Show Review: Barnstormer III – April 27, 2010 – West Liberty, IA

The Secret Octagonal Barn in West Liberty, IA.

The Secrest Octagonal Barn in West Liberty is a vast, open space built in the eight-sided
style popular in 1883, when it was built. On the night of the show, a line of cars stretched
all the way down the dirt road leading to the barn—with license plates from places far
beyond the Midwest (I saw New York, Montana, and California). Inside the towering
dome (it was at least 40 feet to the convex wooden ceiling) an eclectic crowd gathered—
the young and hip-looking, aging parents with runaround children, older fellers in down-
home clothes. There were no more than 200 people there. The music began at seven,
ended after 1 AM, and the crowd never dwindled.

The highlight of the night may have been Pearly Gate Music. Though singer/writer
Zach Tillman performed without his customary backing band, his intimate, soul-
curdling set didn’t need overdriven amps. It was the kind of show where everyone in
the audience shut their mouths and listened—at rapt attention, lingering on every word,
each ringing chord. “I read your diary in one sitting,” Tillman crooned on “Daddy Wrote
You Letters,” and it’s a representative lyric: his songs swell with the feeling of secrets
being told, sordid life histories divulged in his becoming, whispery tenor. “Navy Blues,”
performed as a duet with a female singer who stepped from the barn’s shadows, swayed
into its warily revelatory chorus—“I guess I’m overcome”—with the power of a secular
hymn. The climax was “If I Was A River,” a stanzaic, Dylanesque, odyssey through
a series what-if looks back on a lost love. The kicker: “If I still loved you, I’d swim
through valleys carved out to the sea, and I’d take you places without deciding […] oh,
but if I still loved you, I wouldn’t be free.”

Retro rockers Free Energy pay homage to 80s party bands who are now largely
excoriated—they sound a hell of a lot like Def Leppard. An anomaly among the DFA
Records’ noisy dance bands and dancy noise bands , Free Energy’s music sounds like
the soundtrack to an 80’s movie with all the clichés intact—harmonized guitars, cowbell,
lyrics of teenage love in fast cars. And yet it goes down surprisingly smooth. Singer Paul Sprangers
can snarl and spit with the energy of the young Anthony Kiedis, and like Kiedis’ band
before they went soft, Free Energy has radio ready choruses that still somehow say “fuck
you.” On “Bang Pop,” the band take a welcome turn towards the psychedelic—“When
the mind goes bang bang pop pop, where does this searching stop?” The crowd didn’t get
hung up on Free Energy’s contradictions—they just danced.

Little Village review: Barnstormer III @ Maquoketa, (5/2/2010)

Ra Ra Riot in the West Liberty octagon.

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