In conjunction with the DVD release of Interstellar, Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche kicked things off with an otherworldly display of percussive prowess on a drumset not dissimilar to the one he used in the Delta Faucet ad. Only instead of banging waterspouts, he’s got a gigantic, metallic onion skin spiral, a redshift/blueshift siren item, what appeared to be an extra-large sac of silica gel, and xylophone chimes all overlaying an ambientsoundscape from Jim O’ Rourke. Stretched rubber tendrils simulated simian discourse in Kotche’s rendition of the Balinese “Monkey Chant.”
Preceded by an analog synthesizer demonstration by Iowa City musician, Ian McMillan, art house cinema FilmScene ran the documentary, I Dream of Wires, which details the origin and evolution of the iconic instrument, an obvious hobby for all moneyed switchboard operators to take up in retirement. Amongst its sound bite contributors was Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys, bringing to light the evident question: When are we going to get some new music from Junior Boys? Later on, Alex Body and Silver Apples performed their synth sets at Gabe’s, the former closing with a winning rendition of Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.”
Ryley Walker of Chicago makes light of his own Van Morrison comparisons by threatening to do “Brown Eyed Girl,” thereupon sending the hordes scrambling to the exits. Accompanied by only his own acoustic guitar and a pal on upright bass, live, he doesn’t sound a whole lot like Van Morrison at all, even though he joked that the next ten songs are gonna sound all the same. Set closer “Geronimo” was the strongest of the bunch and helped to eradicate the memory of that “Hey Geronimo” song from the closing credits of the equally forgettable Vince Vaughn vehicle, Unfinished Business.
Real Estate is running like a machine, tight like German train times. “Easy” managed to fade into the cobwebs of years gone by, but when they played it at the Englert, it burrowed up, broke ground, and asserted itself as their strongest track by virtue of its earnestness.
“Band of the Fest” trophy comes in early and its MAIDS, a Des Moines electro two-piece who brought their own lights and they’re the best damn lights going. These are the lights Ellie Goulding’s singing about at the end of Spring Breakers. But it’s not all about the lights. The music is phenomenal, originals and covers both, all top shelf. They do the Shins “Kissing the Lipless” but I want to hear what they do with “Phantom Limb.” Scratch that. Just keep doing your originals, Maids. Maids oughta be all over car commercials with chicks that need two takes to say “oh” and “cool” after learning granny has wifi in her Buick.
How To Dress Well came in with the plain white T’s—not the band, the sartorial selection—and got the crowd to pop with some hometown references; the singer’s parents went to grad school at the University of Iowa. It’s also the drummer’s birthday, 28 or 29, and, according to singer Tom he looks better than he did when he was ATHLETE OF THE YEAR more than a decade ago and it all leads in to “Repeat Pleasure.”
Alex Cameron and Roy Malloy on saxophone had the misfortune of a set beset with ample technical difficulties prompting unplanned intermissions, but the Henry Rollins-endorsed Sydney singer brought it back around again with “The Comeback.” Cameron croons “The Comeback” like a Thin White Duke-fronting Eddie & the Cruisers. A tale of a stubborn dinosaur of showbiz soon to be put out to pasture, the song recalls (and references) a deluded Rupert Pupkin King of Comedy basement monologue by way of the Leno/Letterman late night wars of the early 1990s. Before the two-minute mark, you’re in the old coot’s corner, rooting for him to get his show back. “Mongrel” is the sound of Buffalo Bill searching his medicine cabinet for something besides lotion to put in the basket. Ah, there it is. A green glass vial in which to put drops of blood. In the opening line of “Real Bad Lookin,” Cameron announces himself in short measure: “I am the drunkest, ugliest girl at the bar.” Her husband’s at work, her baby’s in a Daewoo sauna. It is a guise Cameron maintains until song’s end, when he morphs into “the goddam dumbest, richest guy at the bar” (“I show my teeth when I smile in a real matter-of-fact way”). The song mentions cravings for cigars and kids left in cars. The ugliest girl checks to see if her neglected baby in the sauna is a “goner.” It is more or less an ode to the relationship intricacies of Edhardicus afflictionus and all his orange-skinned conquests, circa 2007. Cameron is a master of the three-line lyrical wallop, a kind of haiku immune to the bounds of syllable count. It’s on display at least twice in “Happy Ending.”
Alex and Roy do a couple solid covers, too, with Billy Idol’s “Hot in the City” and set-closer “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree.” Foxygen put out the 110% expectant of a farewell tour with a trio of tireless backup singers, impeccable choreography, nary a second’s lag of energy, and an encore of “No Destruction.”
It was time to share a lunch of fried rice at a Chinese restaurant with Alex Cameron and Roy Malloy. Alex sets the scene for what prompted the writing of “Happy Ending,” the account of his friend’s work experience in Hong Kong, a place where “16 hours of work, followed by 4 hours of drinking, followed by 4 hours of sleep” is the norm. “That’s the life,” said Cameron. “It broke his mind.” Understandable. The black Cadillac rolls on to St. Louis.
It was onto the Yacht Club before midnight to get a good spot for SQÜRL, musical project of director Jim Jarmusch, whose Only Lovers Left Alive should have been amongst the nominees for Best Picture of 2014. On stage, Jarmusch keeps the banter to a minimum, but keeps it effective, asking the assembled denizens of the Yacht Club, “Where are the yachts?” He also quotes Kerouac’s never-more-pertinent-than-now observation that the world is upside down. An attendee encourages me to swipe the half-full champagne bottle that is sitting on the nearest amp. “That’s no champagne bottle,” say I, “that’s the nuclear warhead freed from the missile by MacGruber in MacGruber.”
King Tuff shares with us his observations of the few hours he’s been in Iowa City: there was a guy on a bike who ran into a bench and another fellow promenading down the sidewalk with a pair of knives on his belt and wearing a tail. Not sure if the tail was raccoon or tanooki, the King did not specify. He also didn’t play “Alone & Stoned” which was like waiting for Godot, but not a total loss, as they played it on the PA the night before at the Yacht Club pre-SQÜRL, where a friendly attendee in a Superdrag shirt let me know what has become of the band.
Then comes Father John Misty. What can you say? Like any good performer, and he’s a great one, if not the consummate showman of our time, Father John Misty is a confrontationist. Having the temerity to belittle parishioner exchanges on Easter Sunday goes down aces with the best and brightest, ye godless collegiate heathens, but once you’re a little bit long in the fang, all it makes you want to do is fill your ears with Sufjan Stevens. All decorum on display at Real Estate eroded as the show progressed and the screws turned tighter. Placed on high in front of those David Lynch curtains of the Englert Theater, Misty’s neon No Photography outline-of-heart evolved at intervals with the performance. No photography…No Heart…Heart. Bravo, padre.
Father John Misty and Alex Cameron were natural fits for Iowa City’s Mission Creek Festival. It was a booking coup to acquire the two. After all, this is the home of the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop. Who better to bring to this crucible of the future literati than Misty and Cameron, a pair of troubadours who don’t release albums so much as sonic short story collections? Misty’s lyrics cite malapropism and Trout Fishing in America; half the MFAs in attendance are probably writing their theses on FJM while the talented ones are dropping out.