Rocking The Plains (or, Bayside's Magic Number)

Gabe’s in Iowa City, IA, USA; June 13, 2012

by Paul Hanson

The magic number at the Exit.Emergency / Into It Over It / Make Do And Mend / Polar Bear Club / Bayside gig at Gabe’s Oasis was not five (the number of bands playing would be too obvious) nor was it one (the number of Aleve pills used to battle my 15 year-old daughter’s headache). Rather, the magic number, per my daughter, attending her first real rock show with her dad, was 37. That was the number of times the F word was used during the second act.

But that’s getting ahead of the story.

As I walked into the venue, local Iowa City band Exit.Emergency was tearing up the stage. I heard the lead singer announce they were starting their final song. That is the only song I heard and I liked what I heard. They are a young band and were full of energy. Later, I noticed they have a CD available.

After a quick set change, the one man band known as Into It Over It took the change. Playing an acoustic guitar and telling stories, often very humourous, between songs, he made the set go very quickly. By my count, he only played seven songs. He talked about moving from Philadelphia to Chicago, about working in a clothing store and being locked out, and about the show “Gangland” being filmed in his neighborhood in Chicago. If only he didn’t curse so damn much. It was damn distracting that every damn other damn word damn was damn and damn it was damn annoying after damn and damn damn damn. Get the idea? I swear sometimes, but this was like Eddie Murphy Delirious level. His music and his stories would have been perfectly fine without it; he didn’t need it.

While waiting for Make Do And Mend to take the stage, I happened to notice a poster on the soundman’s enclosure. Gabe’s in Iowa City is a legendary venue, in the same vein as First Avenue in Minneapolis. I learned that Primus (yes, that Primus) once played in the venue with a cover of $4. Don’t believe me? Look at the poster here and here. I occupied my time between sets thinking that I really need to get out more.

Kudos to the road crew because the set change was very quick; I barely had time to dwell on my lack of live shows and get a water before Make Do And Mend took to the stage. In a first, the bassist in this punk band (term used loosely) wore a Hawaiian shirt instead of black or a t-shirt of some obscure band they were influenced by in their youth. They started with a song that made me smile. It sounded like what a cross between Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine should sound like. With a nod to punk rock and another serious nod to modern rock, Make Do And Mend were an impressive quintet. Their drummer worked hard to lock into the bass player’s thumping while the occasional guitar solo split through the air. I didn’t know a single song by this band but, after some youtube.com research, I want to become more familiar with their material.

polarbearclub_300Polar Bear Club stormed the stage soon afterward with their vocalist instantly taking control. Within the first few minutes, I felt like their set would be a highlight of the night, and it was. The band bounced up and down on the stage, which was reciprocated by the audience bouncing up and down as well. Loud cheers punctuated the air after each song as the vocalist drained a water bottle and guitarists changed their axe. The vocalist talked about how he was glad the band was playing a small club because he felt the crowd understood them more than the upcoming Vans Warped tour that they will be participating in this summer. He said that it wasn’t good or bad, just different.

Until this point, various ’80s bands like the Fixx and Simple Minds were played between bands. While waiting for Bayside, a song by one of the legendary bands of Iowa, House of Large Sizes, started coming out of the speakers. It had been just under 20 years since I had heard their song “Fire” and yet, amazingly, I caught all the starts and stops on my air drums. Yet another reason why the night was a lot of fun for me.

bayside1_300Up to this point in the night, I had my 200-page Mead Five Star Fat Lil Notebook in my hand and scribbled notes as each band played. When Bayside took the stage, the notebook went into my pocket. My daughter and I made our way to the stage. I can’t tell you the order of the setlist, but I know they played “Already Gone,” “Montauk,” “The Wrong Way” and “They’re Not Horses, They’re Unicorns.” The band sounded excellent with a great mix. Vocalist/guitarist Anthony Raneri led the band through all the songs I wanted to hear, plus one I had never heard. Apparently, no one else had heard it either, because it was the only point in the show when the crowd was not going completely nuts. They saved my favorite songs -- “Blame It On Bad Luck,” “Sick Sick Sick” and “Masterpeace” -- for the end of their set, but it didn’t matter. I knew they weren’t done when they left the stage because they had not played “Devotion and Desire.” No one moved, no one was fooled. Moments later, Bayside returned to play “Devotion and Desire.”

Overall, the show was excellent. I was happy with each band’s performance, and I think the package was well put together, as there was a logical progression of the bands. It was especially awesome to have a local band get some stage time. Briefly, I considered driving to Omaha, NE, to see the next night of their tour, but the fact that it is a five-hour drive made the idea die a quick death. I hope Bayside continues to rise in popularity until they reach a point where they cannot be ignored. They get no radio support and that is really too bad. There is a video on YouTube of them performing at Paradise in Boston, MA on April 22, 2011. They played pretty much the same songs as I heard in Iowa City. If they show up in your town, I wholeheartedly implore you to check out my favorite band.

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