Local Music Yearbook '03

We Sang. We Danced. We Set things on Fire. And Sometime after the Bar Closed, We Wrote It All Down for You.

The Fine Line burned. Atmosphere signed to a major. Har Mar Superstar made out with Kate Moss. As we look back on the most startling, historic, or just plain weird events from the past 12 months of Minnesota music, it's clear that none of our New Year's resolutions from 2002 stuck. But by going way back in time--back to the olden days before the 2:00 a.m. bar close, before Wellstone World Music Day, before Paul Westerberg started drinking again--maybe we can figure out where the year went wrong.

 

JANUARY

Packed with show announcements, sex diaries, and musings on the beauty of tanks, the online message board TCPunk.com kicks off the New Year by shutting down for good. The community it created lives on, however, throwing benefit shows in the 7th St. Entry for one of its own, Steve "Moldy Ramone" Moldenhauer. Known for his no-holds-barred rendition of the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer" at Tubby's punk karaoke, Moldy dies after a long battle with cancer in July. He's mourned by older punks across the city.

Elsewhere, music fans use their dial-up connections to build communities in other scenes. Sites such as MNVibe.com (for dance music), and DUNation.com (for hip hop), become the town halls these local audiences never had. And by the year's end, bands are promoting their shows on Friendster.com--a social networking board.

 

FEBRUARY

The day after 21 people are trampled to death in a Chicago nightclub, a pyrotechnic display by the Seattle band Jet City Fix sets the Fine Line Music Café ablaze. Though witnesses compare the spread of flames across the ceiling to a scene from Backdraft, security manages to get everybody out safely in less than two minutes. Three days later, 100 people die in a Rhode Island nightclub when the venue is similarly set afire by stage effects.

In the wake of these tragedies, club managers across the state reevaluate their safety procedures. Local city officials crack down on fire-code violations. And previously pyromaniacal bands such as Flipp are reduced to blowing up feather pillows. Absorbing an estimated $1.5 million in damages, the Fine Line invests in new bathroom fixtures, an expensive sound system, upscale tables and chairs. In a July grand reopening ceremony, patrons arrive to find the place looking...pretty much the same.

 

MARCH

After years of trying to secure an FM signal, Radio K (KUOM-AM 770) strikes a deal with St. Louis Park High School to move its transmitter to a taller building and share the boosted signal--thus making the slogan "real college radio" technically inaccurate. The arrangement allows high schoolers to broadcast during daytime class hours, while turning the rest of the time over to collegiate DJs. With a neighborhood-wide range, the K signs on to 106.5 FM for the first time. DJ Lindsey Thomas commemorates the moment with XTC's "Radio's in Motion."

In Austin, Texas, at the South by Southwest music conference, cult R&B singer Har Mar Superstar performs with the Sugar Hill Gang at an undisclosed location. For the rest of the year, it becomes possible to believe just about everything you hear about the guy. Recording with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O.? True. Being immortalized as "seed art" at the Minnesota State Fair? True. Touring with Kelly Osbourne? True. Singing a cover of Phil Collins's "Against All Odds" with the Postal Service? True. Making out with Kate Moss? True. Partying with Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat? True. (Well, not really.)

After moving to London, Ibiza, and then Hollywood, he visits home in November with a shambling, 40-minute set at the Triple Rock Social Club, opening with the words "I'm really wasted"--never a good sign. Can Behind the Music be far behind?

Performing at First Avenue on March 19, the guitarist of Montreal rock orchestra Godspeed You! Black Emperor announces from the stage that the bombs have started falling on Iraq. To boos from the audience, he responds, "You paid for those bombs! Those are your bombs over there!" Motioning to cut the lights, he leads the band in total darkness.

 

APRIL

Congress passes the RAVE Act by sneaking it into otherwise benign legislation designed to create a new media-based system of response to child kidnappings. The law holds property owners and promoters liable for illegal drug use on their premises (even if they took steps to prevent it). This is the last nail in the coffin of outdoor rave culture. Happily, dance music explodes in local clubs. Says DJ Lonnie Mneumonic: "The people who said they were in it for the music have become fundamental in keeping it alive. The others have gone into rehab."

