The Year in Music
At its most utopian, pop music offers up a cheerily inclusive "we" for all to join. Every fan, no matter how knowing or aware, yearns at some point to be swallowed into something greater than her tiny life. This blob of desire we immerse ourselves in can be as benign as true love (manifested in the ethereal harmonies of adolescence), or as churlish as hating your parents (emerging through the Wagnerian punishment of guitar thud.)
Either way, in good times, behind this yearning is a decent yen: to realize one's true self within an imaginary community of others.
But now we is a loaded word, meaning "not you" with a vengeance. And the nature of that amorphous mass sensibility has shifted to knee-jerk patriotism or unlicensed group therapy. Whether "we" prefer Creed or Aaron Tippin, Enya or Celine Dion, there are plenty of big vacuous places being prepared for us to lose ourselves in and feel like good, spiritual people who'll never need to think about what our group participation means. Suddenly, the mere escapism of a Britney extravaganza seems like an almost noble pursuit.
So please excuse me for opting out of the first-person plural this twelve-month. Thank you Beyoncé and Ja Rule and Petey Pablo and J to the Izzo V to the Izzay for all you've done to try to convince me otherwise. But the steep decline in the quality of black pop, teen pop, and dolt rock meant the real pleasures this year were less publicized. So here, in all their shameful subjectivity, are my thoughts on ten aural realities I found worth visiting repeatedly over the past year. Each is idiosyncratic, the product of sharp brains and industrious little fingers. Not coincidentally, even the most "commercial" of these sold less than projected. None is likely to seriously affect the pop world I still love from a distance.
Maybe next year will be different. God bless whoever.
Love and Theft
Forget all that felgerkarb about Bob's rasping parables prefiguring 9/11. That's just desperate Dylanologists bestowing belated cultural relevance upon a wily pro whose end-time prophecies are no longer necessarily more acute than the millennial divinations of Dave Mustaine or Busta Rhymes. 'Course, Bob's apocalypse is much funnier, as punchy with epigrammatic non sequiturs as when it seemed he could reel off fractured couplets over 12-bar slash-and-stagger like this in perpetuity. Now that we know the coot can't keep it up, his fallibility lends him a previously unappreciated vulnerability. Who knows--if his next two records stink up the joint, this may even sound, um, prophetic. Well, prescient, maybe. Forward-thinking, anyway.
Lurching where trance glides, leering where house winks, overheating where techno chills, this cramped, pleasing funk is as stylistically akin to Frankie Bones as Hendrix was to Charlie Christian. Vulgar beatmen Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe jostle their way across a crowded dance floor crotch-first, make new friends as they slink into an Erotic City grind, spill your drink leaping to a sudden football cheer, and promulgate the timeless message of utopian hedonism: All you need is love, so if you can't find a partner, hump a wooden chair.
White Blood Cells
Sympathy For the Record Industry
Even back when trashy teen protopunks ruled the garage, they were lucky to haul off with one just-right hook. So these 16 riff-tunes are such a miracle of primitive wonderment that the accompanying hysterical rants (about being a sane and decent fella who likes you a lot) are just frosting on the beater. Jack White quotes Charles Foster Kane out of context, he finds it "harder to be a gentleman every day," he counts to seven and demands, "If I'm the man you love the most/You could say 'I do' at least." Meanwhile, Meg White, who apparently did once say, "I do" to her guitarist before deciding she didn't and masquerading instead as his sis, mutely bashes more cymbals than any drummer since Ringo--as if to shrug and say, "Boys."
Let's pretend, just for a moment, that we live in a country where civil liberties are being curtailed by a shady regime intent on siphoning government funds to bloated, inept corporations. Sure is one way of looking at things, huh? And it calls for some response greater than turning "What's Goin' On" into an all-star "Kumbaya." MC Boots Riley never lets the righteousness of his rage dull the incision of his wit. Pam the Funkstress never allows the buzzing electrodetails of her mix to distract from the lope of her P-Funk bump-and-shimmy. And if the disenfranchised won't dance to homicidal fantasies about offing the shiftless rich, then the terrorists have already won. United we stand, muhfuh.
