Concert Review: Doctor Murdock and Underdog Story at Iowa Music Store

Waylon Sternhagen

Doctor Murdock and Underdog Story played to a packed house at the Iowa Music Store on Sept. 25. The show was part of the store’s official grand opening and the first of several music acts to be hosted there during the Maximum Ames Music Festival.

Pop-punk wunderkinds Underdog Story took the stage first. The group is one of the youngest on the festival’s bill — at least one member is still in high school — and played an enthusiastic and well-rehearsed set that seamlessly combined original material with cover songs.

Singer and guitarist Jonah Miller was ever the charismatic front man, cracking jokes and interacting with the audience between songs.  While introducing a cover of Green Day’s “Burnout,” Miller quipped that he “could’ve written it if [he] he wanted to,” drawing laughs from the crowd.

“Burnout” flowed flawlessly into another Green Day cover, “86,” via a drum solo by Gustavo Rodriguez as Jared Coleman switched guitars. It was around this time in the show that it became apparent that the drums were slightly overpowering the rest of the band, a problem that would rear its head later in the night.

For the rest of their set, the band mostly stuck to original material. Their songs, most of which have not been released, were on par with the covers. Had Miller not provided a short introduction to each song, I wouldn’t have been able to tell where the covers ended and the band’s own material began. These guys have clearly studied the masters and learned how to write a good pop-punk song.

Owing to the diverse audience that a festival brings, the crowd of 30-40 was one of the more subdued that I’ve seen at a punk rock show. Despite the lack of enthusiastic dancers slamming their bodies into each other, they were definitely intrigued by the show and clapped along with the band.

In short, these kids played a set that was tighter than the burritos rolled at Pancheros and almost as tasty.

Doctor Murdock brought something entirely different, but equally good to the table. 

As the group finished setting up their gear, drummer Jose Mendez stripped to his underwear. Meanwhile, front man Ben Fletcher Foster passed out set lists to his bandmates before offering a handmade Sharpie-on-notebook paper drawing for sale to the audience for the bargain price of $5.

And with that the band launched into “March to the Meaningless”. The song featured lead guitar work from Will LaPietra, a driving riff and several tempo shifts guided by the steady rhythm work of Mendez and bassist Adam Lyons.

Following the first song, Foster requested that the lights be dimmed. This was a wise request, as the green stage lights did more to compliment their music style than the store’s lights had. For the next hour, the band played on with very few interruptions, each sprawling jam transitioning perfectly into the next.

Mendez was incredibly ferocious behind the drums and as the night went on he seemed to attack the drums with greater and greater force. While this certainly propelled the songs forward, at times it was a bit overwhelming. Occasionally, other elements of the music were almost inaudible, most notably Foster’s vocals.

This was particularly noticeable when the band played the intro to the title track from their album “A Man from Mars on Mercury”. Mendez’s bass drum hits were like shotgun blasts and were quite jarring in contrast to the soft, almost cinematic music the rest of the band was playing.

The crowd thinned by the time the band played their last few numbers, but those that remained were incredibly passionate. Progressively louder cheers arose with each tempo change and sudden stop in the music. As the last song ended with a great crescendo, a loud ovation erupted from the crowd, capping off a great set.  

Sound issues aside, it was a fantastic show featuring two very different styles of music and a great way to kick off the Maximum Ames Music Festival. The Iowa Music Store is an incredibly intimate venue with an atmosphere unlike any other in Ames.