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The Scarlet & Black

Ratboys and Dowsing kick off Grinnell Concerts

Ratboys and Dowsing filled Gardner on Tuesday night. Photo by Garrett Wang
Ratboys and Dowsing filled Gardner on Tuesday night. Photo by Garrett Wang
Ratboys and Dowsing filled Gardner on Tuesday night. Photo by Garrett Wang

Halley Freger

Grinnell Concerts hosted its first show of the semester on Tuesday, Sept. 6 as Ratboys and Dowsing kicked off what is sure to be an exciting fall lineup.

Ratboys started off the night with an energetic set of garage-infused indie folk. Though the name Ratboys may inspire thoughts of some dudes who live in a sewer, Julia Steiner, a powerhouse musician whose sweet voice commands attention, fronts the band.

Ratboys began their set by playing through tracks off of their latest album “AOID” in order. As the night went on, they mixed new material with songs that show off their range of subject — one song was about Arthurian literature, another was about being a “lady rocker.”

While the band played, they seemed very serious — intensely concentrated on their instruments. They kept their eyes closed and sometimes mouthed along with the lyrics. Even they were susceptible to the captivating nature of the music they play.

Although they may look and sound very serious, their music is also playful. When Julia introduced a new song called “You’ve Changed,” about her friend’s resistance to play along with a joke, she explained “she would have done it like six months ago.” Julia had tried to “ice” her friend — a game when one friend hides a bottle of Smirnoff Ice on someone who then has to chug the whole bottle when it’s found.

Whether it’s a song about the inequality women musicians face or growing apart from a friend, their music has a refreshing levity to it.

Dowsing followed up Ratboys’s set with their brand of fast, fun pop punk. Before playing, guitarist Eric Hunter Czaja announced that he has a master degree (in urban planning!), so he’s had enough of school. Although the band kept the mood light throughout their performance, they played through their set like emo machines, barely breaking between songs. Their high energy was contagious as they skillfully plowed through a selection of their newer material.

At one point, an audience member requested “Midwest Living.” a song off their 2012 release “It’s Still Pretty Terrible,” and they briefly took a moment to remember their parts before playing the unrehearsed song. Something about this particular album — it’s brooding yet determined lyrics, Midwest themes and partially screamed vocals — feels especially perfect in the context of Grinnell. Honestly, is there anything more emo than going to school in the middle of cornfields?

Although Ratboys and Dowsing have very different sounds, they are no strangers to each other. Not only are they both from Chicago, but they share a member. Will Lange plays the drums in Dowsing and the bass in Ratboys. By the end of the night, he was drenched in sweat after pulling a Springsteen and playing for about two hours straight.

This week, Ratboys and Dowsing are releasing a split 7 inch on Topshelf Records and beginning a European tour together. They’re going straight from our little Gardener basement in the middle of Iowa to Poland.

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