By Anika Maculangan and Evan Raefield
On Friday, October 13th, Brooklyn based alternative act Model/Actriz, alongside the local darlings of KL!NG emblazoned the stage of Gabe’s. Draped with colorful chaos and electrifying static, the band’s performance was part of the Hancher Auditorium’s talent packed Infinite Dream Festival. The show was one to begin slightly later than the average Iowa City show, starting at 9:30 PM.
The night was fueled with much enthusiasm to see the two bands, ever so sacred to the club of misfit toys. The bands presented a theater of oddities on both musical technicality and lyrical authenticity. Both groups expressed immense pride and honor in their individualities. A friend who I had seen the show with had coined it an indie sleaze renaissance, if it had been veiled under the umbrella of what is radically punk and queer. Indeed, this was a holy gospel of sorts.
As someone who has been following Model/Actriz for some time, I knew that we were in for a ride. Honestly though that’s the case at most shows at Gabe’s. In addition, I had been intrigued by a number of posters advertising the show that night with a phone number. I learned from a friend that the show was supposedly promoted directly from the opener KL!NG using that number.
From my initial position towards the back of the crowd, KL!NG, a reorganized rendition of Penny Peach, hit us with a high octane emotional rollercoaster of a set, fit with songs and tempos changing on a dime. The band prefaced one of the biggest barn burners of the night as being a “slow number”. Their sprawling suites of grimy guitars, drum breakdowns, and maniacal laughing, easily establishing themselves as a magnetic feature in the local scene. However afterwards, it was clear from the first deafening and ominous guitar chord sounding from the stage that we were in for a different beast the latter half of the night.
KL!NG. Image via John Glab
KL!NG, Iowa City’s brewing volcano of a glitter explosion, is another theme park on its own. With vocals that imbibe laughter and growling, the band is a collage of riot grrrl, punk like subtext with reiterations of garage rock. KL!NG, for their set, ignited a hyped squeal that had reached up to the ceilings of Gabe’s. They’re a band that had made me think of them as if all of Disney’s villains had organized themselves into a cult of crystal tears and black lipstick. Before and after the show, KL!NG’s members had gone around and chatted with members of the audience, visibly clasping their preeminent Y2K flip phone taking pictures with it.
As the pulsating guitar drowned out any conversations being had, the audience was drawn towards the stage, nervous with anticipation as the lights switched from a rich purple to a bright scarlet. They did not have to wait long, as the band suddenly launched into a searing rendition of “Donkey Show”, pushing the crowd into near hysteria. It was when the noise growled into the background for a moment and lead singer Cole Haden nimbly stalked forward, saying, “Hello Iowa City. Let’s get to know one another.”
Get to know one another we did. If any stragglers were not up close and personal at this point, they were certainly sonically shepherd’s hooked by the raucous explosion into “Mosquito”. One of the biggest earworms from their latest album Dogsbody, it’s primarily responsible for catapulting them into many music enjoyers lists for acts to watch. The set at Gabe’s was a nice change of pace from a 2017 Berlin show, which according to Cole, the first half saw the venue completely empty, and in the second half the promoters had them restart their set with the arrival of two spectators. That couldn’t be further from memory now, as their tumultuous sermon thundered forth to the sea of eager converts. A godless evangelist’s expression of fear, despair, rapture, and everything in between.
Image via John Glab
When prompted to describe the band’s sound using as few words as possible, lead singer Cole Haden responded definitively with the five words “If church was a party.” We all agreed that we were happy worshippers to Haden, the great preacher who emerged from the depths of Delaware. Model/Actriz is a contortionist’s mixtape. With its murky electronic distortion, interlaced with the band’s intensely fiery demeanor, their set had reminded me of of Francis Bacon’s anamorphic paintings. Tracks off the Dogsbody album like “Crossing Guard” and “Donkey Show” had circuited with quivering booms of twisted alternations, all warped.
For most of the set, Haden had been off the stage. He galivanted down below in the pits from within the crowd who had formed a circle around him, as if about to perform a ceremonious ritual. He had fomented great correspondence between himself and those of the crowd, as he would hold acute eye contact while either dancing or singing in front of individual members. What Haden projects is a sense of humanness, that ultimately breaks the barrier that stands in between the artist and the listeners. He topples that wall and invites all into a space where they’re equal. As he is on the same footing as everyone, all are given the chance to embody the band’s glorious inclination for grime and rugged storminess.
Jack Wetmore, the band’s guitarist played whirring patterns of strumming, while bassist Aaron Shapiro produced monstrous rumbles, and drummer Ruben Radlauer pummeled the drums with vivid, resounding forces. Model/Actriz is sly, tensely charged, and voltaic at which the band presents itself as the sleep paralysis that lurks beneath the bed, containing nightmares with a surrealistic mask.
Songs of remarkable performance value were “Slate” and “Maria”, which both showcased Haden’s low-pitched vocals, all the more starkly profound. There’s also some masterful instrumentation in these tracks, as they are more so experimental with electronic variance, and prolific with earsplitting beats and clangorous halos of clinking and buzzing. What Model/Actriz seems to fulfill is the artful wittiness and foxiness that stirs the musical pot into a concocted potion, mystical and cryptic.
The band rends the professional facades of other bands into oblivion with their painfully personal appeal for salvation. This is unavoidable as the noise fills one’s ears, and Haden himself stands mere inches before you, staring into your very being as his begs continue while he slithers through the audience. His groans wax and wane in volume, and his composure roils as he revels, shrinks, and contorts under the audience’s gaze.
There was an atmosphere of impending doom as the band subtly but unquestionably built upon the audience’s certainly preexisting fears, and brought them center stage. Undeniable with the fire in their eyes, limbs, and mouths. I found myself pulled forth by an inscrutable power. A craving, a need to draw closer to the source of the exhortation. As pressure built, the audience too built, bending and breaking under the sea of riffs and screams, eventually rising. Allowing myself to give in to the crowd’s influence, waves crashed at the bands’ siren song of screams.
At one point Haden hobbled across the crowd, cloth pulled about his face like the hood of an old woman whilst belting the lyrics to “Liar”. I felt the inherent crushing presence of everyday life personified in the performance before me, as he clung to the microphone stand for support. Even as the final chords of their closing rendition of “Maria” reverberated about the venue, I knew that I had attended my first mass.