 

MAY

Anti-Clear Channel sentiment reaches an all-time high, if for no other reason than that the largest radio, concert-booking, and billboard conglomerate in town is still there, and ready to benefit from loosening FCC regulations.

At a Big V's show, a member of punk band Heads and Bodies wears a "Fuck Clear Channel" T-shirt. Local music magazine Lost Cause publishes a special issue on Clear Channel, urging readers to boycott the company's concerts. In the June issue, Clear Channel booker Rich Best appears in the magazine to answer his critics.

"That was the best payoff," publisher Mark Baumgarten says later. "For the first time, there was actually a dialogue with Clear Channel in a publication."

June is the 11th and final issue of Lost Cause: After selling his car to launch it, and doing everything from layout to distribution himself, Baumgarten steps down, citing exhaustion, and leaves town to edit the music section of Portland's Willamette Week.

Rockabilly band Jack Knife and the Sharps headline the second day of Mayslack's annual Memorial Day Music Festival, as always. But something isn't right: The normally pale singer/guitarist Rick Hollister turns the color of his gray shirt three songs in, and dashes from the stage without explanation. He is soon rushed to the hospital for a bout of hypoglycemia.

Kicking off his medley of hits with a sample of the "dearly beloved" intro from "Let's Go Crazy"--a ballsy move--Next's R.L. takes the stage at First Avenue for the first time ever during a show that pays tribute to the late Roger Troutman Jr. (a local musician who died January 22 after four months in a coma and who was the son of Zapp's Roger Troutman). The R&B pinup later joins Mint Condition on "What Kind of Man Would I Be," as A Tribe Called Quest's Ali Shaheed Muhammad mans the decks.

The same month, Faux Jean covers "Let's Go Crazy" in German. Accident Clearinghouse washboard man David Campbell remarks, "Covering Prince at First Avenue is like whipping your dick out on stage."

 

JUNE

Lining the horizon at Float-Rite Park with enough port-o-potties to supply the next Woodstock, the two-day Soulstice festival of dance music and hip hop has everything: giant video screens, immaculate sound, high-profile talent (from techno headliner Christopher Lawrence to rap legend KRS-One). Only problem: nobody comes.

Having swallowed the 15-year-old magazine's parent company the week before, Best Buy closes Request. Best Buy later pisses off small retailers by making an exclusive deal to sell the Rolling Stones' four-DVD concert set, Four Flicks. The fact that it sucks doesn't comfort other stores.

About an hour after getting approval from city inspectors, the Triple Rock Social Club opens its new concert room, kicking off three nights of shows from legendary local synth-punks Lifter Puller, who reunite for the occasion. Fans sing along to every lyric at the artfully slanted bar, where gin and tonics keep sliding down the wood finish and onto their laps. Co-owned by Dillinger Four's Erik Funk, the club quickly becomes a punk haven, hosting the 14th anniversary of local zine Profane Existence, the 15th anniversary of hardcore band Misery, and the "last show" by beery screamers the Quincy Punx.

"I thought that a place run by punk rockers would be a dump," enthuses Dames singer Tony Bennet. "To my joy, it's cleaner than my apartment!"

Embroiled in a lawsuit with its landlord, the Quest announces that it will consider moving to a new location in 2004. Meanwhile, downtown Minneapolis gets more crowded and upscale. New clubs opening this year include: the Dakota Jazz Club (relocated from St. Paul); Club 3 Degrees (the re-christened Christian hangout New Union, relocated across the street from the Quest); DJ-oriented Tabu (formerly South Beach); Tabu's partner over on Block E, the uber-swank Escape Ultra Lounge; and the dance club Empire. A new burlesque club, Le Cirque Rouge de Gus, brings old-fashioned striptease to the sleaze district--and also lends its piano to First Avenue for Semisonic's rendition of "Closing Time."

Minneapolis singer Shirley Witherspoon dies of heart and kidney failure at age 62. The onetime Duke Ellington vocalist is fondly remembered for her jazz revues in local theaters.

Shawn (Celly) Neis dies unexpectedly at home in Duluth at age 26. The founder of the Dinkytown hip-hop shop Mindstate, Celly launched Mission Control nights at Mario's Keller Bar in 2000, kicking off a legendary series of underground shows that served boots full of beer to local hip hop's inner circle.

