Uptown Blues

LAST WEEK, WORD hit the streets that the Uptown Bar, a nationally renowned showcase for local and touring bands, will pull the plug on live music after April. Apparently, Uptown owner Kenny Toonen--who could not be reached for comment--plans to focus on the club's role as a restaurant.

"I haven't had the chance to let this sink in," said Uptown booker/manager Maggie MacPherson on Friday. "I've been there for 11 years, so it's kind of hard to figure out what comes next three days after the fact." MacPherson has developed a fiercely loyal following among indie-rock bands and bookers; during her tenure, Nirvana, Oasis, G. Love, the Jesus Lizard, Evan Dando, J Mascis, Superchunk, L7, Uncle Tupelo, Pavement, and Guided by Voices all played the Uptown. For the time being, MacPherson will keep her hands full
as manager of Golden Smog and ex-Jayhawks Gary Louris and Marc Perlman.

Local musicians and music fans are already lamenting the loss. "I think it's kind of a tragedy," says Perlman, who certainly knows the Uptown's worth: The Jayhawks debuted on that stage, and for years the club supported local acts such as Soul Asylum and the Replacements, not to mention newcomers like the Hang Ups, the Honeydogs, Balloon Guy, Likehell, and the Wonsers. And some think the venue's business won't be helped by eliminating gigs. "I think (live music) was very important there," says Dave Peil of Minneapolis-based Tough Guy Booking. "People go down there at other hours because of it, because it's a cool scene."

The question now is who will pick up the slack in mid-sized club bookings. Will it be The Red Sea, The Fine Line, Lee's Liquor Bar, the 400 Bar, Ground Zero, or something new? "I think (First Avenue's) Steve (McLellan) will definitely try to find other places for these people to play," says MacPherson. "He's not going anywhere. Whether or not somebody decides to open something and pick up the slack, I don't know. And if they did, would they know what to do? I don't know that either. But it's not like I'd be averse to helping people out."

Regardless, the end of live music in Uptown will be regretted by anyone who ever felt the boisterous warmth of a packed Saturday-night crowd in winter, burst into the place at 12:01 on their 21st birthday, or simply enjoyed the luxury of national-caliber, no-cover weeknight entertainment right in the neighborhood. "There's something that the Uptown had as far as size and the location and the built-in crowd that was ideal," says Perlman. It's tough to disagree. (Groebner)

GIGS & THINGAMAJIGS

RETSIN, WHO WILL play the Uptown on Friday, is precisely the sort of wonderful, underexposed band we may never see now that the club is closing its doors to live music. The group hails from Lexington, Kentucky, and is fronted by Rodan bassist Tara Jane O'Neill and Ruby Falls bassist Cynthia Nelson. Their debut LP, Egg Fusion (Simple Machines), moves further into the musical/emotional ramshackleness that made last year's Salt Lick EP so engaging: Songs sweep you up and drop you cold just when you're beginning to get comfy (yeah, art imitates life), or else wander around in search of themselves (ditto). Sometimes Retsin remind us of early Throwing Muses without the sibling rivalry; at others, of the Indigo Girls coming down off mushrooms. Mostly, though, they don't remind us of anyone: This is fresh, new music, sure of its tentativeness, and made for this particular room. Kitty Craft open. Music starts around 10 p.m. Also at the Uptown this week is a Thursday showcase with Hot Karl, Ten Fold Hate and Tang, while Likehell and Arm play Saturday. And the April lineup is a killer, with the Grifters, the Ass Ponys, New Duncan Imperials, Blue Mountain, Combustible Edison, and more. Call the Uptown at 823-4719 for more info, and to let them know your thoughts on the upcoming changes...

Meanwhile, there's some good news for the pre-bar audience. 7th St. Entry has reinstituted the early-'80s tradition of providing all-age matinee shows on selected weekdays. Matinee showcases will begin at 4 p.m., and then most of the bands will play "drunk shows" at 9. It begins this Wednesday with the ska-riffic bill of Let's Go Bowling, Mephiskapheles, and the Jinkies. Thursday, industrialites Haloblack--refugees from the '95 closing of another Uptown club, the Cage--play with Apocalypse Theater, Static Gray, and Glass. (Autumn replaces Glass for the late show.) House of Large Sizes rounds out this week's matinees on Friday, with Arm and the Apollo Kings (Superman Curl and Arm open the late show); call 338-8388 to confirm lineups.

In other all-age action, the University of Minnesota's indie mainstay Whole Music Club (300 Washington Ave. S.E.) hosts underrated Matador guitar sculptors Silkworm on Friday. Tix are $5; call 624-8638. Silkworm also plays an in-store at Garage D'Or Records; call 871-0563 for time.

