80/35 rocks downtown
Third annual music festival takes over downtown Des Moines over the Fourth of July
By Jared Curtis
Another 80/35 Music Festival has come and gone and left in its wake one of the most successful events in the festival’s three-year history. An estimated 34,000 people (paid and free attendees) ventured into Gateway Park over both days as the festival offered unpredictable weather — one day of extreme heat and humidity and one day of rain and dark skies. But even Mother Nature couldn’t keep people away, as the free areas were jammed full of people enjoying the music and the party. And, once again, the majority of the best shows of the event (William Elliott Whitmore, Earl Greyhound, The Heavy, Solid Gold, Christopher the Conquered, Maxilla Blue, Qwel) happened on the free stages. Instead of covering the entire fest (like most press will do), I decided to give out awards to anything from best show to worst show and everything in between (and a few interesting tidbits of information in the seen and heard section at the end).
The Biggest Disappoint Award goes to — Modest Mouse. Once again Issac Brock proves to be the king of the asshole rock stars. This is my second run in with Brock after an interview a few years ago. He came off as pompous and ungrateful (not the first time I’d heard that), almost degrading our fair city during that interview. Then this year, photographers were not allowed to shoot the standard three songs with no flash. Photographers waited through the rain for the closing headliner and then they deny access? Are you kidding me? What an egocentric prick. You used to make good music before 2001; now you just suck. And by the way, Qwel slayed your lame, out-of-sync asses on the hip/hop stage during your weak set.
The Biggest Surprise Award goes to — Earl Greyhound. For all of you fools who missed Earl Greyhound because you were bobbing your head to Slightly Stoopid, you should feel, well, stupid. Never experiencing the band before, my mouth gaped open during their entire set, which they tore through like a ravenous animal shredding a campsite. The Brooklyn trio — Matt Whyte (guitar/vocals), Kamara Thomas (bass/vocals) and Ricc Sheridan (drums) — offered a wide range of genres from stoner rock to ’70s classic rock to vibrant and trippy jams. The mixing of Whyte’s and Thomas’ vocals were amazing and soared their songs to higher levels. Although I continually ran back and forth to shows throughout the day, I stayed put during Earl Greyhound’s set. It was a perfect moment of discovering new music and losing myself and responsibilities into the groove. Rumor is they’ll be back later this fall, and I suggest everyone attend the show.
The Most Entertaining Show Award goes to — Christopher the Conquered. We get it, you’re odd and eccentric, but no matter how strange you appear, the man (and his backing band) puts on one hell of a spectacle that should be seen by all. Patriotic moments were plentiful as he played piano on and off stage and climbeed a ladder above the crowd, singing along with fans. The rain begun to pour, but it didn’t stop the party from going on in his head or on the free stage.
The Two Shows You Missed While Waiting for Modest Mouse Award go to — The Heavy and Maxilla Blue. Fans stupidly left The Heavy show early to catch Modest Mouse. But for an unknown reason (was most of the crowd at The Heavy?), Modest Mouse were delayed a half-hour. Ha! You missed one of the best shows of the weekend, as The Heavy offered ’60s and ’70s R&B styled rock like it was nobody’s business. Maxilla Blue got down on the small hip/hop/electronic stage, drawing in a decent sized audience during their set. Numerous fans stopped on their way to see the main stage, nodding in approval, while heading toward what became the festival’s biggest letdown.
Best Answer For a Cheat Sheet Award goes to — Modern Day Satire. Frontman Ryan Lumbard needed the help of a few note cards during their opening set on Saturday, explaining, “I’m a junior in high school and haven’t taken public speaking yet.”
Dirtiest Song of the Festival goes to —Psalm One. The female rapper started her set right with a filthy song about either giving head or getting head? I couldn’t quite make out the lyric. It was just starting to steam up on Saturday when she made the crowd sweat thanks to a song about oral appreciation.
He Can Shake the Pillars of Heaven With His Voice Award goes to — William Elliott Whitmore. It was the gospel according to William Elliot Whitmore during his sultry, Saturday afternoon set. When Whitmore started “Lee County Flood,” the sky darkened and a tiny showered ensued. Whitmore was clutch in his performance (as always) and is able to create such an amazing sound with only his voice and banjo, better than most four-or-five piece bands today. Whitmore almost took home the Best Crowd Participation Award after a fan offered their flask and he took a charge from it during his set.
