Best of the Twin Cities®

Best Of 1999

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Best Of :: People & Places

BEST PLACE TO CROSS-COUNTRY SKI (RURAL)

In the heart of the Chequamegon National Forest hides a four-season recreational region known as the Cable Area of Northwest Wisconsin--home of the world-renowned Birkebeiner Trail. This is the only spot in the U.S. designated as an official world-class tour site for cross-country skiing marathon races. The 42-kilometer trek (European standards are used to measure all cross-country ski courses) incorporates both beauty and challenge. The surrounding countryside is hilly and thickly wooded and the trail is always well groomed. And since it's two and a half hours northeast of the Cities, avid skiers say that the snow comes earlier and lasts longer, thus extending the season for another month. Keep in mind that this is not a course for beginners. Seasoned skiers suggest taking on some of the less challenging local trails before tackling this exhilarating course, with its daunting hills and long, steep grades. The best days to visit are Mondays and Tuesdays (weekends are the busiest, naturally). There's plenty of lodging, good eating joints, and antique shops in the area, but not so many that the towns of Cable and nearby Hayward have lost their rough charm. The skiing is free; if you lack the equipment (or the initiative to drag yours along), there are plenty of local rental shops with reasonable rates.

BEST ACOUSTIC PERFORMER

If you think traditional American folk music is all about frogs and mama, go out and buy the American Anthology of Folk Music. Sex and violence are at the heart of our folk tradition, folks. But if the '60s revival did occasionally glance down at these darker roots, it more often set its sights on contemporary social struggles, forever associating the acoustic guitar with peace and justice. Three decades later the local acoustic scene has produced a number of ("post-")folk stars who mess with our ideas of what strumming sans amplifier should be about, including the Mason Jennings Band and Brenda Weiler. (Both, with any luck, will become giant pop stars in a few minutes.) Still, only singer-songwriter Pablo revives folk's first-person-narrative tradition of sex and violence, and he manages to do so without sounding either exhibitionist or boastful. He has a remarkable vocal range with a throat affectation that's in Dylan's tradition, not his style. Pablo's melodies sound like they've been thrown down a flight of stairs, jumping scores of notes, sometimes in a single syllable. "Goddamn the agile sexless dreams of imperfect history," he quavers at one point on his agile, sexful 1998 album, Vulgar Modalities. You tell it, brother.

BEST ALBUM OF THE PAST 12 MONTHS

Last fall when rumor began spreading that there was a 23-year-old drum 'n' bass artist working out of his parents' Edina basement, many local insiders assumed the music he made would be a fraction as interesting as that exotic home life. Well, we were wrong. The willfully elusive anti-beats and ductile, melodic structures found on Mandell's import debut Parallel Processes have made for the most innovative, if not just plain best, music this town has produced since the Jayhawks' heyday. Mandell's classically influenced "techno etc." is simultaneously as challengingly rich and accessibly hooky as that of his U.K. post-rave contemporaries Autechre. And even if it could stand an inflection of the wistful cutesiness evinced by his compositional hero Aphex Twin, Mandell's seriousness has an admirable integrity that's sorely lacking in the cheap ironists who parody techno's cheesy lineage in disposable disco. As music, Parallel Processes updates Schoenberg for the Twenty-First Century, making love to your ear hole just as passionately as it plays with your mind's eye.

BEST ALL-AGES VENUE

It comes as little surprise that as the nation's latest baby boom passes into adolescence, all-ages venues such as the Whole Music Club on the University of Minnesota campus, Bon Appétit in Dinkytown, and the Coffee Shock in St. Paul are experiencing a late-'90s boom. But the Foxfire Coffee Lounge has managed to do something more than merely cash in demographic trends. The downtown Minneapolis club has remained both forward-looking and inclusive during its first year of existence, with early band bookings including little-known but highly acclaimed national acts such as indie-rockers Creeper Lagoon and punk-funkers the Make Up. The coffee-and-sandwich shop also gives its high-ceilinged, wood-floored space over to weekly teen Bible-study meetings, DJ nights, periodic hip-hop get-togethers, and hardcore punk shows. Chances are you'll find the widest age range of punk fans in the Cities here, sometimes scrunched into the same deep-cushioned couches.

BEST BAD TIMING

The day after the Vikings' dismal loss in the NFC title game, McCombs's lieutenants met with state officials to begin pressing their case for a new stadium. It's only a matter of time until Vegas posts odds on how much longer the team will stay in town.

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