‘Run, Run, Run’ to Mission Creek Festival
Indie heavy-hitters like Sudan Archives, Snail Mail and Kevin Morby packed The Englert; The Riverside Theatre offered a sit-down experience for intimate performances and experimental acts; the line to see Mars Hojilla, Karen Meat and Friko at Trumpet Blossom Cafe wrapped around the block; and Gabe's is where heads banged the night away to everything from hip-hop, punk and Latino dream pop, to whatever TEKE::TEKE does.
With so much to see across the three-day, multi-venue arts and literature takeover of Iowa City... This Is A Photograph of Mission Creek Festival 2023 from the IPR team: Cece Mitchell, Lucius Pham, Tony Dehner, Zachary Oren Smith and Samantha McIntosh.
Day one of Mission Creek was a success! Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa was the perfect backdrop for a Thursday night filled with star power (and Cat Power). The night began with a moving reading and book talk from Michelle Zauner — AKA Japanese Breakfast — from her hit book, Crying In H-Mart. Thanks for signing my copy, Michelle!
Black Belt Eagle Scout kept the good vibes going with smooth performances of songs from their latest record The Land, The Water, The Sky. The album has been our featured release on Studio One, and it was so cool to hear them in all their ethereal glory.
The night ended with an eclectic performance from the legendary Cat Power. From covers off her latest, aptly named record Covers, to well-known originals like “The Greatest,” her simple presentation and larger-than-life voice made this Thursday night of Mission Creek one for the books! – Contributed by Cece Mitchell
Extravision’s Ryan Stier called their hour set Friday a “coming out party.” The Des Moines-based group is chock-full of new music envisioned during the worst of the pandemic. Stier said it was challenge turning the new work into something that worked in a live setting. That work seems to have paid off. Back in 2017, Extravision was a one-man show and 12-string. Today, the five-piece has kept the lyrical depth and psych-folk spiritualism. And has made itself a must-see on a stage near you. – Contributed by Zachary Oren Smith
Us Versus Them (UVT) rapper FlyLife brought Des Moines hip-hop to the Creek, opening his set at Gabe's with a rousing performance of "Worried About," an obvious highlight from his 2022 solo album A Different View. Backed by Leece on the laptop, Fly was joined onstage by frequent collaborators Sqvce and Ace Forgiato for much of the set, who helped out on tracks like "K9 Unit," "Met Gala," "On The Floor 2," "WTF" and more. Fresh off the release of their newest record FlySpace III, Fly and Space criss-crossed the stage with figure skater-level synchronicity, whipping their wired mics around like Indiana Jones on America's Got Talent. FlyLife ended his set with his 2018 classic "Hockey Puck," but, caving to the whims of the crowd, stuck around for just one more: a triumphant and brassy encore of "450s." – Contributed by Lucius Pham
Sudan Archives, the “Freakalizer” herself, brought the Englert house down with her own brand of self-described “fiddle funk.” Her danceable set was full of sing-along moments, masterful and mesmerizing violin, and infectious rap – I cannot believe a one-woman set could have this much energy! From early hits of hers like “Nont For Sale” and “Come Meh Way,” to bangers from last year’s Natural Brown Prom Queen record, the whole show was a spectacle to remember and one of my favorite sets I’ve ever seen at Mission Creek Festival. – Contributed by Cece Mitchell
It was so wild to see a band like Snail Mail just mere days after a personnel change in the band. But, it was so exciting to see some of my favorite songs from them, like “Valentine,” performed on the Englert Theatre stage. Lindsey Jordan’s voice is just as flawless live as it is on their records. It was very funny to see one of her band members play a banana shaker during some songs; it was that quirky energy that made the Snail Mail set unique and fun for the Mission Creek crowd. – Contributed by Cece Mitchell
Shows that go according to plan are boring. Snail Mail's Lindsey Jordan, with the zip and might of a rockin' bed bug, bounced about the Englert stage in a big ol' bucket hat, baggy jeans and a happy disposition despite stumbling through guitar parts - having juuuust fired a bandmate. Her set at Mission Creek marked the beginning of the band's 20+ date U.S. Valentine tour, which includes two stops at Coachella, and kinks were still very much being worked out. This performance had everything: Guitar strap malfunctions, spontaneous push-up contests (I think because someone told Lindsey she wouldn't) as well as several unreleased songs. Jordan was flanked on three sides by other musicians, one of whom, she claims, was responsible for making her a cuckold (to which that band member replied with MIDI explosions in the affirmative). All Mission Creekers in attendance should be thankful to have experienced this exciting first stop on the Snail Mail express. – Contributed by Lucius Pham
