Artificial Stars
Gig Seeker Pro

Artificial Stars

Sioux City, Iowa, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2017

Sioux City, Iowa, United States
Established on Jan, 2017
Band Alternative Indie




"Shining bright: Artificial Stars values efficiency and high energy"

Despite what the band’s name may imply, Artificial Stars had a completely organic creation.

Friends Jeff Koithan and Neil Strub were looking to start another group, ultimately deciding to share singing and guitar responsibilities. Drummer Luke Sweeney provided a space to jam -- an upstairs attic barely big enough to fit their equipment -- while Koithan coaxed musician Jesús Iñiguez to meet them all at their first practice to play bass, the first time he would ever play the instrument.

“That’s kind of all she wrote,” said Strub. “We basically just said, ‘Hey, let’s just have some fun and write some songs. Keep coming back if you want to.’ And we just kept doing it.”

The persistence paid off when Artificial Stars played its first “official” show at the Woods Unsigned Battle of the Bands 11 on October 21 at The Marquee.

The band had previously jammed during an open mic night but had no prior bookings.

The song ideas and riffs that had been steeping inside the minds of Koithan and Strub would finally be put to the test. Artificial Stars showed off its ability to draw from multiple genres of music, finding a happy middle ground between heavy alternative rock and pop. As a result, the group attracted a large crowd and kept their attention with an energetic stage show, eventually earning first place in the competition.

“It was a really nice feeling to win our first time out there,” said Sweeney. “I feel like we have something here that’s pretty good. I feel like this is the best project I’ve been involved in. It was nice to have that reaffirmed.”

Much like the band’s beginnings, creating songs feels natural. Building upon another member’s idea is not only welcomed with open arms, it’s encouraged. The songwriting process and stage show also seem to go hand-in-hand. Strub aspires for the band to play quality songs while also delivering a performance the audience can move to, an attitude shared by his fellow bandmates.

“When you’re at a concert, I don’t want you to just be like, ‘Oh I can just listen to the CD and have the exact same experience,’” said Strub.

Everyone is on the same page, especially when it comes to egos. Strub said, “None of us really give a sh** about being a prima donna or being the front man or being ‘the best’ in the band.” And as a result, the guys don’t set restrictions for themselves or the band. They won’t toss away a song because it doesn’t fit their genre (although don’t expect a country song by Artificial Stars any time soon).

“For the most part, we all have similar tastes in music and we all have the same goals,” said Strub. “We’re all talented enough to not lean on somebody or follow somebody else.”

But don’t expect the band to play a show when it’s not 100 percent ready. Sweeney said he’s a stickler about booking shows until the material is ready. Simply put, he “doesn’t want to suck.”

“I really want to put on a good show and that’s important to me,” he said. “And I feel like I’m in a group now where everyone is capable of putting on a good show.”

Everyone will get their chance in the spotlight at one point or another. That wasn’t a detail that was really discussed or agreed upon – it just came natural.

“You’re gonna get a solo here and I’m gonna get a solo here,” said Strub, pointing to his bandmates. “You’re going to sing this song. I’m going to sing this song. Luke is going to throw his sticks around and rock out. We’re just going to have all this fun and play off each other’s energy.” - Christopher Braunschweig, The Sioux City Journal (Weekender)

"BAND6k RECAP: Talented sets all around, Artificial Stars gets the gold"

Last week’s BAND6k competition was a true test of talent, and as far as I’m concerned everyone passed.

Artificial Stars, Spencer Aspleaf and Lil Red & The Medicated Moose Band are a testament to the amount of musical expertise Sioux City has at its disposal. Not a single act delivered a weak performance that night, even when the odds were stacked against them.

On paper, I assumed Artificial Stars would move on from the preliminaries as the clear winner so long as nothing “bad” happened. Lil Red & The Medicated Moose Band is a great group and was one of my favorite acts from last year’s Road to Vegas 2, but I couldn’t picture the husband-and-wife duo overthrowing a largely electronic and energetic band like Artificial Stars. Aspleaf had prior experience performing in Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City’s annual battle of the bands as a guitarist for Port Nocturnal, but solo artists – no matter how good they are – tend to struggle in the preliminaries.

