Verbena / Sullen - live in Iowa City (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Verbena / Sullen

live in Iowa City (2003)

live show

The only problem with this evening was a slightly late start leaving Chicago (we left at 7:15) to get to Iowa City causing my friend and I to miss the first two bands (we arrived at 10:15). Luckily, we made it to Gabe's in time to grab a table and prepare to see Sullen. I was definitely excited to see their set since I've been enjoying their new album, Paint the Moon so much [read a review of it here. For those who don't know, Sullen is a trio from outside St. Louis. Their album came out on Tuesday, so in a sense you could call this their record release show. Their set kicked off with "Girls are Gross," a hard hitting song with vocalist/guitarist Justin shouting rapidly into the mic. For such a skinny little band, these three rock out incredibly hard. Their set was fast and furious. Shanna shouted out her vocals with such intensity that my friend and I just stared at her in awe thinking "how on earth does such a big voice come out of her?" They just ripped the audience to shreds. It was hard to tell if everybody was really getting into their set, but there were also only like thirty people in the venue that night. Their part went far too quickly as they drew more songs from their new album such as "Genepool," "All Fall Down," "No Sleep," and "War Forges On." "All Fall Down" was definitely a highlight of the set just because it's such a catchy song. Sullen's material was definitely even more dynamic live than it is pumping through a stereo. They're able to put so much energy into their set and execute so cleanly that they have a presence that exceeds them. When Sullen's set ended abruptly (no warning that it was the last song, what's the deal?), I was left wanting more. That says a lot, because although I was excited for Sullen, my level of anticipation for seeing Verbena couldn't be matched.

Verbena's been getting a fair amount of buzz on this site lately and they definitely deserve it. When Verbena plays, there's just something about them that captivates you. Scott Bondy's voice with it's southern drawl is just so hot that it burns. The music is so sexy and the way he executes it. This band is just hot. They opened with "Hot Blood" from their 1997 album, "Souls for Sale" and just went nonstop until the end of their set. Their new album, "La Musica Negra" came out last Tuesday [you can read a review of that here]. Without original bassist/backing vocalist Anne Marie Griffin in the band anymore, lots of people are worried that the sound will be lacking. Fear not, fair listeners, the live show is just as sexy as it's always been. Bondy delivers everything with such seriousness and intensity that the audience just watches him in awe. Sometimes its easy to forget that other members even exist, he dominates the stage so completely. Then, just when you've forgotten that anybody else is around, drummer Les Nuby will pull through with a drum sound so powerful, it's easy to hear the Dave Grohl influence from their second full-length "Into the Pink" which he produced. Then out of the corner of your eye you'll notice bassist Nick Daviston rocking out on his own on the side of the stage. From the new album they played "Killing Floor (Get Down On It)," and the first single, "Way Out West." Their bluesy rock style really shows their Alabama roots. Slower songs from the new album such as "All the Saints" and "Camellia" left me wanting to hear "The Song That Ended Your Career," but alas, we can't always get what we want. The highlight of "Camellia" was definitely that for everybody standing by the stage, we were graced with Shanna from Sullen belting out the lyrics along with Scott from where she was sitting on top of her gear a few feet from the stage. She added the female harmonies from the album version without actually intending to. They also played "The Desert" from Souls for Sale. When the band left the stage their first time, I felt like their set was just a bit too short. For the encore there was a cover of "My Funny Valentine" and the ever sizzling song, "Pretty Please." Listening to Bondy deliver lines like "we can kiss with open mouth" and "we can play submission, I love to play submission," I'm pretty sure every girl in the audience melted into a puddle. The band then proceeded to just rock out for what felt like ages, just completely jamming out in a way that with any other band, I would've been ignored. But let's face it, I'm biased, and in my eyes, the only wrong Verbena can do is not playing long enough, and I would've liked a slightly longer set. I left happy though, and hurried back to Chicago to dream sweet dreams of a world where Verbena played nearby at least once a week.