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Live Review: Mission Creek Festival 2014, Day 3

Live Review: Mission Creek Festival 2014 - Day 3
of Montreal, Dessa, Ark Life, Toki Wright & Big Cats, Dylan Sires & Neighbors

We’re only three days into Mission Creek 2014, and already I have to eat crow. I recently reviewed Dylan Sires & Neighbors two albums from last year, and while I felt the band was talented, I just didn’t connect as strongly to the albums as I had hoped. The group’s opening set on Thursday proved that yet again, I most likely have had my head up my ass. Everything that I had found fault with on record was rectified live. The band was able to deliver the spot-on three part harmonies and ebullient melodies with the same precision they do on record, but the live setting provided them with the ability to kick the songs squarely in the pants. Live, the band’s bright pop benefits greatly from being pushed right to the edge of the beat without dipping into sloppiness as well as the trio’s natural charm. Surprise number one is in the books.

Surprise number two immediately followed in the form of Denver’s Ark Life. I was completely unfamiliar with Ark Life prior to their set, but one of the best parts of any festival is digging in and seeing if a new band strikes your fancy. The quintet brought forth a brand of classic rock and roll that far too many seem to eschew, one that focuses on groove, catchy leads, heartfelt lyrics, and stellar backing vocals from the group’s three ladies. By the time the band had taken the stage, the back room of the Blue Moose had filled up quite a bit, and the group played to the back. Despite partially looking like a lost grandchild of Barry Gibb, Ark Life reminded me at times of Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet band in the best way possible. The band doesn’t yet have any recorded music released, but their now-unique brand of laid-back, Midwestern rock and roll has put them on my watch list for sure.

A third surprise did not follow, as of Montreal is a known commodity. I gained firsthand knowledge of the group’s insanity during their headlining set at 80/35 a few years back, and if nothing else, I knew I would see the most bizarre show of the festival by a country mile. of Montreal did not disappoint in that respect, but they also did their music justice in the live setting. The band has undergone some sonic changes in the past few years, leaving the LCD Porno Funk of the Georgie Fruit years behind for the shaggier, 60’s pop influence as seen on their latest album Lousy with Sylvianbriar. Their set focused largely on Lousy, as well as the hits from their best albums, all while peppering the live stage presence with the confusing and bizarre. The band showed great musical versatility with their ability to switch from the Prince-derived funk of their False Priest cuts to the angelic folk seen on the new album’s “Obsidian Currents”. The best moments came when the band brought the insanity to fevered pitches by marrying the theatrical with the thunder of the sprawling backing band. A defining moment of the set came during the absolutely filthy performances of “Oslo in the Summertime” and “Gronlandic Edit” which saw the band’s utility players elevating lead man Kevin Barnes on their shoulders while cloaked in white to bring the projections to the front of the stage. I’m not doing the insanity of the show justice, so please know that the band’s distilled hallucinations are the best of the fest so far.

Toki Wright & Big Cats were midset at Gabe’s by the time I had made my way down the hill, and while I only caught a few songs, he seemed to be in complete control of the swelling crowd. The Rhymesayers collective member lived up to his imprint, bringing a remarkable flow with passionate lyrics to the crowd alongside a true love for everyone that had come into the show. He proved to be more than ample warmup for Dessa, yet another member of the Minneapolis-based crew. Hip-hop can always be tricky live, as evidenced by certain unnamed rappers that have graced Iowa City in the past, but Dessa was certainly not one of them. Live instrumental backing always ratchets up the quality of any hip-hop performance, bringing a dynamic that a pre-recorded backing track can’t bring. Charm, intensity, and a certain level of positivity also ramp up a performance, and Dessa brought all three in droves. She’s passionate, has an amazing set of pipes to back up the rapping skills, and she brought a fearlessness to the stage that was always engaging, even for those of us that might not be the biggest fans of hip-hop in general. With her stellar performance, Dessa capped off the biggest and the best night of Mission Creek Festival 2014 so far, and set the bar for the rest of the week.
Submitted by Jeremy

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