On the Beat: January 2011

Ted Leo kicks of KRUI’s Low Frequency Series at Gabe’s on January 30.

Quick Hits:

Jan. 14: Jaill at the Mill ; 19+ until midnight, then 21+ ; 9 p.m. doors ; $8
Jan. 15: Diplomats at the Blue Moose ; 21+ ; 8 p.m. doors ; $7
Jan. 15: Fol Chen at the Mill ; 19+ until midnight, then 21+ ; 9 p.m. doors ; $7
Jan. 22: Yacht Club Eighth Anniversary party – 8 bands for 8 bucks! ; All ages until 10 p.m., 19+ until midnight, then 21+

In 1953, a guy named Pat Best wrote a song for his band The Four Tunes, called “I Understand (Just How You Feel)” a Pop/R&B crossover that broke into the top 10 on both charts. The original recording is fine, if a bit basic, but soon the song was covered by a slew of pop groups–Elvis even did a demo of it at one point. My favorite version is by The G-Clefs, who, in one of the world’s greatest (and earliest?) mashups, combined the song with that traditional New Year’s jam, “Auld Lang Syne.”

The sad-puppy honesty of “I Understand” (“It’s over now / but it was grand / I understand”) highlights the oft-discussed oddness at the heart of “Auld Lang Syne”: should old acquaintance be forgot? Of course not, but it’s equally important to keep looking forward.

To say that 2010 was a strange and interesting year in Iowa City music and culture would be an understatement. From new ordinances to new venues, undoubtedly some things have changed. But one thing has remained constant: good music coming through town. This January is no exception, so here are my picks for kicking off the new year in style.

2011 starts strong with a New Year’s Day double-header of local talent at The Mill. An early show with Lipstick Homicide and Coyote Slingshot will be followed by late-show sets by Dustin Busch (solo) and Illinois John Fever.

Lipstick Homicide has been one of the most frequently discussed bands in this column and, frankly, it’s because they’re damn good. Their particular brand of pop-punk comes with huge hooks and riffs but very little braggadocio, even though they’ve earned it. Dare I say it, there’s an emotional urgency to their songs that transcends the teen diary aesthetic of so many bands in the genre. They share the bill with Coyote Slingshot, which is Dom Rabalais, the hardest working man in DiY electronic music right now, founder of the cassette-only Sweat Power record label and one half of Utopia Park (née Porno Galactica). Coyote Slighshot, which has ranged from a solo project to a full-on band, is worth seeing for big beats, guitar slinging and unparalleled enthusiasm.

The second portion of the night will rely on different instruments, but will deliver no less energy. Since adding Dustin Busch (who opens the show, solo) Illinois John Fever has matured musically while still maintaining the raw, occasionally political thrust of their “apocalypse blues.” While traditional music is occasionally saddled with a certain kind of “seriousness,” like attending a lecture, these guys love the music too much to let that happen.

The biggest national name coming through town in January is certainly Ted Leo, who will be at Gabe’s on Jan. 30 to kick off a new series of concerts booked and produced by KRUI. They’re calling it the Low Frequency Series, seemingly because KRUI is kind of low on your FM dial, not because it’s really deep bass music (though that might be cool).

Ted Leo and his band the Pharmacists have been making widely celebrated indie punk/rock since their 2001 full-length debut, The Tyranny of Distance. I wasn’t turned onto Leo until 2003’s Hearts of Oak, which features one of my favorite songs of the decade, “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?” Leo’s not a dinosaur act, however; I thought his record from this year, The Brutalist Bricks (Matador Records), was as fine as anything he’s done. I’m not entirely sure what things will sound like without The Pharmacists in tow but if anyone has the songwriting chops and back catalogue to keep a crowd entertained, it’s him.

In the middle of the month, I’m really excited to see Fol Chen, a quirky pop group signed to Sufjan Stevens’ Asthmatic Kitty label. Their song “In Ruins” was my summer jam–a twisted, danceable slice of girl-pop that deserved a nod on any “song of the year” list. Their album, Part II: The New December, is a really eclectic genre-bender, but this is recommended if you like anything from Prince to Hot Chip.

The night before, also at the Mill, Minneapolis band Jaill comes through town, newly signed to Sub Pop Records and dragging around some of the biggest buzz of any band to make their debut last year. They got noticed after putting out a cassette on LA-based Burger Records, and next thing you know they added an extra “L” to their name and made the big time! (Seriously, you can look that up.) But, that aside, they make really catchy indie-rock, and anyone who’s anyone is going to be there, etc. That debut record, which is good by the way, is called That’s How We Burn.

For local flavor, you should absolutely never miss a chance to see The Diplomats of Solid Sound, featuring the Diplomettes. They make sweet soul music that channels the 1970s with incredible depth and detail, with horns, choreography, the whole bit. As all of the Daptone bands continue to grow in popularity (Sharon Jones, The Budos Band), you owe it to yourself and to these hard-working musicians to get out and see Iowa City’s own hip-droppers.

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