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March 30, 2007

Lions and Tigers and Bears? Not at the Shrine Circus.

I remember going to the circus when I was little and feeling like it was an enormous production of surreal proportions. It was like Dumbo, with giant and exotic animals, spotlights, clowns, and clown cars.

For a couple decades I all but forgot the circus existed. Then, a few years ago, when I started working on Mpls.St.Paul's entertainment calendar, I got a press release about the circus coming to town. I knew I had to go, but—strangely, I thought—none of my friends were interested. I put it on the backburner with those other spectacles I want to check off my list—monster truck rally, the rodeo.

But not this time.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon some comp tickets for the Shrine Circus at the State Fair Coliseum. I knew I had to go. This time, I found a friend who was equally excited about this prospect. We were buzzing about it all day.

Until we got there.

After a pathetic piped-in "Star-Spangled Banner" (which, incidentally, the announcer started to call "The Pledge of Allegiance" before correcting himself), the ringmaster opened the show by singing the saddest rendition of "There's No Business Like Show Business" I have ever heard. He had zero enthusiasm. You could almost picture him running through the Employment section in his head while he sang.

The low-budget feel was amplified by the fluorescent lighting that filled the stadium. Even with a spotlight shining on the guy, everything else being so well-lit made him seem like more of a distraction to the crowd-watching than him being the main event.

Bear with it, I thought. It's GOT to get better.

I filled with hope when the motorcyclist—adorned in a glitzy U.S. flag–patterned outfit—revved his engine on the tight rope. Underneath him, perched on a bar connected to the bike, was a woman dressed in a matching glitzy flag outfit (hers had far less fabric than his).

The buildup was there. The costumes were gaudy—as they should be. There was a spotlight on him, though the house lights remained on. It seemed like something spectacular might happen. And then, while the motorcyclist drove straight along the tight rope, which, as an adult, I now realize are as well-secured to each other as a rollercoaster is to its track, U2's "Vertigo" came through the tinny-sounding speakers. Once again, my heart sank.

The team of dogs that entered the middle circus ring next managed to upstage the biker, who was now standing on his head while driving the bike backward on the tight rope. You gotta feel for that guy.

After one of the dogs jumped on a miniature pony's back and the pony walked around on its hind legs with the dog as passenger, two clowns came out. There was a male and a female clown, and instead of wearing brightly colored clown suits, they wore those tattered-looking baggy-suit type of clown outfits. They were hobo clowns. And their entire routine centered around popping balloons and pretending to lose helium-filled balloons.

Next act: jugglers. One juggler dropped all of his pins and had to stop and pick them up. Five minutes later another juggler dropped all of his balls from the platform he was standing on and had to jump off the platform and pick them up.

Again, my anticipation built while I watched some circus roadies (including the ringmaster) set up a flimsy barricade leading to the three rings on the stadium floor. Maybe an elephant will come out next! I thought. Instead, Enya came over the loudspeakers and a blonde woman wearing a sparkly purple cape emerged on a black horse, followed by six white ponies. They all ran along the inside wall of the center ring in a circle formation (with a circular barricade around them, there really wasn't any other formation they could've run in), and later five tan ponies came out and joined in.

After a girl who probably didn't make the cut for Cirque du Soleil did a routine on a rope, a man and woman did a dance number with some magic intertwined and several costume changes.

At intermission, I finally saw some large-scale animals when a camel and two elephants were guided onto the floor for rides. The disappointment I felt at this über-tame circus was on par with realizing that Santa's not real. We needed some comfort, so my friend and I left and went for ice cream at Annie's in Dinkytown.

This morning I was pouting to a coworker's nine-year-old son about how lame the circus was. He said, matter-of-factly, that I must've not enjoyed it because I'm an adult. I think with some improved lighting and better music, even adults should be wide-eyed at the flashy spectacle of the circus.

Or maybe the nine-year-old's right. Maybe I need to accept that the circus is a gimmick that's only flashy to the nightlight set.


March 29, 2007

More SXSW Videos!

