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"There are so many people who ask me 'Is D4 still a band?'" That's Dillinger Four bassist Paddy Costello talking. And those people might have a point. The seminal Twin Cities punk act, founded 19 years ago, has released just two records in the past decade, most recently 2008's Civil War. Local shows are rare, and out-of-town excursions even spottier. One consistent exception over the past decade: the annual Dillinger 4th of July shows.
"If we're only doing one show in town for the year, [the D4th] is the one," says Erik Funk, the guitarist, co-vocalist, and the Triple Rock Social Club's head honcho. "Whether we meant to or not, it has turned into an annual event."
Tracing the history of past Dillinger 4th of Julys is like sorting through the Triple Rock's collected pile of found keys and phones on the morning of the 5th. The first D4th was at the Turf Club to help a touring band, but Costello says, "I can't remember which band it was." He also isn't sure of the year it happened, and last year was dubbed "the 9th or maybe 10th," officially. The D4th hasn't been exactly consecutive, but its official billing started consistently in 2005.
Dillinger 4th of July is on Thursday, July 4, Friday, July 5, and Saturday, July 6, at Triple Rock Social Club; full lineup at triplerocksocialclub.com
Overall, there have been 13 or 14 years of late-June/early-July shows, with the details of each being as spotty as the numbers. Key features over the years include shots of Jameson garnished with hot dogs that may or may not have been grilled on the sidewalk, sparklers and nudity combined in ways best left to the imagination, the infamous "man with the fake arm," and one year a bass guitar was lost momentarily.
"I think the crown jewel of all D4th of Julys is the one when a table got brought out for crowd-surfing," says Costello. "I just remember looking up and Loopy is surfing the crowd on a table that they were passing across the room.... I thought, this is fantastic. It almost doesn't matter what we're playing: The floor show is better than the stage show at this point."
With the holiday coming on a Thursday this year, Funk and his band have gone all out, expanding the party to three nights and 18 bands in total. Dillinger Four headlines on Friday night, with touring acts the Flatliners and A Wilhelm Scream on Thursday and Twin Cities natives Off With Their Heads paired with Chicago luminaries Pegboy on Saturday. That list doesn't include the many other notables sharing the bill. "In the past there have been so many bands that we were friends with that we wanted to come play anyway," explains Costello, "that it was a logical expansion."
The traveling bands will not just be playing to a regular local crowd. Along with attendees from near and far, the growth to three days makes D4th a big-ticket event. "We usually get a lot of travelers, people from Japan or [elsewhere]," says Funk. "For Dillinger Four fans, especially more recent ones, this might be their only chance to see us anywhere." The band's last U.S. tour was back in 2009. In other words, Twin Cities fans may only get to see the band once or twice each year, but for fans in, say, San Francisco or New York, their only opportunity comes with an airline ticket.
"It's not a festival festival, as it's all in one place," says Funk, noting the additional challenge to involve so many bands while keeping prices low, but it's a big weekend for the band, and one that was planned on relatively short notice.
"We have a tendency to forget there are significantly more responsible bands out there that do wacky things — like set up shows in advance," Costello says. "It's never quite been our style."
With festival number one on its way and a list of interested bands for future years, the D4th of July has a good chance to grow. "Who knows, maybe in a couple years it spreads into other venues, maybe we really make it something," Costello says, before adding, "that's probably more than we can handle."