Big Deal Meal

It's four o'clock in the morning, Zimbabwe time, and Greazy Meal's Tom Scott is fresh off a plane from Africa. He's hanging out by the bar before a gig at the Cabooze, talking about a ritual he's just participated in known as the Meat of the Son-in-law. "[My wife's] uncle has this big, long blade, and I'm walking with him as we lead out this goat and this sheep. 'I will show you how to do it and then you do it,' he says. I was a little nervous; I'm a city kid and I've never even hunted." Scott's eyes soften with a faraway look. "When the goat was killed, the sheep knew it was going to be killed. You could just feel it.

"Zimbabwe is a very cool place, but very strange in some ways, too," continues Scott, who is white. "My wife's family is 'coloured,' not black and not white. They take heat for it from both sides. Some of that skin color stuff happens in this country, but over there they actually call people 'coloured' as an official designation. It is strange for them too, because for a long time coloured people would try to be white. Now things have changed; there's this feeling of indigenous pride that's taken over the country. Very cool, but it can also be strange."

You could call Greazy Meal, a black and white group playing black and white music for black and white people, a "coloured" ensemble. Very cool, and more than a little bit strange. Onstage two hours later, Scott emerges from behind his keyboards and percussion and galvanizes the club with a powerhouse rap that makes plain why his stage name is Spicy T. Knifing between the bean bag chair and the bubble machine, a tall, golden statue of a urinating boy perched over his shoulder at the back of the stage, he drops gloriously gruff freestyle science, his rhymes ranging from the musical aptitude of his bandmates to his recent travels. At its climax, Spicy is jutting toward the audience like a rocket fueled for lift-off, his legs shimmying and karate-kicking the air as he bellows "like an African monkey!" , his neck veins bulging, his skin flushed cherry red. The packed crowd careens and pogos in place, a multi-culti stew of flesh a thousand people strong, as the rest of the eight-piece band rides the rhythm with ragged beauty. As always, the group is abetted by two lithe dancers in skin-tight outfits who prowl back and forth across the stage with leonine grace and whipsnap fury. One of them is appropriately known as Kat Sway; the other is Scott's wife, Leah Nelson, aka The Mistress of Interpretess. She's got a delicious, semi-private grin on her face, and like the rest of the band, she's kicking some ass.

Quite simply, Greazy Meal has made a Scene. It is not a mythic scene like Koerner, Ray & Glover's folk revolution on the West Bank, the Replacements at the Longhorn, or Prince in the late '70s. But neither is it your trend of the month. Over the past two years, Greazy Meal's regular Sunday night gig at the Cabooze has blossomed into the most inclusively hedonistic local musical experience in the Twin Cities, a funky feast for the ears, eyes, and cardiovascular system.

Part of it is the music, a delirious swirl that begins before the band takes the stage, with mixes by Greazy Meal cohort DJ Jezus Juice. With the records still spinning, the band joins in one by one, a smooth, casual segue into a 25-minute acid jazz jam, featuring extensive quotes from bop legends Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker folded into a funky, seething punk-jazz rhythm. Then come the covers, relatively obscure but vintage tunes from the '70s like Steely Dan's "The Fez," Bill Withers's "Lovely Day," and the Temptations' "I Can't Get Next To You," increasingly mixed in with the band's kindred originals. Two sets and three-and-half sweat-soaked hours later, everybody goes home and marks their calendars for another Sunday.

Like all great scenes, Greazy Meal gigs are mostly about the sense of community that exists between the crowd and the band. The difference is in the demographics: The porridge of people at the Cabooze on Sunday would confound even the most sophisticated marketing survey. Among the hundreds of patrons who sell out the Cabooze and generate long lines outside the club even in sub-zero temperatures, you'd be hard-put to find a prototypical Greazy Meal fan. There's Donovan, who, barring blizzards, makes the trip down from Fargo every week, toting his kazoo for that inside-joke moment when everybody plays along. There's Gina, the Puerto Rican native who comes to watch the female dancers. There's the fortysomething neon artist in the beret who always sits impassively at the back of the room; and Erin and Michelle, two 21-year old students from the U here to meet cute guys on the dance floor. There's the woman in the wheelchair who always boogies at the left of the stage.

Unquestionably, the most conspicuously dedicated fan (and the one cited by two bandmembers) is Bill Grimes, a tall, gaunt, chain-smoking, mixed-race dude with red-tinted glasses and an afro the size of a medicine ball. Every Sunday he stands center stage in the front row of the audience, pointing his fingers and bobbing his head at the band. Later in the week, chatting over coffee with a battered notebook and a copy of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching on the table in front of him, Grimes leaves his headphones on; when I ask, he tells me he's digging on west coast jazz-rock guitarist Eric Johnson. He is somewhat at a loss for words as to why he loves Greazy Meal so much, but I do find out that his favorite bandmember is "probably" bassist Jim Anton, and that one of the defining moments in his musical-listening career was the time the otherwise nondescript heavy metal guitarist Ian Moore blared a cover version of Sly Stone's "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" outside the Metrodome before a Twins game. "Man, that was so rude!" Grimes says with a suddenly loud guffaw, causing a couple of coffeeshop patrons to jump in their chairs.

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