Please note: The following is a rather-delayed followup post to my Day 1 review of the 80/35 Music Festival.
July 4th was to rain as July 3rd was to sun. It's often said in Iowa that "if you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes" - and Independence Day was a perfect example. The day started out overcast, turned to drizzle, then briefly to a monsoon, then back to a drizzle, cleared up for a while, and then finally set into a pleasant mist just in time for Day 2 headliners Modest Mouse.
The crowd did not seem deterred, sticking it out through many an act on both the main and side stages. Fiddler Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek) and Oklahoma indie band Evangelicals suffered the brunt of the rain, but the fans hung around. The bands expressed their gratitude to the steadfast audience . Some concert-goers wore the free festival ponchos, others toughed it out and reveled in their puddles, accepting the nature of an all-weather festival. A river rushed through one side tent, causing volunteers and bands to move soggy equipment to higher ground.
Des Moines' own Christopher the Conquered played early, but put on one of the highest energy shows of the whole weekend. Somewhere between the piano rock of Ben Folds and the squeals of Freddy Mercury, Christopher the Conquered belted out a piano-driven opus. Whether he was pounding the ivory or conducting the band from a ladder in the crowd, it was tough for any band to match the grandiose theatricality and talent of Christopher and his gyrating horn section.
Veteran Chicago band Califone played a terrific set of noisy, experimental post-rock jams. One friend at the show remarked that she liked to imagine all the group's members were "classically-trained musicians who decided to form a band." The members certainly had that seasoned, professorial quality. Multiple drum rhythms and layered guitar and keyboard created a gradual wall of sound that was simultaneously ear-piercing and undeniably bluesy. With a calm demeanor and wicked chops, Califone was amongst my favorite acts of the weekend. For a considerably mellower listen of the band's "All My Friends Are Funeral Singers", look no further than below:
The Cool Kids brought a bass groove so deep, it shook the windows at the volunteer headquarters nearly 2 blocks away from the main stage. The hip-hop duo delivered a playful set of rhymes, while fans nodded to the beats and waved their hands (and drinks) in the air.
British quartet The Heavy, known for their hit "How You Like Me Now?", took the reigns to close down the second stage. An unfortunate delay in their setup caused an overlap with main stage headliners, Modest Mouse. Still, The Heavy delivered on the name, bringing along a hard-hitting set of guitar rockers with a horn section to boot. Frontman Kelvin Swaby's soulful bravado and blistering vocals were seemingly aimed at James Brown's "hardest working man in show business" title. A fantastic live band, The Heavy were slightly overshadowed by the dispersing fans hoping to catch the headliners...
Which brings us to Modest Mouse. I gave The Heavy a few well-deserved extra minutes, but after overlapping 15 minutes, I headed back to the main stage. Figuring I would miss the opening numbers from Modest Mouse, I was surprised to find they had also delayed their cue. This allowed plenty of time to locate my friends and find a great vantage point from the lawn.
Opening with recent single, "King Rat", Mouse set the tone quickly. The stage was chock full of musicians and instruments, including two drummers to keep the crowd on their toes. Isaac Brock and company tore right into the crowd-pleaser, "Dashboard" from there. Without dipping much into their classic LP, The Moon & Antarctica, the band still played a deep catalog of songs that spanned many years and bent many genres.
There once was a time when I'd heard "Float On" so many times on the radio that I didn't care if it ever played again, but hearing it live suddenly made it new again. The crowd agreed, cheering the chorus of "All right already, we'll all float on" as if it were the national anthem that Fourth of July.
The band continued to pepper in popular songs between deep tracks, never giving the audience a chance to wander. A heavily applauded encore led to a wonderfully extended instrumental take on "Whale Song" (you can watch the official video HERE), sending sonar guitar squelches into the dark, misty night air. Soaked to the bone, I felt like a part of that ocean, breathing salty, listening to the calls. At times I swore I could understand them. But maybe that was just a contact high sailing in from somewhere amidst the sea of people...
It was another great day and a wonderful closing to the festival's third year running. I give my seal of approval to the hard-working volunteer organizers that have continued to bring a quality music festival to central Iowa.
For photos and more information, be sure to visit 80-35.com.