Words and photos by Trey Reis

I lived in Portland for a number of years and while there is something to be said about shows coming to you, there is nothing quite the like the excitement of driving somewhere to go to a show you are hell-bent on seeing (even if you have to work at 7am the next day). It swells like nervous breathing and by the time you reach the venue in whatever city you travelled to, after all the miles you’ve driven, the air around you can feel so thick with anticipation, that the show could, in reality, bomb, and you would still have a memorable show experience. You have something invested in the show (beyond the ticket price) when you drive 300 miles. Or even 60 miles. You can’t decide that night if you want to go the show or not. You decided two weeks ago, and you’ve been counting the hours until you head out, ipod full of new music, and hitting Interstate 80 or 35 on your way to wherever it is you are going.

September 7: CSS at the M-Shop, Ames, IA

Septmeber 8: Mikael Cronin at Gardner Lounge, Grinnell, IA

September 11: Animal Collective at First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN

September 12: Youth Lagoon, Pure X at The Pabst Theater, Milwaukee, WI

September 13: Annalibera, MR NASTI, Love Songs for Lonely Monsters at Vaudeville Mews, Des Moines, IA

September 14: Vacation Dad, FARMS, Is Home Is, Little Ruckus at PBR Bar, Des Moines, IA

This was my week in concerts. Six shows in eight days, and it started 30 miles north of Des Moines in my old college town of Ames.



September 7: CSS at the M-Shop, Ames, IA

I love Ames. I’ve been going to Ames to stave off the typical Iowa boredom since I was old enough to drive over from Ogden. Nothing says nostalgia like the city you spent every year exploring between the ages of 16 and 23. Ah, to be 17 forever. I hadn’t been to a show at the M-Shop on the Iowa State University campus in years. This one seemed like it would be a proper homecoming.

A friend of mine was talking about CSS once and said that the entire band was created for the sole purpose of partying. It’s like the motives of the DJ meshing with the drunkest person in the audience. That fact alone would have made me go to this show, even if the other facts weren’t already stacked in its favor. Des Moines electronic hearts, MAIDS, opened, alongside a friend from college I hadn’t seen in years, playing with his new band, Ellesello.

As long as you are still young enough to pass as a college kid, never throw away your student ID. It is a valuable tool across the country for getting into events for cheap, and sometimes even free-of-charge. I realized this mistake fully as I looked at the chalkboard outside of the M-Shop, advertising its “FREE for ISU Students” incentive. Oh well. Twelve dollars to watch CSS blow the minds of a bunch of college students? It’s a small price to pay.

Or it would have been if CSS hadn’t had equipment problems in the soundcheck and opted to perform a low-volume DJ set to an audience that didn’t know any better. At least they enjoyed it. And I got to see MAIDS be misunderstood by a bunch of Iowa State students, and then visit all the old haunts, reminding me of how wonderful visiting your old college town can be. Never change, old friend.

Mikael Cronin

Mikael Cronin

September 8: Mikael Cronin at Gardener Lounge, Grinnell, IA

I imagine Grinnell alumni feel the same way about their old campus as I do Iowa State. Grinnell College has slowly grown infamous throughout middle Iowa for booking some of the best up-and-coming bands making waves across the Internet.

Mikael Cronin, known previously for his guitar work in Ty Segall, has been crafting a name for himself, dropping his second album last May and following it with a nationwide tour.

The Gardner Lounge at Grinnell College is just about the least venue-like venue I’ve ever been to. Really, the room is a white-walled common area for students to sit and study, chat, or drink coffee. This can make poorly-attended shows there feel a bit hollow, but Grinnell students showed up in waves for the Cronin’s show.

