Monday, July 9, 2012

80/35 2012 Recap

Before I get to the live review of the sets that I saw during 2012’s 80/35 Festival, I have to mention the events preceding it.

For those of you not familiar with this obscure music festival held in Des Moines, Iowa every summer around Independence Day, let me share the particular. It’s in the downtown section and they close off a few blocks in the area, have vendors and booths line the streets, and there are two separate stage areas playing music of the alternative variety.

I’ve been accused of being a buzz kill when visiting this even in year’s past, but I’m a moody fucker and I follow the Osmond’s mantra of one bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch.

I’m also a cheap bastard, so when I learned of this year’s line-up, I didn’t see a lot of bands that made me want to fork over the “early bird special” price that they offered. At that time, there were some bands that I wasn’t interested in and one-Death Cab For Cutie-that I’ve seen twice before and my affection towards them has kind of run its course anyway.

Then some of the open slots started to fill up and I noticed well after the discounted ticket period that the opening night of the two-day festival had two bands that I needed to see: Dinosaur Jr. and Fucked Up.

While I’ve seen Dino previously in the most intimate of settings, I’d gladly pay to see them again. And I get the impression that Fucked Up aren’t going to be around for much longer, as each of the band members get older and start examining other life options, most of which don’t entail performing in a band with an incredibly obscene band name.

Moreover, if you appreciate David Comes To Life as much as I do, you kind of want a band like Fucked Up to reach as many people as possible. You get a little bummed when their name alone prevents a wider audience from learning about them, because the truth is, we need more bands like Fucked Up, challenging people in the same manner that punk rock challenged me when I was a youngster.

Plus, I heard that they were just an awesomely great live act.

The great news was that Fucked Up would open this year’s 80/35 Festival, and Dinosaur Jr. would immediately follow them. This meant that I didn’t need a weekend pass at all, just the one-day pass would be fine, and there was a good possibility that I could be in the comforts of my parent’s house before the nightly news came on.

So I waited, patiently scanning Craigslist for one-day pass deals that only seemed to get better as the date approached.

On the night before the Friday opening, an ad appeared in the local section of the website for exactly what I was looking for: a one-day pass for $20. To see two bands for $20 was a great deal, I thought, so I made contact with the seller.

A response came back from a chick named Astrid, which made me think of Hamburg era Beatles, which made me feel pretty good about the entire transaction. On the morning of the festival, I prepped for the two-hour travel time to my parent’s place with a swing by the bank and a quick torque of the wheels that I had rotated a hundred miles previously.

My phone buzzed that I’d received a new email, and I noticed that it was from Astrid who explained that she wouldn’t be able to meet me to purchase the ticket. She graciously just gave me the link to her ticket, which contained her name on the actual ticket image and stated on the “instructions” section that I needed to present a photo id or the credit card used to purchase the thing just to gain access.

This is the part where I tell you that the people actually taking the tickets for the 80/35 Festival don’t give a shit if your name is Astrid, Todd, or Charles Nelson Reilly. The volunteer staff seemed completely chill, and upon entry, my ticket was quickly scanned and the obligatory access bracelet was attached to my right wrist.

Maybe it was the heat that caused everyone to create a drama free environment in what was already a very oppressive one, temperature wise. You see, the Midwest had been enduring a weeklong heat wave during the festival, most assuredly concerning the promoters that everyone would just stay home for fear of that pesky heat stroke.

A sponsor handed out empty water bottles and the city opened up a few hydrants with makeshift water refill stations, making sure that if anyone was going to collapse from heat exhaustion, it wouldn’t be from their neglect.
Photo by Tony Galloro courtesy of 

Walking up the closed off street to get to the main stage area, I could hear the sounds of guitars and screams of “Dying on the inside! Dying on the inside!” bouncing off the brick buildings of downtown Des Moines.

I found a spot directly in front of the stage (I’d put the crowd at conservative number of 150-200 deep) and gazed upon the image of a shirtless Damian Abraham screaming at the surrounding buildings, housing a bunch of financial institutions like Wells Fargo and other wealth management corporations. I smiled at the thought of someone stuck at work a little late on that Friday afternoon, distracted by the punk rock band from Canada playing just outside their window.

It wasn’t long before Damian found his way off stage and into the crowd, giving a sweaty hug to anyone who poured water on him or rubbed ice on his hairy back. He seemed like a big, gentle bear, appreciative of the few who had braved the heat to see them. His stage banter included an update on his family, an appreciation of cheese curds (thereby becoming totally relatable to his Iowan fan base) and a quick story of a Canadian punk band that influenced him.

Quick side note: a friend of mine in college had a collection of punk and hardcore songs as performed by Canadian punk bands. I think it was designed as some introduction to Canadian punk, but one of the songs-I remember the name of the tune was “Equal Time”-featured a slam on the United States at the end of it. The singer declared “You fucking Americans/Can’t even read” at the end of the song, to which my friend and I felt was a pretty chickenshit way of trying to disrespect our country. We were like: “Dude, you’re from fucking Canada!” trying to point out the folly of his complaints. Just for reference, have you ever noticed how many Canadians get busted in bait cars? At least in America, we have enough smarts to take our keys with us and lock the doors.

The band looked miserable, particularly Sandy Miranda who appeared on the verge of passing out during a few moments.

Abraham was the biggest sweat lodge of them all, climbing on top of camera towers and, eventually crawling on the ground back to the stage as the band was reaching the end of their set.

