The infrequently-updated site blog, featuring a range of content including show reviews, musical musings and off-color ramblings on other varied topics.
Babes in Toyland
Rock the Garden
June 21, 2015
It’s difficult for me to write about Babes in Toyland without sounding at least a little bit gushy. Like other local-ish acts from their same era that made waves beyond the confines of the Twin Cities (Bob Mould, Soul Asylum, The ‘Mats) Babes had a lore about them that was intriguing and important to a north woods-dwelling punk rock-craving youngster like myself. There was Lollapalooza in the Civic Center in 1993, the uncountable suicide runs to see them play First Avenue—down from Bemidji and back up again in the same night, just in time to make it to class the next day—and the last local reunion back in 2001. And then there was the birthday message from drummer Lori Barbero that I saved on my phone for so long that it was eventually deleted when it exceeded the allowed number of days. To say I was excited to see them play again for the first time in 14 years would be a bit of an understatement.
Following a spirted set by Seun Kuti—son of revered Afrobeat artist Fela Kuti, and brother of Femi Kuti—who, playing alongside his father’s old backing band Egypt 80, performed the best hour plus of music Rock the Garden had to offer up until this point (rivaled only by the previous night’s headliner Belle and Sebastian) the trio took to the stage to an eagerly awaiting audience.
Things got off to a jittery start with “Bruise Violet” when the three sort of fumbled over each other. It wouldn’t be the last misstep of the evening, but that mattered little, as every time they were able to laugh it off and get right back into things without must disruption. And if a lyric was missed, and there were a few, the crowd filled in for them.
Barbero took to the mic early to express her gratitude. “Minneapolis is the place to be today. I promised I wouldn’t cry.” Then with a slight tremble, “But that’s going to be really hard.”
Following along the Fontanelle tracklist, they played an inspired version “Right Now”, which had some of the elders abandoning their positions near the front of the stage; amidst a cloud of dust they turned and headed for more stable ground further up the hill.
And then it was singer-guitarist Kat Bjelland’s turn to speak. “It’s nice to be here. We missed you. Our kids are here.” She paused to point out bass player Maureen Herman’s daughter and her own son (who could be seen headbanging stage-side throughout most of the set) before stating, “I’m really happy.”
They pounded through a lengthy set that drew heavily upon the three releases that this “classic” lineup of Babes recorded: Fontanelle, the Painkillers EP, and Nemesisters. Seeing them play songs like “Handsome and Gretel” and “Sweet ‘69” in the blazing hot sun conjured fond memories of the alt/punk festival boom of the ‘90s that Babes in Toyland frequented.
During “Spit to See the Shine”, one of two tracks in set from the To Mother EP, Bjelland really let go with her signature wails, showing her vocal capabilities haven’t lost any steam over the years. It’s awesome to see the song that inspired a 2006 retrospective collection of Twin Cities bands featuring women (Spit To See The Shine: Twin Cities Women Who Rocked 1987 – 1998) take such a prominent role in the set.
Despite their outwardly bombastic sensory assault Babes in Toyland were always sneakily groovy. In the live setting songs like “Drivin’”, the lone track featuring Lori on vocals, and “Vomit Heart”, from their debut album Spanking Machine, Herman and Barbero’s pulsing rhythm section is fully realized. The first crowd surfer of the evening appeared during the latter.
It was heartwarming to see all the young people, especially the young women, making moves to get near the front. Even more so to see adults making the necessary room for them rather than posturing with the whole “I was here first” thing that happens all too often amongst the arms-folded crowd. Babes in Toyland were a fierce favorite amongst young people and catalyst for female empowerment the first time around. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be some 20 plus years later. Perhaps even more so now, given the things each of these women have experienced in the time that’s passed since then.
They wrapped up their set with “Dust Cake Boy” and came to the front to take a sheepish bow. Barbero, always the gracious one, hung back to take photos of the audience with her giant pink-cased cell phone. And the only smile that was bigger than Lori’s was my own.
Photos and complete setlist below...
Spit to See the Shine
He’s My Thing
Handsome and Gretel
Dust Cake Boy
Follow Nathan on Twitter: @OMG_NOB
All photos courtesy of Michael Speake: www.MichaelSpeake.com
Belle and Sebastian
Rock the Garden
June 20th, 2015
As a hot and humid day began its turn towards much needed cooler temperatures, Scotland’s baroque pop sweethearts Belle and Sebastian took the stage to close out the first day of this year’s Rock the Garden: an annual weekend of music hosted by the Walker Art Center and 89.3 The Current. Stuart Murdock, draped in his signature black and white striped longlseeve, and company started things off with “Nobody’s Empire”, a single from this year’s Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. Pausing for a brief acknowledgment from the crowd, they transitioned effortlessly into “I’m A Cuckoo” from 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress, which had even the most worn out folks up and dancing.
