This is the very first blog in a series that is about my experiences as a talent buyer at Lefty's Live Music. It will be part, here's who has played, who's going to being playing, why they are important and lastly a sounding board for some of my personal ideas and advice when it comes to live music, promotion, being a musician and all the wonder that goes with it. The plan is to try to do one at least a month but as you know I'm a busy guy who is often stretched thin but I'll give it a shot if you will.
I wanted to start off by talking about something that has been in the front of my cortex since I was so nicely asked to take on talent buying responsibilities at Lefty's, Where are all the people? It seems that every time I seat down with a band or another promoter or even your average music fan and begin talking about the scene, attendance comes up. In part because even on shows that are will attended, it always seems like there should be more people there. Often the disappointment for me anyway is that I just for the 4th or 5th time in a week's time saw an incredible show and I'm disappointed that there wasn't more people there to share it with. Yes, higher attendance does make my job easier and does bring in a little more cash but often the shows I'm doing are like my children. I enjoy them, I love them and I want to share their greatness with the rest of the planet. So, it's disappointing when we are not turning people away at the door.
Now I could turn this into a huge discussion on marketing and the amount of alternative forms of entertainment there are. Maybe say that like TV killed vaudeville the internet is killing live music but I really don't think that is the case. Live music has survived through the many distraction of the entertainment inventions of 20th century. It lived through the invention of Film, Radio, Recorded Music, TV, etc... In fact it grew even larger because of those inventions. So, even though how we consume entertainment has changed, I don't really think it is at the heart of any decline in ticket sales. Now the effect of getting information about any band with a few clicks or taps does expose you to their music, background and what others think about a band. So, it does allow people to be a little more picky about what they will spend money on. However, you would think with a more educated consumer you would see an increase attendance. It tends to create a opposite effect of people being less likely to take a chance. It's kind of taken all the adventure out of it.
We've all been in the situation where we feel overwhelmed by too much information and maybe that has a lot to do with it. It's just too much work to search endless to find something to do on a free night. Too many options and we end up giving in and either hitting the same dive bar or seeing what's new on the streaming services. I'll be the first to admit that I'm guilty of it.
The thing that I have been bring up over and over for the last year or so when this subject was brought up. Is that I don't see the level of musicians at shows I once did. I don't think anyone else has thought about it or noticed maybe and I say this because they seem surprised every time I bring it up. Especially musicians. As someone who was part of a scene that not only helped launch Slipknot but was the building blocks for just about everything that came after in Des Moines in much the same way every scene before that did for us, I have to point out that it didn't come out of a vacuum. Part of the legend of Slipknot is that they were this thing that came out of nowhere with no influence locally or otherwise. As someone that often stood next to members of that band 3 to 5 nights a week for 2 years, I can say that isn't the case. They were at shows watching other bands being inspired by others and adapting or stealing other people's ideas and improving on them.
I'm a music history nut and I've studied the NYC and LA punk scene for most of my life and the thing that comes out over and over was that bands went to see other bands. They didn't just go to the shows they were playing but every damn show they could go to. It Why? because they were and are music fans. The bonus was that it allowed the talent, creativity and music to improve because it was competitive. The bands brought out a need to "One Up" one another which allowed the scenes in those cities to create bands that are still influencing music world wide. Without that they would have never gotten to the level they did and would have simply been forgotten as this cute little scene with less than talented musicians that happened in this little club in the bad part of town.
My father used to tell the same joke every time that we pulled up in front of a nasty truck stop while on one of those long torturous family car vacations, "Food must be good cause all the truckers eat here." It's kind of the same thing with venues and shows. The bonus effect of having a crowd full of musicians is that they tend to also be taste makers and often the biggest music fans on the planet.
Now anyone who isn't a musician can skip this part. Musicians if you want to improve, build a fan base, get to the point where music is maybe a little more than a hobby, etc.. get off the couch and see shows that you are not playing. Otherwise you are doomed to playing planted pot shows twice a month and maybe a few shows in Cedar Rapids. Try to remember why you got into all this in the first place, which I hope is because you are a music fan. Music like any other art form improve by influence and exposure. As a musician every time you see a band it is like taking a class and it should be part of you own musical education. Especially because it exposes you to an often completely different approach to the art. Invest in your education!!!
Enough with the insider Baseball let's get to the fun stuff. October at Lefty's was a whirl wind of surprises. It started with me getting up in the middle of the night to take part in the DMMC's Music University. I was asked to sit on a panel and talk about changing Des Moines' long standing 9pm curfew for minors. It was an interesting experience and I hope that some of my insight on the matter was helpful. The ordinance has greatly effected the music scene in Des Moines since the mid 1990s and it would be great to see it changed into something that would work. If you would like to get involved contact the DMMC or contact me and I'll get you in contact.