To make things worse, Artificial Stars was chosen to perform first. Meaning the two bands that I had initially doubted were going to follow the group I expected to win outright. In the end, Artificial Stars did win over its opponents, but it didn’t come easy. Judges deliberated for quite some time trying to find a winner, which is always a good sign and speaks to the strengths of all three bands – especially Aspleaf and Lil Red & The Medicated Moose Band.

The four-piece rock band experienced a brief delay before kicking off the set with a flurry of catchy, energetic songs. Coaxed by singer and guitarist Neil Strub watch the show from the front of the stage, Artificial Stars attracted a sizable and expressive crowd of fans. Those who took Strub’s advice were treated to a vastly dynamic stage show with no added fluff or bells and whistles to distract from the band’s play.

Artificial Stars does not sit still for a more than a brief moment. Part of what made the band’s set so engaging was the sheer authentic enjoyment expressed by every band member. Singer-guitarist Jeff Koithan and bassist/back-up vocalist Jesús Iñiguez would frequently play alongside each other and their fellow bandmates during a lick or riff midway through a song. These interactions were natural and exciting to watch and helped drive the mood of Artificial Star’s repertoire of largely uplifting, indie rock power ballads.

But Artificial Stars wasn’t without its faults. Many of the band’s three-part harmonies between Strub, Koithan and Iñiguez sounded jumbled and out-of-sync. Sometimes all three singers would belt their parts into a simultaneous mess of noise that could just have easily worked out better if they had staggered their parts and have only one singer cemented in the forefront. What did work well vocally was the shifting of lead vocals between Koithan and Strub -- the former had a bright, slightly pop punk characteristic to his voice while the latter was more hardened and rough around the edges.

Drummer Luke Sweeney was the backbone to Artificial Stars, keeping everyone in time and in check. His snappy, confident drum work rarely ever bolstered a bombastic drum solo, but it certainly didn’t go unnoticed. Like his bandmates, Sweeney was still able to have some fun with his play, putting on his own show in the background. Individually, every member was on point. There was no half-assing this set. The passion was there, plain as day. And the energy was wildly contagious.

Artificial Stars would be a tough band to follow. At least, that’s what I initially thought.

However, my apprehensions about whether the remaining acts could deliver performances as strong as the opening band were quickly thwarted as soon as Spencer Aspleaf began to play. Well, almost. A brief sound issue persisted through Aspleaf’s opening cover tune, “Georgia on My Mind.” Strangely enough, the song didn’t sound too bad even though Aspleaf’s guitar had some sort of output issue. The audience heard the clipping of strings and Aspleaf’s delicate, smoky voice. Luckily, that latter element was all we really needed to hear.

In previous battles, I had praised Aspleaf on his guitar prowess in Port Nocturnal, but I had never heard him sing before. An audience member I spoke with described his voice as “vulnerable,” which I found very fitting. Whether he was singing a cover song or an original, there was always emotion behind it. And best of all, the audience genuinely listened to him sing. With Aspleaf onstage as a one-man acoustic show, he single-handedly changed the vibe of Anthem into more of a dive bar or coffeehouse setting.

Credit to Aspleaf for being completely unfazed performing as a solo act following a well-rehearsed rock band – usually it’s the other way around, but he took it in stride. He wasn’t a deer in the headlights. He wasn’t intimidated. In fact, he was probably the most relaxed musician I had seen onstage throughout the three years of this competition.

Somewhere in the show, Aspleaf revealed that he sustained a hand injury some time ago and was told that he might not be able to play guitar again. Could have fooled me, man. His play was stellar, and he’d sway along to his songs with his eyes clenched shut, listening and feeling the vibrations as he played. The only time his performance faltered is when he elevated his voice to a full-on shout during a Kurt Cobain-style cover of “In The Pines,” a version that is supposed to be a little jarring especially near the end. But despite his best efforts, Aspleaf had trouble getting to that comfortable shouting volume.

Everybody likes to root for the underdog, and by the time Aspleaf had finished his set, I realized he wasn’t. In the back of my mind, I knew it was a long shot if he made it through to the next round, especially when half of his set consisted of cover songs. But Aspleaf gave us a strong performance and commanded the audience’s attention with only his voice and a guitar. I was beginning to think this was a David and Goliath story in the making.