Cronin’s take on the California garage rock scene is an interesting one. While some of the scene’s biggest names have dug deeper underneath layers of lo-fi fuzz, Cronin’s approach is surprisingly high fidelity. The result is like finally replacing your old Converses for a new pair of shoes; it feels cleaner and still retains all of the little intended details. The guitar effects come through the distortion clearly, and every layer of instrumentation feels bigger, achieving a larger live sound. For a genre like garage rock, which relies so heavily on shredding guitars and pounding drum beats, it’s a welcome change of pace.

I love the dirtiest, dustiest garage rock sound, but this Mikael Cronin show was a welcome reminder of what is actually there before all of the high-range details of the genre are pounded down into the low-ceiling mix.

Animal Collective

Animal Collective

September 11: Animal Collective at First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN

You won’t meet somebody more obsessed with this band than I am. And when you’ve been obsessively following a band for a number of years, every detail, change, or piece of news carries so much more weight. “That song sounded way different the last time I saw them play it.” “He sang the lyrics from the 7” single version of that song instead of the album version!” “The way these visuals look remind of that one music video.” That kind of stuff provides context, and as context grows, so too does personal meaning. In this regard, it is often hard for your favorite band to ever disappoint you because your frame of reference is so large. Even if the music of a new album or a concert isn’t of the level of quality you expected, your brain is still going crazy drawing lines between all of your experiences. Quite simply, it will always be interesting to you, and you have made it so through your own devotion. I suppose if there was ever an argument for groupies, that would be it.

As every Animal Collective album is unlike any that have come before it, so too are their concerts. They aren’t the kind of band to just play the new songs, and you certainly can’t expect to hear “the hits” either. Trying to speculate on their setlist before a show is futile use of time, because you will end up hearing songs from six albums ago or otherwise unheard B-sides. And the way they blend all of these songs together into a consistent, current portrait of their music is just as interesting as the songs themselves.

This set was no exception, as the band played a few songs from the new album, a couple of non-album singles, only two songs form their most popular album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, and to my excitement, two songs from an album eight years old at this point, Feels, my personal favorite from their discography.

There was a sold out crowd present for the show, which makes things difficult when you want to get close to the stage, and awesome when you actually get there. A lot of the audience were ticket holders from the previously cancelled Animal Collective show back in March, which was rescheduled for this show on the 11th. Their months of pent-up anticipation certainly showed, as everyone was completely silent for the more psychedelic instrumental parts, and entirely out-of-control for the upbeat drops.

Don’t miss an opportunity to see this band. They are unlike any other band making music today.

Youth Lagoon

Youth Lagoon

September 12: Youth Lagoon, Pure X at The Pabst Theater, Milwaukee, WI

It is becoming more and more common that I find myself paying headliner prices to see opening bands, but driving to Milwaukee to see one play? Well, I’ve never done that before. A huge part of it was my friend, Nick, convinced me a 3-day trip would be way more memorable than just driving up for one show in Minneapolis. The spirit of adventure kind of thing. The second part was that two cities worth of afternoon record shopping was certainly better than just one. What can I say? It’s hard to get your proper record fix in Des Moines. And lastly, although Pure X was the opening band I wanted to see, Youth Lagoon is still pretty great, and their live show as a headlining act turned out to be a much more spectacular event than when they were just opening for Death Cab for Cutie.

Pure X are a particularly more slow and heart-felt take on all of the reverb-filled rock of recent years, something like Women, or a less hopeful version of Beach Fossils. Their first album, Pleasure, was high on a lot of lists that year, and, as seems to frequently be the case with me, became a favorite of mine two years after that (no matter how much time you spend on the Internet, you will still miss things every now and then).

They played a decent mix of songs from that album and their newest, Crawling up the Stairs. While I love seeing bands like this play in places as nice as The Pabst Theater, their set would have probably benefited from a crappy venue atmosphere and less clean sound system, but still sounded pretty great, though maybe not fully what they intended.

Youth Lagoon was a big surprise for me. In, what seems like, no-time-at-all, this band (AKA Trevor Powers) rose from a blog-buzz with a few songs from his then unreleased first album, The Year of Hibernation, to a favorite new artist of that year, to an opener for Death Cab for Cutie, and finally to his own headlining tour, all in the span of about two-and-a-half years.

