Best Of :: People & Places
In a glorious season stained only by that hideous loss in the NFC Championship Game, the Minnesota Vikings seldom lacked for heroes. The reborn Randall Cunningham and the redeemed Randy Moss made most of the headlines, as the Vikes scorched opposing defenses for a record-setting 556 points. But all the gaudy numbers would have been impossible were it not for the ample improvement of the Viking defense, which went from one of the league's worst in 1997 (29th ranked) to downright respectable in 1998 (13th). The only new starter on the unit? That would be cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock, obtained last April in a then-scantly noticed trade with the New England Patriots. The price? A paltry third-round pick in the 1999 draft. At the time, the move looked like a stopgap measure born primarily of the team's inability to sign better-known free-agent corners. Fans and pundits alike were quick to express their frustration. Yet the undersized Hitchcock proved to be a tremendous improvement over his oft-burned predecessor, perennial scapegoat Dewayne Washington. A steadying presence in the locker room, an easy quote, and a famously hard worker, the modest Hitchcock provided the Vikes with good karmic balance to trash-talking fellow corner (and now ex-Viking) Corey Fuller. More significant, the fourth-year pro from North Carolina established himself as one of the team's legitimate tough guys, returning for the second half in one midseason game despite a gruesome injury which left the tip of his ring finger dangling from the bone. Oh, and did we mention that Hitchcock led the team in both interceptions (seven) and defensive touchdowns (three)? That he averaged an astonishing 34.6 yards on interception returns? The Vikes' burgeoning reputation for savvy personnel moves may have been exaggerated some in the euphoria of the season's many triumphs, but the trade for Hitchcock was pure brilliance.
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.
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.
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.
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.