Then came Lil’ Red & The Medicated Moose Band, a husband-and-wife duo that performed at Road to Vegas 2 in one of the most entertaining preliminary rounds I’d ever witnessed in the competition. Aided only by their drummer last year, Matt VanMeter, the duo came off as an extremely personable group with emotionally rich songs. For its BAND6k performance, I was expecting more of the same. What I did not expect was a fully-fledged band backing Tiffany and Bryan Jurries.

Noah Towns was on keyboard while Drew Paulsen played a stand-up bass. These two additions helped lift Lil’ Red & The Medicated Moose Band to another level sonically, giving the group a much more well-rounded sound and allowed the band’s songs to resonate even stronger. At times, that full sound got the better of the band and would clash with and overwhelm its two singers, but was otherwise a smart addition. While the actual stage performance is noticeably less active than some other bands like Artificial Stars or Goobye Old Friend, Lil’ Red & The Medicated Moose Band make up for it with their titular duo’s likable stage personalities and their damn good songwriting.

Bryan was in charge of most of the audience chit-chat partly due to his wife’s bronchitis, which, I thought, wasn’t even noticeable. But that doesn’t mean Tiffany’s personality didn’t shine through in the band’s performance. Her bright and bubbly voice perfectly complemented her husband’s twang-y, honkytonk vocals. When Bryan sang, he’d often lean towards his wife with a big ol’ grin on his face as if he was trying to charm his way out of an argument. Tiffany would answer by rolling her eyes and ultimately break a smile.

The couple’s obvious love for one another plays to their advantage musically. The love songs they sing suddenly have meaning and give off the affection that helped inspire them. Sure, there’s emotion driving these original tunes, but what’s really impressive is the emotion coming out. I don’t know how someone could feel unhappy listening to Lil’ Red & The Medicated Moose Band.

When the battle finished, I realized it was a lot closer than I initially predicted. No one played as if they had already been defeated. Last week’s BAND6k battle felt less like a competition and more like a showcase of experience and talent. I’m glad I wasn’t a judge that night. Although Artificial Stars was named the winner, I distinctly remember a clashing of names when host Brad Streeter asked the audience who they think won the battle.

That’s something every band that competed should be proud of. - Christopher Braunschweig, The Sioux City Journal (Weekender)

"BAND6k RECAP: Artificial Stars go the distance in second round"

The second round of the BAND6k battle of the bands is a chance for the remaining acts to further enhance their sets, iron out the kinks and apply the judges’ constructive criticism. I was happy to see Rev and Artificial Stars did exactly that at last week’s battle. During the preliminaries, Rev had a tough time exuding the right energy for songs; likewise, Artificial Stars suffered from mangled three-piece harmonies. Not only did the two competing acts correct those mistakes, they gave us more to latch onto.

Rev was chosen to play first. The Sioux City hip-hop artist and his DJ crew of ALX and Dabski were having some technical difficulties right off the bat. Luckily, the problems were only video related. As soon as the two flat screens above Anthem displayed a blank image during the intro, ALX quickly motioned the problem to the Hard Rock staff. After the battle, I was told the venue had not plugged in its HDMI cable to the TV. Although it was a cause of distraction early on into the set, the problem was fixed. Rev and his DJs didn’t call attention to it and played it off cool. By the second song, everything had been fixed.

The rapper was as personable as ever and would often spend downtime between songs to interact with the crowd. He appeared to be in good spirits for this set and was working his ass off to engage the crowd through his songs. While the DJs helped to enhance the audio and visuals of the set, it was up to Rev to control the energy and emotion of songs like “Insomnia” and “Famous,” a task I believe he more than accomplished. Compared to his preliminary performance, Rev was much more focused. His vocal performance alone emanated confidence and unabashed vulnerability. Moreover, he had the audience hooked.

Despite only really having one party song (“Drunk”), Rev managed to intrigue his audience and convince them to listen closely Beats were loud enough to leave an impact but not overly robust as to drown out the rapper’s distinctly sharp vocals. As his set went on, more and more concertgoers made their way to the front of the stage. The connection between artist and audience was there. Even the folks sitting behind tables were bobbing their heads to some of Rev’s songs.

Probably the rapper’s greatest attribute is his way of engaging the audience. Whether it’s through a self-deprecating gag in between tracks or the way he owns up to his lyrics or how willing he is to share honest experiences with us, Rev has a way of making bonds with the listener.

