Big Deal Meal

That's not the only advantage First Avenue has. "This sounds very crass and political, but here it is: Bands who get signed to major labels out of Minneapolis play at First Avenue," says Fields. "Whether it is because [First Avenue manager] Steve McClellan is the greatest booker in the

fucking country or because Prince played there for Purple Rain, that's what happens. We've been selling out the Cabooze, which is 1,000 capacity. First Avenue is 1,500. We need to say we packed that too. Because major labels want to see your Soundscan numbers and they want to know your draw. That's the important shit. And Steve McClellan talks to major league booking agents every day. And he might say Greazy Meal to one of them, that we are packing his club. 'Well, let's get them on our roster,' somebody might say, and all of a sudden we're on a tour. Those are the kind of connections we need to make.

On top of all this, the group will head back into Funkytown next week to begin work on their third CD within the past year. "The next record has to make a statement," Chastain says. "On the first one we had an excuse: 'Oh, we were just getting together, not really knowing what we had.' Well, now we know what we're capable of and it is up to us to produce it."

Daniel Corrigan

"This is the real thing," Fields adds. "I'm 28. I have been waiting and trying for something like this. I've tried with two other bands and produced probably 75 records. And bands break up. I don't want to be that statistic. I want to be the band that makes it and doesn't get scorned for leaving. And how many more chances do I have?" He sighs, stares at the floor, and considers his words. "And all that is probably bullshit."

"No one is naive in this band," says Scott. "The levels of experience--some tried to make a band, Beat The Clock, happen for seven years and didn't make it; others played with Prince and performed around the world and found out that could suck. Obviously, there are no guarantees."

Anton agrees. "The needs and ego structure of the people in this group are very varied and different, and to me that is the biggest challenge. But this is also a very talented group of people who communicate with each other musically very well, and very clearly. Lately I think the problem has been that we don't leave enough time for the music. But when the music is there, it all makes sense again. Because the music we play is a just a joy."

"It's 9:30 on Sunday night at the Cabooze. It doesn't matter that Super Bowl parties dominated the social agenda for most people, or that most of us have work or school the next morning, or that the wind chills are again dangerously below zero--the club is packed and on the balls of its feet. A spirited, flute-driven remix by DJ Jezus Juice wafts over the speakers as Chastain takes the stage and starts tapping along on bongos. Then Anania answers with louder, more forceful accents, as the remix slowly fades out. Tommy is now comping on the keyboards, joined by Spicy on tambourine and Fields on guitar in a syncopated groove. Then the sax hits, the first lead instrument, followed, last and most prominently, by Anton's bass. The dry ice machine emits its own wry commentary as Barbarella's keyboard riffs go liquid and then start to blister and bubble. Anton is swinging an anchor into the bottom of the groove, Fields hits the wah-wah pedal, and the sax and bongos take up the funky invitation.

Such is the first five minutes of the Meal's traditional jazz jam. When it's over, Julius takes the stage, accompanied by Gallagher's flute for a delightfully cheesy cover of "Never Can Say Goodbye." Two songs later, the Meal orders up a long, harder-edged cover of Stevie Wonder's "Have A Talk With God," and soon the group is spinning into smittenville with Sly's "You Caught Me Smilin'."

And so it goes. The second set explodes with a rudely rushed and still riveting rendition of Hendrix's "Crosstown Traffic." Anton's long bass solo cues up a cover of Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne," then it's a tribute to Fields's "Uncle Steve" via a molasses-slow version of "Funkytown," suddenly enlivened by Spicy T's breakneck rap. Down the home stretch, the originals hold sway, beginning with a gospelized "I Can't Wait," through "Urban Herbalist" (blunts lit out in the crowd, burritos delivered mid-song), and on through the fatback funk of "Unfaithful" and a 15-minute version of Bill Withers's "Use Me" that slides into some profoundly meditative greaze up to its eyes and ears. Up in front, Bill Grimes is doing a slow spin, checking out the funked-up multitude behind him, the glorious bar band in front of him. There's a peacock feather in his mushroom-cloud 'fro and a hard smile on his face that stays there for the rest of the evening. Over in Zimbabwe, it's the dawn of a new day.

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