South by Southwest ended a week and a half ago, but we got SO much great footage down there that we're going to keep on posting new stuff well into next week. I'll let you know when new videos go up. If you haven't visited mspmag.com's Multimedia page this week, here's what you've missed:

+ An interview with Cloud Cult, where the band talks about the relationship between painting and creating music, and also discusses its eco-friendly efforts.

+ Little Man's Chris Perricelli tells us his musical inspirations, and shows us the magic stones he carries with him. That's right—magic stones.

+ Eclectone's Martin Devaney talks about how his record label came about, and the importance of focusing on the songwriters. (Don't miss the Eclectone showcase Saturday night at the Varsity Theater, where Devaney, Little Man, Dan Israel, JoAnna James, and others will perform.)

+ Plus, there's a bonus video Chuck shot of rapper Buck 65 performing with Sage Francis.

****

The other big news on mspmag.com this week is another new blog. Yesterday, we launched LA Log, where Mpls.St.Paul Magazine columnist David Anderson reports on everything Hollywood—from Oscars to Idol—with a decidedly Minnesotan perspective. We've got him embedded deep in la-la land for your entertainment. Check in often, as he'll be blogging several times a week.

****

Mark Mallman's new band, Ruby Isle, has been busy filming music videos. This morning he posted the first installment, a cover of Sonic Youth's "Teenage Riot," to YouTube. Here it is:



March 28, 2007

Say Cheese?

Photodude_2 I have never understood the statue that's placed outside of the Edina Towers, an apartment complex on the Edina/Richfield border north of Southdale and just west of Xerxes.

I don't often have a reason to drive around back there, but every time I do, I brace myself for this statue, and every time it still freaks me out. When you're driving up to it from the front, it really looks like a guy poised to take a picture of you. It's off-putting.

It's not that I've never seen a realistic-looking statue. But when you're driving and you see someone standing still, facing you—and taking aim—it's startling. It's clear upon second glance that it's the figure's stature, not the detail of its features, which is so realistic.

A couple of weeks ago, I drove past the statue and had to chuckle when I saw someone had accessorized him with a scarf for winter. It made him even more lifelike.

I've always wondered what the history is behind this statue. Did the apartment complex commission it? Did an artistic resident donate it? And possibly even more curious—was there a board meeting where this statue was selected over others?

I called the Edina Towers this morning and found out that the statue was originally commissioned for a property overlooking a lake, but was never placed there. After the statue sat in storage, the property owner decided to put it to use and erected it at the Edina Towers . . . overlooking . . . the . . . street . . . .

And freaking me out every time I see it.

Are there other statues around town that, when caught from the right angle, seem so realistic they spook you?


March 26, 2007

Have I Mentioned My Deep, Deep Sadness Over Missing The Stooges at SXSW?

Unfortunately, I did not see The Stooges perform at SXSW. Fortunately, my videographer hero, Chuck Olsen, saw their in-store show at Waterloo Records and made this killer video of it. Lucky bastard! I'm so jealous . . . .


March 23, 2007

Renegade Folk Musicians

Last week, in Texas, I met Josh Wenck from local folk/country band The Get Up Johns. He neglected to tell me about the band being pulled over by a state trooper on the way down to South by Southwest. However, when I returned to Minneapolis on Monday, Wenck's publicist had left me a message about the band getting pulled over both on the way down to Texas and on the way back. By the same trooper.

Wenck shared the full story with me on the phone this afternoon, and I recorded it for you. Listen to it on mspmag.com.


March 20, 2007

SXSW Wrap-Up

South by Southwest kicked my ass. I flew home yesterday afternoon and immediately crashed out for thirteen hours. 'Twas all worth it though—I saw wicked-great music, gabbed with lots of local and national musicians, went on a road trip that utterly disillusioned my picture of the rockstar touring life, and got to explore a city with a serious passion for music.

. . . and I do mean a serious passion . . . R.T. is great, but Austin has my idea of a mayor with priorities:


If you didn't read any of my SXSW blog posts, here are the highlights:

Best Minnesota show: Cloud Cult
Best non-Minnesota show: Willowz
Most unexpectedly rockin' show: Panda
Show I'm still pissed I couldn't see: Tie between The Stooges and Public Enemy
Funniest interview: Brother Ali and Slug
Funniest moment: Being poked in the eye by Har Mar Superstar
Worst moment: Being poked in the eye by Har Mar Superstar
Feel-good moment: Seeing the positive reception of Minnesota bands at the Green Room/Eclectone showcase
What will be hard to top next year: Driving to Texas with Ruby Isle

For a music lover, SXSW was like five days of Christmas. Or my birthday. It was . . . Musicanukkah. I'll be back next year, even if I'm not on assignment.