When it came to Rev’s set as a whole, it is clear there was a focus on variance. Between all those down-and-dirty emotional raps, Rev switched things up with a fun song that required audience participation, and two stints featuring special guest signer Shawn Fertig to provide a live hook. However, the set suffered from too much familiarity. We got what I felt was a more polished version of his preliminary show. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I would have liked to seen a different set list.

Rev’s most ambitious move was to bring in a full band (à la C-Note?) for his closer. With Steve Carlson on drums, Josh Ronfeldt on guitar and Billy Pelchat on bass, Rev finished the set stepping back into his One Pimp Avenger days with a cover of Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade.” I don’t know what it is about these collaborations, but I can’t get enough of them. Rev’s vocals paired well with the high energy cover, and his band’s play was on-friggin’-point. Technical difficulties aside, Rev vastly improved from his previous set in the BAND6k battle of the bands.

But so did Artificial Stars.

Compared to the Sioux City rock band’s previous battle, Artificial Stars’ sound was significantly heavier. In fact, there just seemed to be a different air about the stage this time around. Instead of the casual and sometimes spritely indie rock vibes, we were shown a different side to Artificial Stars. Not quite punk, not quite garage rock, not quite arena rock – but somewhere in the middle of all three. That sudden dynamic shift was something I was not initially prepared for but more than happy to accept graciously. What struck me was that the band didn’t gradually ease in to this new identity; Artificial Stars attacked it head on with explosive fury.

During the band’s preliminary round, I praised the members of Artificial Stars for their expressive and energetic performances onstage. And I’m happy to see that has not gone away. Bassist Jesús Iñiguez is permanently upbeat and is always looking for a chance to play alongside his fellow guitarists Jeff Koithan and Neil Strub. Iñiguez is at his most enjoyable when he’s allowed to play some of the more bouncy grooves in the Artificial Stars repertoire. He can’t contain himself.

And neither can Koithan for that matter. The singer-guitarist was the star of the show. He bounded around the stage as if he was an energetic ball containing essences of pure insanity and pure musical passion. I even asked out loud to no one in particular, “What’s gotten into you, Jeff?” His vocal work was clear and distinct from Strub’s rounder, gruffer voice. The shift in vocalists is still a welcomed attribute to Artificial Stars’ show. Those iffy three-part harmonies from the band’s previous match were improved greatly. They weren’t as brash or forceful as before. I actually think some of the harmony vocals could have been slightly (just slightly) louder.

On point as usual was drummer Luke Sweeney, whose play was much more noticeable this time around partly due to the heavier sound. His precise drum work was especially impressive during the band’s more fast-paced songs, which would often culminate into these explosive instrumentals. Artificial Stars fares well with audiences looking for these intensely high moments with lots of wiggle room for rocking out, and the band did just that in front of its respectably sized crowd. Much like Rev, fans were connected to the group and its music. They clung to Artificial Stars’ every move.

This was a difficult round. Judges decided that Artificial Stars would move on to the next round. The band had a fine set and snagged the audience’s attention almost instantly. Rev delivered the goods, and I think he should walk away from the battle feeling proud. I’m just happy both competitors made improvements to their shows.

Now do it again. - Christopher Braunschweig, The Sioux City Journal (Weekender)

"BAND6k RECAP: Excellent shows from both groups, Artificial Stars claims finals spot"

I think everyone can agree last week’s BAND6k battle of the bands was one of the best one-on-one bouts to have come out of this competition. Going into the battle, there was no doubt in my mind that audiences would be treated with a wildly entertaining showcase of Sioux City-bred music. That’s what happens when you get two of the strongest and most consistent groups in BAND6k competing on one stage. Both Artificial Stars and Thick Mistress deserve high praise for their performances. This verdict would not come easy.

Performing first was the indie rock band Artificial Stars. The four-piece began its set with an intro song by Italian composer Ennio Morricone, which was then interrupted by a simple, thunderous drum beat from Luke Sweeney, queuing his remaining bandmates to strap on their guitars and start the show. Vocalists and guitarists Jeff Koithan and Neil Strub were visibly pumped, as was their always charismatic bassist Jesús Iñiguez.

When it comes time for everyone to play, they don’t skip a beat. The chemistry and cohesion is there and it’s strong. Every member in Artificial Stars has a crazy amount of energy in their play. Sweeney rebounds off the drums and remains a subtlety pivotal member, always complementing his band members’ play as opposed to being the standout instrumentalist – that title actually goes to Strub this battle.

