Best New Scam

"FRIENDS" ISN'T JUST the name of a hit TV show. Many local musicians feel that friends are also the only way to get gigs at 7th Street Entry or Uptown Bar and Cafe--longtime strongholds of original rock.

If you doubt it, notice this year's so-called "Best New Bands" list as compiled by the staff of First Avenue/7th Street Entry, especially the presence of a little-known band called Box of Steaks. They rarely play outside the Entry, and from what I saw at a show this year, they were nondescript at best.

But more importantly, their drummer is employed by First Avenue, working the door and distributing tickets to the club's record store outlets. The fact of the matter is that this year, the polling group that determined the best new bands consisted largely of First Avenue staffers, along with local record shop workers. Longtime club-going critics such as the Pioneer Press's Jim Walsh and Radio K's Simon Peter Groebner did not even receive ballots.

Which may explain how B.S. earned three more votes than Flipp, and just one less than overall winner Phull Surkle. What's more, Box of Steaks shared a bill on September 5th with Soul Asylum clones Simple Men and the Superchunky Mollycuddle, two other unknowns who also somehow became Best New Band picks. Coincidence? I'd say not.

At least First Avenue über-booker Steve McClellan has no illusions that the unscientific survey has a few weird twists this year. McClellan knew that Box of Steaks and another winner, Dog Rapes Man, included First Avenue staffers, and he learned later that a third band, Hot Karl, did as well. "People may have been less than objective about Dog Rapes Man because (Shawn) works here. Simple Men and Mollycuddle appear to be [friends with record store balloteers]. And Box of Steaks, well that's a double-whammy because James Kelly works here, and he runs around to all the stores where they all love him. When one of his nominations came in as 'Box O' James Kelly,' I knew something was up."

Of course, taking advantage of First Avenue employment is a time-
honored tradition, dating back to Willie Wisely, Next of Kin/God Damn Liars, John Casey, and the everpresent Whoops, Kitty! (fronted by McClellan's wife, Cindy Lawson). But more than ever, this year's new band poll put McClellan between a rock band and hard worker. "When the results came in I said, 'James, did these people even come down and see the band or are they just doing it because you're such a nice guy? I gave [James and Shawn] the option to pull out. But they both thought it was all real and for me to do otherwise would've been tampering."

So there's your proof that there's a teddy bear beneath McClellan's surly exterior. Me, I would've booted Box of Fakes immediately. Their placement in particular goes right to the heart of club credibility, and reflects poorly on some decent people who work there.

However flawed, there is some merit to the showcase. Flipp and John Ewing Band headline the first night, and the New Year's Eve show sparkles with Phull Surkle & Casino Royale, June Sunday, Deformo, Interstate Judy and Solid State. Saturday's all-ager includes the well-regarded Cooper, Ten Fold Hate, plus Hot Karl and Dog Rapes Man, with Gnomes of Zurich a late replacement for Dillinger 4.

Whether this is the weakest New Band List of the decade won't be known for another year or two. Last year's class produced Vena Cava, Shapeshifter, Tribe of Millions, Polara, Smattering, Low, and Better Off Airport. 1993 spawned Hover-craft (Shatterproof), Lily Liver, Balloon Guy, Green Pyramids, Big Red Ball, Lefty Lucy, Beangirl, and Micranots. 1992 birthed Guzzard, Spectors, Korn Elder (the seeds of Ghost Dance Deluxe), Rex Daisy, The Legendary Jim Ruiz, Janitor Joe, Smut, and Dogshine. Even 1991 has had lasting impact: Hammerhead, God's Favorite Band, Dylan Hicks, High Wires (Polara bassist Jason Orris), Muskellunge (June Sunday's Rebecca Fritz), Zenbishops, Walt Mink, and Snapperhead (Acetylene's Scott Hampton). Only time will tell.

It's not that 1995 was a bad for new talent. Rather, it was a good year for newer clubs--which is good news for new bands. Yet McClellan seems concerned that the diversity of the club's mainroom schedule is not mirrored in the Best New Band poll. This summer, McClellan hired a new three-member booking team consisting of longtime club workers and stage assistants Sonja Hayden, Louie Solomon, and Rich Best. In time, three bookers may give a wider range of bands more chances for acceptance. But for now, McClellan's aware that loud and fast still rules.

"Maybe I'm just longing for yesteryear when Trip Shakespeare, Run Westy Run, the Blue Up? and Gear Daddies could all play one year-end show. Now a lot of bands that would've played the Entry stick to the Loring Cafe or Red Sea," he admits. "And as all the different clubs are struggling to find an identity, they won't book bands that don't fall within their emphasis. So we get the spillage, the punk bands and the all-age bands, groups the Fine Line won't touch, or Amelia's won't touch, or even the Uptown won't touch because they don't do all-age shows."

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