Best Crowd Participation Award goes to — Yo La Tenga. The iconic band’s set was up and down for me, but during one song they brought a lucky fan, a guy from Iowa City, up on stage to jam on the drums. It was a simple beat, but the guy stayed on pace and lived out a rock and roll fantasy most will only dream about.
The Show With Too Many Highs and Lows Award goes to – Yo La Tengo. Yo La Tenga was one of the shows I most eagerly wanted to see. The trio — Ira Kaplan (guitar/vocals), Georgia Hubly (Drums/vocals) and James McNew (bass/vocals) — did offer a great set, sometimes soaring through songs with ease. But then they would slow it down a bit (there slower songs are great, too.). But with the sun at its hottest, the last thing I wanted to do was stand there and listen to them delve into mellow territory.
Best Cover Song Award goes to — Slightly Stoopid. Particle almost took this as they rocked the theme from “Kill Bill.” But when Slightly Stoopid’s rocked a rendition of the “Rocky” theme during their encore, I was ecstatic because it meant the end of their set.
The What’s All the Fuss About Award goes to — Slightly Stoopid. I couldn’t believe the size of Slightly Stoopid’s crowd (possibly bigger than Spoon?) Saturday evening. I just don’t get the appeal? Has anyone never heard of Sublime? Or has enough time passed that a new generation doesn’t even care who Bradley Nowell was?
The Thanks For Rattling My Organs Out Of Place Award goes to — The Cool Kids. The Cool Kids bass-rattling set shook me up so much I could barely hear the words that were coming out of their mouths. But did I really need to?
The Maybe You Shouldn’t Quit Your Day Job Award goes to — Evangelicals. Sorry, but I thought their set was bad — real bad.
The Most Popular Food of the Festival Award goes to — Giant Turkey Legs. Sure, Jimmy John’s was ridiculously packed from open to close, the V.I.P. attendees had catered food and there were a few vegetarian options, but what about us carnivores? Numerous festivalgoers could be seen walking around with the huge chunk of meat courtesy of Dustin Beener and crew over at Hardenbrook Concessions. They brought a taste of the state fair to downtown Des Moines, and I, for one, enjoyed every bite.
The Best Show Worth the Wait Award goes to – The Heavy. The free Kum & Go Stage was a little behind schedule most of the scond day. And although they were running late, The Heavy, who sounded terrific, tore through a great set that had as much of a crowd and energy as any show on the free stage (yeah, they were free). The band also proved to be much better than the disastrous Modest Mouse.
The Act That Could Have Been Really Good But Just Didn’t Fit the Time Slot Award goes to – Zola Jesus. The dark and heavy keyboard sound and shrieking front woman didn’t really work in the blazing hot sun. But give Zola and her minions a late show at the Mews and it would be pure, enjoyable chaos.
Sights and Sounds
Jeff Blanchard from Mr. Baber’s Neighbors joining Omega Dog during their main stage set on Saturday. They covered “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
The eccentric Christopher The Conquered dancing like crazy during Psalm One’s Saturday afternoon set. He and his lady friend had their own little dance party in the mid day heat and drew quite an audience.
“We’ve been playing music before most of you were born,” said Yo La Tengo frontman Ira Kaplan before starting their first ever Des Moines show.
Britt Daniels of Spoon, among others, watching Yo La Tenga’s Saturday’s afternoon set.
You know you’re part of a scene when you get props from a musician while in the crowd. William Elliott Whitmore took a brief moment to say, “What’s up, Daniel?” to Daniel Bosman (host of Scented Vinyl Monday nights at Mar’s Café and Capital Backyard 106.3).
William Elliott Whitmore graciously buying a CD from Earl Greyhound after their terrific Saturday evening set.
A former female American Idol contestant was seen canoodling with a local concert promoter in the back of the V.I.P. area during Spoon’s performance. Maybe she was looking to her extend her 15 minutes of fame?
Poison Control Center rocking a free unplugged show in the rain by the Yellowbrick Magazine booth with a large crowd enjoying. CV