Cloud Nothings on stage at Gabe’s on the thirst night of the Mission Creek Festival. Thursday, April 8, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.
On the third night of Mission Creek, Gabe’s featured a punk lineup that ended up showcasing the quality talent of the local Iowa City music scene.
I had seen advertisements for Maiden Mars around town and knew they had been part of the Iowa Music Project compilation but had not seen them live. They were incredible. The two singer/guitarists seemed young, but not immature; they played with vigor and depth and forced me to realize that many bands that achieve greatness begin in their early twenties. Their mode of punk rock was poppy (in the tradition of the Breeders or Nirvana, not the Blink-182 style). Their final song, following a confession concerning their roots as a metal band, showed part of their musical depths that nicely contrasted with their vocal range. I hope to see them play again, soon.
The crowd continued to grow for Younger, whose fan base has likewise increased in the two years since the release of their self-titled album. Recalling the tight, anthemic harmonies of Sleater-Kinney, the band played with tempo, slowing down the pace as a way to expand the intensity of the bass and drums without losing the furious pop of the guitar. They kept the crowd absolutely riveted, and closed the set with a song written just the week before, demonstrating that the band is interested in continuing to develop musically into new regions.
Cloud Nothings marked their return to Gabe’s by announcing that it was a time of mourning for the country, and added that they were pleased by Mission Creek’s emphasis on welcoming people of all sorts to share their love of the arts. This was one of the only comments made during a frenzied show, in which the musicians seemed to push through the songs with an intense rapidity, seeming at times to be almost double the speed of their recorded work. Occasionally this meant that one or another member of the usually tight ensemble would surge ahead of the rest of the group, although such moments were quickly reconciled.
Cloud Nothings’ best asset is their patience, which allows them to mix standard short punk songs with longer jams whose 10-15 minute length verges into the domain of post-rock. The resulting musical soundscape still carries with it a memory of the punk foundation, resulting in a feeling of gloom and foreboding that is not quite strong enough to hold back an insistent and unsettling anger. Lead singer Dylan Baldi’s vocals seemed muffled, masking his deadpan snarl, although he was still able to unleash justifiable rage throughout the set. The anger in the bass and drums, and a whine of anxiety in the guitars beneath Baldi’s excellent voice, inspired a recognition of the brokenness of the world without the band becoming didactic in their politics. Instead, their songs conduct the audience away from a world of bloated forgetfulness and expose the horror lurking in our everyday lives, calling us to be enraged rather than numbed.
They closed the set with “Wasted Days,” a work of genius that builds into a slow frenzy around the chorus: “I thought I would be more than this.” The song unfurls in waves, crashing into a discordant mass of sound before disintegrating and building again, and again, more intensely each time. The guitars, drums and vocals reach a transcendent level for the band during this song, and the chorus becomes a way to shame the world that fails us. It was the right song to close the set, and the evening at Gabe’s, because anything after it would be a disappointment: The song is rich enough that I could almost conceive them playing nothing but it for two hours without the audience becoming restless or bored.
Overall, the local bands not only did an excellent job of warming up the audience with high caliber music, but they also set the stage for a demonstration of the power of the arts. Not only does the experience of seeing a live band constitute something wholly different than listening to recordings on one’s phone, but — especially with punk — itholds the power to usher in a new state of politics committed to eliminating the dreary imposition of wasted days that enchain an increasing number of young — and no-longer-so-young — listeners.