On Sunday night, I texted my best friend: “I’m lost in an abandoned country club, and I just found keg half-full of beer.” Because I like to send her tidbits from my life with little to no context.
There were a couple of things wrong with the text, though – excluding the fact that, yes, I text in full sentences complete with punctuation because I am a relic of the last millennium.
The building was never actually a country club. It was the product of a John Deere-Ben Butterworth brainchild; a commercial-social club in downtown Moline, Illinois for area businessmen to combine networking and business with leisure. At three stories tall, its architecture is of the Prairie School popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright. The distinctly early-20th-century aesthetic makes nighttime exploration all the more haunting.
Also, I wasn’t totally lost because I could just follow the sound of area noise band Opium Rex. As they thundered and screamed down in the second-floor ballroom, I got the distinct feeling that I was in a remake of The Shining – a good remake, not like the 90s miniseries that made everyone hate Stephen King. Mechanical-construction sounds produced by the band made the surrounding steel and masonry come alive. I booked it out of the kitchen before Jack Nicholson ax-murdered me.
Lavender Daughter is on tour at the moment promoting a self-titled EP. The four-year-old band from Minneapolis bills as surf-grunge and is 3-out-of-4 on the traditional rock four-piece. Slot four rotates as Lucas sings and plays “the toys” – that is, handheld percussion, like the tambourine and egg shakers – as well as some less traditional instruments, such as the bullhorn.
More on Lavender Daughter in a minute. For now, back to that first set:
As I’ve mentioned before, environment is inherently important in a noise set. The goal is to wrap the listener in a sonorous envelope. You could argue that environment is important for every band, as sound must have space through which to travel. Traditional music, however, is easily transferred to recording, whereas noise loses its dimension and, therefore, its impact when it comes through a pair of speakers.
And the second floor of the now-defunct Moline Club may be one of the area’s most stimulating environments. Though most of the building’s utilities have been shut off, Alex of Safe Harbor Records and Promotions – a guy who treats every show like it’s his own precious little baby – built a roaring fire that kept us warm between sets in the 40-degree ballroom.
“Sometimes it’s actually colder in here than it is outside,” Jeramie of Condor and Jaybird mentioned at one point, and I totally believe him.
Adjoining rooms included a dining area, with tables and chairs still in place from the last wedding reception here years ago, and the club president’s office, with a massive desk, billiard table, and floor-to-ceiling windows with the glass long gone.
As Opium Rex finished and Hex Girls set up, I took the opportunity to hop through one of those giant windows and onto an interior fire escape. Upstairs, a cavernous ballroom amplifies every creak in the floor and a cluttered kitchen produces unidentifiable shadows.
(That upstairs kitchen is where I got turned around and found the keg, by the way. I left it alone, as it wasn’t mine. And the beer had surely gone flat.)
Every minute I spent in that building, I had more questions. Why does this place look like it was abandoned suddenly? Which part is the art gallery? Who pays rent on a place and lets it sit virtually empty?
All I know about the owner is that her name is Naveen. I like to believe she’s an eccentric bazillionaire who moved to the Midwest on a whim and is now quietly buying up the entire city of Moline. Coming soon: Naveen Land!
Back down on the second floor, the Hex Girls of Cedar Falls opened their set sounding nothing like their namesake – the all-girl eco-goth rock band of the Scooby Doo universe. In fact, the Hex Girls are all guys, and while their influences range across multiple genres, the most goth thing about them would be their lyrics.
Case in point: “Five Fold Kiss” includes the lines, “And I lie alone/And I feel the pleasure pour down with the pain/Soil soaked in the rain/Earthworms eating my brains, yeah.” Yeah, indeed.
They were visibly having fun while rocking out with a folk-punk-blues sound that drew everyone away from the fireplace to warm themselves around amplifiers and sheer body heat. Hex Girls is a local favorite that was a perfect lead-in to Lavender Daughter, going from a comparatively classic garage-y sound to a trans-genre.
I try not to listen too much to a band’s recorded work before I go see them live for the first time. While this can make for some pretty hilariously misunderstood lyrics (I thought “Prom King” was about a Dr. Who story arc), I like my first exposure to a group to be raw, so to speak, with no preconceived notions or expectations.
I wasn’t prepared for Jake’s kinetic bass and Seth’s thorough exploration (exploitation?) of his drum kit, neither of which I could have really experienced via recording, anyway. Nor could I have appreciated vocalist Kalee’s bellowing voice except in person. You could hear her from the top floor balcony all the way down to the basement and to the bar across the street (to the staff at Christopher D’s, by the way, thanks for the best jello shot I’ve ever had).
Surf-grunge is not a comprehensive description of their sound. Often, it’s like someone wrote a ballad and Lavender Daughter covered it in a punk rock variant. Part of you wants to dance, but part of you also wants to drink a can of warm beer by the fire and be sad.
Again, with each passing minute, I had more questions: How does a fully trans-genre/genreless band “fit in” with the average music community? What’s the weirdest bill they’ve ever been on? Does Kalee have a mutant voice box? Were they actually singing about Dr. Who? Do they have any other songs based on a sci-fi and/or BBC series? Does the Amsterdam in St. Paul still have kickass egg rolls?
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to ask these questions. Condor and Jaybird, archangels of psych, closed out the show with an energetic set (treating the audience to a brand new song we should hear on their next album or maybe the one after that) and Lavender Daughter was gone.
The Minnesota band hadn’t been around much before the show, either. It’s possible they were exhausted from being on tour. Or maybe they didn’t dig the DIY venue all that much. Negative press continues to plague nontraditional galleries and music halls nationwide, and what we may have seen as a baptism by frost in the icy halls of the Moline Club, they might have seen as an invitation from a community with little to offer.
And that’s fair. To many, the Quad Cities is just a stop between Kansas City and Chicago. Or St. Louis and Minneapolis. Or Omaha and Milwaukee.
You have to learn to appreciate a willingness to explore, to refuse to be bored, to seek out adventure and passion even when the world around you discourages such things. Most people lack the time or inclination to do this. In an area with a relatively small population, we cling to the spirit of creation wherever we find it – including in each other.
Hopefully Lavender Daughter comes back for another visit. Either way, we thank them for sharing their art and wish them well.
If you’re in Chicago tomorrow (March 28, 2018) check them out at the Burlington Bar – one of my old favorites – for what appears to be the final show on their End of Days tour.