An Unexpected Surprise
Local, Live and Awesome
If we see a show that makes our collective nipples hard, you’re gonna read about here. Also, pics and videos from listeners will be featured.
The Lately and Boxkar at Mill Creek, Appleton Wis.
Well, not so local for us but well worth the trip (and added road construction detours that defied common sense). After checking into our hotel and grabbing a bite to eat at one of the 15 thousand restaurants on College Ave. we made our way to the Mill Creek bar to check out two hometown bands, The Lately and Boxkar. I won’t spend a whole lot of words on the performance because throwing out adjectives like “awesome”, “incredible” and “energetic” gets a little less sincere when used in every other sentence. Yeah, both bands rocked and put on a great show. That’s a given with these two bands. There was, however, a certain electricity in the air. A buzz was created because Boxkar had not performed there in quite sometime and The Lately are on the precipice of dropping yet another release and they advertised that some of the new material would find it’s way to the stage tonight.
Punching their way thru the set, delivering off the chart melodies and their trademark smooth dynamics that transitioned from a quiet sense of urgency to the full blown joy of amps on eleven, the band gave the standing room only crowd what they came for. Even a couple of covers (Led Zep, The Beatles) were met with raucous approval, setting the atmosphere of ‘we’re gonna party till we get arrested’ for the rest of the evening. After four years, The Lately continue to raise the bar, each release capturing that elusive lightning in a bottle.
This was the first time seeing Boxkar live and I have to admit, I had some reservations about the unconventional set up of this three piece. And by unconventional I mean the frontman Chris Szebeni also plays drums. Set up front and center. Standing up. Call me old fashioned but this was stuff of science fiction. I mean really, who plays drums standing up? Turns out Chris does and does it quite well. More than well. So good that you believe that maybe this was the way drums were meant to be played. Take that, Joey Jordison. Boxkar proceeded to slay the sold out room in convincing style. Szebeni worked the crowd like a seasoned pro, making eye contact, roaming the stage and using between song banter in a sincere effort to engage every single person there. And the songs. Full of positive energy about life, love and the pursuit of whatever makes you happy, you can’t help feeling great after a Boxkar set.
The Mill Creek bar has got it right. A intimate venue with a big time feel. The stage was extra deep to utilize the narrow confines of the room. The lighting and sound are more than capable . And speaking of the technical aspect, there was a bonus to this little road trip. His name is Tony Anders and he was the sound/lighting engineer for the night. He performed the double duty flawlessly. Both bands sounded as they should have. Too many times I have gone to a show and the sound guy though it was more important to prove to the crowd how awesome the system was instead of tailoring the system to the artist performing. It turns out Anders is an award winning producer/engineer and also an accomplished musician as well. He is involved with both The Lately and Boxkar in making their recordings all they can be. I was given a copy of his latest project, Tony Anders and The Radiolites. When we got home I plugged it in and immediately became a fan. So much so that two songs “The Days” and “The Heros” are now in rotation on Code Zero Radio.
All in all it was a great night, I am glad we decided to go and look forward to returning for the Mile Of Music in August.
The Scants w/ Mark and The Owls
This review is a mixed bag of music, venue and commentary of the local music scene. The setting, a Chinese restaurant in downtown Mason City (pop.28k in north central Iowa) called, appropriately enough, the “Wok and Roll”. I suppose stranger venues have been used for a rock show but this is unique because Mason City is inhabited by the dregs of society that will only recognize music if it is something that took place 40 years ago and is still played on a local classic rock radio station. And, in the richest example of a slice irony so thick you could slap mustard on it for a combo meal at the Double Take restaurant, Mason City has built it’s reputation and tourist industry on the legacy of Meridith Willson and his play “The Music Man“. A hometown boy who made good and got the hell out when he could. The official town motto is “River City”(the fictional town in the play) and they even have a taxpayer supported event center called The Music Man Square. But I digress. I’m not here to point out that elected officials resembling the musical’s scamming central character Prof. Harold Hill have been bilking the citizens in a stunning case of life imitating art. Certainly not! I’m here to ask the question, can you put on a rock show at a small restaurant in a small town that seems to not care one bit about music?
We have been here before. This is where we were introduced to The Scants a few months ago. The first time we were here to see Mark and The Owls because of an invite from their frontman Isaiah. More about them later. Anyway, after seeing The Scants the first time I was intrigued by the band. They seemed to get it. Rock cannot survive unless it gets it’s ass kicked every few generations. They even graciously agreed to an in studio interview a short time later. So here we are, back for round two at the Wok and Roll. After some small talk with fans that seemed to be multiplying by the minute, the band launched into their set with Paul, formally guitar and vocals, now back on the drums playing like his ass was on fire and the river is two miles away. Extremely tight with fills that are where they should be, the band is pushed to the edge of coming off the rails but everything sits on that delicious razor thin edge. Music ain’t fun unless there is a sense of urgency involved. Lead singer Brendan cuts an imposing figure up front. Tall, lanky and a very Ramones type of attitude, his flare for theatrics cements the image of a man in control of the stage. Very capable pipes, Brendan is a perfect fit for The Scants. Pounding the low end into submission is Pamela and if you need a mental image of whats going on here, think of the scene in “Scott Pilgrim Saves The World” where one stomp on a foot pedal and the room explodes with giant animated notes and the floor starts to heave. Laying down only what is necessary, she is the prototype punk bass player. On guitar is Colin, who grinds out the chords with tone to spare. And that stance. Yes! Not since Billy Zoom was ruling the L.A.punk scene have I seen a guitar player plant and take control of his duties like this.
The Scants music is breath of fresh air in today’s stagnant music environment. Quick songs, with a we don’t give a shit attitude the band gives a nod to where this genre came from. Even better is they recorded their latest release via analog and had vinyl pressed. And that is important. Too often recording technology leads to a phony, antiseptic feel that leaves a listener feeling empty. Like being hungry but just drinking a glass of water. Not so with The Scants. The table is set and the buffet is on.
Mark and The Owls
As with The Scants, this was our second time around with Mark and The Owls. The first time, the band was a two piece with the drummer filling in for regular Daniel Fleming. This version re united frontman/guitarist Isaiah Lancaster plus another guitar and bass player who were so new that even their names haven’t been revealed yet. So yeah, a big sounding four piece (compared to the two) that was fresh off their first rehearsals together. So I don’t think a review of the music would be valid at this point. Whatever lyrics Lancaster was trying to push thru a painfully inadequate sound system were lost before they had a chance to reach the body of the crowd. The good news is that Isaiah has got such a solid grip on what it means to perform in front of people. A natural frontman, he engages an audience on all points. Whether its eye contact, guitar god acrobatics or between song banter, the genuine joy of playing is revealed in spades. An added plus is the bass player (we failed to get his name) who fed off Lancaster’s antics by providing an equally spirited performance. Even to the point of wondering if he would end up on the floor clutching his chest. Does Mark and The Owls deliver musically? We are guessing so but we’re saving any comments for now and waiting till the the band has a chance to get a few more rehearsals and gigs under their belt. And backed by a capable P.A.
There Is Hope
The beginning of this review took some cheap shots at Mason City and the it’s seemingly sparse music landscape. Some of that is on point but the question I asked in the first paragraph was answered by the end of the night. Yes, it may not seem like a huge deal but it is. These people that showed up prove that there is a healthy interest in new music. Mason City has a genuine underground music scene and that answers the question “can you put on a rock show at a small restaurant in a small town that seems to not care one bit about music? Turns out that answer is yes. Yes you can.
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