Changes: Gas Lamp, Adam Brimeyer, and Eleven Moons
Updated: Oct 13, 2022
It’s been a while since I’ve been to Gas Lamp, apparently. When I arrived on a recent Friday night for a show, the old main door was locked with instructions to use the other door down the street. And that door was locked, too, not to be opened until sound check was complete. So there we stood, perched on the narrow sidewalk like a flock of pigeons as the half songs and random tones of the soundcheck shook the window behind us like the grumbling of a hungry belly.
I casually conversed with the half-recognized faces from past shows shared as an audience. Like good Midwestern strangers we commented on the weather and how it was a nice night to stand around outside, at least. I openly wondered what else has changed inside, as this new door thing meant that we’d be entering the venue via the “smoking patio” where no one was supposed to smoke but they definitely smoked. And not just tobacco. I mused out loud if smoking weed on the patio was now verboten and was met with a lukewarm courtesy chuckle.
It was a tough crowd.
But luckily it wasn’t me who was performing that night. It was the recent break-out group from Ames called Eleven Moons, followed by longtime Iowa City fixture Dead Larry. I was pretty excited for Eleven Moons and more than happy to shell out the fifteen clams to see them.
Having not purchased tickets in advance and almost never carrying cash, I had to visit the ATM to get my cover money. To make it “worth” the service fees for using an ATM, I always take out more than I need. I know that makes little sense as that just means I’ll spend that money faster and easier than if I’m running a card for my bill, but “that’s how they getcha.” So I enter a request for a hundred bucks and I stand there terrified as fives start to spit out, one after the other, ka-thunk ka-thunk ka-thunk, twenty times into a fat stack that I’ll never be able to fold into my magnetic money clip. But I guess it makes sense for what is essentially a bar, to load your ATM with fivers.
I go back up to the ticket stand and peel off three bills like some douchebag richy-rich tipping a valet. I figured as long as I was flush with fives I should have some fun with it. I get my hand stamped and I’m in; the night has begun. I make my way to the interior of the venue, taking note of the various “no smoking” signs all over the patio area.
Those familiar with Eleven Moons know that the various members have crossed paths as band members of other groups, most notably Witch Tiit. Eleven Moons’ front person V Ellsbury plays bass in Witch Tiit, for example. As such, any Witch Tiit adjacent band always carries with it a carnival flavor. Tonight is no exception. More than a handful of audience members are clad in pointed witch hats and wildly patterned outfits.
Near the stage, by a pillar, stands an altar. This is for the late Adam Brimeyer, who passed away suddenly earlier in the week. He was only 39-years-old. I hear it was one of those things like a pulmonary embolism that just came out of nowhere and poof, show’s over. But I don’t know for sure what happened, and I don’t ask. That’s tacky. I mean, I’m curious and it’s kinda my job to ask, but I’m not a ghoul.
On the altar stands a lit candle, musical knick-knacks and accoutrement, and a full shot of Jameson.
Adam was a musician and “sound guy” who was a fixture of the former Ames venue DG’s Taphouse, which closed not that long ago. He was a part of several successful projects such as Electric Jury and most recently November Hotel. He also coached and coaxed V Ellsbury through a tough time in their earlier career and life in Ames, pushing them to keep at their craft and always improve as a musician and a person.
Now, like DG’s, Adam is gone, leaving behind a gaping hole in the sparse Ames scene. Eleven Moons will tonight dedicate their performance to him.
I peel off another couple fives from my fat stack of cash for a beer. I make the rounds in the room, saying hello to the people I know and tentatively nodding to the people I think I think I know, but I can’t be sure from where. I’m talking about a lot of changes right now, but that’s one thing that’s consistent: if you play out or at least attend a lot of live music in the Des Moines scene, you’re bound to know someone at every show. Or at least think you know someone. Des Moines ain’t that big.
I chat with V a bit, who assures me that I want to stick around after Eleven Moons goes on to check out Dead Larry. I awkwardly admit I’ve never heard nor heard of Dead Larry before tonight, but like I said earlier it’s been a while since I’ve been out, and I haven’t been too good about attending shows that I wasn’t involved in in some way to begin with.
V takes the stage with their band and a few tentative notes ring out as people get in position. The crowd cheers. V greets the crowd in a somber way and explains that tonight the music is all for Adam. They encourage people to contribute to Adam’s altar. I nervously wonder if someone has already bogarted the shot of Jamie.
The music begins and it is, of course, brilliant. Anyone I’ve talked to about Eleven Moons is already sick of me suggesting that V is the secret love child of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Maybe I’m biased, but Eleven Moons is the most exciting act to bust out in Iowa since Hex Girls.
What’s even nicer is that, despite a couple instances of feedback, the sound engineer tonight has managed to wrestle the mix into a quality balance. People who have been to Gas Lamp at least once know that the room is hard to control sonically. Most of the time the mix is too loud, or too muddy, or too something. You can expect bands to be constantly motioning to the booth to bring up this or that in their monitors. But not tonight. I don’t know who the sound guy is, or if Gas Lamp invested in a new sound system or something, but it’s pretty tight. It’s not xBk good, but it’s tight. Maybe Adam’s spirit is with us, lending a hand and blessing the audio inclined with a quality mix.
I try my hand at photography during the gig. I have my talented wife’s camera kit with me, trying to let the camera do the work. I grimace at the camera screen. My shots suck. But I keep trying. I kneel here and there, pretending to know what I’m doing. Maybe I can get away with Photoshopping my images in post. Maybe I can get away with claiming they’re “artistic interpretations of reality.” Maybe I should just put the thing away and hope for the best when I go back to edit what I already shot. I opt for the later and pay more attention to my beer and to the magic happening on stage.
Eleven Moons plays a solid set. They do a Lionessa deep cut from V’s solo material, because that’s what Adam would know best. They close with Riders on the Storm; always a good idea to close with a cover to finish with a bang. The band steps down and the transition to Dead Larry begins. I slip outside to talk to V and the band as they take a smoke break, notably completely outside the patio area, although so adjacent to the open walls so as to not make a difference.
“I was in a pretty dark place when I moved to Ames,” reflects V between drags. “I lost my dad and I was just in a kind of downward spiral. When I came to Ames people [like Adam] encouraged me to not only be myself but do what I love, and that’s what I’m doing now as best as I can.”
I sit down on the patio with Greg Bruna, who is sitting in with Eleven Moons tonight. I screw up and my voice recorder doesn’t record the interview, but I’ll never forget the first words out of his mouth as I held that muted recorder in his face: “He’s not a guy I like to talk about in the past tense.”
Greg reflects on Adam’s life: a life lived in service to his friends and the bands on his various stages around Ames and Des Moines over the years. How he was a solid guy, a brilliant musician, and a fair critic if he didn’t think you were playing to your potential. He was one of those guys who could essentially tell you you sucked but in a way that makes you glad to know it; leaving you with faith and confidence that you can do better.
As I sit and write this article, I let Adam’s influence wash over me and not beat myself up too much about my stupid recorder mistake or my crappy photography. I can do better, I know it, and I will do better.
The set break ends and Dead Larry takes the stage. They’re a lot of fun, with a New Member Charles vibe, but I’m old and tired and full of feelings about Adam now. It’s 11:30 and I head for home, out the way I came, past patrons surreptitiously vaping in the venue, on the “no smoking” patio.
I think about change. I think about loss. I think about tomorrow.