Strub’s guitar work last week was exceptional. Artificial Stars’ instrumentation has always been rather good, but the band really let Strub have his moments in the spotlight, allowing him to really savor and work those guitar solos for the sizable crowd of fans gathered ‘round the Anthem stage. Not to be outdone by his fellow singer-guitarist, Koithan also had some time to show off his guitar chops. For a band that I normally associate with revving, fast-paced guitar riffs, it was nice to see a conscious effort in highlighting singular guitar play.

Again, part of what makes Artificial Stars so enjoyable to watch is the band’s genuine passion and love for the music. They can’t contain their happiness and they always seem to be having a good time, even when they’re sweating up a storm. Coupled with a repertoire of super-catchy tunes, it’s hard not to like Artificial Stars.

Much like the judges, it was difficult for me to pinpoint weaknesses in the band’s set. I could only think of one, and it dealt with the structure of Artificial Stars’ setlist. The band started off strong with this head-bobbing, energetic tune and then followed up with “Fake It,” a song that I feel is better suited somewhere near the middle or end of a set. The steady rhythms and swelling guitars turn the song into this exhaustive, swirling sigh of relief; the timing of the song just felt off to me.

The highpoint of the show was Artificial Stars’ performances of “Illusion” and “Bury Me.” The former is a song that just seems to inflate and get bigger and bigger before bursting completely in this massive crescendo. “Bury Me” is the exact opposite. It’s a more like a boogie-woogie rock tune with one of the catchiest choruses I’ve heard in this competition. Both of these songs were delivered with such gusto and such vigor – every downbeat in those two songs should spur some kind of movement or reaction from the audience.

There was no half-assing it this round. All four members of Artificial Stars worked hard to give attendees an energetic show -- as did the opposing group, Thick Mistress. The five-person heavy rock band has made an impact at every show it has played in this competition. Consistently bringing a loud and dynamic live show to every battle has been Thick Mistress’ biggest strong suit, and that was not about to change last week.

The band opened with yet another video intro featuring an interview with a famous musician. While I’m usually not the biggest fan of long intros, I’ve personally really enjoyed these videos showcasing artists like Dave Grohl, Lemmy and, this time, Phil Anselmo of Pantera giving expert advice to musicians and bands looking to make an impact or find success in some way. These intros serve as a Thick Mistress credo and as words of wisdom to any fledgling bands that may be watching. The only problem this time around was that it seemed like the twangy background strings accompanying the video intro were cut short, diluting the impact of Anselmo’s advice.

But none of that really mattered as soon as Thick Mistress began its set. Correction: its extremely loud set. My ears were not prepared for the amount of sound the band was producing that night. When it was all over, everything sounded muted. Talk about leaving a lasting impression. Despite my supposed hearing loss, the sound was never unpleasant to the ears. Thick Mistress sort of teeters on the edge of being a full-on metal band, as evidenced by the group’s heavy rock sound. But its place as a metal band is quickly pulled back by the soul, blues and southern rock influences adopted by the members Thick Mistress.

The band combines so many different styles into one compact product that it’s hard to nail down exactly what kind of music Thick Mistress really is. With all the bluesy guitar play from John Velasquez, the funky groove cords from Eric Meek, hard rock percussion and rhythms from Adam Crawford and Tucker Long and the wild range from singer Steve Carlson, Thick Mistress is the very definition of a melting pot. During the battle, the band would frequently change dynamics. Carlson would shift from soul singer to a metalcore screamer at the drop of a hat. Surprisingly enough it works and fits in perfectly with the overall tone of Thick Mistress.

It seemed like Thick Mistress had a goal to fill the room with as much music as possible that night. And I bet if I could actually see sound waves, I could confirm that suspicion. You couldn’t escape it if you tried. All you could do was stand there and listen and rock out. Like their opponents, the members of Thick Mistress played with genuine passion and had fun playing beside each other onstage. There always seemed to be some kind of interaction onstage. Between songs, Carlson was personable with the audience and gave credit to Artificial Stars’ performance.

