On the Beat: Counting down

Seemingly no one hates Counting Crows more than Guided by Voices frontman Robert Pollard. An oft-cited gem from his 2005 stage-banter album, Relaxation of the Asshole, goes something like this: “I wanna know how the guy from the Counting Crows used to fuck everybody from Friends? How the fuck’d he do it? He’s an ugly motherfucker! He’s fatter than me! What the fuck’s he got? Money.” A friend of mine once heard Pollard say something slightly more aggressive at a concert. “If the person beside you ever bought a Counting Crows album,” he said, “punch him in the face!” I certainly would have been punched in the face that day. Me and approximately 10 million other people.

Produced by the not-yet-weirdly-idolized folk-curator T-Bone Burnett, August and Everything After catapulted the Crows to near-overnight success back in 1993, on the strength of lead single “Mr. Jones,” an uptempo romp through Duritz’s impeccably tortured, fame-obsessed psyche. Like so many teens, I was working on my own tortured psyche–with unrequited crushes, sad pop music and European literature–and found in Duritz my juvenile poet laureate.

If we read the lowercase meaning of “august” into the title and allow ourselves some poetic license, we might understand the album’s title to mean “a fall from dignity”: august and everything after. But Duritz, like my adolescent self, is much too literal for that. I’m guessing he meant the eighth month of the year and the other months and serious moments that follow: August and Everything After.

If we understand that some music is like some food–best enjoyed seasonally–then August and Everything After is certainly a “late summer,” or an August, menu item. “Mr. Jones” is a flat-out sing-along, best served in a moving car or on a front porch. But even the lovelorn midtempo ballads, perhaps best listened to in breezy, open-windowed bedrooms, also retain a sense of hope: “every time she sneezes I believe it’s love.” August, then, retains a sense of August, which in a college town is about transitions: the end of one thing and the start of another.

In terms of live music, August marks the transition between the outdoor summer concert scene and the more vibrant and musically diverse fall touring schedule. In essence, this makes August the perfect month to (re)acquaint yourself with homegrown, Iowa talent–including those who stayed close to home and those who have gone out West with hopes of “making the big time.”

Of the latter group, the artist of the moment is a certain Rock Island native called Lissie, who plays at the Blue Moose on the August 8. Born Elisabeth Maurus, she started in the coffeehouse circuit before making her way to LA, where she generated all kinds of buzz. Paste called her the best new solo artist of 2010 and her live cover of Kid Cudi’s “The Pursuit of Happiness” became a big hit on YouTube. Her debut album, Catching a Tiger, was released in June and, while the critical reception has been mixed, everyone agrees the live show is worth seeing. File under: “local(ish) girl makes good.”

One local artist whose development I’ve had the pleasure to watch firsthand (we lived in the same apartment building for awhile) is that of Brendan Hanks, aka Ex-Action Model. His particular brand of electronic music features glitchy, IDM-inspired beats with healthy doses of synth melody lines, and his live show is increasingly engaging. He’s headlining a show at the Blue Moose on the August 4 that is a veritable local showcase. Little Village’s own electronic guru and scene veteran Kent Williams will perform as Chaircrusher and newcomers Dream Thieves will kick out some huge beats, and possibly play their cover of Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up,” which out-bombasts one of the most bombastic bands in the world right now.

Also in the electronic vein, locals Lwa and Alex Body will be opening for Six Organs of Admittance on August 4 at the Englert Theater as part of the Intimate at the Englert series, which means the show takes place on the stage with a limited amount of seating. If you haven’t heard Lwa, but have been known to say in passing that you “are a fan of the work of Brian Eno,” then you have some explaining to do. No one in town makes more interesting electronic soundscapes then these guys. Alex Body makes electronic pop songs for loners and stoners, among others.

Speaking of stoners, San Francisco’s Sleepy Sun is bringing their brand of West Coast psychedelic rock back to the Mill on August 24 and house troubadour Sam Knutson plays there on August 19.

Finally, this writer has been a longstanding supporter of DJ nights for genres other than dance, electronica, or pop mash-ups, which is why I couldn’t be happier to announce Pressure Drop, an upcoming 70s reggae and soul night at the Blue Moose on August 6. Go watch The Harder They Come, smoke a marijuana cigarette and get ready to hit the dance floor. It’ll be irie.

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