Homecoming Kings

Hip hop invades Dinkytown; Semisonic slips into the Target Center; the Cows head for the punk-rock pasture

Pet peeve of the night: A tiny Zone staffer introduced the band, saying, "We can hardly call them local, but we'd like to," offering yet another illustration of the Minnesota Music Inferiority Complex, which dictates that "local" and "popular," or even "local" and "good," are obviously mutually exclusive. This attitude certainly shows up in the Zone local-music policy.

Milking the Moment: the Cows, First Avenue, December 21

"We're the Cows," snarled singer Shannon Selberg, for the thousandth time in 13 years. Actually, he said it in a demented slur--"Wethecow!"--that capped every demented Cows song. But on this night, the stunted salutation left his mouth for the last time.

Spinning heads: Zacharia Combs (center) of the rap crew Kanser
Daniel Corrigan
Spinning heads: Zacharia Combs (center) of the rap crew Kanser

OK, so this wasn't officially the farewell Cows show. But with guitarist Thor Eisentrager (he of the mooing guitar sound) leaving the band, and Shannon and bassist Kevin Rutmanis now living out of town, what else could it be? Whatever the case, the show affirmed several long-held theories: 1) The Cows are/were one of the last local "punk" bands worth their weight in dung; 2) the Cows can/could vibrate the Mainroom concrete under your feet like few others; and 3) the end of the Cows would mean the end of an era.

On the bright side, sometimes it's best to leave past glories where they belong: in the past. But if this night's performance wasn't the greatest show of the band's 12-year career, the band is still in prime form. They plowed through a string of greatest hits--"Heave Ho," "Hitting the Wall," "Chow," "Big Mickey"--as if the lean, mean noise-rock days of 1991 had never ended. Shannon dedicated "Sexy Pee Story" to his mother, as fans flicked lit cigs at his shins. The Cows' fourth (or is it their fifth?) drummer, Freddy Votel of T.V.B.C., proved himself fluid enough to navigate the band's deceptively slippery landslidelike song structures. And, in a display of self-conscious sincerity, Shannon actually addressed the audience with a few complete, albeit obscure, sentences about how he finally felt like a man, despite having a girl's name. By Cows standards, it was downright confessional.

The overimaginative observer might have detected a sentimental finality in closing songs like "Cabin Man" (with its scowling coda "I don't want to go"), the low and mournful "Theme from Midnight Cowboy," or their set-ending cover of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Yet the band maintained its screwy, poker-faced detachment to the bitter end. Almost. As the curtain fell for the last time, Shannon was the last man standing. His final words: "Wethecow."

Again: "Wethecow." (Lights out.)

"We were the Cows." He surrendered.

"Indeed we were..." (Curtain.)

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