Firecracker 500 Festival
The Mill and Blue Moose Tap House on July 3–6 at 6 p.m. $10 per day (19+)
While the festival started in the 1990s, the Firecracker 500 laid dormant until 2010 when Joe Derderian and Doug Roberson actually got it together and started booking the weekendlong concert series again. This year’s event is a little bit different from prior years. For one, it happens across two venues: The Mill and the Blue Moose. Secondly, this year’s festival goes on for a day longer than past festivals — at least the ones I remember and have attended.
The extra day has provided Derderian and Roberson with the ability to pack in more hipshaking garage rock and soul. This year’s festival headliners includes the legendary garage rock band Fleshtones, the Chicago power duo White Mystery, the sultry Lyres and the soulful JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound. More information including full line-ups can be found at the festival’s website at www.firecracker-500festival.com.
Iowa City Jazz Festival
Downtown Iowa City on July 5-7, All Day. Free (All Ages)
If Firecracker 500 is happening, that means that the Iowa City Jazz Festival is going on as well. If you can’t get down with four days of garage rock and jazz is more your thing, this is your option.
As a jazz fan, the last couple of years of this festival didn’t particularly grab my interest. The artists were solid, but I wasn’t particularly excited for any of them. This year is totally different. On Saturday night, legendary jazz organist and master of the groove Dr. Lonnie Smith will be headlining.
Sunday sees the doubleheader of the Fred Hersch Trio and Pharoah Sanders. Hersch is a world-renowned pianist who has shared the stage with jazz greats like Stan Getz and Art Farmer. One of the great jazz saxophonists, Pharoah Sanders played with John Coltrane and was one of the driving forces behind the 1960s free jazz movement. As he has gotten older, Sanders has mellowed out slightly, but he still can blow with the best of them. The full lineup and set times can be found at the Summer of the Arts website at www.summerofthearts.org.
Dick Dale w/ Surf Zombies
Gabe’s on July 12 at 8 p.m. $20-150 (19+)
A discussion of legendary artists cannot happen without Dick Dale. While he was not challenging the conventions of what music could be, Dale was providing the raw sonic template for what would become surf rock. Twangy, hyper-technical and drenched in reverb, Dale’s guitar served as a replacement for the surf breaks that teens were carving up all over California. Tracks like “Miserlou” and “Surf Beat” became the anthems for both beach teens and landlocked kids that wanted to be just a little bit cooler.
While there were many surf bands that wrote great music, Dale has stuck around thanks to the quality of his live performance. He can still rip through the solos in “Miserlou” like a young kid rather than the 76-year-old man he is. A true walking legend, opportunities to see Dick Dale should be taken because who know how many more there will be.
Swans w/ Pharmakon
Blue Moose Tap House on July 22 at 8 p.m. $20 Adv., $22 Day of Show (19+)
When punk was first popping up in America in the forms of The Ramones and the Dead Kennedys, there were many reactions to it. Centralized in New York City, no wave was the genre with the harshest response. Atonal and intentionally dissonant, no wave brought us many bands including Swans.
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Founded by Michael Gira in New York City, Swans became internationally known for its extreme use of volume, sheer aggression, dark musical tones and the violence of Gira’s lyrics, which cover various forms of human depravity. As their 2012 masterpiece The Seer made perfectly clear, Swans, after three decades in music, haven’t changed very much. While they go from quiet to loud rather than being just loud, the band is still making dark, challenging music that would make Lydia Lunch proud.
Swans also still knows how to push their audiences with their live shows, and another band that can be seen doing this is their opener: Pharmakon. While New Yorker Margaret Chardiet looks rather unassuming, her Sacred Bones debut Abandon is one of the heaviest noise albums I’ve heard in a long time. It is horrifying, dark, confrontational and heartbreakingly beautiful.
Killer Mike and El-P w/ Despot and Kool A.D.
Gabe’s on July 18 at 8 p.m. $15 Adv., $18 Day of Show (19+)
Killer Mike was in Iowa City recently for the Mission Creek Festival. Aside from ripping it on stage and being the most affable rap act that I’ve seen since LA-based People Under The Stairs, Killer Mike let us, the audience, in on some stuff. The first was that he was doing an album with El-P where the two of them rapped together because they had so much fun making R.A.P. Music. Since Iowa City brought it so hard, Killer Mike also let us know that he would be returning to town after that album dropped.
The new album Run The Jewels dropped on June 26 (listen). Mike and El-P will be returning to Iowa City on July 18. I can only imagine what a stage show with these two very charismatic, very talented emcees is like. If Mike’s solo show is any indication, we’re all going to be in for a lot of fun. Also, fans of Das Racist should check out this show as Victor Vasquez will be opening with his new project Kool A.D.
Merchandise w/ Wet Hair
Gabe’s on July 23 at 8 p.m. $8 Adv., $10 Day of Show (19+)
When I think of Florida, I think of a lot of things. Gators, University of Miami Hurricanes, the song “Miami” by Will Smith, Trayvon Martin, Disney World and road sodas all come to mind. Music, on the other hand, doesn’t. Although the state has a long-running rap scene—artists like Luke Skyywalker, DJ Magic Mike, Trick Daddy, Trina, Rick Ross and SpaceGhostPurrp all call Florida home — the state’s connection to indie rock has been a bit more tenuous.
Hailing from Tampa, Merchandise might be able to change this. With a sound that mixes noise, pop and 4AD-style atmospherics, the trio has been picking up steam by getting write-ups from taste-making publications like Pitchfork and producing music that really hits deep in the emotional well. Their most recent album Totale Nite is a swirling mélange of delayed guitars, personal lyrics, driving punk riffs and ‘80s new romantic synths. It is a beautiful album that has sailed under many people’s radars. While this may be the most unheralded of the shows, it might end up being the best one because Merchandise is so sublimely talented.