Maybe it was the red lighting on stage. Maybe it was the chandelier. But Cedar Falls’ Mr. Softheart had Mission Creek taking a turn towards the vampiric. The driving guitar on their cover of Springsteen’s “State Trooper” is a teeth-grinding jam. But it’s the drama of “Caravaggio” that made Friday’s show. Unafraid to strike pose. Unafraid to send up the end of a chorus with a shriek. Come for the moody meditations on what we’re leaving for the future. Stay for a drum machine that demands dancing, even in a seated venue. – Contributed by Zachary Oren Smith
"Anti-pop" is a phrase I'm not sure I've ever heard or used before, but would be an apt description of the New York duo Water From Your Eyes who played at Gabe's Friday evening. Performing as a three-piece of guitar, vocals and bass, this group took festival goers on a journey that had no clear map laid out. Just when I thought a song would take one direction, it would come to a screeching halt, or pull a U-ey and go the other way. No matter how you describe this group, they had several people emphatically moving in the front, and a crowd that eventually ate up the entire venue. – Contributed by Samantha McIntosh
Divino Niño’s set at Gabe’s had me dancing through the night! The Chicago band’s multi-vocalist set-up and somewhat dream pop, somewhat hip-hop sound was incredible. Their multi-lingual vocals had such a cool quality to them and the crowd was so energized the whole time. I’m so glad I made it over to Gabe’s to catch their set. Divino Niño is definitely a band to watch out for and see the next time they’re in town. – Contributed by Cece Mitchell
With some venues at capacity Saturday afternoon, there was no better place than Big Grove Brewery taproom to catch free live music. Iowa City-based songwriter/bassist Pictoria Vark kicked things off with a more introspective indie rock sound. – Contributed by Samantha McIntosh
Music on Saturday began at Big Grove Brewery with Iowa City indie project Pictoria Vark, who was joined onstage by a drummer, guitarist and massive wall of subwoofers wrapped around them like the Iron Throne. Pictoria delighted diners, drinkers and beautiful day-enjoyers alike with a special one-year-anniversary performance of her debut album The Parts I Dread. 16 oz glasses clinked and leaned back to the gloomy and guttural baselines and reflective memories of "Good For." Vark brought things to a close with an explosive rendition of "Out" –– "I wanted out! / This f-cking house!" –– that even the kids on the playground could empathize with. This show had staying power. Her performance of "Demarest" is still rattling around in my brain. – Contributed by Lucius Pham
This was my third time seeing Karen Meat perform, and each performance has featured a different configuration of the band. Saturday's set at the Trumpet Blossom was with a full band, including a horn section. Everyone on stage got their moment to shine, including guitar wizard Dan Padley. Still, vocalist Arin Eaton is the star here. She's one of Iowa's most delightfully charismatic performers, and she commands the stage with her charming voice and good humor. A highlight of the show was the song "You're An Ugly Person," which Eaton invited the ladies to sing along with.
After the show, Eaton confirmed to IPR that this was the final scheduled Karen Meat performance, although they do have an album on the way. Eaton isn't closing the door on music altogether though. Karen Meat recently played at a wedding for the first time, which she'd love to do again. – Contributed by Tony Dehner
The Uniphonics got the Big Grove crowd grooving with original tunes like "Iowa City" (fitting) and soul covers like "Be Thankful for What You Got." Conveniently, The Uniphonics are also Iowa Public Radio's artist(s) of the month for April. Stay tuned to IPR Studio One for their music both online and on-air, all month long. – Contributed by Samantha McIntosh
Friko is a band from Chicago that was completely new to me, but when I talked to The Englert’s Elly Hofmaier, she said this was a show I didn’t want to miss. And boy was she right! Their brand of indie rock is very palatable — which is not to say it’s boring! I think Friko is the kind of band a lot of people would enjoy: rocking guitars, cool vocals, a lot of variety in their catchy sound. They’ve been described as power-pop art-rock, which I think is a very apt description of the band. Some songs had a dreamier sound, some rocked harder, some even had the vocalist wailing; it was all around a great set in the wonderful Trumpet Blossom. – Contributed by Cece Mitchell
When BCJsPs began saxophonist Justin K. Comer beckoned the crowd to look left and look right, saying whatever happened, we were all embarking on something together. You could call the performance many things. Chaotic. At times, athletic. And always confident. But watching guitarist Brian Penkrot use a feedback loop to drown out a Comer monologue, it’s hard to call it pretty. Though, pretty may miss the point.
If you came in mid-performance, you might have found Penkrot wide-mouthed, releasing a chilling yawp. Comer might be curled into a hollow hold at the base of his sax, wiggling his finger tips as if drawing something out of the instrument’s bell. You might have looked between them and seen the visage of a larger-than-life-size portrait of missing bandmate Jason Palamara. Less decoration, more icon. Staring indifferently into the black. Quietly overlooking his Diet Pepsi and sandwich. Palamara’s quiet message for Mission Creek: a thumbs up.