 

JULY

At the Quest one Saturday night, DJ Phenix M. returns backstage to find his crate full of rare trance records missing. For days straight, he watches the same six hours of security videotape. Friends lift images from the video and post them online, turning one suspect into a "most-wanted" face in the dance music community. Phenix even makes a T-shirt of the guy, with the caption, "This asshole stole my records and all I got was this fucking T-shirt."

Luckily for Phenix, the face shows up at Plush the following Saturday, wearing the same outfit that he wore on the night in question. The DJ chases him out into the street, where police arrest him, and soon Phenix retrieves his precious stash.

"It was pretty amazing how absolutely everyone came together to help find them," he says, "even though a lot of them hate the shit I play."

Minnesota passes a 2:00 a.m. bar time, allowing clubs to stay open later for an annual fee. In celebration, Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak drops by the Imperial Room on its new-wave Wednesday. With a quick tutorial by DJ Jake Rudh, Rybak takes over the wheels of steel with A Flock of Seagulls' "I Ran."

Marissa Mathy-Zvaifler, a 16-year-old Atmosphere fan, is raped and killed at the Sunshine Theater in Albuquerque, New Mexico, within hours of the group's concert there. Hearing the news days later, Slug dedicates Atmosphere's album Seven's Travels to her, and the group plays a Santa Fe benefit in October for a teen foundation set up by her mother.

For the first time in more than 20 years, percussionist Phil Hey and saxophonist Pat Moriarty, two of Minnesota's best improvisers, collaborate for an evening of free improvisation at Brilliant Corners in St. Paul. After a seismic 40-minute set, one listener tells the pair, "There was a Buddhist temple in there somewhere."

Recorded in 1968, Michael Yonkers's Microminiature Love is reissued on Seattle alternative rock label Sub Pop. Yonkers plays the CMJ music festival in October, where he sees what he calls "a sea of green squares" in New York's Bowery Ballroom. It's not a psychedelic flashback: Hipsters in the audience are broadcasting the show to friends on their cell phones.

The Foo Fighters invite Grant Hart onstage at Roy Wilkins Auditorium for a version of his classic Hüsker Dü song "The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill." Grant's 17-year-old son watches from backstage along with a friend, who is writing a high school paper about the Foo Fighters.

Somebody steals Spider John Koerner's guitar, a rare Gretsch with an unmistakable defect: The headstock says "Gretsrh." After Pulse of the Twin Cities publisher Ed Felien reports the story, a music columnist at the paper reads it, shows it to a friend, roadie Ron Shreiner, who knows a guy who bought the guitar from a stranger on the street for $80 a few days earlier. Retrieving his guitar, Koerner graciously recoups him the 80 bucks.

 

AUGUST

Former rock roadie and current Republican senator Norm Coleman emerges as Washington's surprise voice of reason on the issue of online file sharing. While Democrats Rep. Howard Berman (Texas) and Sen. Joe Biden (Delaware) push proposals that would clamp down on the free exchange of copyrighted music, Coleman scolds the Recording Industry Association of America for their "shotgun approach" to the crime--i.e. suing hundreds of individual song-sharers for amounts of up to $150,000. A 12-year-old honor student and an elderly grandfather are among the most notorious culprits.

At the Twin Cities Celebration of Hip Hop at Intermedia Arts, rap duo the C.O.R.E. sets off an outdoor mosh pit as graffiti writers cover a wall in spray-paint art. It might be the first time in history that these two activities take place together. When the bloody noses of dancers dry, and the dust clouds settle, a four-year-old starts doing headstands on the concrete.

At the Kitty Kat Club in Dinkytown, local rock band Coach Said Not To barely kick off their set when liquid bleach starts raining down from the ceiling, scattering the audience. Apparently Annie's Parlour upstairs has decided to mop the floors early, and the stuff leaked through.

