Update: The Mavis Staples event was canceled due to blizzard-like conditions.
Put these shows on your calendar
for Feb. 20-Mar. 6.
Mavis Staples is one of the world’s most accomplished and respected soul and gospel singers. She began singing in the early 1950s for her family band, The Staple Singers. Led by her father, “Pops,” the band hit the road and gained considerable notoriety. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that Staples began putting out solo records under her own name. Since then she has released 12 studio albums which have been produced by the likes of Prince, Ry Cooder and Jeff Tweedy. Her latest album, You Are Not Alone (produced by Tweedy) was released in 2010 and won a Grammy for Best Americana Album. Somewhat surprisingly, this was Staples’ first Grammy Award. VH1 has her listed as one of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll, and Rolling Stone listed her as one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. Staples has also earned her spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Considered by many to be a living legend, Mavis Staples will be a treat for anyone who decides to attend this show at the Englert on Feb. 21. Supporting Staples will be Lake Street Dive, featuring (Iowa City’s own) bassist Bridget Kearney.
The second annual Punk Farm event will once again be taking place at Gabe’s this year. The lineup includes some of Iowa City’s premier punk acts. On the bill this year is Lipstick Homicide, Direct Hit, Nerv, The Ills, Muddy Rails, The Men From … Beyond!, The Statistixs, Conetrauma, Other Band and Well Aren’t We Precious. To accommodate such a lengthy list of bands, the music will begin early and power through into the wee hours of the morning. Punk Farm II is at Gabe’s on Feb. 22.
Right now, Mountains may be one of the best in the business when it comes to ambient, experimental music. Longtime friends and bandmates Koen Holtkamp and Brendon Anderegg got together and released two albums in 2005 and 2006 under their own label, Apestaartje. Upon relocating from Chicago to Brooklyn, the duo was picked up by Thrill Jockey, where all of their subsequent albums have been released. Their sound moves between layers of ambient drones, electronic hooks and repetitive acoustic guitar patterns. Mountains took two years off after 2011’s Air Museum in order to focus on honing their sound and finely crafting their compositions. The product is Centralia, released in January and is arguably their most thoughtful and ambitious album yet. It’s been met with unanimously positive reviews from numerous online publications, and was perhaps a tenth of a point shy of earning Pitchfork’s coveted “Best New Music” stamp (receiving an 8.1 out of 10). The album was also one of the first to be pre-released on Pitchfork’s new interactive music streaming platform, Pitchfork Advance. Opening up for Mountains will be Iowa City sound design gurus General XOXO (featuring poet Dora Malech, filmmaker Jason Livingston and members of the band Wind Farm). This show will take place on Feb. 26 at Gabe’s (it will NOT be at The Mill on the Feb. 22 as was originally scheduled).
Alex and Francis White make up the “fiery” bother-sister duo, White Mystery. I put “fiery” in quotes not only because of their lively and relentless garage rock aesthetic, but also because, well, they both have really crazy red hair. White Mystery has two albums under their belt, each of which has been met with positive critical reception. Their live show has been highly praised as well by The Onion’s A.V. Club, The Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune and MTV. The genre of throwback garage rock is a trend that still seems to be on the rise. There are so many bands that are trying to achieve a similar sound and style to that of White Mystery, and so many just miss the mark. White Mystery have been touring heavily and are getting ready to release their third album, Telepathic, in April. White Mystery will play at The Mill on Feb. 28. Local acts Good Habits and We Shave open.
Avant-garde jazz trio, The Bad Plus, have been pushing the boundaries of modern jazz since their debut self-titled album in 2001, which they wrote and recorded after only three performances as a band. Since then the group has put out seven more albums. While they enjoy exploring the possibilities of musical composition, much of their influence comes from popular music. In addition to their original pieces, The Bad Plus guys often put their own spin on songs from bands like Nirvana, Rush, Neil Young, Aphex Twin, Interpol and David Bowie. Their cover of Radiohead’s “Karma Police” was featured on the tribute compilation, Exit Music: Songs with Radio Heads. Sometimes choosing to play too many cover songs is a tad gimmicky, so to be clear, these guys are not a gimmicky band. They are highly regarded as artists and masters of their craft. In 2010 and 2011 The Bad Plus served as artists in residence at Duke University. The ensemble that Rolling Stone once called, “about as badass as highbrow gets,” will perform two shows, one at 7:30 p.m. and another at 9:30 p.m. at the Mill on March 2.
Ian Bavitz—better known by his stage name Aesop Rock—began his rap career when he was just a highschooler. By the time he had graduated college in 1998 he had self-released a full-length hip-hop album, which gave him momentum for his possibly career-determining follow-up EP, Appleseed. The EP found its way into underground hip-hop circles and was met with critical acclaim. His unique flow and sometimes deeply metaphoric lyrical content brought Bavitz to the forefront of a new hip hop movement at the turn of the decade. The Aesop Rock project was put on hold in 2007 and is just returning from hiatus this year. Bavitz is currently touring the U.S. heavily and will release an album with Kimya Dawson in May. The project is called Hokey Fright and the album, Skelethon, was released on Minneapolis-based label, Rhymesayers. Aesop Rock makes his stop at the Blue Moose on Mar. 5 with guests Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz.
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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.