First Avenue is sponsoring three big mainroom benefits for Camp Heartland, a camp for children infected with or affected by AIDS or HIV. Wednesday's lineup is Sonia Dada with the Mooks, $12/$14 at the door; music at 7 p.m. Thursday it's Babes in Toyland, Phull Surkle with Casino Royale, King Can, and the Apollo Kings. $8, 8 p.m. Friday: Lisa Brokop and Band with Molly and the Makers. $8. 7 p.m. ID required for all three events; call 338-8388.

This weekend, the St. Paul Student Center of the U of M, along with the Backstreet Theatre Company, begin an eclectic month-long concert series called From Coffeehouse to Centerstage, billed as "a music festival featuring gay, lesbian, and bisexual artists, and their open-minded friends." Things kick off Saturday with The Klezmatics, a wild klezmer, jazz, and whatsit crew who have no doubt found that coming out (part) queer has increased media interest (see the recent Village Voice feature). That's followed by a Sunday double bill of Eller Lynch and Lojo Russo. Upcoming shows feature Grant Hart, Holly Near, and Carrie Newcomer. All shows are at the St. Paul Student Center Theater; call 721-0988 for times and ticket prices.

In other news, we almost lost another Replacement recently: The man they call Slim Dunlap made a narrow escape from a car fire a few weeks back. Thankfully, all band members were unharmed, and the group even made the next gig on borrowed equipment. Drink and dance to the Dunlap band's return; groove-rock trio Peal preview their upcoming CD in the opening slot on Thursday at 9:30 p.m. at The Turf Club, University and Snelling, 647-0486.

A screening of Rolling Stones: At The Max--the large-format documentary of those old guys' 1990 tour (a pretty darn good one, in fact)--will be shown Thursday night at 6:30 and 9:00 p.m. to benefit The Science Museum of Minnesota. Tix are (ouch) $75, and the money goes to support the museum's laudable education programs. Screenings are in the Omnitheater; call 221-9444 for info.

In closing, it seems Soul Asylum have been elevated to a new level of superstar status--they're the object of not one, but two sendups on "Weird Al" Yankovic's umpteenth album, Bad Hair Day. "Misery" is reconfigured as "Syndicated Inc.," while Yankovic's "The Night Santa Went Crazy" loosely pilfers "Black Gold." Not surprisingly, this stuff is fairly tired and uninspired. Cmon, Al... (Hermes/Groebner/Meyer)

JAZZ, ETC.

PONCHO SANCHEZ AND his band--who make up some of the hottest players in Afro-Cuban jazz--had it going on last time through at the Fine Line. And while we regret not being able to kick back with a fat Dominican stogie at this Friday's Ordway gig, we trust Poncho will take advantage of the room to explore his music's more subtle qualities--just as Eddie Palmieri did here a few months back. Openers Paracumbe are a dance and music ensemble from Puerto Rico about whom we hear good things. $18-$23; kids half-price. 8 p.m. Ordway Music Theater, 345 Washington St.; St. Paul; 224-4222.

1994 National Fingerstyle Guitar Champion Tim Sparks literally has the world at his fingertips on his latest CD, Guitar Bazaar, which samples the myriad international folk styles he projects in various local groups. There's a taste of Turkey, Bulgaria, Brazil, the Balkans, and even Delta blues, all delivered with blazing beauty. The disc includes strong cameos by Tim O'Keefe, Jim Price, and Mark Stillman, who, along with bousouki player Yanaris Asemakis, round out Sparks's live group, who will be at the Cedar Cultural Centre Friday at 8 p.m. Fellow string/mind bender Dean Magraw opens with a solo set. $10/$12 at the door. 416 Cedar Ave. N., Mpls.; 338-2674.

Joe Sample's suave compositions and smooth piano runs always lent a sheen to the saucy funk of the Jazz Crusaders, and while that dignity can sound a little stuffy on his own projects, it beats the rote riffs that dominate most fusion jazz. He'll be in town for a gig at The Metropolitan with a trio; local favorite Paul Taylor is opening. $17-$22. Monday, 8 p.m. 5418 Wayzata Blvd., Golden Valley; 797-1900.

Also at the Metropolitan is Gato Barbieri, a hothouse flower who never wilts, blowing fragrantly garish rainbows of phrases out of his tenor sax. Like the stereotypical Latin lover, this Argentine is simultaneously a stylist of integrity and romantic pretension, playing with a sexy panache that pushes the border of arrogance without crossing it. An annual fixture in recent years, his past gigs locally have been strong, crowd-pleasing affairs. Sunday at 8 p.m.; tix are $12-$20.

Finally, a last-minute booking at Quest: A Monday-evening double bill of Sheila E. and The Latin Sounds Orchestra. Tickets are $12.50 and doors are at 8 p.m.; call 338-6169 for further info. (Hermes/Robson/Meyer) CP

The end of an era: the Uptown Bar will stop hosting live music in April.

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