Meanwhile, we've got Chuck so backlogged with video, he'll be editing SXSW interviews throughout the week and probably into next. I'll give you a heads up as we post them.


March 19, 2007

Minority Report

Austin is a ghost town on the last day of South by Southwest. Only a handful of bands showcase on Sunday; mostly everyone's done on Saturday. When I arrived downtown tonight, the street barricades were down, cars were driving through, and hardly any pedestrians were walking around.

I ate my first Texas barbecue at Stubb's tonight. (I had a chopped beef sandwich and some spicy Serrano cheese spinach. It was awesome.) While I was eating, I heard the petite black man sitting next to me at the bar on the phone talking about booking hip-hop artists and saying he'd prefer to book someone he already has a relationship with, such as Questlove. Now, anybody who knows hip-hop knows Questlove is the drummer for The Roots—he's kind of a big deal.

So I chatted up this dude, who said he's got some experience in A&R, some booking cred, and is currently planning a new city mag for Philadelphia. I was looking at the skimpy SXSW schedule for the night, and being severely underwhelmed by the likes of the River City Rapists and Steaming Wolf Penis, when this guy told me V.I.P., who was playing at Emo's Jr., was a gay hip-hop group out of Philly. Sounded interesting. So we walked over there together, but the schedule was a little off. We ended up missing them, though we did see a bit of the Misfats. I couldn't stand to watch this overweight Misfits tribute band very long. We met a girl who said she was homeless, was from California, and had sneaked onto a train to get to Austin for the festival. Then she claimed to know Sage Francis, a white Rhode Island rapper whose Thursday show I was disappointed to have missed.

Well, I don't know how much of her story checks out, but soon enough Sage shows up and immediately gives this girl a giant bear hug. She introduces us and then a few minutes later Sage's guitarist walks up and we exchange info. They'll be playing Minneapolis this summer, and I pretty much just scored the interview thanks to this girl.

Sage was going to be joining Grand Buffet onstage soon, but I was antsy and fiending for some hip-hop, so I went to the Red Fez. I was one of maybe three white people in there and I was definitely the only girl wearing sneakers and a zip-up cardigan. Not exactly dressed to impress. Nonetheless, I was conscious of how much more natural it feels to go into clubs in other cities and be the minority than it does to do so in the Twin Cities. I think racial divide in the Twin Cities is so much stronger than in other parts of the country that when you leave it you're more aware of the ratio. It was interesting too that the club's employees all seemed to be white, and there was a white cop stationed at the front and rear of the club. Very strange.



March 18, 2007

Every Kind of Music BUT Irish on St. Patrick's Day

Austin's street scene during SXSW reminds me of New Orleans', and last night was Mardi Gras. The combo of it being St. Patrick's Day and the last real night of the festival made downtown the only place to be. You could hardly walk through the streets all day and night. It was also a breeding ground for drunkenness and fighting—I saw three brawls break out between 11 p.m to 2 a.m. (That's a brawl an hour, if you're keeping track.)

Cultpainters_2 I saw a wider variety of music last night than I have this whole festival. In the late afternoon I started wandering up and down 6th Street. Outside of a bar with music pouring out of it, I spotted the two painters from Cloud Cult. They were both painting on one canvas to the sound of the band playing. They had built up a small crowd for themselves.

I decided to watch some foot traffic for awhile, and was just kickin' it on a plaza when I heard horns playing at a soundcheck coming from somewhere behind me. Yesterday I told you I'm a sucker for the harmonica, today I'm telling you I'm also a sucker for horns. I followed the sound and ended up at an outdoor stage, the Habana Calle Annex. Sway Machinery, a New York band that plays Jewish soul music, started the set by solemnly walking from outside the gate through the small crowd and onstage, playing all the while.

