Tonight in Seattle:  

Menomena Live In Iowa


16 Nov 2007 at Gardner Lounge

Life is full of surprises (free Menomena show in the middle of nowhere) and few certainties (death, taxes, and long delays when flying through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport). Sometimes these two factors intersect and you find yourself on the side of a dark Iowa interstate trying to talk your way out of a speeding ticket with a befuddled Iowa State Trooper.

Our conversation went something like this:
State Trooper: Where are you two headed tonight?
Me: Grinnell to see a concert.
ST: Who’s playing?
Me: Menomena
ST (confused): OK... why is he driving (my 57 year old father)? Are you planning on getting drunk?
Me: No, I just don’t have any idea where Grinnell is. I flew all the way from Seattle on Wednesday to bury my grandpa and my aunt over the weekend and this is the only positive thing I’ve got.
ST: Ok, um, right, well slow it down a little. Enjoy the show...

And with that I was off to tiny Grinnell College to attend a free Menomena concert with my dad. Grinnell is halfway between Iowa City and Des Monies, which officially puts in the middle of nowhere Iowa. It’s a small school that, according to my dad, is one of the most expensive schools in the state. It also may or may not have been the college that Gallop, of Gallop poll fame, attended, and he may or may not have endowed the school with untold amounts of money. My dad also claims that no one from Iowa goes there and that it’s all rich kids from the east coast who couldn’t manage to get into Ivy League schools. More than likely, 26% of these statements are true, but I have no way to verify any of them. I can verify that my dad is amazingly cranky and grumpy (but a good sport nonetheless.)

We arrived at the school by following the directions listed on the Grinnell Concerts website, which was conveniently linked from Menomena’s Barsuk page. The directions said to enter the Main Hall and descend into the basement of the Main Hall to the Gardner Lounge where the concert would be held. These directions did not say that all entrances are secured, so we stood in the cold and listened to a woman perfectly whistle The Beatles “Piggies” while smoking a cigarette. Yes, this was as impressive as it sounds.

Eventually somebody came out of the building and we snuck in. The basement looked like a white cavern with shitty wooden furniture scattered about that kids were lounging around on. The website had said that you didn’t need to be a student to attend and that all were welcome, but I’d say of the 200 or so people in attendance 95% of them defiantly looked like students. This hunch was reinforced as few of them exhibited the ability to pound down cans of beer in the amazing fashion that only those attending institutes of higher learning can display.

After a series of sound checks, Justin Harris (bass, guitar, saxophone, the guy who’s usually in the middle) said “thanks for coming out….uh… to your own school.” I got the distinct impression that he was not informed that this show would be like playing at a college house party and that he wasn’t too happy about it. (This was reinforced later in the set when someone asked why they were in Grinnell and he replied “money.” That being said, Brent Knopf, the keyboard, guitar, guy who’s usually on the left, sincerely thanked the crowd when they finished their set and was incredibly friendly to me and everyone else that he talked to after the show.)

The band struggled through the first few songs, as they lost the amps a couple of times and pretty much everything that could go wrong did. Early lowlights were “Hustle and Blow,” as Harris called it, when the sound completely died about three quarters of the way through the song; although it was cool when the crowd finished up “and hustle on” as a congregational sing along. Harris also asked if this was the worst concert everyone had ever been to and the whole band raised their hands. I think they were half joking, but at this point it seemed like the show was dangerously close to running completely off the tracks.

After a few more technical difficulties, the band righted the ship and played a spot on “Strongest Man in the World.” Every time I see them this song ends up stuck in my head for the next few hours and this evening was no exception. Everything from that point forward was text book Menomena; harmony, instrumentation and general coolness. My dad found a wide spot on the floor and sat down; every so often I would see him tapping his foot or beating out a rhythm on his thigh. Although he would later claim that he could start an indie band by playing a punch press and other assorted sheet metal tools, deep down I think he liked it, although it would be hard for him to admit it and keep up that cranky Hanken persona.

My only complaint is that they didn’t play “Running.” Any song that contains the lyrics “before the cows come home” should be mandatory when playing in Iowa.

Tim -- this is an amazing story, completely surreal. I'm sorry about your grandfather... but how cool that your dad went with you on a roadtrip to see Menomena! And you talked your way out of a midwest ticket - no small feat.

What an adventure!

Tim, this is awesome! I had to do some Google-mapping to verify, but as I suspected, Grinnell is uber-close to my family's farm (which I visited last year for our reunion)! So while you may have been in the middle of nowhere, this girl knows where you were! How completely surreal to see Menomena of all bands there, though!

I had no idea your family had a farm, stella! Can you say, imaginary retreat??? ;)

From my Dad:

George Gallop grew up on a dairy farm in Jefferson County, Iowa and went to the University of Iowa, so that was wrong. The "comprehensive fee" for going to school there is $42,422 for FY 2007-2008, pretty expensive for a school with 1,500 students from every state and fifty foreign countries. And it is terribly selective, only 40 some per cent of the students who applied were admitted so it is prestigious as all get out. It has an endowment of 1.4 billion dollars. Folks like Robert Noyce, the guy who invented the intergrated curcuit went to school here, so there is money floating around this school. Hence, there are a few Iowan's here, but damned few.
And I still say my automatic punch press I used to run could do as good a job as what I mostly heard! If you ever get a chance to listen to a punch press running on M-2 when the clutch free wheels and the machine runs like a sewing machine, you will see what I mean. Then switch to nibble mode and make large holes and ovals with a much smaller punch and die set up and you will have at least as much contrast in sound as you had at Grinnell. I can see an indie band called "Finn Power" just like the company that makes the last punch I worked on!"

I'm sure we'll see what he means about the M-2 when the "In Rainbows" box set arrives.

Hahahahaha this made my morning. That's awesome, Tim's Dad!

P.S. After posting my last, I got an email from my mom saying the family farm had sold over the weekend. Sad--but changing--times!

imaginary Stella,
Our family farm is still there at the moment, Tim's uncle owns it. For how long remains to be seen. From a distance all this stuff looks great, but I milked cows and dealt with all the other stuff that comes from a cow that isn't milk, after a while it can get real old real fast. And for the record, most of us don't wear bib overalls and wear plaid shirts; nor does straw sprout from our mouths.
As to M-2, that is a speed stroke that releases the clutch so the punch cycles without stoping.

Tim's dad rules.

...and Amy -- my mom recently said they're going to put the family farm (in Delaware) up for sale in a couple years... even with all this prep time it's still weird to conceptualize! There could be a Starbucks where our living room was!

I had no idea so many imaginaries had family farms. Zow!!

And yes, Tim's Dad does rule! Thanks for stopping by to post...

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