Smile Politely

Different styles converge at Iron Post

Megan Johns, Zachary Bell Grant, John Hoeffleur, and Ave Marling at the Iron Post: June 2, 2009.

Something I can really appreciate about a local show is the variety of music that can be seen in one venue, in one evening. Such was true about the lineup of four acts hosted by the Iron Post and Smile Politely this past Tuesday. Along with a handful of loyal locals, I braved the impending storms to make it out for one dollar pints of PBR and some good tunes.

Act One showcased the incredible voice of young Champaign native Megan Johns. While the crowd was still filing in, Megan opened with “Fog,” which seemed rather timely and fitting, as the weather outside went from partly cloudy to mostly gloomy. Her quiet, but powerful voice complemented her guitar skills in the new tune “By the Way,” and further highlighted her talent with “Sunday Drive.” What truly impressed me about Megan was her ability to take the attention of the crowd off of the Cubs game and onto the stage; she was a perfect opening act for an evening at the Iron Post.

Organic farmer / local musician Zachary Bell Grant was on tap for Act Two. I had the chance to chat with Zack before his set, but unfortunately had not heard anything of his before. As a matter of fact, this was only his second live performance as a solo artist. Zack seemed a bit nervous before taking stage, but he accredited it to the weather. (Turns out organic farmers really like rain.) By the time Zack took the stage for his sound check, the rain was coming down hard and Zack showed no signs of anxiety whatsoever. Even shortly into his second song when a problem with his amp turned the show acoustic, Zack didn’t miss a beat. His Dylan-esque voice and style accompanied by simple, but forceful lyrics were a definite contrast to the previous act. Zack even covered a Blood on the Tracks number (“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”) to close out his set.

Former Beauty Shop frontman John Hoeffleur showed up after Zack, but before playing, John realized he had 12 minutes to “pound a beer,” before performing Act Three. Inspired by the crowd, John walked on stage, beer in hand and jokes up sleeve. By far the most charismatic act of the night, Hoeffleur encouraged the crowd to illegally download music, stating “it’s 2009, time for revenge. Remember that Skid Row CD you paid $17.99 for back in ’91? Well you deserve this!”

Comedy aside, John performed a handful of Beauty Shop favorites, to the praise and by suggestion of the local crowd. John even mentioned that he did not make a set list, asking fans to recall favorites. After a few more jokes, mostly knocking local cover acts, John played a Leonard Cohen tune, and closed with a solid rendition of the Misfits’ “Astro Zombies.”

Finally, the fourth and final act of the evening, Ave Marling, a female duo out of Nashville came to play. And they brought more than just a couple of guitars. The accordion, the banjo, and a stomping board were among their slew of instruments. Their eclectic style is hard to describe, and not exactly my cup of tea, but they did not fail to impress and entertain. Their melodic voices backed by the strings present in most songs, carried a Decemberists-like feeling. However, when they asked the crowd to remove their hats for a “cowboy song,” they played a folk cover which had a slower and more somber beat. They followed with an original, “Riverboy,” which I would also classify as strictly “folk.” I picked up the girls’ EP at the end of the night, and have popped it in to the stereo a couple of times since, but there is something about stomping that sounds much better live than recorded. If this pair ever comes through town again, I will be sure to check them out, and I urge you to do the same.

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