The Facts of Life
Right as rain and just as damp, Luke Haines's synth patterns trickle past spare drumbeats in a languid contest to see which can seem the most innocuous. Call it drip hop--aural drizzle as an indicator of romantic malaise, of the Brit variant, natch. But just because Sarah Nixey coos with the calm tenderness of a latent sociopath doesn't mean she wants to hurt you. It's just the facts of life, that's the way love goes, and anyway, it's not her, it's you.
Bernard Sumner may be the only British mouthpiece of the past two decades I might consider taking home to meet my sister. Okay, maybe Polly Jean Harvey too, and okay, I don't really have a sister, and okay, I wouldn't let Barney bring his new pals Billy Corrigan and Primal Scream along. But when Sumner's modest dreams of nonconformity ("I don't wanna be/Like other people are" rhymes with "Don't wanna wash my car") lounge atop the U.K.'s sturdiest rhythmic infrastructure, you'll think you've been waiting your whole life for a disco record so perfectly suited to doing the dishes. Choose life!
The Moldy Peaches
Here's the amateurish, lo-fi rendition of "Twee to Be You and Me" that every college kid who owned a Beat Happening cassette and a four-track recorder in the late Eighties foisted on his friends--at long last rendered listenable and with wisdom and pathos, too. And jokes. Like "I'm just an ass in the crack of humanity/I'm just a huge manatee." "Who mistook this steak for chicken?/ Who'm I gonna stick my dick in?" "I wanted to be a hippie but I forgot how to love." "Don Quixote was a steel-drivin' man/My name is Adam, I'm your biggest fan." "I'm just your average Thundercats ho." And much, much more!
Alt country? Them? Nah, that was just a phase--you know how impressionable kids are. This is power pop about women-not-girls, erected from stretches of guitar finesse doubling as hooks. Rhett Miller specializes in the amorous gawk--the kind of lunging verbal advances that seduce and dazzle on disc but will guarantee real-life males plenty of empty space in bed, unless maybe you're as dishy as Rhett himself. (If "Do you wanna mess around?" or "I'd be lyin'/If I said I didn't have designs/On you" get you any skin, drop me a line.) Whaddaya know, a down-home guy who doesn't really want to be free as a bird. Go back to sleep, Ryan Adams. Your work here is finished.
She still mewls like a cat that deserves to be trapped in a washing machine and isn't half as nuts as she fronts. But before you quip that her title omits the "-iot," groove to the misbegotten lusts and petty resentments of a nutmeg abuser who pulls an AK on a gentleman who prefers blondes. Back when "I'll Try" settled into the Eagle-Eye Cherry Memorial Programming Slot--the airtime reserved by adult-rock program directors to disprove charges of radio apartheid--I'd pegged this kook as a harmless neo-soul token. But now Gray is something else entirely, with Rick Rubin's studio perfectionism acting as superego to her professed lunacy. Couldn't tell you what that "something else" is, though. A Warren Zevon for black gals?
Take Off Your Pants and Jacket
Sympathetic as I am to a generation of Slipknot fans who hope to purge themselves of a catastrophic childhood by immersing themselves in violent gloom, let me assure my fellow depressives that the release that such dour mass catharsis allows also fades quick. Better to follow the lead of these ever-chirpy pop punks, who let loose with one rant against their elders ("If we're fucked up/You're to blame") before unlocking the real secret of teenboy uneasiness--girls just seem way cooler and smarter. But instead of sublimating that fear into misogyny, these older bros sweeten it into a well-deserved respect for freethinking trouble girls who correctly suspect they won't feel this messed up forever. Corporate suckers still rock!
Honorable Mentions: 11. Trailer Bride, High Seas (Bloodshot); 12. Atmosphere, Lucy Ford (Rhyme Sayers); 13. System of a Down, Toxicity (American); 14. Tricky, Blowback (Hollywood); 15. various artists, Josie and the Pussycats OST (Playtone/ Epic/Sony Music Soundtracks); 16. Clem Snide, The Ghost of Fashion (SpinArt); 17. Jah Wobble/Bill Laswell, Radioaxiom: A Dub Transmission (Palm Pictures); 18. Thomas Mapfumo/ Wadada Leo Smith, Dreams and Secrets (Anonymous); 19. Lars Frederickson and the Bastards, Lars Frederickson and the Bastards (Hellcat); 20. Dismemberment Plan, Change (DeSoto).
