Thom Nguyen and Death Bag at Trumpet Blossom Cafe

Thom Nguyen and Death Bag perform at the Trumpet Blossom Cafe as part of the Feed Me Weird Things Iowa City listening experience.


Jake Wicks

Thom Nguyen performing in front of a live audience of University of Iowa students, supporters and community members at Trumpet Blossom Cafe in Iowa City on Nov. 11 2021.

Jami Martin-Trainor, Arts Reporter

An experience—that’s the best word to describe Thom Nguyen and Death Bag’s show at the Trumpet Blossom Cafe. An experimentation of sound and performance took place, with novelty at the forefront of production.

The performance challenged the audience, daring them to question their previous perceptions of art and music. Thom Nguyen’s solo set revolved around improvisational drums and various accompanying instruments. At one point, Nguyen fully left his drum kit and walked around the audience with a gong in his mouth and another, smaller instrument in his hand.

Nguyen’s set wasn’t just sound-making, it was a full-blown production. Drumsticks were scattered on the ground as Nguyen reached for various instruments to play in tandem with the drums. He placed bells and chimes in his mouth, his entire body rocking with passion.

“I get nervous all the time, even at small shows,” Ngyuen said in an interview before the show. “Once I get up on stage all of that kind of goes away and I get out of my head and just play.”

The relatively small audience was captivated through the entire show, including the opener’s performance. Death Bag was a combination of the bassoon and various synth sounds, creating an intense and fearful movement.

Death Bag took the stage with dimmed lights and strange masks. As their piece started with eerie sounds, the intensity grew with volume, filling the room with the synthetic crashes and deep notes from the bassoon.

The show’s host, Katy Meyer, works with the Feed Me Weird Things listening series in Iowa City. Nguyen’s performance was one of many that took place in Iowa City, promoting artistic musical experiences.

“It’s a curated series of live performances that are like a listening room,” Meyer told The Daily Iowan. “You really pay attention to the artist, what they’re doing and the instruments they’re using.”

The series was cultivated by Chris Wiersema to create a space for music that doesn’t fit into any strict categories.

“There’s a lot of types of music that don’t always find an audience and a place,” Wiersema said. “Iowa City is a unique stratosphere of different creative communities cross-mixing, so it makes an ideal audience and setting for these artists to join us here.”

Emotion is an important factor in these performances. Rather than solely focusing on musical perfections, these performers are putting on an entire show. The artistry is in abundance, as the end goal is an emotional reaction.

“It’s meant to arouse compassion, introspection and reflection by engaging with unknown sounds from unknown sources through deep listening,” Wiersema said.

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