Thursday, April 24, 2008

Anders Parker/Doug Hoekstra; April 24, 2008; The Mill, Iowa City

Most times I road trip for the artist, but every once in awhile the trip is as much about the venue. The Mill is one of those venues I have always wanted to see a show at. My last trip to Iowa City was to see Chris Mills at Gabe’s Oasis, a legendary dump where it seemed every band I like played when they passed through. In the last couple years the Mill seems to have become the place to stop, so it didn’t take much convincing to get me to go along on this trip even though Anders next stop was my basement.

A cozy bar with a music room in the back, the Mill is set up like several of my favorite venues (the Hideout, Schubas) with one exception, the music room is huge. Which has to be great when big draws play there, but when the crowd is small it is cavernous. While Schubas warm wood and heavy velvet curtains make it feel cozy even when there aren’t that many people there, the Mill didn’t quite have the same effect. Even so, the venue was not without its charms, the fact that it felt like it was snowing outside was one of them. The first time I saw Anders do a solo show it was at Gil’s in Milwaukee where he commented that when you are in a good bar it always feels like it is snowing outside. I’ve used that criteria many times since then.

I wasn’t too surprised that the crowd was small for tonight’s show; Anders is a criminally under-appreciated artist. Probably best know for being in Gob Iron with Son volt’s Jay Farrar, his other claim to fame was as the front man for Varnaline, a band often included under the alt-country umbrella. Even so, it is his solo work that I find the most interesting, which may or may not be a direct effect of knowing Michelle. Playing solo he controls the mood masterfully, looping guitar parts on top of each other until you no longer know what is live and what is recorded. Tonight’s too-short set involved very little talking, instead he moved from one song to the next, only pausing to switch guitars. The dozen or so people responded well and listened attentively to his songs, still, the set seemed short. At least we had the comfort of knowing we would see him again the next night.

Opener Doug Hoekstra seemed to have a few fans of his own there. He had an assured stage manner that projected well even though the room was far from crowded. His songs were pleasant enough, but also nondescript enough that little of it stuck with me. He did pause to read from a book he had written. I don’t recall whether it was short stories or a novel, but the passage he read involved a washed up rocker named (generically enough) Johnny Z. The story seemed full of the sort of generic (but often best-selling) writing that pains me to read. He should stick to the music. I wanted to tell him not to quit his day job.

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