The trumpet, tenor sax, and bass sax players also play in Antibalas, who I missed the other night but Chuck saw and was super pumped about. Stuart Bogie, the tenor saxophonist, has performed with everyone from the Wu-Tang Clan to TV On the Radio to Sinead O'Connor. The drums and guitar gave this liturgical music a bluesy rock beat. It was great to stumble into a performance of that caliber.

By 7 o'clock, the line outside Emo's for the Buzzcocks at 8 had been a block long—the longest line I'd seen yet. When I left the Sway Machinery set around 8:45, the line was still that long as people were gearing up for the 9:15 set, the Meat Puppets. Think about that: hundreds of bands playing in every direction, and there's a line four people wide and a block long for the Meat Puppets. I knew then that I wasn't getting into the 12:30 Stooges show at Stubb's.

I met up with Chuck and we went over to Friends to see some comedy. Patton Oswalt was supposed to perform at 9, but he had to cancel. We caught the very end of Human Giant, had a few laughs, and got a free DVD. Their show, Human Giant, premieres April 5 on MTV. Chuck hung around there to see Tim and Eric, while I went to see Minneapolis band the Blackhearted Force play at Bourbon Rocks.

Blackhearted1 Blackhearted Force bills itself as a punk band, but I'd classify it as straight heavy metal. They're more Sabbath than Hüsker Dü. I like punk, and I like metal, but this was a little screamy for me at that moment. They're entertaining to watch—I'll give 'em that much. The singer was twirling the mike around by its cord and then singing from stage to the crowd outside the front door.

I ran into my van-mates LeMay, Geller, and Hoffman at the show, and they told me Andrew W.K. was supposed to be playing soon down the street at Exodus. Those guys had some bunk information, though, so we watched a little of the house/dance music that was on (but mostly just tried to tune it out), and then we all left. LeMay and I thought about going to see Presidents of the United States of America at Maggie Mae's Rooftop or Kid Koala at the Parish, but they were both packed.

I gave up on any hope of seeing Spoon or the Stooges, and finally headed over to Spiro's to see Mexican pop-punk band Panda. I was immediately impressed by this band and its following. The crowd was filled with twenty-somethings singing along in Spanish, and people were crowd-surfing the entire time I was there. Panda's audience had the first mosh pit I've seen at SXSW. This was serious stuff.

I hardly speak any Spanish, and I couldn't understand a word these guys were singing, but it sounded great and the energy of everyone in the crowd singing along made me really want to understand the lyrics.

After about half an hour, I decided though I was enjoying the Panda show, I was going to check out a band LeMay had gushed about. So I walked over to Beerland and caught the last few songs by Texas's Marked Men, a pop-punk band that sings in English.

I like all genres of music, so the diversity of the night was fulfilling, but I gotta say, when it comes right down to it my ear is most in tune with punk rock and Motown. Marked Men reminded me of the poppy punk that first turned me on to that genre. It was a homecoming of sorts for me, and a great way to end the night.


New Videos: Dosh and The Pines

Pining for more South by Southwest videos? You're in luck! Here are our brand-spanking-new interviews with Dosh and The Pines.


March 17, 2007

Minneapolis Represent!

After the Iggy interview yesterday, while Chuck was at the Stooges' in-store show, I went over to Mother Egan's for another Red House Records event. While Lynn Miles performed on the patio, I had The Pines interview Storyhill inside. There was a speaker playing classic rock right above the booth we were sitting in, so I'm nervous that the camera may have picked up too much ambient noise and not enough of their voices. It would be a total drag if Chuck's not able to fix that up, since it was a great interview.

The Pines really stepped it up playing reporter for their fellow label-mates. They asked the questions everyone wants to know:

"Would you rather never play folk music again or have your leg chopped off?"
"If your music was a pizza, what toppings would be on it?"

I may have the exact verbiage slightly off, but you get the gist.

I prompted them to talk about Storyhill's recent show at the Varsity, which was closed down by the fire department for being over capacity. They still feel really badly about that, but are excited for the make-up shows on March 19 and 20.