Like many things worth doing — and most things worth doing together — pretty may miss the point. – Contributed by Zachary Oren Smith
During her Saturday night set at The Englert, Courtney Marie Andrews bravely delved into the “light-hearted topics” of generational trauma and unrequited love while donning a flowy dress and allowing her glittering voice to glide over her beautiful compositions. Her skillful acoustic guitar-playing stole the show, although her bandmates on pedal steel and percussion shone throughout the set as well. They maintained a great energy throughout while still being a pretty subdued, sit-down kind of show. The set was intimate — one of the smaller crowds I’ve seen at the Englert during Mission Creek — yet I believe everyone in that room really knew they were part of a really magical experience. I was a casual supporter of CMA before this show, but I think I’m definitely going to have to revisit her discography after seeing what a show she puts on. – Contributed by Cece Mitchell
I was thankful for the beautiful weather and music as the Brighton, UK 5-piece The Heavy Heavy closed out the evening with incredible coed harmonies and instrumentation that got me making comparisons to Fleetwood Mac, even before they gave a crowd-pleasing cover of FM's "Gold Dust Woman." They also surprised this dear listener with a cover of Father John Misty's "Real Love Baby." The band has already been making public radio airwaves across the U.S., with their debut album Life and Life Only released this March, but I think they secured new Iowa fans. They even commented that they're looking forward to a return to the Hawkeye state! – Contributed by Samantha McIntosh
In typical Greg Wheeler & the Poly Mall Cops fashion, the Des Moines punk three-piece - comprised of Greg Wheeler, Jill McLain-Meister and Eric Hutchison - tore up the Gabe’s stage with a fast, shredtastic set highlighting their brand new record MANIC FEVER. The crowd — the most physically engaged of any show at the Creek — thrashed in tandem with bassist Jill’s blonde ponytail to tracks like “AVOID THE CREEPS,” “NOTHING” and “ITCH.” A Poly Mall Cops show is defined by ultra-high energy and wicked fast drumming synced-up with wailing metal strings and a distaste for any between-song breather longer than ten seconds. – Contributed by Lucius Pham
Ebony Tusks are unlike anything you’ve heard before. Think $uicideboy$, think The Prodigy, think Prodigy from Mobb Deep, think The Chemical Brothers—then maybe you’ll get close. An experimental hip-hop three-piece from the Kansas City area, Ebony Tusks is comprised of DJ Daniel Smith, with vocals and auxiliary instruments provided by Geese Giesecke and Marty Hillard. Marty, whose soft-spokenness all but evaporates once the bass drops, jumped into the sit-down audience and led the crowd through a therapeutic chorus of the group’s classic “Schuyler,” all shouting back “Block up, block up! / Show me where the cash is at! ” complete with glorious, rage-fueled loops and piercing glitches. This group made impressive use of the Riverside Theatre’s unique-ass space by filling it with unique-ass sound. – Contributed by Lucius Pham
Kevin Morby gave a phenomenal, high-energy show full of punchy bangers and some quieter sing-along moments. He even managed to name-drop Iowa City in his performance of “City Music” and shout-out his parents in the audience (whom I was sitting behind!) during “Beautiful Stranger.” Morby had a lot of star quality to him, and his band (especially his uber-talented saxophonist!) ran a really impressive tight ship. The set began with the title track from last year’s This Is A Photograph record, setting a solid tone for the rest of the show, which got the Englert audience out of their chairs and dancing along. He appropriately ended the set with one of his most popular songs, “Harlem River,” which was kind of a subdued ending compared to the rest of the performance, but got the audience excited all the same. Overall, this was probably my favorite act of Mission Creek 2023! – Contributed by Cece Mitchell
In our interview ahead of his 9 p.m. set at Gabe's, I asked McKinley Dixon what Mission Creek attendees could expect to see at his show. He joked that, despite bringing with him a talented drummer, bassist and keyboardist: "Imma just be yelling. Whole set. No instruments. Just yellin.' 45 minutes of straight yellin.' No band on stage, no nothing. Imma set everything up, but it's just gonna be me...The band's coming, they gone set up. But it's just gonna be me. All yellin.'"
Well, somewhere between this interview and the show he must've changed his mind, because the band did, in fact, join the Virginia-based "Tyler, Forever" rapper, and did, in fact, rock. Dixon opened his set with an instantly recognizable ping-ping-pa-ping-pa-ping-ing of keys, cascading naturally into the bustling track "Run, Run, Run," off his upcoming album Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!? Dixon used Mission Creek as an opportunity to showcase some of his new songs on the hush hush, including the album's title track, which, like the album itself, was heavily inspired by Toni Morrison. McKinley Dixon will return to Iowa for the 80/35 Music Festival in Des Moines on July 8. – Contributed by Lucius Pham
TEKE::TEKE came all the way from Montreal to close out Mission Creek from the Gabe’s stage. I am so glad I stayed up late night to catch this set; it rocked so hard in all the best ways. From the otherworldly warbles of the vocalist, to the droning of brass and even bagpipes throughout their varied (and in my opinion, too-short!) set, this was one of the more unique acts of the festival and a great, high-impact show to end the party out with a bang. The members of the band themselves seemed humble and unassuming; they were approachable after the set and were very genuine and kind. But their music was loud and wild — maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but it was definitely mine. – Contributed by Cece Mitchell