Best Of :: People & Places
Some day a few thousand years from now, anthropologists from another solar system will sift through the fading digital traces of once-urgent chain e-mails (PASS THIS ON!!! YOU'LL NEVER EAT CHICKEN AGAIN!!!) and form a pretty good picture of the strange culture that dominated Earth around the turn of the third millennium. They'll discover that we were deeply suspicious of one another (check for slashers under your car), that we had mixed feelings about our food (especially KFC), and that we were suckers for tales of tykes with brain tumors. But what will they make of Y2K? Will they understand that this legend of legends captured our imagination because it so perfectly encapsulated everything we had reason to fear? That it felt, circa 1999, as if we had lost our grip on the world, as if everything we did somehow depended on a giant, and not necessarily benevolent, machine brain? And that we kind of wanted to see the tech whizzes taken down a notch? Then again, maybe those far-off scholars will just nod sagely: Yup, they'll say. They saw it coming all right--they just had the date wrong.
Having reportedly recorded an entire follow-up to his 1997 debut and scrapped it, dissatisfied with the results, Mason Jennings can hardly be accused of glibly capitalizing on his local popularity. He wants things done just right, it seems. And he still leads his Mason Jennings Band with a rock 'n' roll momentum--fast songs, fast songwriting--without cheapening his relationship with his growing audience. After a four-month run of weekly shows at the 400 Bar last year, the acoustic strummer-crooner-shouter kept writing new tunes as if audiences might turn on him or get bored, penning a remarkably affecting meditation about the Black Panthers, and taking on whatever else struck him. He stayed on local disc players via his contribution to Stuck On AM 2: Live Performances on 770 Radio K (No Alternative) with the live favorite "Rebecca DeVille." And he seemed to put sold-out crowds at the Cedar Cultural Centre in a trance, showing how rapt his audiences can be without more than a few flasks of alcohol. His voice--that quaver easing around the notes, falling off of them, climbing to trembling peaks, and jumping into guttural lows--may stay a treasured regional secret forever, but we doubt it.
Do the words "clean porn shop" belong in the oxymoron hall of fame? Before making a final decision, those relegated to a lifetime of purchasing erotic material off the anonymous, sterile Internet would be wise to stop by Lickety Split. This is the only adult video/book store in town that can advertise both an extensive selection and a showroom that could be turned into a Gap without requiring delousing. The knowledgeable staff lounges in a small booth behind the counter, making themselves available for questions without seeming to follow customers around the store with their eyes. Lickety Split's magazine and book offerings span a wide range of arousing material, from Playboy and Gent back issues dating from the 1960s to hot-off-the-press illustrated B&D novels. In these wide aisles, even the shyest of the shy will feel comfortable perusing and purchasing copies of every local swinger paper in print. Lickety Split's video section can't help but impress both novice and veteran skin-flick fans: One can find Caligula, as well as videos depicting the courtship of Asian she-males and pregnant midgets. Lickety Split also sells the requisite cinnamon love lotions and latex girlfriends and features a small clothing boutique in the back geared toward a stripper/wannabe-stripper clientele. Those who never thought they'd experience anything more embarrassing than being spotted browsing in a naughty bookstore might find themselves talking up Lickety Split to friends and family.
Honorable mentions just disappoint the unmentioned, so let's just say it was an unusually tough year to pick just one best local album--a good sign. With discs from (oh, hell) Trailer Trash, Grant Hart, Mint Condition, Lifter Puller, and others winning serious stereo time with critics nationwide, the slowest and sweetest burn of the past 12 months came from the slowest and sweetest burn of the past ten years, the indefatigable Hang Ups. The band's third full-length album, Second Story (Restless), was clearly a labor of love for producers Don Dixon and Mitch Easter, who are best known for hatching the classic that launched a thousand college bands, R.E.M.'s Murmur. This pair wrapped the gentle, subtle pop of the Hang Ups in a sound that's both dense and playful, wittily overdubbing a roaring crowd over the guitar solo on the Kinks-like "Pretty BA," then adding light, Sixties touches elsewhere, like the tender harpsichord on "Parkway." The band is still settling into a new lineup, and Restless botched the album's promotion by releasing the thing late--well after the band had toured. But we found ourselves obsessing over those harmonies all the same, without any help from hype.
Amid the meat lockers and parking emporiums that make up the bloated beer garden formerly known as downtown, there is one tiny cause for guarded optimism: In two short years, the Foxfire has already become a fixture on the Minneapolis music scene. Our local emo-punk minirevival can be indirectly traced to the venue's existence, and under-21s finally have a reason to come to Minneapolis other than to buy overpriced department-store shoes. Even the club's once muffled sound system has gotten better. At present, the Foxfire is a bit short on revenue--which is probably not totally unexpected. After all, people just don't drink as much coffee as they do beer. Here's a suggestion: If Mayor Sharon really does support the arts (and "our children"), maybe we could toss a few bucks into a genuinely thriving youth culture rather than merely bolstering the genteel museumocracy for the aged bourgeoisie. If the Foxfire does eventually go under, a boycott of downtown is in order.
Dark, growling, pornographic, stunted, and thoroughly underground, Twin Cities heavy metal never had a more succinctly off-putting band title than Anal Blast, Satan love 'em. You'll find the band's CD, Vaginal Vempire, at the heavy music label-cum-disc shack off of East Lake Street in Minneapolis, Nightfall Records, 3011 27th Avenue S.; (612) 724-8166.