Last night, Ryan and Aaron and I piled into the Accord and drove 3 hours to Des Moines. For some reason that is still unbeknownst to me, the city in the middle of Iowa manages to snag several groups per year that don’t end up playing in either Lincoln or Omaha. It’s true that there is one cool venue in the town (The Vaudeville Mews), but the two times that I’ve been to the city, the reception for bands has always been a bit strange and seemingly secondary to drinking and socializing.

Getting back to the show at hand, I would have to say that The Books are probably within the top five of my favorite bands at the current time. When their debut album arrived a couple years back, it somehow managed to defy easy explanation as the group deftly combined found sound samples of spoken word and field recordings with organic instrumentation, programmed electronics and other processing. On paper, it was a combination that seemed like it could be a trainwreck, but the duo pulled it off effortlessly and despite many writing them off as a one-album wonder, they’ve now managed to put our three full length albums and hold my attention every single time (their last album, Lost And Safe clocked in at #2 on my 2005 year-end list).

The opening artist was called Death Vessyl and instead of being a full band as on their recorded disc, it was just one guy and his guitar singing rather quietly without much of a presence. A majority of the people in the bar at that point pretty much talked through the performance, and while I wasn’t enthralled with the music, I was somewhat annoyed.

When The Books started, things quieted down in the bar considerably, and Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong took the stage and played along (guitar and cello respectively) to pre-recorded music and syncronized video backdrops. With their complex arrangements, I figured that would be the setup, but the remarkable part of the show was how well they sucked you into their little sound world and made you almost hold your breath a little as the show progressed.

Songs were slightly extended in places and changed in nice little ways that seemed to fit the live environment better. Their rendition of “Take Time” (and accompanying visuals) had me laughing aloud, while quieter songs like “Twelve Fold Chain” mingled subtle, almost hypnotic visuals with the understated but engrossing songs. At many times during the show, their music (along with video clips from found videos procurred from thrift stores), touched on a sort of simple and yet beautiful humanity that I’ve always loved about their music. They manage to capture those little awkward, touching, and slightly silly moments that come from simply being a human and distill those thoughts and feelings down into musical vignettes. On top of the above, Zammuto and de Jong seem like such nice, down-to-earth fellows that you just want to walk up and give them a big hug.
Needless to say, it was completely worth the drive and ticket price, and since I already owned all their CDs, I made sure to buy a t-shirt. As seen in the graphic below, I even got them to sign a CD. If they come to your town, please go see them.

The Books signed my CD