(Review) Pieta Brown – This Land Is Your Music II: First Night – 12/4/2010

Pieta Brown at This Land is Your Music II at The Mill on 12-4-2010

Pieta Brown’s second songwriter-in-residency called “This Land Is Your Music” at The Mill Restaurant kicked off on Saturday 12/4 right on the heels of a six-day mini-tour of Australia which wrapped up the previous Saturday.  I had been looking forward to seeing these two shows. Last year’s three consecutive Thursday night shows in November (read my reviews for 11/5/09, 11/12/09, 11/19/09)  were truly magical, intimate shows. Pieta considers The Mill her home venue– she got her start playing The Mill, so she was happy to bring these shows to that stage.  The combination of music and art is a way for Pieta to give back to the community that spawned her career.

The opening band was the folk trio The Vagabonds which includes Sam Blickhan from The Mayflies. Sam is also in The Wandering Bears with Sarah Mannix of the Vagabonds. Their set was very good, pretty three-part-harmonies of original songs with the occasional cover– one of which was a Be Good Tanyas song. I really liked their original songs and am looking forward to being able to see them again.
The Vagabonds at This Land is Your Music II
Like last year, set and light design was done by Stan Crocker. Last year the stage was lit like a small living room with umbrellas and lamps– this year Stan washed the stage in dramatic blue light.

Pieta Brown at This Land is Your Music II at The Mill on 12-4-2010

Pieta’s set was a solo acoustic set and included primarily songs from her new album One and All, the Shimmer EP and Remember the Sun, but she also added some new songs. “Be With You” had only been played one other time according to Pieta. The song “No Words Now” was described as being influenced by meeting Mark Knopfler (whom she toured with this year) and JJ Cale, who are both heroes of Pieta’s (as is Tom Petty— the subject of “Faller”).

Not content to be the only performer, Pieta invited her sister Constie on stage to sing duet on “The Other Way Around” from One and All. Constie provides harmony vocals on the new album, as well. For the finale of Pieta’s set she invited the Vagabonds to join her on stage for a gospel track which drew some comments by Iris DeMent who was in the crowd and soon joined the crew onstage for a rousing version of the Reverend Gary Davis song “Morning Train.”

Pieta Brown Joined onstage by Constie Brown, The Vagabonds and Iris DeMent

As with the first This Land Is Your Music shows, there was an artist gallery. Lighting designer Stan Crocker had a really cool installation of light boxes in the green room. Each of the parts of the display had its own light source and illuminated individual subjects.

Stan Crocker Light Box Installation

Watch the video for a walkthrough I did of the installation while The Vagabonds play “Ransom”:

The entryway of the Mill had photos from regional photographer Sonya Naumann. Here is a set from her series titled “Dunce”.

Entryway Exhibit of Sonya Naumann

The This Land is Your Music shows are something anyone who is a fan of Pieta Brown or the Eastern Iowa music scene in general should really get out to see. I’m really happy that Pieta was able to pull this off again this year and am looking forward to seeing tomorrow night’s show. Pieta will be playing in a trio with Bo Ramsey and a drummer and the opening act will be Alexis Stevens. The gallery will be provided by Jamie Hudrlik.

The tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door and the proceeds will again be donated to Friends of Hickory Hills and Iowa Public Radio. Pieta’s sister Zoe designed teeshirts for the event as well as the poster seen above and both will be available at the show along with Pieta’s new vinyl for One and All!

Click Here for the Mill Restaurant Website for more details.

Pieta Brown Setlist:

1. Be With You *
2. West Monroe
3. No Words Now *
4. Hey Run
5. Out of the Blue
6. Are You Free?
7. You’re My Lover Now
8. In My Mind I Was Talking To Loretta
9. El Guero
10. Other Way Around (w/Constie Brown)
11. Faller
12. I’m Gone *
13. Closin’ Time *
14. Calling All Angels
15. Over Your
16. Morning Train (Rev. Gary Davis) (w/The Vagabonds and Iris DeMent)

* new songs!

