Arcwelder at Turf Club, 12/23/11
Arcwelder December 23, 2011 Turf Club, St. Paul
Arcwelder is viewed as one of the bands from Minneapolis who never made it. They were on the cusp, and then the landscape changed and they were left out in the cold. In the end, however, they have aged better than most of their contemporaries. They got lumped in with the grunge crowd and, really, that was a fair assessment; but if you listen to much of the music from that genre now it's incredibly dated and much of it borders on unlistenable.
Arcwelder has no such issues surrounding them, however. To be sure, the songs indeed sounded like they were borne from the mid-'90s grunge era, but there was something slightly off about them in relation to grunge. Meaning the songs are catchy, they don't sound like they were recorded inside of a mudslide, the edges of the songs are sharper and much more clean than many of their contemporaries. And while that was a hindrance then, it inadvertently created built-in longevity.
Songs like "Favor" and "Chicken" highlight this fact as well as another: both songs feature drummer Scott McDonald on lead vocals and the set took on a completely different dynamic with him in charge. The songs sounded fairly poppy in a way, but like pop songs that have had isopropyl alcohol spilled on them, removing the shiny finish. In contrast the songs in which main vocalist Bill Graber helmed the mic had a much darker, pensive feel to them. The trick, of course, was to make it all sound cohesive, and Arcwelder did that exceptionally well.
They ran through the hour-long set with ease, the crowd pogoing at the appropriate times, and at one point a small mosh pit broke out -- but like band, their fans have gotten a little bit older and mosh pits seem less fun as you age. They seem like a place where your glasses might get broken or you could displace a hip. Still, it's fun to watch and fun to participate in, even if for half a song or so.
They would the set up with the driving, thunderous instrumental, also called "Arcwelder" (they chose the name after the song, having called themselves Tilt-A-Whirl at first but being threatened with legal action), with Rob explaining the mechanics of an encore beforehand: "We're going to pretend to leave the stage, then we'll come back out a play again." They never even left the stage after the song. There was so much cheering they just cracked into it straightaway -- a workman's approach to what on many levels was the '90s-alt band for the working man. There are few pretty flourishes in Arcwelder's songs. There was not a call for a horn section on their third album, no difficult fourth album. It was always just three guys who wanted (and clearly still want) to play loud, catchy music and while it never found the larger home it deserved, we now get to see Arcwelder in small clubs, playing songs that somehow almost define a particular era better than the songs everyone talks about defining said era. It's a strange, slightly wonderful position to be in if you ask me.
Critic's Bias: With Bill Graber now living in Singapore, Arcwelder only plays a handful shows a year, but I make a point to see every one of them. The Crowd: With a few exceptions, mostly people that were old enough to see them in clubs during their heyday. Overheard In The Crowd: "How were these guys not huge like Nirvana?" from two different people. Random Notebook Dump: How they aren't talked about with large-scale reverence rather than having attained this nerdy, cult status thing is amazing. For More Photos: See our full slideshow by Erik Hess, including shots of openers Red Pens and Safewords.
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