This tour was in support of the new album, Wondrous Bughouse, though you probably wouldn’t have been able to tell from the setlist, of which, the majority were songs from the first album instead.

This Powers kid has certainly turned into a showman, which is by no means a bad thing. It’s just funny to think about him early on as an awkward white kid quietly making pop music by himself in his bedroom, while watching him play almost three years later. Or maybe that’s just me. Us music journalists sure do love archiving band timelines. It’s another whole frame of reference to consider, after all. Documentaries are made about this kind of thing.

Anna Gebhardt of Annalibera at 80/35 // Photo by Bruce James Bales

Anna Gebhardt of Annalibera at 80/35 // Photo by Bruce James Bales

September 13: Annalibera, MR NASTI at Vaudeville Mews, Des Moines, IA

As previously reported, Des Moines dreamers Annalibera and Fairfield electronic heart, MR NASTI, are embarking on a three-week tour taking them all around the Midwest, and the whole thing started on Friday the 13th at the Vaudeville Mews in Des Moines.


Love Songs for Lonely Monsters opened the show, followed by a fog machine heavy set by MR NASTI (aka Nicholas Naioti), supported by the members of Annalibera as a backing band. The sound of the additional instrumentation didn’t make it far past the beat-heavy backing track beamed straight through the sound system, but it certainly made for a show that felt larger than it would have been with only Naioti trying to rile up an otherwise subdued, Friday night Vaudeville Mews crowd.

Annalibera closed the show, loosely crushing their hits, communicating the level of comfort the band has reached as a live unit. Probably a good sign for the first show of a tour. I keep finding myself singing certain vocal hooks throughout the day, thinking to myself, “what is that song?” and then realizing I’m humming Annalibera to myself.

It would be hard for me to imagine that, between this one-two punch of Iowa music, they won’t be pounding a few songs into the permanent memories of unsuspecting audience members across the Midwestern states comprising this tour.

Vacation Dad

Vacation Dad

September 14: Vacation Dad, FARMS, Little Ruckus, Is Home Is at PBR Bar, Des Moines, IA

With such a wealth of awesome local shows populating its schedule, occasionally the Vaudeville Mews really pulls one out of left field, and this one might have been the surprise show of the year for me at this venue. And that’s not to mention the top-notch openers, which included local sweat-inducing acts, Little Ruckus and Is Home Is.

I first heard of Vacation Dad (aka Andy Todryk) through a little write-up I read somewhere on the vast wall of the Internet. The write-up mentioned his new release, accompanied by a picture-book filled with photographs from Todryk’s world adventures. It was an appropriate introduction to his music, considering the tropical hue and constant movement present in his songs. And the whole thing took place outside at the PBR Bar on a beautiful Iowa September night.

One could say the audience could have been more into it, but I certainly couldn’t. Watching the tightness of Todryk’s music as he moved from mixer to keyboard to drum pad and back again was an impressive enough sight considering the corner-cutting, press-play method of so many other musicians making music similar process. No, Vacation Dad is all analog, and it shows in the way the pieces of the entire mix blend and drop and fade.

FARMS followed, which included a nearly naked Todryk thrashing away at drums to complicated, distorted synthesizer melodies. There is upbeat music and there is fast music. This was fast music. Something about those pounding tribal tom hits have really been making my blood run lately, and this one certainly hit the same spot.


That’s it! An entire week (or so) worth of shows. The map of them all is a testament to the quality of music coming from our lovely state, but also to its central location, never far from the touring acts we tend to miss out on here. If your city can’t support the bands you want to see, no sweat – get off work early, load up on good music to listen to in your car, buy one of those huge cans of Arizona tea for that subtle caffeine buzz, and hit the Interstates. You’ll be there in no time.