1. White Stripes, White Blood Cells (Sympathy for the Record Industry)
2. Missy Elliott, Miss E...So Addictive (Elektra)
3. Clinic, Internal Wrangler (Domino)
4. Matmos, A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure (Matador)
5. Le Tigre, Feminist Sweepstakes (Mr. Lady)
6. Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator) (Acony)
7. Arab Strap, The Red Thread (Matador)
8. various artists, Say It Loud: A Celebration of Black Music in America (Box Set) (Rhino)
9. Les Savy Fav, Go Forth (French Kiss)
10. Moldy Peaches, The Moldy Peaches (Sanctuary)
--Melissa Maerz, music editor, City Pages
1. Baaba Maal, Mi-Yeewnii (Palm).
The year's most beautiful, dignified blend of musical peace and sadness was released by an Islamic griot from Senegal three months before 9/11.
2. Macy Gray, The Id (Sony/Epic)
A furry freak sister soused on helium, sense, and purple microdot lays waste to the notion of neo-soul. Free will as kama sutra mind-fuck.
3. Spearhead, Stay Human (Six Degrees)
Smearing the death penalty through life-affirming songs that gush with elation, Franti channels the steppin' razors of Gil Scott-Heron and the warm buttermilk of Bill Withers.
4. James Blood Ulmer, Memphis Blood: The Sun Sessions (Label M)
The blues represent the anvil of the American experience; Ulmer takes his ax to them and the sparks fly. Ghosts abound--Muddy, Wolf, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker--for a nasty séance in the studio that Elvis and Jerry Lee built.
5. Ozomatli, Embrace the Chaos (Interscope)
Kora, trombone, oud, raps, violin, Fender Rhodes, and all the usual strings and skins. Spanish, English. Hip hop, salsa, jazz, gumbo funk, son, pop, batucada, rock, highlife. With an amiable vengeance.
6. De La Soul, AOI:Bionix (Tommy Boy)
Smarty-pantsed rappers who refuse to be pigeonholed as smart. "Trying People" makes the phrase positive hip hop seem inadequate; "Pawn Star" makes it seem inappropriate. A beguiling collide-a-scope in living color.
7. David Murray Power Quartet, Like a Kiss That Never Ends (Justin Time)
The vital link between Eric Dolphy and James Carter continues to swagger from bonfire wanderlust to blowtorch intensity on his tenor sax and bass clarinet. Prolific as hell, he's delivered his best disc in at least two months.
8. Robert Earl Keen Jr. , Gravitational Forces (Lost Highway)
Getting goosebumps from a Texas tunesmith ain't no rarity, but the back-to-back amulets of "Wild Wind" and "Not A Drop Of Rain" put Keen in Townes Van Zandt territory. More folk than country this time, and his best one yet.
9. Irvin Mayfield, How Passion Falls (Basin Street)
The erstwhile too-cerebral, prodigiously talented trumpeter from Los Hombres Calientes gets bushwhacked by heartbreak and pours out his passion (which thankfully never falls) in soulfully roiling jazz, footnoting Shakespeare and the Bible along the way.
10. Henry Threadgill's Zooid, Up Popped Two Lips (Pi)
Threadgill's tunes are as burly and nimble as dancing bears, playful potency with a whiff of novelty. His new acoustic sextet, Zooid, is a cross between Air and Very Very Circus.
11. Basement Jaxx, Rooty (Astralwerks)
Rocks harder and takes more chances than Remedy. For ecstasy without Ecstasy, spin "Do Your Thing."
12. Faithless, Outrospective (Arista)
The stiff, self-indulgent voiceovers (too wack to be called raps) and the sloppy paean to Muhammad Ali occasionally spill ego on the pristine trance/funk/ambient textures with a creepy-cool panache--like having your deserted highway reveries interrupted by the splat of fat bugs on your windshield.
