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Sound Circuit

Punching Pandas


Horns section allows diverse playlist

The Punching Pandas have played their “loosey-goosey” song list at nearly three dozen venues.

A popular horn party rock band, called the Punching Pandas, wants to clear up a few things about their name. No pandas are harmed during their concerts. The Punching Pandas don’t advocate violence toward panda bears.

“It’s just a name,” explains Joe Coons, lead vocalist and guitarist.

The band’s name came during a brainstorming session. After putting up dozens of submitted names on a dartboard, they threw a dart to choose the band’s name.

“Whatever we pick, we have to own it,” says Joe.

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Four years ago, Punching Pandas originally started as a three-piece band. At one of their early shows, a patron stood up and started playing his trumpet. The band hired him, and within the next six months, added others to form a six-piece band.

Current band members include: John Aaron Luna, vocals, trombone, percussion; Johnny Moe Luna, vocals, trumpet, percussion; Joe Luna, bass guitar; Jeff Daniels, keyboard, organ; and Jesse Gomez on drums.

The band plays rock and blues — a variety of party songs from Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Bruno Mars, Green Day and more, with nearly 400 songs in its lineup.

“It’s easy to do more diverse songs because we have a horns section,” he says. “We perform a variety of songs for varying age groups.”

The Pandas play nearly every weekend, performing at weddings, farmers markets and local nightclubs. Memorable venues include the Tipsy Crow, where the whole place was “literally jumping,” and the Latitude 41 in Saylorville, which “resembled the Wild West.”

While performing for a nonprofit association ball, it surprised the band when a rowdy crowd packed the dance floor.
“We thought it would be a bunch of stiff, boring people,” he says. “Turns out we were wrong.”

The band switches up the playlist to keep it fresh. Joe says, “Our song list is loosey-goosey. A lot of times we don’t do a straight cover. We put our own spin on it. I’m not an egomaniac. I let the band do their own thing.”

Family members are staples at the show, and Joe’s dad runs the sound.

“Our families are not like plants in the crowd,” he says. “They’re not first on the dance floor. They’re super supportive.”

Joe feels the Des Moines music scene is vibrant, observing, “We’ve played nearly three dozen venues alone in the Des Moines area.”

Joe appreciates their fans’ dedication to showing up for concerts.

“The only reason we do what we do is the people who come out to see and frequent the bars. Just going to a live show is unbelievably huge. It’s a blast getting up on stage,” he says. “It’s not work for us. It’s what we do for fun.” ♦

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