The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Birdlabs and Tengger Bewitch and Transfix

Images courtesy of Evan Raefield, Anika Maculangan, and Casper Bakker

On a chilly Monday night, a crowd of around 30 people assembled at Trumpet Blossom Café for an evening show. The show was assembled as a feature of the ongoing Feed Me Weird Things program; A series of events organized to bring in eccentric and abnormal performing acts to the live scene of Iowa City, whilst promoting and boosting local artists.

Early arrivals to the quaint cafe, typically closed on Mondays, were greeted by the scene of Tengger eating dinner in front of the stage. Opening act Birdlabs, an Iowa City via Chicago electronic beatsmith, charmed the audience with tasteful selections from their repertoire of releases. They saved the best for last with a blissful ambient loop and then a bouncy house bop to top off the set.

Image via Evan Raefield

Tengger, the headlining artist of the night, is a Pan-Asian trio/traveling family of musicians, currently touring North America in support of their latest self-titled release. Hailing from South Korea, they offer a transformative blend of ambient, drone, progressive electronic, and gospelesque vocals, creating a subtle but transcendental experience as the notes grow and change before the audience’s very ears.

As they began their set, the very venue around us felt as though it was expanding as their tonal bliss filled the room, as Itta flexed her vocals’ delicate but glorious reverberation. I cannot speak for everyone in the room, but I can absolutely say that the gossamer chorus over the ever-present warm hum of the synthetic soundscape turned my mind to concepts of grandeur. Electronic elements like minimalist drones and downtempo bleep-bloops combined with the inherent humanity of such instruments as the harmonium, bells, and vocals.

Image via Anika Maculangan

About midway through the set, the group played a composition of the youngest member Raai’s creation. Written during the COVID years, when the family was fractured by Marquido’s return to Japan, Raai wrote the song in order to express the feelings he was experiencing at the time. The emotion put into the song was tangible, to say the least. During the song, Raai and Itta came down from the stage with bells, went to each individual member of the audience, and played them over their heads. It was as though I could feel my connection to everyone in the room, and appreciated them thoroughly.

Faith is a hard thing to come by in these seemingly ever-dimming days. We had each come into the night unsure, and had come to find that for just a moment, we were in the right place at the right time, in the company of good people. Maybe that is faith enough. After the show, they immediately headed to their merch table at the back of the room, and personally thanked every audience member who came by. I did not hesitate in buying a CD and thanking each of them for one of the most special live experiences I’ve ever had. If the primary goal of art is to move its audience, then I would say Tengger is one of the most successful artists operating today.

Image via Casper Bakker

“If I shall ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph- ‘THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD WAS MUSIC'” – Kurt Vonnegut