Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Spirits of the Red City are the real deal—no amps, no microphones; even the squeeze organ is analog. A group of eight musicians swell and sway in unison, gathering around one another to listen for breaths and pauses, squeezing their eyes shut as they strum banjos and mandolins, bow cellos, and brush an old snare drum while singer Will Garrison amazingly, astonishingly sings out loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear. In an era heavy on neo-folkies and old-timey revivalists, Spirits stand out simply for the purity of their art form. There have no pretenses and no fashion requirements—it's just Garrison, the wandering troubadour poet, playing his heart-wrenching folk songs for whoever will listen with a band of brothers and sisters and balladeers. That the group has only played the Twin Cities four times in the past year and a half is a shame, but it's also a testament to their nomadic nature; Spirits of the Red City spend their time drifting from place to place, setting up in coffee shops and anarchist bookstores and street corners across the country and rippling their pensive, dynamic love lore out into the ether.
There's no denying that Rhymesayers Entertainment is the biggest and most well known record label in the Twin Cities. But it's not the best local record label based on reputation alone. Over the past 12 months, we've seen P.O.S. become a breakout star and the sleeper hit of last year's Warped Tour, Brother Ali rapping alongside the legendary Roots crew on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, the wildly successful second installment of the Soundset festival last summer, and a slew of new releases, including the long-awaited Felt 3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez by the supergroup of Slug, Murs, and Aesop Rock. Never content to rest on its past success, the Rhymesayers crew is already putting the pieces in place for 2010, making it clear that it also intends to compete for next year's Best Record Label.
Except maybe when the Quest was around a decade ago, has there ever been a better dance club than First Avenue? This year alone the place not only revamped its popular ass-shaking crevice formerly known as the VIP Room (now titled the Record Room), but it also housed the most successful dance nights in the city. Among them: Get Cryphy, Too Much Love, Ritmo Caliente, Hot Dish, Black, and more. If this club is any indication, the Twin Cities most certainly like to get down.
There were certainly major contenders for this category this year, like Bomp! at Bedlam and Too Much Love at First Avenue. But Jimmy2Times and Plain Ole Bill's Get Cryphy hip-hop monthly at the Record Room surpasses them both when it comes to character. Packed to the gills by midnight with a diverse array of folks getting wild to the behind-the-decks skills of its founders (and occasional blog-famous guests), these fans aren't really concerned about outfits, party favors, or posturing. In fact, a lack of concern can sometimes take the form of a stray elbow here and there, so hold your ground as you bob and weave to the beat at this party, which recent guest EMYND from Philly called "one of the country's best dance nights with one of the most unfortunate names."
Mike Davis, a.k.a. Mike 2600, is the epitome of a DIY dude. His résumé includes contributions to both the music and art scenes, which, in Davis's life, "really inform one another," he says. The St. Louis import co-founded Burlesque of North America graphic art and screenprinting company in northeast Minneapolis in 2003, which later gave rise to the First Amendment art gallery housed in the Burlesque studio's foyer. When Davis was starting out as a graphic-design major in college, he would sneak into the campus radio station between classes and teach himself to spin records—a resourceful move that led to a passionate record-collecting hobby. He went on to make memorable flyers for festivals, DJs, and other artists, while also proving his prowess in the DJ booth. Aside from making some of the most crucial posters and street-art emblems in the city, Davis holds several high-profile DJ residencies: He runs the successful two-for-one night Triple Double every Tuesday at the Triple Rock, plays Street Sounds and Get Cryphy nights in First Avenue's former VIP Room, and hosts Bomp! at the Bedlam. At a recent surprise party for Get Cryphy founder Jimmy2Times, Davis presented the birthday boy with a stack of carefully selected vintage records thoughtfully wrapped in paper he illustrated himself, a perfect snapshot not only of what kind of guy Davis is but of how he has braided together his passions. Minneapolis has always been pretty DIY, but Davis, with his supreme taste spanning from old funk classics to grimy hip hop to lighthearted house, is its king.
Nothing can ruin a good time like bad music. You've been there: You're sitting in a bar tipping back a few pints with your buddies, and suddenly "Higher" by Creed comes blaring through the speakers. It's a mood killer. This won't happen at Sauce Spirits and Soundbar. They have the best jukebox in town. First, the machine is free. As for the selection, good music is really in the ear of the beholder, but you likely won't be disappointed. Sauce's jukebox offers a wide selection of both classics and great albums you wouldn't expect: Aesop Rock to Talking Heads. David Bowie to Mastodon. Björk to the Doors. The Pixies to Why? Even better, the machine won't ever subject you to the torturous output of Creed singer Scott Stapp's horrendous vocal chords.