A slideshow of the pictures I took:

(Upcoming Shows) Pieta Brown & Friends – This Land is Your Music Residency at The Mill 12/4 & 12/11

It’s hard to believe that it already has been over a year since Pieta Brown hosted her first artist-in-residence at The Mill Restaurant. That show was three Thursday night shows in November last year (see my reviews for: 11/5, 11/12, 11/19). Next to the Daytrotter Barnstormer shows, these were some of my favorite shows of 2009– very intimate and special. The stage lighting and design by Stan Crocker was a great touch– an eclectic little living room. Pieta was using these shows to try out some live band configurations– solo, duo and full band. To help bring some awareness to the art scene in the area, she set aside the room normally reserved as the green room as a gallery which was really cool, too. The only disappointing thing to me about these shows was the lack of audience on a couple of the shows. By the 11/19 show, it seemed like word had gotten out about these gigs. But, mid-week shows are always hit-or-miss in Iowa City, even when school is in session.

Pieta is bringing This Land Is Your Music back to the Mill for two shows in December– Saturday 12/4 and Saturday 12/11. The tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door and the proceeds will again be donated to Friends of Hickory Hills and Iowa Public Radio. Doors will be at 7PM Here are the details:

Saturday, December 4. Pieta Brown performs a solo set. Her special guest will be Iowa City trio The Vagabonds. The art in the gallery will be done by Stan Crocker and Sonya Naumann. Sonya Naumann has a really interesting photography project called “Thousand Dollar Dress” that maybe we’ll get to see some of in the gallery.

Saturday, December 11. Pieta Brown & Terraplane headlines. We don’t know exactly who is in the band, but Bo Ramsey lists this show in the tour section of his site. Alexis Stevens will open. The gallery will have works by Jamie Hudrlik (who happens to be the very talented daughter of Iowa City photographer Sandy Dyas who showed photographs last year).

I suspect that Pieta will have some of her wonderful new 180g vinyl pressings of One and All with her, too. (I got my copy this week!).

Click Here for Pieta Brown’s website

Click Here for The Mill Restaurant website.

Click Here to visit midwestix.com to pre-order tickets to This Land Is Your Music II.

Here are my reviews for last year’s shows:  11/5, 11/12, 11/19

Upcoming Show: Death Ships Set Sail for Iowa City 2/27

The story of Dan Maloney’s Death Ships is one of a band outgrowing a local scene, gaining embrace of the Indie Tastemakers riding an arc of success but ultimately stalling. A familiar story to be sure (see: Tapes ‘N Tapes).

For over nine years Dan Maloney has been Death Ships— a band whose beginnings in Iowa City were as a side project. According to his January 2009 interview with Splice, he was in an Emo band called Faultlines when he decided to work on some solo songs. “…on the side I was experimenting with writing songs along the style of the music I grew up with. It took me a while to figure out I could sing better within a certain range rather than “shout/scream.”

Death Ships started initially as a solo accoustic effort and then expanded into a revolving cast of members and became known for having different lineups for every show. In fact, the first time I ever heard about Death Ships was in the context of them seemingly opening for every band at the Mill Restaurant. My friend saw Low and Why? at the Mill and Dan’s Death Ships were openers both times (without drums) and I believe that they opened for Tapes ‘n Tapes and The Hold Steady during their early tours as well. “When Randall (Davis) and Adam “Lars” joined the ranks,” Dan said in his Daytrotter interview, “they really helped shape Death Ships into a functional band.” In September of 2006 the debut Seeds of Devastation was released to some critical acclaim and Alternative Press named Death Ships “Best Unsigned Band.”