13. Jay-Z, The Blueprint (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
My disdain for cult idolatry (enough already with the bullshizzo argot) gets overwhelmed by his impeccable flow, subversive humor, uncanny vocabulary, and charismatic arrogance. But if he stabs one more guy, I won't forgive him.
14. Nick Lowe, The Convincer (Yep Roc)
We should all aspire to Lowe's wizened wisdom, accepting the perspective that maturity offers with wry, sly gratitude and imparting dollops of sagacity in return. A thoroughly satisfying repast of vintage pop, country, and blues.
15. System of a Down, Toxicity (Sony/Columbia)
If you're serious about smelting metal, screw Tool's Jethro Tullian pomposity and Staind's wussy temper tantrums for the underdog thud of this lefty anti-nihilism.
16. Steve Turre, TNT (Telarc)
17. Bob Dylan, Love and Theft (Columbia)
Overrated but still marvelous. A whirring brain with no voice left triumphs through sheer mental telepathy. For those reared on Highway 61 or Blood on the Tracks, he's become the premier genius in nostalgia's nursing home.
18. Carla Cook, dem bones (MaxJazz)
The best of a stellar stable of female vocalists (Rene Marie, LaVerne Butler) on the MaxJazz label gooses gospel, bossa nova, and "Ode to Billie Joe" with an inimitable flair for elegant swing.
19. Mary J. Blige, No More Drama (MCA)
Spearheaded by the year's best single ("Family Affair"), Mary J. successfully comes to grips with getting happy, with her spontaneously spine-tingling vocal prowess intact.
20. The Crystal Method, Tweekend (Geffen/Outpost)
Hipsters already think Crystal Meth is passé (either a very good or very bad omen), but slap the crushed electronica grooves of "Roll It Up" on the box at a party for a reminder that hipsters usually can't dance.
Honorable Mentions, in alphabetical order: Aceyalone, Accepted Eclectic (Nu Gruv); Blind Boys of Alabama, Spirit of the Century (Real World); Richard Bona, Reverence (Columbia); Buddy Guy, Sweet Tea (Jive); Rodney Jones, Soul Manifesto (Blue Note); Joydrop, Viberate (Tommy Boy); Alicia Keys, Songs in A Minor (J); Femi Kuti, Fight to Win (MCA); Lagbaja, We Before Me (IndigeDisc); John Lewis, Evolution II (Atlantic); Patty Loveless, Mountain Soul (Sony/Epic); John Mellencamp, Cuttin' Heads (Columbia); Ludacris, Word of Mouf (Def Jam); Mint Royale, On the Ropes (MCA); Jason Moran, Black Stars (Blue Note); Res, How I Do (MCA); David Sanchez, Travesia (Columbia); Angie Stone, Mahogany Soul (J); various artists, Tomb Raider Soundtrack (Elektra); Rufus Wainwright, Poses (Dreamworks).
--Britt Robson, staff writer, City Pages
1. Low, Things We Lost in the Fire (Kranky)
2. Basement Jaxx, Rooty (XL/Astralwerks)
3. Atmosphere, Lucy Ford (Rhyme Sayers Entertainment)
4. The White Stripes, White Blood Cells (Sympathy for the Record Industry)
5. Radiohead, Amnesiac (Capitol)
6. Fugazi, The Argument (Dischord)
7. Bob Dylan, Love and Theft (Columbia)
8. The Moldy Peaches, The Moldy Peaches (Rough Trade)
9. Manu Chao, Proxima Estacion: Esperanza (Virgin)
10. Clinic, Internal Wrangler (Domino)
--Peter S. Scholtes, staff writer, City Pages
Cross-Dressing Albums Top the Year's Local Releases
BY MELISSA MAERZ
Q: How do you find an insecure indie rocker in a crowd?
A: She's the one making jokes about how to find an insecure indie rocker in a crowd.
I know, bad joke, but you rely upon cheap tactics when you can no longer distinguish between once-divergent musical genres. What do you do, for instance, if you cannot tell the difference between a Grandaddy fan and your average Widespread Panic concertgoer? In 2001 both groups were suddenly wearing puffy, old-school baseball caps, both sported gnarly ZZ Top beards, and both reveled in more extended guitar-jam wank 'n' roll than that dude on the Freedom Rock infomercial.