Shawn Munday - Singer songwriters and solo acts are always a hard sell in this market. I think in part because we often experience them in the corner of some bar or restaurant where we really aren't in the least bit interested in seeing live music. We have been working on trying to build a Sunday afternoon draw for them. There is just too much talent locally and nationally to just pass on them. Shawn Munday is a case in point. A graduate of the Berklee School of Music in Boston, he brings a mixture of covers in originals with heavy soul and R&B infuences. He's bass playing is incredible and highly entertaining but the heart that comes from his vocals is something in itself. Their are musicians that know tricks and can impress and then there are those that feel the music and express themselves through it and Shawn is one of the later.
Carrie Nation & The Speakeasy - As a long time fan of Cowpunk and bands like Blood on the Saddle, Tex and the Horseheads and Gun Club, I've always had a special place in my heart for those that blend traditional music with punk rock. Carrie Nation hailing from Wichita have brought about a sound that calls clearly back to traditional bluegrass and country but with a hint of punk that comes across genuine and not campy. Often times there is always a surprisingly rag time feel to their music. Also that night we had the pleasure of having Matthew James and the Rust Belt Union which continue to cause amazement each time I have the pleasure of experiencing them. Their take on Outlaw country is quickly making them the act to see in Des Moines. As a disclaimer, I enjoy my time with the boys and a recent game of world domination in the form of Risk. The Blue Ribbon Ramblers opened with their mixture of standards with a twist that is quite entertaining.
Them Evils - Sometimes you just want to see a band that rocks. Nothing special, no tricks or trappings, just pure straight ahead rock. Them Evils hauling from I believe Long Beach, CA have taken 1970s stadium rock and 1980s glam rock then infused it with a healthy dose of punk rock to create a long, blow you off your feet rock show. They put me in the mind of B-Movie Rats before the dessert took got their sound stoned. Opening was local Honeyceepers. They are an all girl band but I to point it out because their sound and approach is not a novelty at all and their sex has little to do with it. I really feel that in time they will develop into another band you are surprised comes from Des Moines.
Feathers Are Beautiful - FAB was a stable in the Des Moines area in the late 90s and early 00s. I guess they were post-hardcore but their sound is not easily pegged. It's a mixture of metal, punk, hardcore and just plain old Des Moines anger. This was their first reunion in 15 years or so and I have to say that it was the best show I've ever seen them play. Screamin' J set up this show and had his current project open by the same name. Just drums and guitar, it was primitive yet complex in a way that most of the guitar and drums only acts can't pull off. Usually the biggest issue is with lack of bass, the energy fails to come through. Not the case here. Also opening the show was Medicine Theory from Kansas City. The KC noise came through with the guitar at times reminding me of the Adolescents period of Rikk Agnew with the lyrics and vibe of the vocals clearly speaking the dark tones of Big Black. I must see if you are given a chance. Opening up the whole night was Stone Rock Locals Nest of Snakes who never leave the rock at home and are full of surprises.
Bad Cop / Bad Cop - This show was originally going to include the Interrupters but they had to cancel this show along with a few others on their tour. I was bummed at first but we still had Fat Wreck's Bad Cop / Bad Cop to bring their take on the Punk Rocks. All female with incredible harmonies, catch riffs and clever lyrics they are everything that makes a Punk show fun. Energy, emotion and fun, yes fun. I took the day off from the Axiom and had the pleasure to get to know a few of the members and talk about some of our shared experiences in the Punk. Supporting the show was Make Your Mark. It never ceases to amaze me how many people don't know this band exists. Not only is every member a wonderful person to be around but the music is incredible. Good old fashion sing along Oi! with hints of Pop. If you haven't checked out their record What We Believe, stop wasting time and do it. Or better yet see them live.
LETDOWN - Sunday All Ages Matinees are a tradition at 2307 University dating back to the first handful of shows I did in the room 20 years ago. They were usually my favorite cause I always had Mondays off and it was my Saturday. Letdown from Canada is a Pop Punk band that calls back to the 1990s and put me in the mind of one of my favorite bands from 20 years ago, Welt. Emotional lyrics with winding riffs and aggressive tones that just make you want to sing along. If it was the 90s they would have been on Fearless or One Foot Records. On right before them was the Freedom Paradox from the edges of Chicagoland. There sound is not easy to pin down. It just keeps wiggling from your grasp. I hear a little bit of Mad Parade but that might just be me but there is also some 80s Northern California Hardcore Punk in there too. Opening the afternoon was my favorite Pop Punk band from Ames. Great live band that seems to get better each time I see them. Everyone should check them out when they open for the SWMRS and the Frights at Lefty's on Sunday November 20th. Get your tickets at Midwestix.com
The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra - Hauling from the Twin Cities they are another of those bands that you are not sure how to put into words. I guess the closest would one could come is Progressive Country. They take a gather simplistic style of country and then take it on a long walk around the barn. However not in a way that seems so out of bounds that it looses it's direction. We hope to have them back in March or so, come and bring friends.
