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Like spurs on boots, or bacon in beans, Andy Friedman and Minneapolis just belong together. It all started a few years ago when Friedman quit his job at the New Yorker (he was an illustrator), packed his bags, and drove straight here to meet Spider John Koerner, the legendary West Banker and something of a musical godfather to the young Brooklyner. The two played together that night at the Open Book; it was Friedman's first time on stage. Now he just can't stay away. This time around, he brought some of his friends from New York's western-revival scene, the Two-Man Gentleman Band and the Defibulators.
We rolled into the 331 just in time to miss the Gentleman Band, which was a bummer. If their merch table was any indication, they were rootin'-tootin'.
The Defibulators looked right at home on that little 331 stage. Sporting dual washboards, some wicked old-timey tunes, and a Paul Bunyan-looking dude just blazing on the fiddle, they whipped the place into a plaid-and-denim frenzy.
Afterward, they remained on stage, subbing for Andy Friedman's regular Other Failures.
Friedman's lyrics tend toward a sort of hobo fatalism, which suits his troubadour styling. You need a keen sense of your own mortality to play these timeless old-time songs. "I don't want to die like Andy Kaufman," he says at one point. "I understand why Van Gogh took off his ear. I understand why William Blake went mad." The highlight tonight came when he channeled his inner Woody Guthrie on "Talking Blues, from Brooklyn to Minneapolis." During one of the song's extended spoken-word verses, Friedman yelled at a woman in front of the stage to keep dancing while he described his favorite gravestone inscription:
"I was what you are.
"I am what you will b-b-b-b-b-b-b-be!"
"Are y'all ready for a waltz?" Friedman shouts, before breaking into "Guys Like Me Don't Get Grants." It's a beer-cups-in-the-air tune bemoaning the lack of funding for visual artists. Not exactly the kind of stuff Woody would have sung about, but Friedman's an illustrator by trade, so at least his scruffy howls are real.
The crowd, by the way, was definitely ready for a waltz.
"Spider John Koerner changed my life one night in Minneapolis," Andy tells me after he climbs off the tiny stage. "I was watching him at the 400 Bar, and everyone was talking. I couldn't believe it. Then [400 Bar owner] Tom Sullivan says, 'Are you crazy? Spider John's a roadhouse bluesman! He doesn't give a shit if people are talking while he plays. He wants people to talk!' Seriously, that changed my life."
Andy didn't change anyone's life tonight, but the place did get a little rowdy, no one was quiet while he played, and we more or less had a hell of a time. Didn't we?
Yes, we did.