Murdock took a moment to address the audience, stating, “This is my kind of party. I do like a garden party. It’s very civilized.” And that couldn’t be any truer. For an event that’s taken some heat from critics in the past for playing it too safe (known by its detractors as “the yawn on the lawn”), this year’s first day lineup—including thestandard4rd, Lucius, Courtney Barnett, and Conor Oberst—wasn’t exactly a raucous one. (Fret not punkers, Babes in Toyland reunited for a co-headlining slot on Sunday.)
The crowd really started heating up by the time they played “The Party Line,” the disco-ish track from their latest album, which was followed by “Another Sunny Day” from 2006’s The Life Pursuit. Security took it upon themselves to douse the welcoming front row with cold water. Recognizing that they now had the audience in their palms the band took to the mic to share some crowd-popping anecdotes. “I went swimming in Cedar Lake today,” said guitarist Stevie Davis. Murdoch followed up with a quip about the (rumored) longstanding Minnesota tradition of “cornholing.”
While it was all teens and twentysomethings up front, when taking a look around the vast amount of people populating the hill the generational gap became more apparent. It's hard not describe the older contingency without using the tired “aging hipsters” axiom because by and large, that’s who it was. (Present company included.) Salt ‘n’ pepper bearded rad dads in faded Twin Tone Records tees and selvage denim, women in colorful printed slouch necks, large-brimmed hats, and Egyptian-style sandals. And then there’s their children: sporting oversized protective earmuffs while hanging in dad's BabyBjörns or playfully prancing around on Aztec-print blanket with mom. Rock the Garden, like many of Twin Cities events of similar ilk, is a people-watching goldmine. And if you were looking close enough you'd have spotted Woody Harrelson making his way down the hill mid-set. (He's in town filming a movie.)
The band, which had swelled in size to include local orchestra accompaniment, played a trio of songs that included two new ones and an older crowd favorite. “The Model” (Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, 2000) was sandwiched between “Cat with the Cream” and “Perfect Couples.” During the latter Davis retooled some lyrics to give them a local albeit clichéd flavor. “He was from Minneapolis; she was from St. Paul. He liked Prince; she liked the Replacements. But they both had an affinity for Spider John Koerner!”
The rest of the set included songs that spanned their catalog, with a focus on recent works, but the most magical moment of the evening came during the second to last song. It was the perfect convergence of sensory awareness, as day had given way to night completely, and the lighted backdrop of our beloved Minneapolis shone bright: the Basilica and downtown skyscrapers to the right; a crescent moon and three bright stars to the left. A large group of fans were invited to the stage to boogie alongside the band as they performed a stunningly beautiful rendition of “The Boy With the Arab Strap.”
They played one more and the day wrapped up as most festivals in Minnesota do at the end of the night: with everyone scrambling to cash in those remaining tickets on footlong corndogs. Civilized indeed.
Photos and complete setlist below...
I’m a Cuckoo
The Party Line
Another Sunny Day
Cat with the Cream
Piazza, New York Catcher
The Everlasting Muse
The Wrong Girl
Dog on Wheels
Dirty Dream #2
The Boy with the Arab Strap
I Didn’t See it Coming
Follow Nathan G. O'Brien on Twitter: @OMG_NOB
All photos courtesy of Michael Speake: www.MichaelSpeake.com
Shonen Knife, CJ Ramone, L’Assassins
Amsterdam Bar & Hall
St. Paul, MN
June 10, 2015
Amsterdam is a venue that’s not new by any means, but still feels to be establishing itself in St. Paul. The sound is excellent with pretty good sightlines and it holds a nice size crowd, but the booking has always been a strange variety of styles that just don’t really lean toward my liking. Recent months have gotten a little closer and I finally got back for Wednesday’s show.
With an opening set from local 4-piece rockabilly femme fatales L’Assassins, the crowd trickled in. The older sect seemed to arrive early, with a good headcount of gray hairs in the audience, and the younger arrived later in the evening, closer to the final two bands’ pre-listed set times. While as a customer I love pre-posted set times, opening bands have to hate it.
CJ Ramone played second of the three acts, and his set delivered almost exactly as expected. Perhaps something I’d say about the Ramones as a band as well—not that I had the privilege of seeing them in their day. They just seemed (among other glowing adjectives) to be extremely reliable. He was tight, to the point, and personable. Things have changed and he’s cut the locks and sports a Yankees hat instead of the leather jacket, but there’s a clear connection to his old band. The self-promotional tour t-shirt, the limited crowd interaction, etc. Even if there was only one “1-2-3-4.”
CJ’s set came from his catalog, including from the 7”, and a fair shake of his latest Last Chance to Dance, out since late 2014. The set was probably 60-40 solo material to Ramones songs, and he played a nice variety of old Ramones songs that are readily familiar but still outside of the primary canon. Songs like “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” were inserted alongside “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” and “Blitzkrieg Bop,” and the attention was tastefully on new material with a “here’s what I used to do” vibe. There was also, of course, the honest homage to his lost friends, as in the song “Three Angels.”