Last September at a First Avenue Built to Spill concert, a glance at the audience suggested that the Furthur festival tour bus had missed its stop. "I bet they're all hoping the band will play 'Free Bird'!" a friend remarked sarcastically to me. Twenty minutes later, lead singer Doug Martsch (defying all possible categorization by sporting a headband) sang, "If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?" to a crowd swaying with their cigarette lighters all aglow.
At which point I realized: 1. I can no longer define irony. 2. Maybe genre splicing is a good thing! After all, these past 12 months in the local-music scene have shown an impressive amount of crossover. This was the year that Andrew Broder added some turntables to an innovative pop song and called it hip hop. This was the year that Alan Sparhawk alternated effortlessly between slowcore hooks (Low) and John Lee Hooker (Black-Eyed Snakes). This was the year that the New York Times christened Happy Apple "one of the best new jazz groups who know a rock audience is waiting for them." So perhaps this is the year I'll resolve to stop assigning fixed genres completely and instead come up with catchy hybridized titles unique to every local CD that comes my way!
To be honest, though, it's more likely that this will be the year I give moral support to people who, like myself, cannot keep their New Year's resolutions. Go ahead: Take a drag off that cigarette, cut up your gym membership, and indulge in these addictive local CDs.
It's the Black-Eyed Snakes
Mmm, the velvety swelter of both pre- and postcoital blues explosions! On Saturday night, Alan Sparhawk and his fellow Duluthians play a flushed stomp-and-grind gutter-throat yowl and bust-yer-harmonica honkytonk, sputtering in your ear and teasing down your zipper before you even notice a draft. On Sunday morning, they're the low moan of a ghost train rattling inside a guitar, glum vocals sticking in your throat while you curse Saturday night. If I play this album any more frequently, my CD player is gonna start smokin' Marlboros.
Motivation and Watertower Grammar
Thick Furniture Records
Sometimes music is all about antici...
pation. And when your expectations are thwarted--right when you're starting to dig a melody, it stops--the results are far more exhilarating than being able to sing the same predictable chorus five times in a single song. Motivation and Watertower Grammar comprises 44 clever, Robert Pollard-like jingles: ragtime oompah, eerie indie schlock, earnest folk pleas. All of which deliver instant gratification in about three minutes or less. Brock Davis sings incredibly poetic phrases that don't make logical sense. But when Davis coos, "Love is something small," I understand exactly what he means.
Please Refrain From Fronting
Happy Apple Music
This jazz trio is so expressive, they could (to borrow a phrase from my boyfriend) put the art funk back in Art Garfunkel. The saxophone, electric bass, and drums come together to produce a thematically playful but structurally serious work: As saxophonist Michael Lewis honks and hums Ornette Coleman-style narratives, drummer Dave King employs walkie-talkies and children's toys as essential tools of his famously flashy percussion. The music swings, sweat-drenched, between loud and soft, between unison playing and asymmetrical passages, and between your confused and blissful left and right ears--and after all that, Happy Apple has the gall to make it sound easy. As LL Cool J says: Frontin'? That means I'm chillin'!
Busy is the new lazy. Listen to the Fog's master multitasker Andrew Broder--who simultaneously plays his guitar, sings like Thom Yorke, manipulates his turntable-cum-fascist-killing machine, and is rumored to be able to remove his pants during the process without missing a beat--and you'll declare that ADD is not a disease but a sign of musical prowess. (Which, I suppose, could be Eminem's excuse if he ever got caught snorting Ritalin.) The one thing Broder doesn't necessarily do on this album is keep a certain steady rhythm: He seems far more interested in exploring the nuances, textures, and motion of rotating vinyl--a project that makes this record a legitimate example of experimental hip pop.
Negative Kid Records
Some people say that the world has lost its sympathy for self-destructive individuals. Then why are there still so many Kid Dakota fans out there listening to this EP? They contemplate Darren Jackson's stark guitar chord changes, sing along to his songs about battling heroin addiction, listen to Christopher McGuire batter the life out of his drum set, and feel good about feeling bad. And when they look at the cover of this EP--which sports a particularly gruesome photo of Jackson with a bloody face like a steamrolled pepperoni pizza--they don't wonder what happened to him on this particular endeavor. They know: He became a rock star.
