January is the month of perpetual hangovers, and if December was any indication, the whole damn town might be frozen over. So I’m going to partake in the long tradition of using the New Year to pass judgment and make changes—though, not on myself (fine, more vegetables), but on the local venues (Mill: more vegetables!). I spend a lot of time in these haunts, and I like them, and while I think that some of these changes could add to the overall health of small city’s active scene, I also think some of these changes would just make my life easier. Therefore, in alphabetical order:
As a newcomer in the local music scene, the Industry had an uphill road ahead in terms of establishing itself in the local rock scene. Even generally skeptical me was seduced by the promise of this place—almost double the capacity of The Picador, pro lights and sound, two stages—so perhaps some degree of collective letdown is understandable. From a programming perspective, I think we can give them a passing grade for a mix of local favorites (Euforquestra, the Poison Control Center) and interesting national indie rock (Pale Young Gentlemen). It’s always been my belief that great events are the first step for great venues, but for a place to really work, you have to actually want to walk in the door. As of now I would have to issue a resounding “fail.” Certain things are inexcusable: I watched a friend get charged a dollar for a glass of tap water. Seriously? As inane as this is, the larger problem is the space itself. Massive, industrial and bare, the Industry lives up to its name too well. No one likes walking into an empty warehouse. Why not utilize the upstairs more often, which has a wooden vibe not unlike The Mill, a smaller stage with closer crowd interaction, and colorfully (if lamely) decorated walls. It feels like a place I would like to hang with my friends. And really, does the door guy (or guys) really have to sit outside? This isn’t Los Angeles.
With this semester seeing the official departure of local legend, booker and sound man Trevor Hopkins, the Mill has stayed strong with a mix of bluegrass, Americana, folk, rock and more experimental shows under new leadership. However, there is one small thing when it comes to live music, and that’s how it sounds. Taste is subjective, especially when it comes to sound quality, but to my ears no amount of magic-working behind the board can make that place sound awesome for rock and roll. Look, this isn’t a dig on the sound guys—who I count among my friends—but the room itself is weird. The ridiculously wide-set speakers and the two that point sideways at the audience are often used by the sound guys to interesting effect, but nothing can hit you in chest as hard as the sound systems at the Picador and the Industry (oh, that’s one good thing about the Industry). I’ve heard rumor that the problem is the mixing board, I’ve heard rumor that the problem is that generally slow service by the kitchen/waitstaff (I’m really grumpy when I get hungry).
The Picador set the bar ridiculously high this semester with some of the hottest names in indie rock (Sunset Rubdown), metal (Boris), and out music (Lau Nau), while also paying tribute to some classic genre-defining musicians (Jonathan Richman, Stephen Malkmus). Keeping that level of talent up is probably the biggest challenge for the Pic heading into the New Year. But speaking of high bars, would it be too much to ask for the downstairs bar specials to be honored by the upstairs bar? Perhaps this has to do with creative bookkeeping, or perhaps it has to with the Pic’s commitment to the overall ill-health of its clientele. But I mean, we already have to go outside to smoke—isn’t that enough walking?
Public Space One
I book this venue. That’s probably the first problem.
The Yacht Club
I’ll be honest with you: there’s been some internal concern against a perceived bias I have against the Yacht Club. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Yacht Club is my favorite place to see live music in Iowa City. The problem is, I just rarely want to see what they have there. It’s clear that what the Yacht Club does the Yacht Club does extremely well, like jam bands, cover bands, local rock, battles of the bands, Dead/jam night, Bob Marley’s birthday night. Oh, and there is one other thing: the Tuesday night School of Flyentology dance party, which I’ve long celebrated in these pages. And even though the Industry might have a hard time gauging the market, there are still gaps in the Iowa City scene that desperately need filled, namely, electronic music and touring deejays. Why not build on the success of Tuesday nights to book larger names in the dance music scene? This isn’t a far stretch for the Yacht Club—I don’t want them to change who they are, promise!—because in the last 10 years the gap between jam bands and electronic music has closed significantly thanks to Sound Tribe Sector Nine, Disco Biscuits, and DJ Logic. The truth is, the deejays at Studio 13 are also pretty good on the weekends. Add the Yacht Club to that mix and we’ve got ourselves a clubbing district! (May I suggest calling it NorBank [north of US Bank]?) Maybe then the Industry will make more sense.
Happy New Year everyone, and I’ll see you at the shows.