-DMC (kinda) and Patti Smith (kinda).
Now, I can add these guys to the list. Getting inducted this year (as well as Steve Miller, who I saw in 1992 and is also getting inducted this year). So many awesome anthems. And I bought a great t-shirt to boot.
A sidenote: After drinking a few too many beers that night, my buddy and I headed over to the Lumberyard II for a little post-show entertainment. I just want to say this to the strippers of the world: Picking your music? Shouldn’t be that difficult. Hair metal or ’90s R&B. Just keep it simple, ladies. It ain’t hard.
Just one of the shows that you always imagine a rock concert will be like when you’re 12 and haven’t been to a rock concert before.
I have friends who rag and rag about Dave Grohl and his overexposure. It’s tiresome. And it makes my head spin so much that it’s impossible to gather and articulate my thoughts on the matter (check out this piece that Chris wrote almost over four years ago, then check my counterpoint in the comments. And Chris wrote this BEFORE he was just starting to truly usurp Bono’s roll as media-appointed rock ambassador… his roll has only gotten bigger since then).
But anyone who tries to say the Foo Fighters are not one of, if not THE best, arena-rock bands in the world is crazy. This night was a tour de force.
I went to this show with T-Dub and it was a classic T-Dub and Vodka Bob outing. More than a few frosty beverages. Screaming every lyric, including the end bridge of “Monkey
Wrench.” Making friends with total strangers. There was the
purple-t-shirt guy. There was the beautiful girl in the checkered dress. The dudes in the Cinderella t-shirts (by the way, we weren’t ripping on you … we actually do worship at the altar of Tom Keifer, guys!). We invited one woman who was partying hard and her sister from Idaho out for post-gig drinks … unfortunately, I really don’t remember a whole lot about this or anything after (I do remember asking Miss Idaho if she liked shopping malls, because I remembered a line in Adventures in Babysitting when the kids in the movie asked the guy who carjacked the car they were sitting in to please drop them off at the nearest mall and the carjacker said “where do y’all think we are – Boise, Idaho?”). I think I asked for her number and she did give it to me (I’ve never used it), but she didn’t tell me her last name. I think she made the right call.
Anyway, I woke up the next day and start checking the receipts in my pocket. It was all worth it.
X (Wooly’s in Des Moines, August)
One of my favorite movies of all time is The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II: The Metal Years (why Penelope Spheeris has never done a “Where Are They Now” follow-up on the London dudes, the Wet Cherri guy, the guy with the one-side-bleach-blonde/one-side-blue-black hair, and Randy O. from Odin, I’ll never know. I mean, I REALLY want to know, for real).
Anyway, The Metal Years came out when I was 15, and after that, I was obsessed with seeing Part 1. For 25 years, I tried seeing it. I tried renting it everywhere. Never had it. Out of print. I started checking every used video store. No luck. Any time the TV guide said it would be on, I set the timer and it ALWAYS ended up being The Metal Years. No dice.
Finally, this year, the red tape finally got cleared up and the entire Decline of Western Civilization trilogy got released on Blu-ray. Part 1, for the uninitiated, is a deep dive into the L.A. punk scene of the early ’80s – The Germs, Circle Jerks, Fear and Black Flag, most predominantly. But X, with that infusion of rockabilly, stood out to me.
Skeet and I loved it. Doe rocks. Exene Cervenka kinda looks like a crazy Muppet these days, but still had me in the palm of her hand.
Plus, I didn’t want to think of John Doe as just the guy that said, “that guy at the end of the bar is fuckin’ Dalton, man.” Glad I went.
Beach House (The Pageant in St. Louis, September)
Chris already covered the specifics of this show well. I was just disappointed that he left out the late-night driving playlists I utilized to keep myself occupied while he slumbered … an ‘80s New Wave that featured Erasure, Duran Duran, Bananarama, The Dream Academy (twice!), Berlin, Bow Wow Wow, Romeo Void, Kajagoogoo, Simple Minds … I could go on and on, but it wasn’t until “Perfect Way” by Scritti Politti came on that he finally said, “Can we listen to something else, please?”
Then, on the way home, it was Vol. 4 of my essential “Anson Thrash” series, with enough Slayer, Exodus, Testament, Motorhead, Venom, Death Angel, Coroner, Forbidden, Sacred Reich, Overkill and Death to satisfy any knuckle-dragging, wastoid, headbanging degenerate like myself.
He didn’t say it (he was dozing), but I know he was impressed.
Not even gonna attempt a Top 10 for 2015 list …
… but I will say goodbye to a couple of dudes that meant a whole hell of a lot to me.
It was a good year. See you in 2016 … I mean, I hope I don’t fall asleep for another eight months.