Things We Lost in the Fire
Call me crazy, but I don't think they lost anything in that fire. This album is still the Low you know, only more voluptuous. With trademark dramatic harmonies, the subtle thuds of drum mallets, and the goosebumped textures of minimalist bass and guitar, this urgent album feels poignant and sobering rather than emotionally draining. And I'm still smoldering from Mimi Parker's cold but clear voice singing, "Hold me closer than that": a prophetic plea for the year's end, when the only thing that unified everyone was that no one felt safe.
Dodging the Landlord
Surex, Jamie Ness misquotes T.S. Eliot in his wistful song "Like a Banjo." No matter: The rest of this singer-songwriter's lyrical folk album is completely dead on. From the surprisingly melancholy undertone of "I Puked on My Girlfriend" to the bluesy Neil Young sound of "Blue Collar," it's a witty, alt-country endeavor filled with acute observations. ("I don't mind just sitting here with you/Watching the Roseanne Barr show/ Where did Becky go?/Where'd they get that new one from?") The melodies have the classic sound of a Southern traditional, and catching all of Ness's punch lines will clean out your ears faster than a hot-Q-tip job.
Slug once claimed that he wanted to be "bigger than breast implants." You can supersize "big" when you shrink down the context from national to local circles: Within the Twin Cities hip-hop scene of the past few years, Atmosphere has probably equaled the combined boobage of any given Hooters waitstaff. But in 2001, Kanser were probably venturing into Anna Nicole Smith territory. Quintessential is melodious funk for loudmouths, a proper schooling with a soulful beat. Zach Combs is a truly ambitious poet for every Minnesota kid who ever aspired to cop a coastal rapper's style. Let's hope that "Three Kats" becomes Minneapolis's theme song before Combs himself moves to Brooklyn.
Love Songs for Machines
The future is boring. A decade ago electronic artists were salivating over the increasing sophistication of glitch-making technology. But this year Autechre released an ultramodern album that made critics yawn, and now every laptop debutante with a digital cable modem is downloading SuperCollider software and imitating old Model 500 albums. Jake Mandell's latest is the best local throwback to vintage techno, an affectionate history of electronic music that settles somewhere between Boards of Canada and a My First Casio infested with buggy innards. "The computer beckons with pouty lips whenever I have a creative urge," Mandell writes in the liner notes. I read this and fear for his health. Then I start to catch Mandell's electro-lust and I fear what I might do to my Sony Vaio.
The Electric Dreams of...Howlin Andy Hound
Mod Holland Enterprises
Knick-knack, paddywhack, give this dawg a bone. Andy Kereakos--the sexed-up yowler who is the Hound--makes "garage-rock revival" sound like some sort of seedy religious cult fronted by an evangelical Mick Jagger with a throat cold. Amid covers of UFO, the Lollipop Shoppe, and Sir Lord Baltimore, the Hound's "(I Hate) My Generation" stands out as the anti-anthem that even a crowd of hipster cynics can believe in. And Kereakos scratches at his guitar strings so hard and fast you'd think they itched like the woolen undies your grandma knit you for Christmas.
Honorable mentions, in alphabetical order: Atmosphere, Lucy Ford (Rhymesayers Entertainment); Bellwether, Home Late (Rust Belt Records); Busy Signals, Pretend Hits (Sugar Free); Cenospecies In Definition (Peak); Mark Mallman and Vermont, Mark Mallman and Vermont (Guilt Ridden Pop); Mata Hari, Mata Hari; Nationale, Nationale (Fighting Electric); S.U.S.P.E.C.T.S., Delusions of Grandeur (SOL); Triangle, * (File 13).
What happened?! What happened?! Be-tween the war on raves and the war in Afghanistan, Minnesota music was a blur for us this year. Here are some of things we remember.
