A Public Discussion on the General Popularity of Rock Bands

Who needs rock when you can sit down and watch someone else talk about why music rocks?

I began my week looking for dirt. Not the brown stuff hidden lately under inches of white stuff, but dirt as in dish, dirt as in scoop. The music blog Stereogum had pointed out that Drew Barrymore released an iTunes playlist this week, and she chose local boy-made-good Har Mar Superstar's "Transit" as the last track, noting, "This is my friend Sean...I love this song!" The Har-Mar theater is gone forever, and the man behind the potbellied Lothario persona has left Minneapolis for the Hollywood hills. But could the magic of Sean Tillman be responsible for the recent Barrymore/Fabrizio split?

When I got a hold of Tillman, he dashed my hopes of scandal. "We met through Fab and the rest of the Strokes gang. Drew is a good friend. We have a brother-sister relationship," he wrote via email. Damn. Well, if any daddies out there think their babies have Har Mar's eyes, give me a call and I will try to pin it on him.

Early Friday night, Tapes 'N Tapes brought an intense and rock-majestic set to St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater. It could have been the grandeur of the Fitz, or the polish the Minneapolis band developed during their year of international touring, but I found myself appreciating anew the weirdly dramatic power of the songs from their breakthrough album, The Loon. "10 Gallon Ascots" started off with spacey jazz tickles and a groovy guitar trot, but then it exploded into a riotous clang, a clang of the gods, and the exhilarated crowd broke into spontaneous mid-song applause. The stage lighting cast their shadows 20 feet high, and the shady black figures loomed over the band, as if watching Tapes 'N Tapes star in the theatrical version of their own lives.

"I've been a better lover with your mother," claim the heartless rogues of Tapes 'N Tapes
Daniel Corrigan
"I've been a better lover with your mother," claim the heartless rogues of Tapes 'N Tapes

If the night's first act was "A Popular Rock Band Performs," the second act was "The General Popularity of Rock Bands Discussed." Twin Cities indie-rock radio homegirl No. 1, Mary Lucia, interviewed pop culture critic Charles "Chuck" Klosterman (Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto) as part of the Current's Fakebook series. A few days before, Axl Rose had finally released a song from the unreasonably delayed album Chinese Democracy, and she asked Klosterman for his verdict. He confessed he'd long ago received the complete album's worth of leaked tracks, and then considered the power of rock in a somewhat broader context.

"The album cost something like $13 million to make," Klosterman said, "and it has 13 songs on it. That means each song has to be worth $1 million. What does this song have to do to be worth that much? It would have to, like, bring troops back from Iraq."

On the other side of the Mississippi, the underaged and jaded found a home as locals First Communion Afterparty took the stage at the Hex. FCAP are an act I find both sexy and mysterious. Every time I see them, they have either more (six?) or less (four?) members than the last time. On Friday, a straw-haired Urban Outfitters catalog model with Goldie Hawn's eyelashes, Rapunzel's curly locks, and a lethargic indifference to rhythm stood between the two vocalists, batting a tambourine.

Guitarist Liam Watkins wore rose-colored eyeglasses and an embroidered burgundy frockcoat accented by an ascot—a perfect outfit for having tea with Alice and the Red Queen. Yet when he sang I sensed that he was sneering at me—at my unimaginative expectations and comparatively conventional gray-tinted eyeglasses. When not harmonizing with him like Mama Cass or dancing like Stevie Nicks, frontwoman Mama Carin beat a floor tom with shamanistic conviction.

A sprawling commune of a band, these prophets of new psychedelia combine the percussive shake of a den of rattlesnakes with waves of guitar that warp and shimmer like heat coming off a stretch of desert blacktop. FCAP's loose-limbed bohemian jangle and drugged-out drawl are a seductive invitation to get on the bus and head West. When I got into my car after the show, I found myself reaching for a compass and my Rand-McNally.

They have baby faces, with cherubic cheeks and cute little noses, but they howl and shriek like mother's little nightmares. On Sunday night, Minneapolis trio Baby Guts played an assaultive set at the Dinkytowner. Drummer Zam Zam Goswitz fired off beats like his kit was a Kalashnikov, the cymbals pinging like bullet casings as they hit the ground. While head screamer and guitar player Laura Larson traded verses with bassist Taylor Motari, I wondered if they were in a contest to see whose vocal chords would blow out first. At times it seemed like the band was one unstoppable rhythm section, a unified force that had abandoned melody to concentrate on delivering multiple roundhouse punches to the ear.

Then Motari declared a moment of truce and singled out the band's biggest fan—for that night, anyway. "This show is to celebrate Gryphon's birthday. Hey Gryphon, if you're just turning 21 tonight, why does the picture on our flyer show you drinking a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon?"

Then it was back to the beatdown, with the band launching into their single "Staplegun." Here Larson snarled, "This is a hostile takeover! Oh come on, I can take it. If I am unoriginal, repetitive...."

But Baby Guts are not really that repetitive: Sometimes they sound like a bus careening over the edge of a cliff; other times, they sound like a series of large boulders careening over the edge of a cliff.

 
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