August is harvest season, and I don’t mean corn: It’s the annual time of year when we welcome the bountiful student population back to our small city. Whether or not you’ve been away, it’s worth noting that summer vacation has brought a few changes in the music landscape. The so-called “21-ordinance” is the most obvious, but behind the scenes a duo of significant booking/management changes promises to shake-up Iowa City music for the better.
The first, which I think I’ve mentioned in this column before, is Andre Perry being named executive director of the Englert Theatre. Most of his contributions there won’t start showing up until next month, so I’ll wait until then to discuss them. An even more recent move involves the booking team from the Majestic Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin, who will be increasingly responsible for putting some bodies back inside Gabe’s. It should be a welcome shot in the arm for what is still one of the best-sounding rooms in town, and add even more depth to an already deep and vibrant music scene. So, if you are new to town or a lifer, please: Get out there and enjoy it.
Enjoyment is actually a theme this month, as there are some significant and really fun trends that mark the music calendar. The first is burlesque, which is finally taking the Midwest by storm after a resurgence in larger markets earlier in the decade. Here it started with our own local dancing ladies (and their circus pals) selling out a variety of rooms all over town, and since then we’ve been graced by touring regional troupes as well. This month is Super Happy Funtime Burlesque, playing the Blue Moose on the 6th. Their tour has been funded by Kickstarter, a cool website that raises cash for all sorts of creative initiatives, which recently lured literary guru and Mission Creek alum Ted Thompson to the Big Apple.
While I’m at it, two other music movers-and-shakers are taking off for NYC as well: Mission Freak blog mastermind and PS1-workhorse Todd Olmstead is headed for journalism school at NYU, and one of the founding trendsetters and booty-shakers of Thursday night dance parties, Rebecca McCray, is going east as well. We’ll miss you, dear friends of the Iowa City live music scene.
Buy hey! Back to enjoyment, right? The second fun musical trend that we’ll see in August involves covers. It seems like everyone these days has a covers record (or two), and cover shows have set the Mill on fire before (see: the last two Halloween shows, the avant-karaoke of Rock Art, etc.). This month it’s Tom Petty covers, provided by some of the best folk/country/rockers in town: Sad Iron Music, Shame Stevens (both featuring members of the legendary Shame Train) and potentially some more folks. If you like TP & the HBs (and you do), then this one should be a blast. It goes down at the Mill on the 26th.
A third batch of pure joy happens as no less than four shows this month turn on the “throwback,” but to very different times and places. A band hoping to throwback just a few years is Minneapolis rockers Tapes N’ Tapes, ex-blog-darlings who are hoping to recapture some of the magic from their debut record after falling off the radar a bit. Their last show in town was pure sweaty exuberance, though, and I’m hoping they bring their indie-pop best again. They’re at the Mill on the 28th.
Another great throwback show is Dawes, playing Gabe’s on the 9th. They have been building a massive Iowa following, thanks in no small part to their role in a variety of gigs sponsored by Rock Island’s Daytrotter. (If you haven’t been to daytrotter.com, just stop reading and go there now.) I caught Dawes at the most recent Daytrotter Barnstormer show, which took place outside of Maquoketa on the Fourth of July, and they are undeniably talented. The very next night (10th) Blitzen Trapper are coming through town, one of the most compelling of all the “beards and vests” bands who tap into ‘70s folk and AM radio rock. I saw them a few years back at SXSW when their debut had people abuzz, and they did not disappoint. Keyword: harmonies!
But if you like it a little more raw, a little more hot, then you certainly want to check Hott at the Blue Moose on the 12th. This local band is already approaching “local legend” status for their brand of rock and roll, and it’s not a gimmick. These are older guys who have seen and heard more than you. Allow yourself to get schooled by them while having a blast in the process. Yet another great “throwback” kind of band is The Wheelers, whose searing, grungy, super-’90s guitar songs have consistently impressed me. They are at Gabe’s on the 21st.
Finally, my slightly left-field (and left coast) pick of the month goes to Lower Dens, a new project featuring San Francisco’s Jana Hunter, who has been involved in one way or another with some of the best records from that area (she’s pals with Devendra, Papercuts, etc.). Her solo work, in which she’s often veiled behind her long hair and trucker cap, is mesmerizing. I expect this project to be reverb-heavy and thematically interesting, since rather than use effects to mask bad singing or juvenile lyricism, Hunter has always focused on songcraft. Whether she’s headlining intimate rooms or opening a DIY show for Dan Deacon—and I’ve seen her do both—Jana Hunter makes you shut up and listen.