After nearly two years of wrangling with Highland Park neighbors over noise complaints and at last receiving a reprieve from the St. Paul City Council to host all-ages shows, Eclipse Records owner Joe Furth tires of the daily skirmishes, packs up the store, and waits to move to the right downtown St. Paul location. In November, he makes an unsuccessful bid for City Council. With the closing of the Fireball Espresso Cafe in Falcon Heights, TC Underground (at 405 W. Lake St.) becomes the Twin Cities' flagship all-ages punk club.

 

SEPTEMBER

Plagued by low attendance and rumors of closing, First Avenue staff watch helplessly as the club's primary property owners, childhood friends Byron Frank and Allan Fingerhut, feud in Hennepin County District Court over just who owns how much of what. (The two settle out of court later.) Coming to the club's aid, House of Large Sizes, the Jayhawks, and the Suburbs play benefits for First Avenue's nonprofit arm, the Developing Arts and Music Foundation. Covers of "Closing Time" are verboten.

Having cut records by Lifter Puller, Girls Against Boys, and Semisonic, legendary Minneapolis studio Seedy Underbelly relocates to Hollywood, where new L.A. resident Har Mar superstar is slated as the first client.(He plans to record with Beck.)

On September 11, Muja Messiah hits the stage of Urban Wildlife rapping his new song "Fuck Bush." The next day, Johnny Cash dies. Opening for Wanda Jackson at Lee's, local country musician Sherwin Linton rises to the occasion with a series of covers that brings the entire crowd to its feet. "It was like the spirit of Johnny Cash came down and took Sherwin over for the evening," says Accident Clearinghouse singer Quillan Roe.

Spoken-word artist Desdamona dances to Linton at O'Gara's Garage in St. Paul during the Minnesota Music Awards--local music's equivalent of the Grammys. Relocated from a ballroom in St. Paul's RiverCentre to the more cozy nightspot, the event sees groups from every imaginable genre mingling while the "Minnies" are passed out by Vikings cheerleaders. Accepting his trophy for best eclectic recording, a bemused Andrew Broder (of Fog) raises the award in a toast, and delivers the Joe Pesci speech of the evening: "Cheerleaders!"

 

OCTOBER

To raise money for the Sound Unseen film and music festival, members of local bands such as Idle Hands, Revolver Modèle, Friends Like These, and others take turns in a kissing booth as fans line up during the closing night party at the Historic Thorpe Building. Performing before the crowd later on, Revolver Modèle singer Ehsan Alam tells the audience: "Dance or I'll kill each and every single one of you."

A rapper known for his gritty rhymes with DAPO and Phull Surkle, Gene Poole (a.k.a. Samuel James Anderson) is charged with two counts of second-degree murder after a confrontation outside a party in south Minneapolis results in the shooting deaths of two men. He maintains his innocence.

The NorShor Theatre in Duluth, the cultural center of the city's art and music universe, closes under financial duress. As if in psychic sympathy, on the same night, Duluth singer, provocateur, and Low nanny Scott Starfire is randomly punched in the face on the street in downtown Minneapolis. Low organizes a "Jaw Aid" concert for Starfire's medical bill at the Sacred Heart Music Center in Duluth, playing a song they named for him, "Starfire," and changing the lyric from "broken bodies all the time" to "broken jawbones all the time."

Booking some of the biggest experimental and avant-garde bands from around the world, the Destijl/Freedom From Festival of Music relocates to fancier digs--the newly renovated Fine Line. At first, there's a bit a of culture clash between the venue and its bohemian patrons: Two hours into the first day, a handwritten sign appears on the bar saying, "Please Tip." But the new sound system is a godsend for the bands, which include a trio featuring Jim O'Rourke and Thurston Moore. One member of Brooklyn jazz butchers No Neck Blues Band makes use of every part of the facility, clambering up a stack of speakers and performing a kind of high-wire act on the one-foot overhang of the club's balcony. Even more impressive: He's doing this while lifting a drum carved out of a tree trunk over his head.

Wellstone World Music Day inspires celebrations across the Twin Cities, and even out of state. At Ruminator Books in St. Paul, alt-folk singer Mason Jennings plays his "Ballad of Paul and Sheila." At Lee's Liquor Lounge, a group of singers join roots rocker Adam Levy for a Bill Murray-worthy "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding." At around the same time, another group of friends joins power-pop veteran Curtiss A onstage at the Turf Cub for the same song. Singing along are the day's co-organizers, Terry and Jim Walsh.

