No Direction Home

Dylan does Duluth; To Ave. and Ave. not

Bob Dylan, Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, October 22

Minnesotans have a tendency to overlook our musical treasures until they receive validation from the rest of the world. We might call it the Minnesota Inferiority Complex (MIC). And in coining the term note that it was exemplified perfectly last Thursday night in Duluth, where "favorite son" Bob Dylan brought it all back home to perform his first-ever concert in the city where he was born.

In the days leading up to the concert, the question on everyone's mind was: Why was Dylan finally here--now--nearly 40 years after he'd fled nearby Hibbing? Has nostalgic longing finally gripped him as his career approaches its fifth decade, or was the concert date simply a conciliatory, even condescending, gesture? Since the man was nowhere to be seen, heard, or interviewed before or after the show, the answer remains a mystery.

Nevertheless, last Thursday Duluth was a city high on itself. "This town is so damn conservative, and it's so great to get something fun here," gushed Vicki, a 30-year-old fan from the Iron Range outpost Virginia. "Duluth is all lit up tonight!" And, of course, it was nothing short of a field day for every single resident of the area who ever knew someone whose mother's second cousin's old roommate ever dated anyone with the last name Zimmerman.

Dylan's performance was skilled, if a bit businesslike, and, true to form, he didn't appease the audience with any smarmy reminiscence or open displays of gratitude. Yet the local press desperately clung to the normally stoic performer's occasional smiles and cited the inclusion of songs like "Highway 61 Revisited" and "I'll Remember You" as evidence of their golden boy's acknowledgement of his former life on the range. It was hard not to feel a sense of love while standing amid the sea of 7,500 people packed inside the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, which sold out in an unprecedented five hours. And if Dylan wasn't clearly reciprocating the affection, then there was more than enough hometown boosterism to make up the difference.

A sobering perspective comes from one of the less luminous musical lights associated with Duluth, Alan Sparhawk, of the critically acclaimed, Duluth-based slow-core band Low. Sparhawk worked at the show as a production runner.

"I thought it was really amazing," he noted afterwards. "[But] I knew the general public of Duluth came away a little confused. It's kind of sickening to me, because I know people who knew him when he lived here, and they're like, 'Man, everybody hated him! He was the weird little Jewish kid up in Hibbing.'"

So, it's duly ironic that in the weeks before the show, a Hibbing resident had mounted a much publicized, yet failed, campaign to present Dylan with an honorary 1959 Hibbing High School letterman jacket. "C'mon, this is the town where people gave him wedgies," says Sparhawk. "Why is he going to say it's good to be back?"

Solarium at the Entry, Sundays

Back on the home front, one of the more enlightening Sunday-night club features to hit town in a long time is Solarium, which goes down every couple of months at the 7th Street Entry. Basically a low-budget nephew of the Future Perfect multimedia trancefest (which will descend upon Intermedia Arts Nov. 14), Solarium is billed, a bit pretentiously, as "A Celebration of the Sun." The event (hosted by electro-escapists Skye Klad) is basically a showcase for a cast of local eccentrics specializing in various strands of 'difficult music.'

Frankly, I stop by mainly for the reading material: The playbill's assortment of mystery-animal reports, Great Pyramid diagrams, and profiles of unconventional thinkers such as paranormal theorist Charles Fort (1874-1932) is the perfect accompaniment to the atonal stuff on stage.

Admittedly, the performances themselves are hit or miss, perhaps by design. But last time out I stayed for Skye Klad's (too) late headlining sets, in which they prove to be virtually the only rock band in town that's willing to map out 14-minute sonic topographies, replete with numerous time changes and multipart song structures.

In other words, it's a thrill. Ari Rosenthal's sax is rendered through an array of effects, while the band's guitarist plays the role of a sort of Blank Generation surrealist.

The singer's voice is frequently a dead ringer for that of Joy Division's Ian Curtis. By the way, both "Solarium" and "Skye Klad" are references to Wicca and/or paganism, though the significance of this to the assembled musicians and the music they make remains a happy mystery.

The band is going underground for a while as they hold auditions for a new bassist; in the meantime, subscribe to their e-mail list and UFO updates at www.primenet.com/~ousia/skyeklad.

Ana Voog at First Avenue, September 25

Pairs of professional-looking, male thirtysomethings were spotted throughout the Entry on this Friday night, whispering to each other about how small Ana Voog appears in person. The fellas were evidently cultists of Anacam, Voog's live-cam Web site, just now getting their first "real" look at their heroine at her long-awaited CD-release party. And her new breed of male admirers might be preferable to the biker creeps who would hoot and leer at her when she was Rachael Olson of the Blue Up?, but in stepping out from her self-imposed exile on the sterile Web, Voog has yet to match her past glories.

Bald and dressed in the most demure stage gear she's donned this decade, poor Ana was visibly unnerved under the spotlight. Further, her cold techno backdrop seemed to keep her from converting that anxiety into the strange beauty she cultivated with her former band. Voog's entourage of assistants, who sauntered about blowing bubbles and theatrically dusting the room, weren't of much consequence, either. I wouldn't begrudge one of the city's most dynamic performers the chance to score a hit with her rapturous yet shallow CD, anavoog.com, but a return to warm, organic live performances may be in order.

Miscellany: Bust a move

What's with the new First Avenue calendar? If you've been frantically searching for those multicolored band schedules that were a First Avenue staple for some 18 years, you can officially call off the hounds. Taking the old calendar's place is a photocopied "in-house magazine" that's more than a bit mimetic of the defunct performance zine Gig--which makes sense, since (the recently hitched) former Gigsters Tiger Roholt and Winona Sorenson are now employed in the club's front office.

Scenesters who are averse to such abrupt changes in tradition can take comfort in the fact that the zine symbolizes the club's ongoing attempt at setting off in a new direction. My own knee-jerk protests were quelled by owner-manager Steve McClellan's first-issue memo. "Since change seems to be on the upswing at First Avenue this year, let's change some of our promotional tools and learn something in the process."

Change is, indeed, good, and one of my favorite additions to the Ave. this year is Bust-A-Move, a video game on the first floor, next to the restroom staircase. A Japanese combination of Super Breakout and Tetris, with a Hello-Kitty's-Keroppi-like frog character, it's the cutest game in years. And the machine's popularity is inversely proportional to the quality of the music on any given night. So if I want to know how a local band is faring, I simply Bust-A-Move.

Fortunately, it's possible to position oneself to play the game and still watch the Mainroom stage. That said, I'm holding out for a winter music season in which we clubgoers will be encouraged to save our quarters.

Club Scout is a monthly column about local live music.

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