I arrived at the Mill to the sounds of Mondo Drag early on in their set. Mondo Drag play the sort of blues-tinged rock music that wouldn’t have been out of place 30 years ago on that same stage; something I can say with authority, since 30 years ago I was there, hoovering up all-you-can eat spaghetti and listening to Rock music. Mondo Drag’s great strengths as a band are the ensemble sound they achieve, and the torn, rasping vocal attack of their drummer.
The boon of the night for me was Birds and Batteries. They play the sort of poppy rock that I associate with other bands from their home town of San Francisco — carefully crafted, accessible tunes, delivered with some genuine feeling. My scribbled notes read “Vocals [ of singer Mike Sempert ] reminiscent of Elvis Costello but not so affected. Really well arranged songs harking back to when a premium was placed on cleverness in the service of accessibliity.” Great frontline sound [of Sempert, guitarist Christopher Walsh, and bassist/keyboard player Jill Heinke] alternating between guitars and keyboards.”
Cave Singers were pretty great in a more rootsy vein, putting their own twist on the lineup employed by Iowa City favorites Liberty Leg — guitar, drums and vocals. The vocalist was more laid back than LL’s Ethan, who is positively operatic, but Cave Singers kept a groove going.
Of course, no night out in Iowa City is complete unless you do something you didn’t expect to do, which is why I followed Matt & Stephanie (part of the LV politburo) to the Yacht Club to check out my friend Natalia (the Lady Espina) DJing. Espina has been DJing actively in Iowa City since the late 90s, and plays a crowd-pleasing mix of electro-pop and techno. She won my heart by following Inner City’s “Big Fun” (a Detroit classic) with a track that mixed South African Kwaito Rhythms with Brazilian Baile’ funk. The real excitement in dance music is coming from places far from Chicago, Detroit and Berlin, the cities that dominated throughout the 90s and … aughts?
The second unexpected thing of the night came when I returned to the Mill, and my son’s debate coach from City High couldn’t get his bike lock to open. I grabbed a hammer and we bashed the thing apart in a few seconds so he could ride off into the night.