"At a time when everything feels fleeting, false, and fragile," folk-pop singer Martin Devaney later muses, "that day served to show that there are still so many people that can get out there and light a fire under our asses."

A concert by Total Chaos at Urban Wildlife makes good on both the band name and club name. With the hardcore headliners delayed for two hours, a rowdy roomful of punks starts yelling at the bartender to switch the TV from baseball to hockey. The request is ignored until half the crowd begins chanting, "hockey, hockey," shoving other patrons in protest.

Though the bartender relents, things get worse. At the end of the night, someone walks off with the better part of $1,000 that was meant for the band and club.

Blues scene giant Joel Johnson dies of a brain hemorrhage at age 55. The singer and rhythm guitarist with the Joel Johnson Band hosted the great Lazy Bill Lucas show on KFAI-FM (90.3/106.7) for 13 years, and delivered City Pages for longer than that. He was about to do his on-air shift when he fell ill.

 

NOVEMBER

After performing his song "Don't Be Mad if Your Girl Wanna Fornicate" and repeatedly calling the audience "pussies," rapper Ice-Rod is told by the Fine Line's manager on duty to get off the stage. The profusely sweating and shirtless MC pleads like a little boy to finish his set, promising to "watch my mouth." Allowed to continue, he offers his thanks, then screams: "This next one is for all you pussy bar-manager motherfuckers out there. It's called, 'Watch Yo Mouth'!" When he's done, he announces that he'll never set foot on any stage as Ice-Rod again.

Agnostic Front singer Roger Miret picks a fight with a Triple Rock employee over the fact that there's no Agnostic Front in the jukebox. Ejected from the premises, he learns the next day that the bartender he attacked was Billy from Dillinger Four. He spends the next week apologizing for his plastered behavior.

At the Hang-Ups CD-release show, Faux Jean pause before their last song to announce that this will be their final local show with bassist Faux Wayne and singer Jean Angel. It's the end of a hot lineup. "As far as I'm concerned, they kicked the door open for the Idle Hands, Revolver [Modéle], Bridge Club, Luke's Angels, and Friends Like These," remarks Idle Hands singer Ciaran Daly.

Bandleader Faux Jean (whose real name is Matty Schindler) doesn't announce whether he's found anyone willing to adopt the name Jean Faux.

 

DECEMBER

Having played everyone else's club, Orquesta Sabor Tropical singer Maya Lopez-Santamaria decides to open her own. Located on East Lake Street where Vannandy's used to be, El Nuevo Rodeo Night Club and Restaurante kicks off big by booking salsa star Kevin Ceballo for a "special Puerto Rican party night." El Nuevo Rodeo distinguishes itself among Latino clubs by sending out press releases (partly) in English.

Dave Anderson, blues-loving founder of Famous Dave's barbeque chain, is confirmed by the U.S. Senate to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs--a perfect choice. Having lost track of billions of dollars in Indian trust money, the BIA is in as ill repair as the blues themselves. No word yet whether Anderson adopts Johnny Winter's "Don't Take Advantage of Me" as his theme song.

Chris Dorn, lead singer of pop outfit the Beatifics, rents out the Turf Club for his birthday. Musicians from other local bands celebrate by playing impromptu covers onstage. When Beatifics drummer Sean Hoffman sings Van Morrison's "Gloria," he forgets the lyrics, instead improvising a story about lubricated condoms and "your mom." Later, he is punished by the tambourine player, who finds the perfect place to repeatedly land her instrument--his ass. Patrons raise their glasses to Dornfest 2003. Bartenders hope they'll leave the bar before 2004.

 

Thanks to all the contributors: Meg Bratsch, Cecile Cloutier, Jen Gehlhar, Chris Godsey, Sonia Grover, Lars J. Larson, Jamie Laurie, Melissa Maerz, Christian McShane, Kelly O'Brien, Richard Paske, Jake Rudh, Peter S. Scholtes, Kate Silver, Anders Smith Lindall, Charles Terhark, Lindsey Thomas

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