Before midnight on January 26, Minneapolis police enter a crowded Northeast warehouse space in full riot gear, putting an end to "Liquid Fridays" dance parties with all the politesse of a crack raid. The bust has its intended effect: While the Ecstasy business keeps busy in clubs, the rite of the warehouse rave soon becomes all but extinct in the Twin Cities. By April, Profile Music Café in Stadium Village is the haven of last resort for an all-ages dance scene in retreat. And it's a fricking cafeteria.
Twelve days after Jack McDuff dies of an apparent heart attack, friends and family gather on February 4 to remember the great Minneapolis jazz organist who inspired guitarist George Benson, among many others. At a Dakota Bar and Grill memorial celebration, piano player Bobby Lyle suddenly remembers how much he used to love playing the Captain's preferred instrument, the Hammond B-3 organ. He adjusts his career plans accordingly.
In other funereal developments, indie rock is declared dead for the 386 billionth time when the 15-year-old Garage D'Or record shop is forced to close. Months later, Treehouse Records can't stock enough Strokes imports, and indie rock is declared not dead yet.
On March 8, "Alternative" Zone-105 (105.1, 105.3, and 105. 7 FM) goes "rhythmic gold" as V105. The shift to classic soul marks the third format makeover in five years for the signal. The station promptly fires on-air personality Mary Lucia, and her weekly live-local-music show disappears from the air. Four months later, Cities 97 (97.1 FM) lays off Bill DeVille, who had hosted his own weekly local-music program for ten years. As Minnesota as It Gets, the charity CD he compiled for the station, is released in June.
On March 23 Guided by Voices frontman Bob Pollard name-checks obscure local groups Rifle Sport and Neomort during onstage ramblings at the 400 Bar. Members of other obscure local bands Va-Voom!, GST, and Man-Sized Action seem unconcerned by their omission. The following night, Pollard apologizes for having said the Replacements "sucked" the evening before. "What I meant to say is that Soul Asylum sucks," he says. Standing in the audience, Dave Pirner looks unperturbed.
Celebrity has its upsides: In the R&B arena, R.L. of Next manages to squeeze "Good Love" onto the soundtrack of The Brothers. The ensuing months yield high-profile collaborations with a living Snoop Dogg--"Do U Wanna Roll (Dolittle Theme)" -- and a dead Tupac--"Until the End of Time." By year's end, his Web site (www.rl-ements.com) is announcing that it will auction off his trademark necklace. No word yet whether it will fetch as much as the tchotchkes at Prince's summer garage sale.
Local dance-music promoters Housecat throw their annual "4/20" party at the Gay 90's, calling it "Channel 420." The title is a swipe at WCCO 4 News, whose coverage of the rave scene strikes partisans as sensationalistic and irresponsible. The flyer reads: "The powers that be do not understand that this crackdown will only spur much smaller and potentially dangerous events by new rogue promoters who will not [be concerned with] safety." Channel 4 does not cover the event.
Sursumcorda opens in the same downtown Minneapolis location where the all-ages Foxfire Coffee Lounge closed last year. The new 21-plus venue features DJs, live music, and computers--a modern mix duplicated by the Dinkytowner (which, along with the Lab and Big V's, rallies under a new booking regime). At some point during Sursumcorda's grand-opening weekend, Twitch member Kevin Baltus performs buck-naked save for his sparkly blue guitar. This stunt establishes something of a trend: Months later, Punky Bruiser frontwoman Lisa Ganser takes the tiny stage topless.
With the Foxfire gone, Eclipse Records stands as one of the few local venues for all-ages rock. That is, until mid-May, when the business is pressured by the City of St. Paul to discontinue in-store concerts. The news comes in a month when all-ages punk heroes Dillinger Four are voted "artist of the year" by the Minnesota Music Academy.
A clash of generations occurs on Grand Old Day when an Elvis impersonator competes with amplified techno DJs across the street. Middle-aged partiers cheer the Big E as teenagers in visors stand bemused.
The following weekend, Jan singer J.J. Gauthier tops other local exhibitionists by performing entirely in the nude at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, and writhing around in spilled Fruit Loops that stick to her body when she stands up. (The night marks the temporary return of Mary Lucia's Popular Creeps to the stage, though not to the air.)