Indigenous - Blues is increasingly become a staple at Lefty's in part due to the efforts of the Central Iowa Blues Society but also a number of in house shows that we have been booking. I for one see little difference with a punk rock primitive approach to blues and that of the over rocked styling of a guitar giant. It's all the same to me but I love it when a band understands how to blend the styling with movement. Indigenous gets that and in a lot of ways they are a rock band first. They remind me of so many of the great roots rock bands that came out of the High Tones label in the 90s. That prefect mix but with enough talent to make even the most signature of cover their very own.
Coming in November:
I know we are already 9 days in and I have already had the pleasure of seeing at the least a couple of shows that I plan on talking about next month. However there is a great deal left to this month that any music fan shouldn't miss.
Fort Defiance - As a talent buyer you often have days or even weeks of listening to bands that just don't stand out or impress you. It's not so much that they are good as much as they just don't stand out. That is not the case with Fort Defiance. The Husband and Wife team produce harmonies that at once seem modern but play back to the past. They are completely in the purest form Americana. Songs with folk, country, cowboy and other primitive forms that call out to the American culture. I hear Woody Guthrie, Box Car Willy, Jimmy Rodgers, Cash and Dave Alvin layered in to a sound that is all their own. Add to that the fact that they are extremely entertaining and understand that it's all about having a good time. They will be coming back for their third time at Lefty's and we were lucky enough to get them a two night stand.
video - https://youtu.be/rSR4esjcHHw
- Tomorrow night November 10th, they will be headlining with Adam Bruce and Ben Schrag and the Cautionaries supporting - 21 & Over $8.00 at the door
- Friday November 11th - they will be supporting the Tossers - 21 & Over - $8.00 adv or $10 at the door - doors at 9pm
The Tossers - South Chicago's very own Irish Punk Legends the Tossers will be coming back to the room they first played in 2006. Unlike the many bands that seemed to jump on the Irish bandwagon the Tossers pre-date the popular period of Irish Punk. Their sound calls more toward that of the Pogues than it does the rip and roar of Flogging Molly or Dropkick Murphy's. From soft traditional balds to the upbeat temp of a good reel, the Tosser are an often unexpected experience.
- Friday November 11th with Fort Defiance Supporting - 21 & Over - $8.00 adv or $10 at the door - doors at 9pm
The Dickies / The Queers - I've been a Dickies fan since the 80s. Killer fast hyped up pop punk from before it was called anything but pop. Clocking in some of the fastest covers on the planet, this is not just another cute band but a full on legend. The Queer will be bring their own brand of snotty yet poppy music that will bring a smile to face and an urge to dance. In support is Des Moines very own Pop Punk monsters North Of Grand and the newly formed Broken Ones. I have had the honor of seeing the Broken Ones debut and I'm telling you show up early cause you have to see them. Think the trash of the New York Dolls striped down and rush through at a fever pace. This here, boys and girls is a punk show. There will always be an after party show with Broken Ones and No Good Deed. So stick around.
- Friday November 18th - All Ages - 5-9pm - $20 in advance / $25 at the door
Marbin - I'm not a fan of progressive rock and it in fact I often find myself as frustrated as a teenage boy after two hours of heavy petting. But Marbin is different. This Chicago based band blends jazz and fusion rock at such a high pace that you barely are sure what it is that you are hearing. It helps that they are all incredible musicians. There is just something about this band that screams see me or live a wasted life.
- Saturday November 19th - 21 & Over - Doors at 9pm - $8.00 at the door
SWMRS / The Frights - Returning for a second time around and taking a break from their tour with Fidlar is SWMRS and the Frights. The SWMRS have long out grown their time in Emily's Army to create a sound that is infectious, raw yet completely sing along pop. They may have came up with the next way of Punk. The Frights also play with a surf/garage sound that slips That and they are FUN!!! Something too many bands seem to have forgotten about. Support is Ames' own The Underdog Story
- Sunday November 20th - All Ages - 5-9pm - $12 in advance / $14 at the door