Picked to Click 2009: Red Pens voted Twin Cities' best new band

Celebrating the 10 winners of this year's best-new-bands poll

"The Moonstone continuum is a religion that's been significantly neglected in the last 2,000 years," he says. "It's invasive in personal and bodily ways. The moral lessons of the Moonstone continuum are extraordinarily complex. It's a shifting and changing, living message."

It'd be a phenomenally amusing joke. Only, around the table, no one stifles laughter. No one cracks a smile, and slowly, it dawns on you: They're serious.

Or are they? The members of Moonstone are clearly obsessed with their mythical presence, and it's best not to waste brainpower trying to crack their code. Joking or serious, Moonstone have amassed a body of songs so quickly, and of such high quality, that divine influence shouldn't be ruled out. Their songs reboot the best in '70s prog rock—through lengthy compositions, furious tandem guitar solos pitch Jon Nielsen and Seth Rosetter into headlong shredding. Protracted synth asides, courtesy of Zibra Zibra's Arron Baum, sprawl into a musical netherworld, oozing digital epiphany. And it's all anchored by a rhythm section, with Annika Johnson on drums and Sean Hartman on bass, that keeps the otherwise ethereal musings rooted on solid Earth. Mingling complexity with catchiness is a task that has stymied songwriters in bands twice Moonstone's age and experience, but Moonstone bring it all off with jaw dropping ease.

2009 Winner, Red Pens
Nick Vlcek
2009 Winner, Red Pens

It's a lot to bite off. And when you add into the picture Reverend Mackert, who administers unfathomable sermons and brandishes smoldering sticks of incense during live performances, it can be difficult to tell the jokes from the truth. But Moonstone prefer that dizzying tightrope walk, and if their musings about moon service and mystical phenomena like the Advent Crossroads are fiction, it's a gag so well realized, so deeply constructed, it becomes indistinguishable from reality.

Let's face it—real life is boring and cruel. But myth is perfect, unassailable, and grand. And anyone who distracts himself with petty suspicions about Moonstone's spiritual agency is missing the point. As Moonstone prove, there are much, much more important things in life than the cold, hard truth.

David Hansen is a staff writer for City Pages and a Gimme Noise contributor.

4. The Guystorm

photo: Nick Vlcek

Taking karaoke lessons and hammering drinks with The Guystorm

by Nikki Miller

It's a bustling karaoke night at Grumpy's when I meet Ryan Norton and Chris DuCharme, guitarists for the Guystorm. We're still waiting on singer Angelo Pennacchio and bassist Tanner Lien. Yes, these are band dudes. You know them. You are them, you've dated them, you've spurned them in favor of doctors and lawyers if you have any sense in that brain of yours.

They're late.

While waiting, we chat about the band's recent change of drummers. In spite of this little bump in the road for Guystorm, they appear to be in their usual good spirits.

Just late.

No worries, so DuCharme, Norton, and I slam more drinks. After all, DuCharme has had a successful shift at his day job, so he's buying. I put in to sing a Joe Tex song, and, after a smattering of applause, request Dolly Parton. Grumpy's is a sacred place for the Guystorm. "When we first started hanging out," Norton explains, "Angelo, Tanner, and I would come to sing karaoke. It kind of gave us the confidence to get up and sing. We'd learn to know a song and not be timid with it, so once we started writing our own songs, we'd learned how to emote."

"My first song was 'Lola,'" DuCharme recalls. "I remember singing it shit-ass drunk down on my knees to a super-square Twins fan. 'I'm not the world's most physical guy...and he nearly killed me.'"

"I mostly sang the Stones or the Kinks or Mitch Ryder," Norton explains. "Angelo would sing Prince or ELO, and Tanner sings Guess Who..."

DuCharme interrupts, "Doesn't he sing Neil Diamond?"

"No, you're confusing with the Guess Who."

DuCharme pulls out his phone, looking for an absent Lien to help with dispute resolution as Norton gives advice on being a karaoke aficionado in search of a legitimate band. "It's kind of luck finding people you can play and gel with. When things fall into place, they fall into place. I remember sitting in the practice space, and Tanner and Angelo had recorded some demos. We played through a whole song and I was like, holy shit."

DuCharme interrupts, setting down his phone. "'Rock Me Gently.' That was Tanner's song."

"We hit it," Norton continues. "We played a whole song. Now that whole period is nostalgic for me. I remember being mystified knowing we did it. Now that we know we can accomplish certain things, we can set the bar higher."

Discussion devolves from setting a new bar to sitting on a higher bar stool, and we decide it's time to order still more drinks before we discuss the rare occurrence of receiving audience requests at karaoke. DuCharme laughs, "Yeah, 'Stop singing.'"

"I've been asked to sing solo. So low they can't hear me," Norton laughs. "Tenor. Ten or twelve miles away. Grandpa jokes."

Around midnight, Pennacchio and Lien arrive. Lien bellies up to the bar while the rest of us huddle around the songbook. Pennacchio considers trying something new before opting for ELO. He signs up. Shots all around, then Chris attacks Creedence's "Midnight Special," Angelo croons "Sweet Talkin' Woman," and Ryan tackles "Symphony for the Devil." Norton leaves me with some parting wisdom on karaoke no-nos. "I think of it as—and I've done this—like putting in a ten-minute song with a nine-minute guitar solo."

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