On an entirely different moral wavelength, Prince announces his newly strict spiritual beliefs at a June 7 press conference (his 43rd birthday), telling women, "Know your role," as prescribed by the Good Book. The sexist MF later summons City Pages music editor Melissa Maerz to Paisley Park for an off-the-record argument about her criticism of such remarks. Performing at the studio that evening, Alicia Keys sings "A Woman's Worth," and rapper Common leaves the curse words out of his songs in deference to his host's religion.
On July 14 the local classic-R&B bar scene loses Lamont Cranston saxophonist Rick O'Dell, who passes away just weeks before the release of the group's live album.
Elsewhere, renewal is in the air: The Fireball Espresso Café opens in Falcon Heights, booking all-ages punk, indie pop, and metal acts from around the country. The rave tradition temporarily revives itself on July 21 when Christian ravers throw "Redemption," an outdoor party in a barn less than an hour outside of the Twin Cities. Organizers use such old-school tactics as a map point and a shuttle bus.
Perhaps vibing off the summer elation, St. Paul Pioneer Press music scribe Jim Walsh devotes an entire July 27 column to the upsides of nudism. Others ride their own hot-weather high. On tour with Everclear, Flipp swap buses with R.L. collaborator Snoop Dogg and find a telltale hairnet in the bed. Everclear singer Art Alexakis later signs Flipp as the first act on his new label, Popularity Recordings.
In the course of one fevered night, a member of the local pop band Divorcee is spotted handing his new CD to a parking attendant and later throwing one out of a car window at a nearby bicyclist. The publicity efforts behind an entirely different event are probably more successful: The Gospel Music Workshop of America brings national recognition to our scene, drawing more than 10,000 visitors to downtown Minneapolis hotels between August 15 and 17.
On September 11 iconoclastic quadriplegic singer-activist Larry Kegan dies of cardiac arrest at age 59.
First Avenue and other clubs temporarily close in the wake of that day's other tragedies. Countless touring acts cancel shows. Even benefit gigs have difficulty drawing large crowds. On September 15 Atmosphere's Slug improvises a rap over the air on KFAI-FM (90.3 in Minneapolis/ 106.7 in St. Paul), to promote a concert the following night: "Y'all need to come out and see the sun/'Cause y'all need to come out and be the sun."
A week later "Elegy" brings scores of musicians and spectators to the NorShor Theatre in Duluth. Organized to remember poet Michael Lenz, killed by a gunman in March, the meditative, 25-hour drone jam inevitably takes on a wider meaning. In the free-for-all's cathartic final hour, someone from the audience climbs onstage and begins conducting the dozens of musicians, gradually bringing the volume down until the marathon ends with three full minutes of silence. Some of those present begin to weep.
Chicago's Cynthia Plaster Caster arrives in town and announces on 770 Radio K (KUOM-AM) that she is interested in "casting" the penis of Hawaii singer Steve Barone after hearing his song "Shaved Ice." She tracks him down at the Uptown Bar that night and arranges an appointment.
Meanwhile, after vehemently protesting their own existence (with placards and chants calling their own music "unfair"), expansive local avant-gardists 2i temporarily cease to exist when drummer Ram Zimmerman moves to Austin, Texas (possibly as a part of some sort of exchange program that sees Star Tribune writer Chris Riemenschneider move from Texas to the Twin Cities). The exit leaves those 300 bands Zimmerman plays in somewhat bereft.
On November 9 Mark Mallman plays a ten-hour gig inside a refrigerator box at the CD Warehouse in Dinkytown. Mallman's spiritual compadres Tulip Sweet and keyboardist Tom Siler leave town for New York, having originally planned to fly there on September 11.
Regular buskers on Nicollet Mall--kids drumming on empty deli buckets and Peruvian musicians pan-fluting over what sounds like cheesy Skinemax porno music--flee the cold. Now that they are gone, Crystal Court is left open to the onslaught of talented but scary suburban vocal groups looking to put their own Manhattan Transfer spin on "Sleigh Ride" and "Jingle Bell Rock." Rock critics vow to avoid the IDS Center until MLK Day--at the soonest.
Contributors: Jen Boyles, Cecile Cloutier, Peter S. Scholtes, Kate Silver.
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