When I was a kid, there used to be houses with blue stars in the window. It was to let you know that if you needed a place to go to escape a kidnapper or a bully or whatever, you could go there and there was a nice person who totally wasn’t a psycho who could look after you until a parent or guardian was able to look after you. In 2013, it is kind of a hilarious notion that you could just trust some random stranger with your flesh and blood, just because they had a placard in their window, but that was what they lead you to believe. If there was a blue star, it was safe.
The Space For Ames should have a blue star in its front window. There is this gentle vibe from the people who frequent the place that tells me there is no wrong way to create art at The Space For Ames. Even the room itself has this glow that says you are allowed to come here and try whatever you want, judgment free. The peace sign made of recycling, the holes in the ceiling and the art on the wall all spoke to what this room allowed people to do and that they shouldn’t be afraid to do it. This is as safe a spot to create art as I’ve ever been in.
While the safety certainly comes from the aura, it doesn’t hurt that it also feels like a clubhouse. The Space is this roughly 13′ by 20′ box tucked in a hidden mall in Campustown surrounded by a Korean restaurant and a Domino’s. The room itself is a drywall closet that arguably has no real business being a venue, but somehow this tiny room has enough heart to support whatever pre-conceived notions you can build based off of its appearance. For five years, The Space For Ames has hosted a ton of eclectic art events, a lot of music, but a lot of other things including plays, art openings and yoga. On its birthday each year, The Space holds an epic marathon of music and this year’s was the biggest of them all. Starting at noon and carrying on long past after I left at 2:15 am, The Space hosted 55 Iowa bands of varying disciplines and genres, twenty minutes at a time.
My original plan was to spend the entire 15 plus hours there, jotting down notes and maybe presenting a bit of a list column documenting each act, but real life interfered, as per usual. I had to lurch around in day job hell until 10pm, then race home for a change of clothes, then haul up to Ames hopefully by 11:15 to catch Brooks Strause. Here is the cross section of the festival I made:
11:15 – Brooks Strause
11:35 – H.D. Harmsen & the Electrophones
11:55 – Flavor Basket
12:15 – Secret Freedom
12:35 – Is Home Is
12:55 – Mumford’s
1:15 – Stewardesses
1:35 – Christopher the Conquered
1:55 – Surgery
From that list, there were several I was excited to see. But there was a big three that I had to catch (it was four, but, well, I guess see my note regarding Stewardesses): the coffee-house genius of Brooks Strause, the pop fire of Harmsen, and the industrial lust of Surgery. I was familiar with all three, but had yet to catch any of them live. A nice twenty minute set where I could get a taste, form an opinion, and move on. Almost like an artistic wine tasting. If I hated them, I could just spit, and move on to the next artist. So, while I would love to talk about Mumford’s, Is Home Is and CtC again, eh. I think we all know where I stand with them (hint: they’re awesome), I’m going to focus on these three. Quick and dirty on Flavor Basket and Secret Freedom: I missed Flavor Basket and most of Secret Freedom because I had to run out to my car and drink a beer (The Space is alcohol free) because I am despicable and can’t be in a social situation without at least a little booze.
And let me knock out Stewardesses here, as well. I was excited for their set, only I ended up having a long discussion with someone, quite unexpectedly, that took me out of their set, both physically for a time and mentally afterward. I wanted to watch, and they were actually one of four that I wanted to see, but yeah, it didn’t happen. Sorry. I will do my best to make it up to them.
Brooks Strause is a brilliant singer songwriter. His performance reminded me a bit of when I caught Jeff Mangum in Ames back in September. He was bearded and a little slouched, much like Mangum. Also, while he was super talented, his emotion is what carried him, much like Mangum. His ability to put his heart on his sleeve was hypnotic and what he had to say and how he chose to say it was wrapped in this emotional blanket and etched on his face. Only, the emotions weren’t just his. He projected in a way that you couldn’t help but feel what he felt and believe what he believed. I feel like if he sang a song about robbing a bank, I would have slipped panty hose over my head before he was finished. At minimum, I would’ve driven the getaway car.
HD Harmsen is a handsome and charismatic pop star. His backing band are powerful enough to turn dinosaur bones into petroleum. That is as enjoyable a way to spend twenty minutes as anything. There just doesn’t seem to be any reason why he can’t be a gigantic star. Where Strause had everyone in the palm of his hand just simply by performing, Harmsen was a classic charmer. Making eye contact with everyone and playing to the crowd as much as time allowed. His live set held enough of my attention that I am even more excited to see what his debut album will bring later this year.
The final band I caught was Fairfield’s Surgery. Surgery are a three piece synth and guitar industrial act that pulls a lot from 80′s acts like Depeche Mode. I was completely blown away. Musically, they are unlike almost any other band I have come across in Iowa, just dark beats and scary sex. There is just this aura of danger and debauchery that comes not only from the sounds they make, but from the performance style of lead singer Joseph Mayfield. He is so in tune with the music and what he is supposed to do as a performer that you can’t help but be simultaneously scared and titillated. While performing, he is a madman who oozes an uncomfortable amount of lust towards himself and everyone around him. Musically, though, they are dark beats mixed with a hypnosis guitar. They were amazing and their three song set left me wanting more and questioning several thoughts about myself that I am pretty sure I had concretely settled on years ago.
While all the acts I was able to catch in full were stunning in their own way, the real star on this night was The Space, itself. It seriously felt like a true judgment free zone. Where fearless artists can make the art they want and perform it in front of a grateful and understanding audience. Here’s to five more years as a safe place for people to make possibly dangerous art.