The band met ex-Wilco member Jay Bennett through a shared manager and he took the band under his wing and on the road with him as his backing band for two tours. In a recent email exchange with Dan, it is really clear that this time with Jay– who passed away last year— made a big impact on him. “[Jay’s death] was a big blow. I didnt know him better than others did, but from touring with him twice and spending a lot of time with him I got a good sense of the man he was: a caring, compassionate man with a love of music and joy that only comes from a child’s first Christmas. He picked us up and gave us a boost that I will never forget.”

Dan moved to Chicago from Iowa City a couple of years ago and has been carrying on the Death Ships name with occasional shows in the area and watershedding the follow-up to Seeds which will be called Circumstantial Chemistry. Additionally, a four-song EP Maybe Arkansas will be released on iTunes. The EP is produced by Luke Tweedy who runs Flat Black Studios in Iowa City and is in (ft) The Shadow Government. “I started working on a follow up a couple years ago and only scraped together four of the songs for this new EP. I moved to Chicago and basically had to start from scratch again. It’s hard– like any band– to sell everyone on commiting to [it], forfeiting the fact that there may not be much money involved but also requiring a lot of time and dedication. I hope I have this with this new group and am finally ready to start pushing Death Ships forward and getting these songs and new songs heard.”

Dan generously let me listen to the songs that make up Maybe Arkansas, and it is a flat-out charmer— hook-filled and standing out in my mind as a testiment to the great music that comes from the Midwest. These guitar pop songs draw easy and complimentary comparisons to other Midwest greats like The Jayhawks, The Honeydogs and, yes, Wilco. Each of these songs stick in my head with earworm intensity. Dan’s soft vocal approach on “I Like It A Lot” gives a breezy lead up to the break down “it’s dreams like these/ little melody/ i got plans for you/ you got plans for me” which very nicely launches in the double time and urging cry “put it all on me!”

This is followed by the fun, piano pumping, Beatle-y “Somethings Gone Awry” with its superb use of horns. I love how the song goes from this ironically upbeat drive complete with “do-do-do-do’s” to the mood change as the song runs out “It’s hard to blame the darkness for the rain/It’s hard to see clearly when when we’re reeling from a long black cloud…”

“Let Me Think It Over” is a promise to a former love. It has a undeniable 60’s R&B tinge to it– kind of like when Springsteen used to cover Mitch Ryder in concert– particular with the 3/4 time switch from driving 4/4 at the chorus. “We can get together like we used to be/the same old fool you’ve been dying to see.”

The EP wraps up much too early with the title track. It starts as a melancholy aching sentiment of escape to starting over. “With a furrowed brow you slide across the seat/So, maybe Arkansas– another change in plans” It’s the narrator’s thoughts at the halfpoint of the song of the people they are leaving behind halfway that transforms the song to shouting anger. “Write a letter to your dear sweet mother/tell her that we’re only running from our halted, November mind…”What’s that you gain from this song??”

This EP is a calling card and statement of direction for this new phase of Death Ships. Dan continues from the e-mail he sent me, ” There were times after Seeds where I felt the fruit of my efforts were grossly being undermet and underappreciated, but I have come to peace about being jaded. This is music I make and part of my story. If a few people enjoy it I’m willing to accept that. It’s truly a labor of love and sometimes I forget that. If it ever stopped being fun I would hang it up, but clearly I can’t, because I’ve been doing this project for over six years.”

Dan is sailing his Death Ships to Iowa City on Saturday, 2/27 at The Mill Restaurant in Iowa City. They will be headlining a show with Datagun, Olivia Rose Muzzy, and the Vagabonds. 9PM and admission is a measly SIX BUCKS!

Click Here to download “I Like It A Lot” from Maybe Arkansas.

Click Here for the Death Ships MySpace Page which has some of the tracks from Maybe Arkansas streaming.

Click Here for the Death Ships Daytrotter Session

Click Here for the Jay Bennett Daytrotter Session with Death Ships as his band

Click Here for the Splice interview with Dan Maloney from 2009 that has some unreleased tracks and a couple from the upcoming EP

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