The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Iowa City Proves to Be a Turning Point for Soul Glo

The musky air of the upper room at Gabe’s reeked of tobacco, sweat and spilled liquor Labor Day night. Two previous performances from local Iowa City hardcore bands Thought Wrong and the recently formed Bootcamp, had rowdied the crowd up, inciting a frenzy of moshing and stage diving. However, these performances weren’t packed, and everyone knew who the stragglers hugging the walls outside were waiting for: Soul Glo

Formed out of Philadelphia, this trio (sometimes quartet) of punks could never have expected the fanfare they were going to receive in this small college town trapped in the Midwest. Touring to promote their 2022 album Diaspora Problems, they hardly have the following to justify this turnout, having only 65,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. The lead single off this album, “Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass?),” however, has over a million plays on the site, indicating their potential for a wider appeal to audiences in the future. Soul Glo has been moving away from their lowkey acts these past few months, playing at Coachella and accumulating prestige along with riches. So, riding the wave of hype following their performance at one of the most famous music festivals in the world, it wouldn’t be unfair of them to assume that this gig at a dive bar in Iowa City would matter very little in the grand scheme of their careers. 

Image via Jayce Bertrand

But the band, as well as most of the audience, would soon realize how wrong this sentiment was. Between Bootcamp stepping off the stage and Soul Glo setting up their equipment, more and more people began pushing into that upper room. They crowded the bar, the sides of the stage, and the stairs leading up from the downstairs entrance. While the two opening performances were attended mainly by die-hard local hardcore punks who make the scene their religion, the more average audience member with a taste for hardcore music began making their way towards the stage. Before, you could stand in the front row and avoid the mosh pit altogether. Now bodies crammed together and mixed sweat. There was no choice but to move with the rest of the crowd. This was all before sound check even began. By the time lead vocalist Pierce Jordan stepped onto that stage, the excitement in the air was palpable. People of all walks of life, all types of style, had come to watch this band with no more than 65,000 monthly listeners perform. 

A brief reprieve before I detail that performance. Just as guitarist GG Gueverra and drummer TJ Stevenson began to tune and check their instruments, Jordan stepped off the stage, right into the crowd in order to grab some drinks. As he moved towards the bar, a young fan stepped in his way, eagerly holding out their hand and gushing about how excited they were for Soul Glo to play. Jordan shook their hand and thanked them, and to my surprise, he stayed in his position, talking to them for more than five minutes before carrying on towards the bar. I can’t begin to imagine how touching of a moment this must have been for Jordan: a fan absolutely exhilarated to be just talking to him. It was at that moment that I was totally sold on Soul Glo.

Pierce Jordan scowling into the camera. Image via Jayce Bertrand

I had frequently played their songs “Driponomics” and “We Wants Revenge” (a personal favorite of mine) on my show with KRUI, but you can never be sure about an artist until you encounter them live. Jordan embodies that authentic excitement of an up-and-coming artist that is so rarely seen in this age of industry plants and one-hit-wonder TikTok stars. There’s a poster framed at the entrance of Gabe’s, showcasing the moody faces of Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Chad Channing, Nirvana’s drummer before Dave Grohl joined around 1990. Nirvana performed at Gabe’s a year earlier in 1989, before Nevermind ever released and before the band skyrocketed into international fame. At that time it was just three twenty-somethings who wanted to share their music, never knowing how famous they would ever become. One must imagine if Soul Glo could follow a similar trajectory. 

Now the performance. Jordan offered few words to introduce the band before erupting into an opening jam, causing the crowd to immediately begin a frantic and chaotic surge of moshing and pushing and head-banging. The front row was no longer a safe zone, a fact which I can personally attest to, as the people behind me shoved forward, not out of aggression, but out of a hardcore love of the music. Jordan attempted to walk across the edge of the stage, only to fall right on top of me before joining in the moshing for a few seconds. Throughout the performance he played to my camera, making faces and posing for uber-punk photos. Meanwhile, GG Gueverra shredded his guitar like a maniac, throwing himself into the music as the audience members closest to him gestured, no, begged for him to keep going. After that initial jam, Stevenson took off his shirt, already sweating from the sweltering heat that was filling the packed room. 

Image via Jayce Bertrand

After a few of their lesser-known songs, Soul Glo exploded into “We Wants Revenge,” one of their more popular tracks. The audience responded accordingly; it was at this point that stage diving began, something the band gleefully encouraged in typical punk-fashion. Not a single person was staying still during this song, either due to their own love of the performance, or from the overwhelming wave of bodies pushing towards the stage. Jordan’s mic consistently struggled to carry his voice over the crashing drums and shrieking guitar, but this was a song that needed no vocal support; everyone in the crowd recognized Gueverra’s hectic riffs, and they sang right along with Jordan. 

As “We Wants Revenge” died down, a moment of levity took the stage, and if Soul Glo ever finds itself having a biopic made about them, this moment would be the end of the first act, right as the fun began. Panting and sweating, Jordan just barely managed to gasp out a single sentence: “We had no idea so many people were going to be here.” The crowd erupted into applause and municipal pride, but his sentence continued to ring throughout the room; this band had performed at Coachella, they were embarking on a tour of Japan in the coming months, but the fervent people in Iowa City are what surprised them. This turnout could prove to be the climax of their early career, when they realize just how popular they are becoming. 

Image via Sammond Hamuel

There’s no telling where Soul Glo is bound to take off in the near future. Perhaps the industry will never be ready, or willing, to return to the alternative scene that brought that other Gabe’s headliner fame in 1991. Or, there’s a chance that people want new music and new sounds by new people who previously had no connection to the industry; the latter is most certainly proven by the turnout for this performance. Wherever Soul Glo heads off to, though, I am certain Iowa City will remain a turning point for the band, marking the moment they realized just how much of a draw they were for venues, and how special their sound really is.