With every venture off stage, the younger bums would start to thrash. Before long, a swirling pit arose, which prompted the very metro looking twenty-something to take notice. He locked in on Abraham, in what I couldn’t decipher, was friend or foe. You see, I’ve been to shows in the past where a few head knockers show up, with their only intent seeming to be to hurt a musician or artist who is perceived to be of the more “physical” type.

Damian Abraham does not strike me as one of those artists. The look of joy he had just watching the crowd work, basking in the moment while staying close to the edge of any resemblance of thrash pit shenanigans. He’d smile as the dervish gained speed, and then he’d focus his attention on what I’d call the more literal fan base. The crowd members that knew every word to every song, relishing the chance to scream a verse into Abraham’s microphone, possibly even a cheek-to-cheek duet.

It was all there. And then it was over.

I swear the set was done in a prompt forty-five minutes. And while I’m usually a fan of brevity and encores only when they’re deserved (there would be no encore from Fucked Up tonight), I could have easily enjoyed an extra hour of this band. Yes, I’d take the heat if that was the only requirement, but I must confess that there is no human on Earth that could have rocked as hard as Fucked Up did in this solar panel conditions for anything much longer than what they gave Friday night.

See this band before you die or before they collapse under the rigors of middle age responsibility.

How hot was it? I came well hydrated to the show and knew instinctively after the Fucked Up set that I would require more aqua. I began looking for those free water bottles that I kept seeing everyone use, so that I too could take advantage of the blessed water courtesy of the Des Moines Water Department, but after a few blocks I gave up. Just looking at the dead eyes of everyone walking past the lefty booths and liberal causes was exhausting. The representatives of these progressive and artsy spots barely wanted you to check their displays out for fear of the additional body heat, and for me the feeling was completely mutual.

One larger, heavily tattooed woman took advantage of the increased traffic in front of her tent that she encouraged people to stop by, sweetening the deal with an offer of “free hugs.” The exact type of hug was bartered out to a crew of four young dudes, one of whom declined immediately, stating the obvious “It’s too hot for a hug.”

Finally, my body realized that all of this walking was not going a bit of good in keeping cool, so I broke down and spent the $3 bucks one food vendor was asking for Aquafinas. By the time I got back to the stage, securing a front row spot for Dinosaur Jr’s set, my water was already half consumed. It forced me to refill my bottle and lose my sweet spot in the process as the crowd had grown noticeably larger for J., Lou and Murph.

Photo by Sami Villwock courtesy
Poor Lou Barlow came on stage to battle a slowly setting sun with an ill-advised pair of black slacks and a black polo with thin red and white stripes. With the sun came the sweat, and by the soft section of set opener “Thumb,” Lou’s sweat began taking his glasses down his nose like a waterslide, prompting Barlow to finally just put them on top of his bass amp for future need.

Throughout the show, Barlow was the band’s primary banter-maker, yelling at the sun for being too bright, challenging the light-maker to a dual and encouraging it to go away. It caused him to refer to Des Moines as one of the low points of his tour, not because of the city, but because of how shitty his performance was because of the heat.

Personally, I didn’t notice that poor of a showing from him, but it was clear that the heat would definitely contribute to the misery of yet another bassist this evening.

Murph still does that annoying fill thing in between songs, hammering out a brief beat, groove, or fill while Barlow drinks fluids and Mascis tunes his guitar. He provided a solid beat throughout the set, but give us some time to recuperate from the sonic assault of each song instead of banging for the sake of making noise.

Because J. was certainly providing ample amounts of noise with his trio of Marshall stacks and a rack the size of a twin bed housing all of the dude’s fucking guitar pedals. He started out a bit flat, but his solos began to get crazier as the set progressed.

By the end of the set, the band brought out “Freak Scene” which got a few ladies dancing. Whenever Mascis went to the “jugga jugga” bridge part, he’d hit a pedal that made his guitar sound like a jet airplane.

I took an earplug out just to get a taste and immediately felt sympathy for all the morons that came down without them. The crowd would get worked up enough to start a bit a of jostling, before eventually getting beat down by the added heat. The “troublemakers” were so polite that I saw a crowd surfer reaching the end of the line near stage right, lightly smacking the heads of two unsuspecting girls as he made his way to the ground.
The young man, being the polite young Iowan that he was, apologized to the girls without saying a word or taking off his sunglasses, offering a parting handshake before heading back into the pushers and the shovers to locate his original crew.

I saw a couple in their early forties taking in the vibe with their young teenage son and daughter, gently enjoying each other’s company before the show. They looked very suburban, a picture of Mom and Dad bringing their kids down to an old school alternative rock show to relive a bit of the history when Dad had an airshift down at the campus radio station.

By the time of Dinosaur Jr’s set, that same Dad was witnessed spending more time eyeballing the pit that had started immediately next to his family, causing him to become the protector while Mascis bent notes and damaged our hearing. It was a lovely bit of chaos and Mascis seemed to be enjoying himself, as evidenced by a few extended solos.

And the dude seemed to barely break a sweat, and I was right up in front to witness this as the god’s honest truth. Mascis hardly went away from the back and forth rocking, eyes locked on the fretboard (when you could see his eyes, that is) while smacking us in the face with an occasional scream of his wah-wah. It was out of this world at times, and with the abrupt close of “Just Like Heaven,” they were off stage after a tidy 80 minute set.

Simply wonderful.

Here’s a little clip of the musky scene back stage and thanks to the folks at for catching some nice shots while my camera phone managed to catch nothing but smudges thanks to a nice layer of sunscreen covering the lenses.

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