He also briefly mentioned the online “feud” the bands willingly participated in to hype up the show. This was something desperately missing from this year’s competition as a whole. Who doesn’t love a little smack talk? Serious or otherwise. It’s great to see competitors have a sense of humor about the whole thing. I’m just disappointed it had to wait until the semifinals for things to get spicy.

Thick Mistress ended its set with an explosive cover of “Fire Woman” by The Cult. It was a great end to the night. If it had just stopped then, we would all be happy, I think. Deep down, I wanted both bands to win that night. Both delivered top-notch sets. This would not be an easy decision. Not one damn bit. The judges remarked on that, saying this battle felt more like a finals performance. I could agree with that. In the end, Artificial Stars was chosen to move on in the competition.

This is it. We’re down to two bands: Artificial Stars and Calling Grace. This is going to get interesting. - Christopher Braunschweig, The Sioux City Journal (Weekender)

"BAND6k RECAP: Rising stars? Artificial Stars wins BAND6k championship"

After three months and 14 rigorous battles with 23 music acts, the BAND6k battle of the bands culminated in a one-on-one grand finals match between two Sioux City rock bands: Calling Grace and Artificial Stars.

Knowing full well what both bands are capable of by this point in the competition, I deduced this particular battle would be a clash of styles. Calling Grace has a modernized approach to music with its distinct look, consistent set pieces and emphasis on creating a live show to match its marketable rock sound; Artificial Stars is about as equally prepared and rehearsed as its competitors, but is more straight forward in its performances and relies heavily on its dynamic song structures to stir a crowd’s interest. Neither of these approaches is “wrong” or stronger than the other. So what does all that mean then? It meant we were in for a good night of music.

Calling Grace kicked off the night in its usual way: a video intro. My stances on intros are well documented (short story is: I’m not particularly fond of them), but I’ve fairly enjoyed this band’s take on these show starting cinematics. This one was especially grandiose. The room went dark and the two flat screens hovering above either side of the Anthem stage lit up; a voice chronicled Calling Grace’s journey up to this point, which paired well with the interstellar visuals; they even tossed in a jab at their current opponent (“simply artificial,” it said).

When the intro concluded, that was guitarist Logan Lansink’s queue to start the show with an aggressive riff. (Editor's note: It was later confirmed that guitarist Alex Newman began the show.) Calling Grace’s fans roared in approval. These folks were easy to spot, too. If they weren’t already wearing Calling Grace t-shirts, then they were sporting green glowstick necklaces or donning headbands with alien head antennas attached onto springs. The preference for that particular color was also shared by members of the band, and they wore it proudly.

As soon as singer Shawn Fertig stepped foot onstage, he looked as comfortable as could be. This was his stage to command and he did so with great confidence and charisma. He committed himself to every song and took pleasure in hyping up the crowd gathering at his feet. At times he’d get down low to the stage and perch himself in a way that he could almost leap into the crowd, all the while deliberately connecting to his audience and listening to them sing the words to his band’s songs.

Fertig improved greatly compared to the very first battle Calling Grace played. As did Newman on guitar, who at first wouldn’t play up his guitar solos, but has since made sure to draw attention to himself during those moments. However, the guitarist I was probably drawn to the most this round was Lansink. The guy has done well blending in with his band during the rest of the competition, but this time he really stood out, making those distinct riffs feel way stronger than they have in the past – although there did seem to be an instance where he was rushing or mistimed his part

Keeping the band centered was its consistent rhythm section. Bassist Billy Pelchat and drummer Jake Rains kept everyone in check, with the latter giving yet another lively performance behind the kit. (Did anyone see him playing with one hand near the end?) After the first three or four songs, the setlist began to melt into itself and songs were becoming less and less distinct. However, there was a bit of variance midway through the set. Calling Grace brought back its pseudo-acoustic version of “No Superman” and performed two covers. The band closed the night appropriately with Simple Minds’ “Don't You (Forget About Me),” but the other cover tune was a brand new addition to the BAND6k battle, “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones. A guest vocalist played the part of Merry Clayton, delivering chilling vocals to the immediately recognizable song.

The crowd reacted well to Calling Grace’s original songs (especially “Leading To You,” which was reserved for the second to last spot in the band’s set). The look of sheer joy on Fertig’s face when he noticed his audience singing along to the band’s own tunes was absolutely priceless; by now, BAND6k regulars ought to know at least a verse or two. The combination of Calling Grace’s repertoire of radio-ready rock tunes, distinct look and attention to detail made for an entertaining rock show. Hell, the band went out of its way to turn Anthem into a place to party; even more so when Fertig flung a bag of glowing green balloons into the sea of people gathered around the stage.

