It’s the stunning performance of the title track of Elizabeth Moen’s new album, “Wherever You Aren’t,” that has one fan from the crowd screech, “That was so good, Liz.”
Moen, in a Robin egg blue-hued dress with her guitar strapped over her shoulder, asks her bandmates to step away for the start of a song about bittersweet acceptance.
It comes to a crescendo as the Iowa City musicians — her former bandmates — Dan Padley on guitar, Blake Shaw on bass and David Hurlin on drums return and hammer in Moen’s lyrics with every beat and strum.
“I will smile and leave,” Moen croons, her voice growing with intensity as she repeats the line.
It wasn’t the only time the crowd at Gabe’s Iowa City expressed their love for Moen, a singer-songwriter and self-taught guitarist who spent years performing in Iowa City while she attended the University of Iowa.
Moen, now based in Chicago, returned to headline at Gabe’s for the first time for an album release party Saturday night. The concert was presented by the Englert Theatre at Gabe's iconic second floor stage.
While the album debuted in early November, Moen waited for a trip Iowa City to put it on its feet.
“This is the first release show for it,” she told the crowd after a few songs. They responded in turn with loud cheers.
She then launched into a performance of “Differently” off the new album, a song Moen said she first sang at the Englert Theatre just a few hundred feet away.
“Wherever You Aren’t” was released on Nov. 11, a 10-track album about growth, life lessons and navigating adulthood and relationships.
It's Moen's fourth album after 2018's "A Million Miles Away" and 2020's EP "Creature of Habit."
What did she play?
Moen’s setlist for the evening included songs from the new album along with older fan favorites:
“Where’s My Bike”
“Ex’s House Party”
“You Know I Know”
“Wherever You Aren’t”
“Tell Me When”
If you're on a date ...
For over an hour, Moen seemed to glow on the intimate Gabe’s stage, and it wasn’t because of the warm, orange colored stage lights on.
Perhaps it was due to how she captured the audience during the slower songs of her set, or the familiarity that was evident between Moen, Padley, Hurlin and Shaw.
“I haven’t played this song in five years,” she said, about to perform 2017’s “Weary Bones.”
“But in honor of all the band being back together again, we’re going to sing this,” Moen said. “Is anyone here on a date?”
Couples, or perhaps just eager fans soaking up the interaction, responded in agreement immediately.
“Heck yeah,” Moen said. “If you’re on a date, this one’s for you. If you wish you were on a date, this one’s for you.”
Humor like that was interlaced throughout the show, like when Moen earlier dedicated her song “Emotionally Available” to anyone who considers themselves emotionally unavailable.
“All of you,” she said. “All of you.”
Or, when she skipped the usual theatrics that lead to an encore as the show neared its end.
“This is the part when I walk off stage and we pretend we’re not coming back,” she teased.
But the evening wasn’t all humor, most notably the numerous times Moen thanked the audience for coming out tonight.
Performers at Saturday’s concert included Annalibera, who opened for Moen.
Anna Gebhardt, creator of Annalibera, told the packed crowd to “just buy (Moen’s) album, OK?”
Moen told the audience Gebhardt took her “under her wing” when she first started songwriting, welcoming and easing Moen in to an industry she felt intimidated by.
“It’s thanks to people like Anna I am where I am today,” said Moen, who's music has been featured at the SXSW festival, on National Public Radio and in movie and TV soundtracks.
Later, Alyx Rush, the pop and R&B artist who performed at Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City earlier this year, joined Moen on stage to sing “Headgear,” her popular 2019 song that was featured in Showtime’s “Shameless.”
Elizabeth Moen's musical roots are in Iowa City
Moen wrote her early songs while a student at the University of Iowa. Iowa City, she said, was important to her because it’s where “everything started.”
“Years and years later, we're back together again, the friendships are still there and the musical connections are still there, and they're all just really great people too,” she said.
Moen was excited for “Wherever You Aren’t” to be released, which wasn't out yet at the time she spoke with the Press-Citizen.
She's also from the area, and the Vinton native said she is proud of the new songs.
“Sometimes that whole sped up process, I can get a little like, ‘Oh god, is this actually good?’ And then some of the times I'll go back and listen, I'm like, ‘Oh, it was still good,’” she said.
In previous releases, Moen had felt apprehensive, explaining that because of how quick her music came out after she wrote it, she questioned her work.
“There are also some songs I've released I’m like, ‘It wasn't my best, I probably should have thought more before I release that.’ But everything on this record I feel very secure about and I'm excited to feel that way. I don't feel nervous about this being out there. I actually just feel excited,” Moen said.
“Wherever You Aren’t” is available on streaming platforms including Apple Music and Spotify.
Paris Barraza covers entertainment, lifestyle and arts at the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Reach her at PBarraza@press-citizen.com or (319) 519-9731. Follow her on Twitter @ParisBarraza.
This article originally appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen: Vinton's Elizabeth Moen launches new album at Gabe's in Iowa City