Shonen Knife cleaned up afterward and they lived up to expectation. It was energetic, choreographed, and tight. The synchronized riffage and bowing guitar/bass contrasted by stand-up drumming was both entertaining and a musically respectful—more playful than mocking—and the real definitive point would be the band’s enthusiasm. Over 30 years in the game haven’t dampened the mood, and drummer Emi Morimoto’s infectious smile kept the atmosphere bouncy and carefree.
The set played maybe 50% off the newest album, Overdrive, alongside older material. They shifted back and forth in pieces, pairing songs by tone, and keeping the audience involved with a chattiness that was often hard to decipher from the back of the room due to the heavy accents. It’s heartening to see bands that positive and excited about what they do, especially one this seasoned, and Shonen Knife continue to prove their mettle at a point when many musicians start to coast.
With a unified tour t-shirt (“CJ/SK”), old-timers playing from the heart was a real theme. Music knows no boundaries, nor limitations, and the CJ/SK tour isn’t a nostalgia trip. It’s about the present.
All photography by Loren Green.
7th St. Entry
June 11, 2015
Abandoning my beloved NBA Finals, I bounced somewhere during the third quarter and rushed downtown to catch White Lung. Upon landing in Minneapolis tonight the four-piece were at the mid-way point of their current North American tour. The first handful of gigs was alongside the recently reformed Refused, but tonight’s show, like the majority of the tour, they were supported by So-Cal longhair quartet Obliterations.
Obliterations are made up of guys from Black Mountain, Saviours, and Night Horse. They released an album on Southern Lord last year that I never got around to listening to. And unfortunately tonight I arrived at the 7th St. Entry towards that tail end of their set; only catching two and a half songs. I’d say they’re a metal-punk mix of D-beat, Bl’ast, and like, the Germs or Poison Idea. The singer thanked White Lung for taking them out on the road, and then antagonistically threw in, “You guys are really nice. If that’s what you want to be known for…being nice.” Someone in the audience took the bait and yelled out, “Minnesota nice, motherfucker!” Touché.
The Entry is one of the finer venues in this city to see fast and heavy music; it’s dark, intimate, has great sightlines, and is loud as fuck. It was really difficult to gauge the medium age of the crowd. Even though it was 18+ there was a large contingency from the 30s and 40s hip dude crew. As usual the in-between bands set changeover signaled the great stare-at-our-glowing-phones onslaught that is show-going these days. Tallboys of Old Style and Stag beer were on special for $4.00 but coming off a week that has already included Best Coast on Monday, and CJ Ramone and Shonen Knife last night, I steered clear of the bar and kept a level head.
Mish Way and co. took the stage for a brief tune-up—asking the soundman for more reverb in both her mic and the bass monitor— and then blazed into a trio of songs from last year’s Domino release Deep Fantasy: “Sycophant”, “Face Down” and “Drown the Monster.” Even though Deep Fantasy marked the band’s progression into more indie-rock territory, these songs, when played live were done with the ferociousness of their earlier work on Deranged.
White Lung’s hardcore punk meets couture aesthetic is part of the band’s uniqueness and appeal. Way appeared in skin tight leather pants, a designer spiked bracelet, and a slouch neck long-sleeve that hung off her shoulder exposing a tattoo and a black bra strap. Deap Vally’s Lyndsey Troy, who’s filling in on bass for this tour, was also looking exceptionally stylish in her all-over print crew neck sweatshirt and miniskirt.
By the time their second set of tunes came around they were really getting into stride and the audience responded appropriately. The strongest reception of the evening thus far came as a result “Bad Way” and “Bag” which are two tracks from their 2012 album Sorry. The area in front of the stage soon became a reeling dervish of gyrating hips and sweaty foreheads. Way expressed her appreciation. “After driving so long to get here, it’s nice to see you enjoying yourselves rather than standing there with your arms crossed like, ‘I’m too cool for music.’” Then adding, “That’s what they do in Russia.”
Aside from two songs (“Lucky One” and “In Your Home”) they played the entire Deep Fantasy album. The final four songs however, were two standalone singles—“Two of You” and “Blow it South” sandwiched between two from Sorry. Midway through “Thick Lip” Way’s mic cut out. In typical punk rock fashion she powered forward, screaming the lyrics at the top of her lungs as Kenneth William laid his signature squealing guitar licks on thick, and drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou pounded the skins with thunderous authority.
They ended the set with a vicious version of “Take the Mirror”, said ‘thanks’ and promptly left the stage, never to return. It was an abrupt ending that left the audience bewildered and wanting more. It was funny looking around the room at everybody as it settled in that they weren’t coming back for an encore. But I’m not complaining about a show getting over by 11-ish on a school night.
