Live review: Mission Creek festival featuring the Antlers, Seun Kuti, Justin Townes Earle, Sharon Van Etten, moreBy Sam DeLeo | April 2nd, 2012 | 1 Comment »
If good music is lyrical, and successful writing is rhythmic, then the Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City is one happy marriage.
The Creative Writing program at the University of Iowa and its famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop have earned Iowa City the tag of “The City of Literature.” Mission Creek’s afternoon and early evening readings included renowned authors and former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Haas. Later on, at clubs all within walking distance to downtown, the festival featured hundreds of musicians. About 40 bands performed this year, including the War on Drugs, Black Milk, the Antlers, Sharon Van Etten, the Magnetic Fields, Justin Townes Earle and Seun Kuti and Egypt 80. Throw in an original comedy showcase organized by David Cross and it’s easy to see why Mission Creek, in its seventh year now, has become one of the country’s most sought-after and unique small festivals.
Iowa sweetheart and performance artist Leslie Hall kicked off Thursday night with her group Leslie & the Lys. Sporting her trademark gold spandex, huge glasses and oversized hair, Hall dazzled the crowd with songs like “Craft Talk” and “Blame the Booty” — the latter executed with butt clenches and a drummer on a rotating platform powered by a band member turning a hand crank. Tim & Eric’s Puss Whip Bang Gang may be better musicians, but pound for pound, Leslie & the Lys deliver more laughs.
Experimental Montreal DJ Tim Hecker debuted an organ and electronics performance of his album recent album “Ravedeath, 1972” for the first time in the U.S. at the First United Methodist church. The sounds Hecker created by playing the church’s massive pipe organ through his laptop mesmerized the crowd, though it’s likely a lot of music could have produced the same effect in a pitch-black church with two lit candles and a moonlit stained glass backdrop.
Mike Doughty played a rousing set at the Mill, his guitar playing crisp and his signature nasal-toned voice cutting through the crowd noise.
Black Milk’s “Claps and Slaps” tour made a late-night stop at Gabe’s and electrified the room. Milk never seemed to need a breath on the mic and his live “Nat Turner Band” tore through a repertoire of funk, jazz, rock, soul and gospel.
The “Fuggedabuddies” (a.k.a. Jon Benjamin and Jon Glaser) opened David Cross’ comedy showcase at the Englert Theatre with a great “Who’s on First?” bit involving a men’s cologne called “Fuggedaboutit.” Cross staged a hilarious reading of a horrible script someone actually submitted to a Hollywood talent house called, “Cocaine Is the Devil and God Pulled Me Through It.”
The sound at the Blue Moose for the Justin Townes Earle show ruined what might have otherwise proved a memorable performance. Earle and his band looked committed to their performance on stage, but unfortunately, the loud audience was more interested in seeing headliner and native Iowan William Elliott Whitmore.
From the moment Sharon Van Etten opened her mouth to coo the opening of Blaze Foley’s “Oooh Love (Blue Eyes)”, it was as if a bell had been struck so clearly it’s tone would never falter or separate.
The late show at Gabe’s, featuring the War on Drugs, threatened to become the late “late” show when frontman Adam Granduciel refused to stop playing. He’d just tore through guitar anthems like “Baby Missiles,” howled at the new moon, railed against both the Hold Steady and a man pissing in the street outside the venue, and tried to rally everyone together for a somber yet hopeful take on “Brothers,” so, could you really blame him?
Even during Seun Kuti & Egypt 80s’ slower numbers, such as “Rise,” the audience at the Englert Theatre kept dancing. The son of legendary Afrobeat originator Fela Kuti has inherited his father’s old band, as well as a large measure of his stage charisma and courage.
Peter Silberman’s ethereal falsetto served a perfect end to the night, as the Antlers performed an encore to their first live show in some months. In some ways, as it resonated in that space before the lights came up and another encore was still a possibility, it felt almost like the end of a poem.
Denver-based writer Sam DeLeo is a published poet, has seen two of his plays produced and recently completed his novel, “As We Used to Sing.” His selected work can be read at www.samdeleo.com