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There were no picket lines. No megaphones. No sandwich boards or petitioners. To an average concertgoer, Wednesday night at the Turf Club looked pretty innocent. But on closer inspection—an Obama table set up in the back corner, the occasional Al Franken flyer being passed slyly from hand to hand—there were political motivations afoot. Like any good Minnesota event, the Eight Is Enough show, despite being a fundraiser for Democratic candidate Barack Obama, kept most of its partisan political statements subtle and polite.
"We're Tape and Tape," joked Tapes 'n Tapes frontman Josh Grier, as he pounded through a set of ratcheting rock songs with only his drummer, Jeremy Hanson, accompanying him. The duo sounded great, almost more intense than the full Tapes lineup, and Grier's Obama T-shirt was the only indication that they were there for political purposes.
The most outwardly activist portion of the evening belonged to low-key hip-hop duo Kill the Vultures, who played second. A few songs into their set, MC Crescent Moon dropped his microphone to his side and chanted a spoken-word piece about the political climate and the cost of war, and the entire room fell silent so they could hear his words ring out unamplified. "We're reaching Vietnam numbers," Moon repeated, lifting the mic back up to his mouth to shout "Speak up, boy/They can't hear your voice!"
With the audience still stunned, Moon descended from the stage and lit a stick of sage, pacing through the front part of the crowd and pausing to let the smoke permeate the stale air of the bar. The act of burning sage traces back to early Native American ceremonies and is believed to clear negative energy and spirits from a room; whether any spirits were purged from the Turf is unclear, but the scent of the sage created a calming effect and made for an unexpected multi-sensory experience.
Next, attention shifted to the center of the room for Dosh, who set up his rig in front of the old stage on the left wall of the club. While the setup undoubtedly gave the first few rows of people a great view of what Dosh was doing, it made it difficult to see what was going on from any other part of the bar. According to reports from the inner ring, however, Dosh was accompanied by saxophonist Michael Lewis and guitar player Jeremy Ylvisaker. The trio created an amorphous ambience that escalated from chilled-out and slow to loud and crashing, whipping the crowd into a frenzy without the use of any words or vocal melodies.
Even with Dosh playing, the evening felt fairly ordinary until Alan Sparhawk emerged and Low began to set up their gear. Sure, the acts at the beginning of the night were immensely talented, but they were all fairly common sights around the Twin Cities. All of a sudden, the magnitude of the event began to sink in: Any of the bands playing Eight Is Enough could have headlined their own Turf show—and on this night Low appeared to be the biggest attraction, with the audience swelling right before they started to play.
"Anybody have a bright idea that could solve it all?" Sparhawk asked the audience, with a devilish sparkle in his eyes.
"Mimi for President!" someone shouted back.
Almost on cue, lightning started to flash across the sky as Low played, and the capacity crowd huddled together to sway to the slow-burning rock as the rain fell. Low may not have said anything overtly political, but there was a coherence to their set that transcended what they were singing or saying and lent a feeling of gravity to the evening.
The energy spiked once again as P.O.S. took the stage, accompanied by the two organizers of Eight Is Enough, Andrew Broder of Fog and Joe Selinski of the Dad in Common. Selinski delivered a very refined message to the crowd about uniting for Obama, and Broder interrupted him to add, "Joe, you need to be a little more hip-hop about this. Everybody put your middle finger in the air!"
The crowd obliged, and P.O.S. followed with a set that combined old and new material backed by DJ Paper Tiger. P.O.S. pulled up fellow Doomtree MC Mike Mictlan, and the two bounced around the stage in unison during "Game Over," which had the crowd yelling along to the chorus: "Rap won't save you!" Though he was in top form on his own, debuting plenty of fresh material and commanding the audience with sing-alongs and hand waves, the crowd was clearly the most amped up during a guest appearance by Dessa, who joined P.O.S. for "Dots & Dashes."
As the two traded verses, I spotted Dosh on the sidelines with his eyebrows raised, shaking his head in disbelief as Josh Grier carried his gear out the back door and Crescent Moon leaned on the bar. They may not have shoved partisan politics down our throats, but everyone in the room knew why everyone else was there—a feeling of unity even as we head into the season of the great divide.