Review: The Maytags play Blue Moose

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By Austin Henderson
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Sitting at the polished wood bar of the Blue Moose Tap House, a neon Hamm’s sign flickered in front of me. Flat screen TV’s showed interviews of this year’s unexciting array of Heisman candidates. 21 Savage played over the bar’s sound system, the bass drowning out heartfelt speeches beamed in from Manhattan.

As the pounding drumbeat of Outkast’s “Hey Ya” erupted over the speakers, from the other side of the locked stage door a trumpet and saxophone blared in synchrony.

In a strange juxtaposition between the musical past and the present, Dustin Smith’s voice sounded through the door, transporting me from the near emptiness of a bar the weekend before finals, to a recording studio in Muscle Shoals.

The night continued to be a time-shifting journey through the last half-century of popular music. The openers, a young Cedar Rapids band called Live Broadcast, delivered a morose, introspective set that would be best described as Sufjan Stevens meets indie shoe gaze.

Coming on next, John June Year, employed a hard-edged sound geared towards the sonic demands of live music. Pairing gruff, Iggy Pop-esque vocals with instrumentals oscillating between straight-forward hard rock, the synthesized soundscape of post-punk, and pop-punk, the band provided tight arrangements, with all members seeming to anticipate the moves of one another.

After a well-played set, the evening’s headliners, the Maytags, came on. Pared down from their usual seven-member base, the band brought only five, adding the talent of a local pianist to fill the sextet.

Despite the addition of a new member to their line-up for the night, the soul band showed an exemplary amount of professionalism in their performing as a cohesive unit. Playing a mix of the standards of their repertoire, much of it stemming from their album Love Lines, released in July, lead vocalist Dustin Smith captivated the audience with his emotive singing on standards “Rita,” Abused,” and “Love Lines.” The soulful backing vocals of the horn section were shown early on the song “Cassius.”

The band hails from Des Moines, IA and many of the musicians have a formal background in jazz. This complimented their musicianship, as not a stray harsh note was heard during the performance, and the band, instead of being held in by their formal training, exploded in their performance of soul.

While much of the spotlight falls on Smith and his vocal talents, the horn section was equally a delight. Beyond their role providing excellent background vocals and almost staccato-like rhythms for the band, the duo of the saxophonist and trumpeter provided a unique form of comic relief to the heavy exploration of love in the band’s lyrics. Whether through the entertaining sight of them waving their respective instruments in almost perfect timing or well-timed sassy comments, they reminded me of a musical version of the Muppet’s resident peanut gallery.

For nearly an hour, I was held in the soulful sway of their music, but walking out of the venue into a windblown gust of snow, I was transported back into the present, away from the musical journey I had undertaken, into a reality heavy with the looming deadlines of finals week.

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