What has impressed me most about Calling Grace is its uncompromising decision to market itself and treat the battle seriously, without succumbing to blatant sh** talking or draining the fun out of the competition altogether. They were prepared and they had a desire to really win the competition. Calling Grace is a band that thrives in a live environment, and it chooses to give its audience an exhilarating experience to envelopment themselves in. Much like Road To Vegas champion Arson City and Road To Vegas 2 finalist Devour Once Dead, Calling Grace relies on a pronounced look and feel to complement its hard-edged rock tunes. And the crowd loved it.

Closing the night, obviously, was Artificial Stars. As soon as host Brad Streeter finished his closing remarks and shout outs, the band burst to life. No intros, no fuss, no awkward walk on – just straight to the point. Push play. I was taken aback by how much energy the band was producing from the very start. Throughout the battle, that has been Artificial Stars’ strongest asset. These guys come ready to play and give an energetic performance. No gimmicks. No bells and whistles. Just straight up music. Every time the band has been onstage, it just seemed to get louder and more polished. I thought by now we had already seen the band turn it up to 11. I was wrong. This was straight up intense.

The newfound energy and fervor did make for a few slipups in the sound quality, at least compared to other shows from Artificial Stars. But it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It was the kind of messy playing you’d expect from a punk band, for instance. This felt natural and feral. What might have been a mistake was masked by the band’s unyielding energy. Most surprising was that Artificial Stars maintained that level of energy throughout the show. Every song was played as if it was the band’s last.

And the crowd was invested every second. Part of what makes Artificial Stars enjoyable to listen to is its structured dynamics embedded into each song. The music ebbs and flows in big ways, and the listeners react accordingly. Artificial Stars has carefully crafted its songs to make its audience move around, dance or make noise. It comes in many forms. At times it is a melodic vocal part or a catchy chorus (like in “Fake It” or “Bury Me”) and at other times it’s the inevitable instrumental breakdown. The only other comparison I can equate this method to is that of an EDM bass drop. You know it’s coming, and when it does you know you’re going to respond.

Every single member of the band was on point that night; as evidenced by the unmitigated volume of sweat that had accumulated on their faces, soaked into their clothes, and coated their instruments. Throughout the competition, Artificial Stars have consistently delivered fairly kinetic performances, but this was something else. Singer and guitarist Neil Strub was belting out his rugged vocals with a fiery intensity; his voice choked and caved in at parts, desperately forcing out those notes from deep within his gut. When Strub wasn’t singing, he was bouncing around the stage, always moving. Then again, that’s always been a habit of every member of Artificial Stars; especially the band’s charming bassist, Jesús Iñiguez, who, in addition to being a positive spirit onstage, was always going back and forth between his two guitarists, playing alongside them for short periods and slapping the ever-living sh**out of his instrument.

But the guy who really got to show off his talents on an instrument that night was singer and guitarist Jeff Koithan. The guy was completely unleashed this round. Koithan was given plenty room to show off his technical abilities as a guitarist with frequent solos and some headbangin’ guitar riffs (see “Taking Aim”). And you knew when it was time for Koithan to strut his stuff, so to speak. He’d step forward into the spotlight, arch his neck toward the ceiling and clench his eyes shut. He’d let himself go. He was in his own little world. And you were right there, a part of it all. You could see him truly feel the sweet release of music that had probably been bottled up inside him.

Behind the three guitarists was drummer Luke Sweeney, one of the best in this competition. He’s consistent, yes, but his play always feels fresh. He knows his part and he’s mastered his flow. Never once does Sweeney appear hesitant. Those sticks in his hands aren’t just tools or a means to an end -- they’re god damn weapons. He sweeps and strikes at the kit, knowing full well what he’s capable off, cutting the rhythms to manageable pieces and enhancing his fellow bandmates play and energy. And, hell, if he feels like it, Sweeney just dances behind the kit and finds time to have some fun.

