Live Music Preview: June 20-29

Sonny and the Sunsets
Sonny & the Sunsets perform at the Englert Theatre on Saturday, June 22 along with Iowa City’s Brooks Strause. –photo by Chloe Aftel

Cursive w. Digital Leather | The Mill | June 20 | 9 p.m. | $15

I know I’m not alone in saying Cursive will always have a place in my heart. They emerged when indie rock was a big deal. Anyone who was anyone was paying attention to Omaha’s Saddle Creek Records. If you haven’t listened to 2003’s The Ugly Organ, go do it now and you’ll start to understand what I’m saying. Whether it’s political cynicism, religious skepticism or being frustrated with his own art, front man Tim Kasher picks a topic and sticks with it for the duration of an album.

The word emo frequently arises in discussion about the band, and rightfully so. Their lyrics can get pretty darn bleak, but even those who cringe when they hear someone say “emo music” can get behind Cursive (I probably fall into this category). The songs rock and Kasher’s knack for arrangement and unique instrumentation set Cursive apart from anyone else making “emo” or “indie rock” music. Opening this one will be Digital Leather from Arizona. This new wavy project was highly endorsed and briefly managed by the late Jay Reatard. They’re pretty awesome.

Sonny & the Sunsets w. Brooks Strause | Englert | June 22 | 8 p.m. | $15

San Francisco musician/playwright/artist, Sonny Smith is a busy guy doing a lot of interesting stuff. Smith’s personal short stories and plays were noticed by Watchword literary magazine in 2003, and he was commissioned to write a series of one act plays. He has since worked to combine elements of theater with his musical performance.

Perhaps his most impressive project was called 100 Records, in which he created 100 fake bands, all with fictional and unique personas. He then paired up 100 visual artists with the fake bands and asked them to create an album cover for their given “band.” Once the album covers were submitted, Smith wrote an A and a B side for each fake album cover/band (yes, that’s 200 songs total). The exhibit has been displayed at Gallery 16 in San Francisco and Cinders in Williamsburg. Sonny & the Sunsets is Smith’s live music outlet and demonstrates a superb sensibility for retro pop-rock. This show will feature on-stage seating and tickets are limited to 100, so get on it.

#daddyhoffsblockparty | College Green Park | June 29 | Noon – 10 p.m. | Free

LV Weekender authority, Josh “Daddyhoff” Hoffman was talking about #daddyhoffsblockparty (and yes, that’s the official title) when there was snow on the ground. He wanted to have all of his favorite Iowa bands play, rent a bounce castle, eat food and hang out with his best buds before his big move away from Iowa City. I don’t think anyone was really sure if he was serious, and if he was serious, would he have the drive or resources to follow through?

It turns out the answer to both of those questions was “yes.” While the idea began as a “going away party,” it has evolved into a full on celebration of Iowa City and its vibrant music and art. The mini-fest will feature nearly 20 bands on a full sized stage at College Green Park. In addition to the music there will be a craft fair, mixtape trade, a bounce castle, a dunk tank and maybe more fun outdoor novelties depending on how much money he can raise on Kickstarter. The park has many grills, so bring grilling materials if you wish (no alcohol allowed in the park). The event is free, all ages and open to the public.

Seldom Seen Festival | Monmouth, IA | June 28 – 29 | $15

Seldom Seen Festival has been around for a few years now, but this year they’ve really turned on the heat. The two day music, literature and arts festival takes place on a farm in rural Monmouth, IA. It’s a beautiful scene, really—dirt roads, rolling hills, music, art, bonfires, yoga, good food, etc. The festival is a celebration of Iowa art and culture, so most of the lineup consists of local talent, though there are a few excellent regional acts thrown in for good measure (definitely check out PHOX from Wisconsin). Recent Iowa City emigrants, Brian Johannesen (Grand Tetons) and Alexis Stevens will make the trip from Nashville to play a set as well. While this column mostly deals with music, Seldom Seen is divided pretty equally between its main categories.

Steve Crowley is a red blooded Wisconsinite marooned in the fetid morass of Iowa City that had to make due with the yokels and, over the course of five years, came to quite like it here.

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