Best of the Twin Cities®

Best Of 2006


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Food & Drink

People & Places


Best Of :: People & Places


To understand the refined qualities of the Butanes, all you really have to know is that New Orleans native Earl King, the late singer, guitarist, and eccentric genius who wrote such Crescent City nuggets as "Big Chief" and "Trick Bag," adopted these Minnesotans as his band of choice and took them home to accompany him at such high profile gigs as Jazz Fest. In fact, the Butanes' high regard in elite blues circles is clear from the lengthy list of blues and soul icons they've backed over the years, from Hubert Sumlin to John Lee Hooker and Bo Diddley. But even without the big names out front, they ignite a rippling array of blues, R&B, and soul with a distinctly Southern exposure, their gritty passion exuding genuine blues spirit. When Curt Obeda's restless guitar isn't spewing out juicy leads that cry and soar well beyond the standard blues litany, it's spitting a rash of spare rhythms that conspire with the sturdy, just-greasy-enough foundation fashioned by bassist John Lindberg and drummer Robb Stupka. Meanwhile, Virgil Nelson dashes about his piano or draws impressive blues chords from his Hammond B-3 organ. Vocally, Obeda will never be mistaken for Al Green, but he's got his own grainy charm, and he's a fine writer whose tunes easily slide among the classics. Catching the group in action is no problem: The Butanes maintain a busy schedule of live dates, including a regular Wednesday night gig at the Eagles #34 in south Minneapolis that they've played for over a year. Superfine Memphis soul singer Willie Walker is usually on hand for the second set, and there are inevitable surprises too, like an impromptu crawfish boil around Mardi Gras. It's all part of life soaked in the blues.


Walk into St. Paul's Turf Club one Sunday night a month, and you'll be treated to an old-timey hootenanny radio broadcast, the likes of which may have never taken place around these parts before. Reminiscent of flatbed-truck revival meetings hosted by Bob Wills and the Carter Family and/or Hank Williams's "Health and Happiness Show," the House of Mercy Band soars on a magic carpet ride of fiddle and acoustic guitar. (If it's a more staid definition of "acoustic" you're hankering for, there are several groovy coffeehouse pickers to be had.) The most frequently heard adjective used to describe the vibe of the HOM's monthly Sunday gig is "cozy," but that doesn't quite do it. Not when Satan is ever present, heathen guest stars abound, and the acoustic can sound like alchemy.


We were tempted to give this award to Zombie's House of Curiosities on University in St. Paul for its unparalleled kitsch value: It's a classic head shop that carries pipes, water bongs, throwing stars, and—in a back room—uproariously trashy smut. But then we stumbled across the Adult Only Superstore on Washington Avenue and our mouths hit the floor. It's a new store—so new as to have an unlisted phone number and, as of yet, no credit-card machine. But this smallish storefront business puts larger competitors to shame with its dazzling variety of merchandise. This is a connoisseur's sex shop, as evidenced by its impressive selection of '70s-era adult movies, many starring the brassy, lecherous Georgina Spelvin, who was 37 when she came to prominence as a performer, and looked it. Also on hand, scattered among the more mainstream products: nonfiction books about the early years of the adult industry, including a bio of Russ Meyers; copies of Found magazine's adult counterpart, Dirty Found; and number of tacky paperback books with garish illustrations on their covers and titles such as I'll Whip Your Ass and Serve Your Mistress. This is a store that evidently views erotica as an adventure, and a surprisingly fun one. After all, among their inflatable sex dolls is one called "Fatty Patty" and another, named "G.I.L.F," whose dubious pleasures we dare not describe.


Yeah, yeah, yeah, so we went with the obvious choice. (We were all ready to crown Prince's new best-of, Ultimate, when we found out its release had been delayed.) But there's something to be said for such an easy decision. The fact that we uncontrollably bob our heads whenever we find the duo in the "A"s of our iPod means they're doing something right. From Slug we get frank talk about the world's problems with drugs (people do them every day and once in a while there are serious consequences) and sex (the rapper's reaction to the rape and murder of an Atmosphere fan is caught in a mournful rumination on sex-offender laws that never once exploits the girl.) Ant's soul-soaked production draws more emotion from his partner's words, spiking the anger and amusement with found sound seemingly created just for them. Atmosphere has claimed this honor before, and who will flinch if they do it again? It's no big thing. They're just that good.

The Garage

The under-21 music scene is as diverse as any other kind, with a host of small venues catering to young people—community centers, bars with all-ages nights, high school cafés. Yet only one club in town has shows every weekend without age or genre restrictions. Founded in 1999 with backing from the city of Burnsville, the Garage features live music Fridays and Saturdays between 6:15 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. (as well as Thursdays when school's out), and these events routinely fill a cafeteria-sized main room, with adjoining game rooms and lounges. (The organization hopes to expand further in 2008, possibly to include a recording studio, a skate park, or an indoor gym.) This black-lit hall is no minor circuit, either: Bands pass through here to become live legends (Crashing By Design, Down and Above, Screaming Mechanical Brain—formerly Screaming Monkey Boner) and sign with national labels (Four-Letter Lie on Victory, Quietdrive on Sony). Older acts ignore this generation at their peril, and miss out on the most energetic audience in town.

75 Civic Center Parkway, Burnsville, 55337
Franklin Community Library

The atmosphere in the Franklin Community Library is jubilant. Children—when they aren't parked with a book in the children's pavilion, teen arena, or stairwell—are run-walking the short maze of the small library's recently renovated footprint, often forgetting to heed the "inside voices" rule. Or they're staring slack-jawed at the kids'-area computer screen in front of them, too heavily weighed down with enormous earphones to be running in and out of the reading rooms. In short, the brightly painted library is consistently bustling with kids and adults taking advantage of its more accessible offerings. Built in 1914, the city's oldest community library reopened in May after an extensive reconstruction effort. The original stone and masonry on the building's facade was restored, as were indoor architectural elements such as the millwork and wood shelving. The elevator—a relic of an earlier renovation—was moved to regain some of the elegance of the front entryway. It worked. Other changes, such as removing interior walls and adding large rooftop skylights, open the library and manage to make it feel more spacious and cozier at the same time. An addition at the rear of the building makes room for a staff lounge, a kitchen, and unglamorous things like the mechanical room and storage space. Near the front, works by local artists hang above fireplace mantles. Above all, Franklin lives up to its name as a community library, with people streaming in and out of the building at a steady pace, some filing to the new tutor and technology rooms, others reading soundlessly wherever they can nab a spot.

1314 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis, 55404-2924



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