This was, by far, Artificial Stars’ best performance. It was hype. It was unrelenting. It was… a real surprise. Throughout the battle, the band had done little to change its show, playing relatively the same set list of songs in a different order. And yet, every performance was greater than the next, building up to one helluva climax in the BAND6k grand finals. Judges noticed this. After much deliberation, the panel decided the winner of BAND6k was Artificial Stars.

Calling Grace gave its audience a grand show and showed off its marketable rock repertoire and tour-ready setup. Artificial Stars answered back with a tenacious performance that was full of energy, and it also managed to have its audience cling onto every song from start to finish. The crowd was feeding off that energy and was compelled to move and react and shout with explicit exuberance.

This was an acceptable end to a hard fought battle. An image from that night remains imprinted in by memory. It was the aftermath of Artificial Stars’ set. I remember seeing their faces. Their cheeks were flushed and their mouths just sort of hung open, letting air into their lungs. They hobbled off the stage like labor workers clocking out after a 12-hour shift. Koithan, Strub, Iñiguez and Sweeney just gave it their all; they worked their asses off.

I think that’s worth a $6,000 paycheck. Don’t you? - Christopher Braunschweig, The Sioux City Journal (Weekender)

"CONCERT REVIEW: Bush Heats Up Anthem in Sioux City"

On Thursday evening [June 28, 2018], Bush rocked Hard Rock Sioux City, and it is going to take some time to come back down from this cloud.

English rock band Bush played to a sold-out crowd inside Hard Rock Sioux City’s Anthem; Anthem is an intimate music venue with a capacity for just 850 people, allowing for music fans ages 21 and up to see their favorite artists up close and personal.

Sioux City’s own Artificial Stars opened the show. The alternative rock band were declared champions of the 2018 Hard Rock Sioux City Band 6k Battle of the Bands earlier this year. Part of their prize included the chance to open for three nationally touring acts at the Hard Rock within the next year, the first of which was Bush. Artificial Stars truly went all in on their brief set with a fresh, raw energy and left no one wondering how they beat out 23 other groups to win the Battle.

At 9pm it was time for the post grunge legend that is Bush to take the stage. Band members filed on and opened the set with “Everything Zen” from their debut album, and the tone for the night was set. The crowd was instantly loving it; middle-aged women squealed like pre-teens for front man Gavin Rossdale and how after all these years he still looks “so hot.” It’s hard to disagree. Rossdale looks and sounds pretty much exactly as he did back in Bush’s prime and still has the energy and questionable dance moves of a man in his 20’s. Even though it was the band’s first night out on tour for the summer, it took absolutely no time to get right into the swing of things.

The set featured music spanning Bush’s entire career, including classics like “Little Things” and “Machinehead” from 1994’s Sixteen Stone to “This is War” from 2017’s Black and White Rainbows. They even threw in a cover of “The One I Love” from R.E.M. Unfortunately, only half of the band consists of original members Rossdale and drummer Robin Goodridge. However, lead guitarist Chris Traynor, who has been with the band since just before their breakup in 2002, nails early Bush material to the point where there is little to no difference. And let’s be real, those early Bush tunes are what the people really came for.

The true highlight of the show came during the encore as Rossdale took the stage solo to serenade the crowd. With just a few guitar strums and his voice, he captivated the room with one of the greatest rock ballads ever written, “Glycerine.” He didn’t need help singing but received plenty anyway. The entire audience joined in, the guitar dropped out, and instantaneously everyone in the room got chills. How could you not?

The band received consistent crowd interaction and was visually humbled by the support of the audience. Bush continues to be a stellar live band and puts on an all-around kickass rock show that should not be missed. This summer they can be seen touring with Stone Temple Pilots and The Cult. Just don’t be surprised if you leave questioning what decade you’re in.

Sara Alexander, Contributing Writer for Go Venue Magazine - Sara Alexander, Go Venue Magazine


Artificial Stars - Beware
Released March 31 2018



Artificial Stars is an alternative/ indie rock band formed July 2017 in Sioux City Iowa. Their music materializes from deep in the souls of four Midwestern men attempting to find a safe path through this state of consciousness we call our lives. Their sound can be described as dark, introspective and brooding at times, while other times it may be fun, light, and danceable. Regardless, their songs are dripping with emotion, and it’s evident that these men pour everything that they’ve got into their music upon your first listen.


2017 Woods Unsigned Battle of the Bands champions

2018 Band6k Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Sioux City Battle of the Bands champions

Band Members