Best Of :: People & Places
You may have seen the billboard, heading back from the airport on that winding stretch of Hiawatha Avenue that hasn't yet been turned into a semi-freeway: "STOP the Reroute," it says in a multicolored script nestled amid pictures of trees and a kindergarten sun. It's almost heart-wrenching in its assumption that, if people only knew, the powers that be would listen. In fact, chances are that the grassroots movement behind the billboard will fail, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation will go ahead with its $39 million plan to build a new, four-lane Hiawatha through the urban wilderness adjacent to Minnehaha Park--never mind that when it's all done, the new road will slice a mere three minutes off the average downtown-to-airport trip. After almost 40 years of planning, the engineers say, it's too late to turn around. But for just a minute as you drive past the billboard, it's tantalizing to dream of what could happen if people only knew.
If only for a second, every band should get to be the greatest band in the world. And when the Tropicals played "It's a Wild Life" at the Bryant-Lake Bowl on one charmed evening about a year ago, they were that, and then some. Some what? you ask. Well, some strange stuff that makes thee trite ol' Paul 'n' Artie sentiments seem fresh. "It's a wild life/Whatcha gonna do with it?" Craig Wright sang against a spare, sweet melody that turned his impossible ethical question into the stuff of a great children's song--think "Yellow Submarine." Wright and guitar-strumming partner Peter Lawton were believers: in melody for melody's sake; in the transporting power of lyrics about butterflies and city streets; in good-natured pretension. And though they recently broke up, for a year or so there wasn't a better band around at setting page poetry to pop tunes. They never gave a damn about the alt-rock cynics who might have pegged them for wimps: "I'm just more interested in butterflies than Nine Inch Nails," Wright told CP a while back. At their best they made us wish we were too.
It's an interesting moment in local music when the leaders of two of the biggest regional bands of eight years ago--Martin Zellar of the Gear Daddies and Matt Wilson of Trip Shakespeare--simultaneously self-release their deepest works to date. In Matt Wilson's case, his solo debut, Burnt, White and Blue, is a sad beauty of a record that makes good on the musician's five-year underground period of studio experimentation. Here, lush acoustic and electric sounds reverberate around vibrant synth-scapes and the characteristic Wilsonian harmonies and cerebral lyrics. This one-time rock heartthrob with the blue eyes and golden voice seems mellowed by maturity and his time out of the spotlight, and that contributes to the clarity of the new songs. But if the record proves anything, it's that Wilson's star quality remains.
What's worse, a tornado or a Minnesotan determined to do good? As you answer, consider what happened to St. Peter after the Big Wind. Between the town's high ranking on the cuteness scale, the location within easy commuting range, and the saturation TV coverage, the area was the perfect charity-tourism destination. Within days the Red Cross had registered 4,500 volunteers (compared to the 2,400 it needed), and more were pouring in. Their cars clogged up intersections and held up the cleanup crews; entire church-busloads were transferred to holding pens at the edge of town. And in Mankato the Salvation Army's forklift drivers worked around the clock to clear the clothing donations that piled up, unwanted, at the Army's warehouse doors. Maybe people in Phillips and Frogtown should start praying for a tornado.
February's second-to-last official act as a band was to perform at the 1998 Minnesota Music Awards on April 23, where the ambient-rock quartet was up for awards in four categories, including Best Female Vocalist for singer Amy Turany. But for die-hard Februarians, the band's epochal achievement was the October release of the CD Tomorrow Is Today (Carrot Top) and their release-party gala in the regal Music Box Theatre. The young band piqued local interest in atmospheric post-pop immediately upon its formation in 1994, and by 1997 their sonic ambition had spread into techno, noise, and arena-ready pop. The Music Box gig met all these ambitions, and perhaps led the band to realize that they'd achieved everything they had set out to do. Grieving fans can take comfort in the inevitable spin-offs and sequels that should follow; for now, the band's farewell gig is slated for July.