Drown the Monster
I Believe You
Just For You
Down it Goes
Two of You
Blow it South
Take the Mirror
Follow Nathan G. O'Brien on Twitter: @OMG_NOB
Newtown Social Club
May 29, 2015
And then there was Boris.
The Japanese unikum named after a Melvins song.
Cue labels that span the spectrum from “doom metal,” “My Bloody Valentine-style dream pop,” and “experimental” via “psychedelic,” “post-modern,” and “citation-heavy rock.”
Add smoke machines, a gong, custom effects pedals, atmospheric lighting, meticulous attention to detail and accomplished musicianship.
Songs at times so hypnotically and painfully repetitive that is gets borderline annoying, before the trio unleashes a tidal wave of heaviness that changes the dynamics, which make your intestines resonate in unison with the bottom-heavy frequencies emitted from the Orange amplifier stack, the rhythm section majestically hovering above it all.
Ebbing and flowing.
A rich tapestry that pays homage to the who-is-who in rock without feeling the slightest need to employ a hint of irony.
The band itself: restrained, composed and detached, making it all look too easy.
Few bands are able to amalgamate such an array of influences into a coherent whole.
The show was sold out.
The audience left in awe.
Photo by Gothic Mario
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Portugal. the Man is a Portland, Oregon based experimental indie-rock band, fronted by native Alaskan John Gourley. If you haven’t heard the story about this up and coming group, Gourley’s ... read more
I don't know how many of you have heard of Moving Mountains. A band from Westchester, NY, they are fresh off a tour with Thursday, about to embark on a ... read more
I hit the 500 review mark last week with my Narrows review. That's a lot of reviews. Sometimes I get burnt out with all the stuff coming through, especially when ... read more
So I just got done watching the season finale of Scrubs. It was Zach Braff's final episode. His character is saying goodbye, but I think they gave it a nice ... read more
Two months ago I had high hopes for the Cleveland Browns. Now I am left with a fairly mediocre season. We shall see how the remainder plays out. I'm looking ... read more
Might as well has this here too, it's been three years since I wrote it. I think it still holds true. Space for rent. Your ad here. My name is ... read more
I forgot to post this prior to week one, but given the outcome of that game, maybe it was for the best. Anyway, the Browns season is underway and that ... read more
Over the weekend a band that was very dear to my heart announced their sudden breakup and played their final show. I first became acquainted with Life Long Tragedy over ... read more
I was yelled at again for writing this, and since I am applying for a job at a local newspaper, I don't really want this hanging over my head. Sorry ... read more
Last night my band played with Souvenir's Young America, City of Ships, and Monolith at Siren Records in Doylestown, PA; it was a fun time all the bands played real ... read more
If you didn't hear the news, Roy Scheider died this week at the age of 75. Jaws is one of my all-time favorite films. I am extremely sad. I fully ... read more
They could make me look not so good to certain people. Nobody read them anyways. read more
So, back when Cave In's Until Your Heart Stops dropped on the hardcore masses several years back, I had the chance of catching the band at Middlesex County Community College. ... read more
I broke out my CD for the Gehenna- The War of the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness and saw something that always made me smile. Allow me ... read more
Hello. Some of you might remember (or have participated in) my experiment over the summer collecting people's wishes on this page. I got over 160 entries and published them all ... read more
Imagine being in this kid's place... Interview w/ Henry Rollins read more
Even though it is just a joke, I'd still vote for Stephen Colbert for president before I'd vote for anyone else for running, outside of the longshots that have no ... read more
Dear Atreyu, Please stop. No seriously, please stop...now. - File has been removed. It was up for a month. It was the band's cover of Faith No More's "Epic." - ... read more
I woke up today at 5:30am to get my ass to the store to open it for what I figured would be another boring Sunday at work. Work has been ... read more
So the man that founded Factory Records and helped Joy Division become as huge as they did through hype died today. Not alot of people repect what Wilson did for ... read more
Yesterday during rush hour traffic on 35W the bridge than spans the mighty Mississippi fell. There was no earthquake. There was no terrorist attack. The bridge just buckled and toppled ... read more
Part 1: Mission Statement, Introduction, and first terribly nostalgic musing A number of years ago, a few friends of mine, myself, and people who would quickly become my friends used ... read more
Shook Ones, for the uninitiated, are a melodic hardcore band from Seattle, Washington. Their debut LP, Sixteen, had some serious Kid Dynamite aping going on, without a doubt, but it ... read more
Remember when the idea of Friday the 13th used to be scary? Maybe its because I am a grown adult, but there just does not seem to be any horror ... read more
You have no idea how wonderful it is to be finally typing these words. Not that my work is done: a SPB staffer's work is never done! But seriously: typing ... read more
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