We were just finishing up another quick interview with the four of them outside—talking about being on Red House and to what extent that's really a 'family,' and the kind of clout being on that label gives a band—when I got a call from Mark Mallman.

Mallman was on 6th Street with Ruby Isle's drummer, Aaron LeMay, and they were fixing to get some dinner before their show. I hadn't eaten for about eighteen hours or so, so I was in. I was way the hell on the other end of 6th Street, so we just started walking toward one another. Once we met up, we called Chuck, Dan Geller, and Sean Hoffman, and we all converged outside of Buffalo Billiards.

After eating some Mongolian barbecue, we went next door to Club 115 for the Green Room/Eclectone showcase. This was the biggest Minnesota showcase of the festival. The audience had lots of Minnesota people in it too, including some band members from The Pines and Cloud Cult.

Croppedlittleman Little Man had the first set, which can be a hard time slot to draw a crowd. But there were actually a fair amount of people in the little bar, and the people who were there were very into it. Lead singer/guitarist Chris Pericelli had great energy and stage presence. He and his bassist, Ben Foote, were dancing around and really set off the night to a good start. Josh Peterson, who played later with Martin Devaney, joined on bass for a tune. Chuck grabbed a few minutes with Pericelli outside the club for a video that will be on mspmag.com and on Minnesota Stories soon.

Devaney Devaney, who's the founder of Eclectone, played next. He was joined by Peterson on electric guitar, Sean Hoffman (who was in the group I rode down here with) on drums, Matt Palin on upright bass, and Joanna James on violin and backup vocals. (The next CD being released on Eclectone is James's, in April.)

Besides singing, Devaney played acoustic guitar and harmonica. I'm in this phase right now where I'm a total sucker for the harmonica, so I loved it. (I even have a harmonica, but the only song I can play is "Ode to Joy.") Though a Bob Dylan reference here is obvious, Devaney's voice is smoother and fuller than Dylan's, and the guitar riffs are more reminiscent of Tom Petty's.

After his set, we talked to Devaney on camera about his label. Eclectone stands alongside Red House and Rhymesayers as the main Twin Cities labels helping to raise the bar on local music. Eclectone is all about promoting local music and supporting Twin Cities musicians. Devaney is passionate about allowing singer/songwriters the creative freedom to do what they want, and take their music where they want it to go.

Melismatics The dynamic inside became a lot more rock 'n' roll when The Melismatics took the stage. First of all, they had a fog machine. Secondly, they have that urban, gritty, rocker look—street-chic black clothes, styled hair ranging from emo-smooth to faux hawk, and possibly the most diehard rock 'n' roll female guitarist in the Cities.

Their sound is all electric, fast, pop rock. They put on a great show—during "Industry of Cool," Pony, wearing a mesh black dress, held her guitar in the air by its neck. They're one of those bands that has the whole package: great songs played well both on their CDs and live, entertaining and energetic performances, and a killer image.

By the time Ruby Isle came on, quite a crowd had built up. The audience wasn't dancing as much as it should've to that electronica-pop rock, but they were screaming and smiling. It was the first show of the night to have really filled in up to the stage.

Rubyisle Each of the band members wore a white jacket or shirt, which was made even starker by the upward-facing stage lights they used. Mallman and Dan Geller (electronics and backup vocals) are showmen of the highest order, dancing around the stage and singing to each other. Mallman performed just about every rocker pose there is, I think—you know, kneeling, standing with one hand straight up in the air—and Geller even whipped out a little breakdance action at the very end.

After their set, a very happy Ruby Isle and I went over to check out Maritime, an indie rock band with emo roots. Mallman and Geller know the band from growing up near Milwaukee, where Maritime's from. They played a very loud, crowded show. I'd definitely check them out again.

Honeydogs We wrapped up the night by heading back to Club 115 for the end of the Honeydogs' set. Mike Lewis was joining on saxophone when we got there. Like I said, that was the place to be last night for Minnesotans. It's great how everybody has been playing with everybody else's bands down here. That's one of the most inspiring aspects of the Twin Cities music scene to me—so many musicians are in so many different bands, and have all these little side projects, and play guest spots, and it's all just very interrelated. So it's a very positive thing that they're representing Minneapolis music in that way at this festival.



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