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Chris Perricelli is a man of style. Whether performing with his T.Rex-flavored rock band Little Man, appearing as a guest singer at a Bowie tribute, or simply heading out for a night on the town, Perricelli can be spotted dressed to the nines in tailored button-down shirts, flared pants, and the occasional fedora.
Being familiar with the local rocker's image and sound, I wasn't surprised that when we decided to get together to talk business, Perricelli suggested I join him and his wife, Brigid Kelly, for a day of vintage clothes shopping. The couple lives in a vibrantly colored bohemian apartment above an antique store in the Selby-Snelling area in St. Paul, packed wall-to-wall with records, knickknacks, and lovingly chosen pieces of old furniture. The neighborhood is filled with quaint coffee shops and hole-in-the-wall bars, but for Chris and Brigid, the best part of their corner of the city is its proximity to their favorite vintage stores.
As we leave the apartment, Perricelli explains that the most difficult part of shopping is finding clothes in his size. But within moments of stepping into the first shop, Lula, owner Hayley Bush reveals that she has already set aside a selection of shirts and pants that she is sure will fit Perricelli's small five-foot-two frame, along with an armful of flower-print shift dresses for his wife. The two of them shuffle into dressing rooms, giggling with satisfaction.
Perricelli has made a name for himself around town by crafting his own style of vintage-inspired rock 'n' roll, garnering praise from critics for his captivating stage presence and Prince-worthy guitar solos (last year, Perricelli even made the cover of City Pages). Since I first spotted him toting guitars for Ike Reilly, I've watched from afar as Perricelli progressed from roadie to tentative lead singer to all-out rock god, commanding audiences with a demeanor that is at once unassuming and confident.
Since moving to Minneapolis from Chicago, Perricelli says he's been happy to discover a music scene that places an emphasis on fashion and community. "There's a lot of folks in town that put some time into what they're going to wear. Not only is it a great rock 'n' roll scene, but it's a great fashion scene, too. I mean, we have Voltage, combining music and fashion. I think that's great."
"I look like a diner waitress!" Kelly exclaims as she bounds out of her dressing room, a blaze of spiraling hair cascading down the shoulders of her fitted polyester dress. "All I need is a nametag that says 'Flo.'"
When Perricelli emerges from his room, though, her attention shifts toward inspecting his appearance. They say that behind every great man is a strong woman; in Perricelli's case, it appears that behind every great rock man is a strong woman with a wicked fashion sense and an eye for color and fit. Kelly has a hand in selecting all of Perricelli's purchases, and he looks on adoringly as his wife examines his clothes and voices her approval or disapproval.
"I've always been a thrift shopper," says Perricelli. "Brigid and I, upon first meeting at the Turf Club in 2001, were attracted to one another as we each saw the other in vintage clothes." He says their mutual love of thrift shopping was one of the first things he and his wife had in common.
By the time we leave the first store and make our way across the street to Up Six, Perricelli is lugging a shopping bag splitting at the seams. Perricelli says he and Kelly have been frequenting these stores since before he moved to Minnesota, and their bond with the shop owners is clear. Though other customers move in and out of the stores, each owner dotes on Perricelli and Kelly with the attentiveness of an old friend, hovering outside the dressing room to make sure the two of them are pleased.
In the basement of Go Vintage, between trying on a striped tunic that would have suited George Harrison and a tight-fitting cropped race jacket, Perricelli tells me that he has just returned from a trip to Chicago, where he was recording his newest album in Reilly's studio. In addition to being his former boss, Reilly employs a few of Perricelli's former Little Man bandmates, producer and keyboard player Ed Tinley and drummer Dave Cottini, and Perricelli called on his old friends to help him record.
Though the tracks are still rough—a disclaimer Perricelli repeats several times throughout the day—he is willing to preview a few of them when we return to the apartment for a respite from shopping. As Kelly leaves to try on her new dresses, Perricelli cues up a few of the tracks on his stereo. One song, "Arrows and Tarots," is a poppy and upbeat song that will be familiar to Little Man fans who have seen the group perform live, while another, slower, acoustic track showcases a more pensive side of Perricelli's songwriting and features a multilayered, building vocal melody. Despite being unpolished, the tracks sound great, and it's clear that Perricelli is well on his way to producing a successful follow-up to last year's critically acclaimed Soulful Automatic.
Kelly re-appears in the doorway of the living room, dressed in a fluorescent floral-patterned dress. "Come try on your new clothes," she says with childlike glee. "Let's have a fashion show!"