Chris Koza's Words for Words at the Fitzgerald, 6/8/12

Chris Koza's Works for Words
with Sims, Caroline Smith, and Gabe Douglas
Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul
Friday, June 8, 2012

Rogue Valley frontman Chris Koza's Works for Words at the Fitzgerald on Friday night saw an interesting mix of people, both on stage and in the audience. Koza invited an enticing array of local talent to join him for a night of semi-serious, mostly hilarious evening examining song lyrics and delving into the power a song can have. Joined on stage at various times by Sims of Doomtree, Caroline Smith (Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps), and Gabe Douglas (the 4onthefloor), Koza's fast-paced evening was only sharpened by the personality each collaborator brought with them.

The set up was impressive: Koza crammed an orchestra and a full choir (a little over 40 people combined) onto the stage at the Fitz, conducted by composer Matthew J. Olson, who led the groups through accompaniments for most of the evening. The night began with Koza and his band, Rogue Valley (Peter Sieve on guitar, Luke Anderson on drums, Linnea Mohn on vocals, Joey Kantor on keys, and Paul Engels on bass guitar) starting out with two original songs, followed by snippets of "Brass Monkey," "Firework," "Stairway to Heaven," and "Hallelujah."

"The thing I've been realizing lately is that you don't need to have a masterpiece manuscript," said Koza before he launched into the slew of teasers. "Sometimes you have a song that you blast in your car or on the elliptical, and then you actually see the lyrics later and you're like, 'Man, I didn't know they said that.'"

Koza's argument (and the recurring theme throughout the night) was that while the lyrics were often the driving force in the song, they didn't have to be highly academic -- or even intelligently written -- to be great. The chorus on Katy Perry's "Firework" may pale in comparison to the unequivocal lyrical greatness of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," but to Koza's point, both snippets of those songs garnered an intense crowd reaction. The power-pop exploded infectiously and had audience members dancing in their seats and singing along, while Koza's gentle rendering of "Hallelujah" quieted the crowd into solemnity. This all happened in the span of about three minutes.

It's hard to pick the highlights of the show, because each transition in its own way brought something new and delightful for the listeners. Sims performed "Burn It Down" and followed it with a cover of Outkast's "Bombs Over Baghdad," complete with horns, trumpets, and the choir getting down and funky in the background. This is where audience discrepancy was most evident -- the young MPR members and Current-subscribers lost it, while some of the elderly folk looked incredibly uncomfortable. Most notably, the grandmother sitting in front of me, who shook her head sourly while her friend plugged her ears. Linnea Mohn did some vocal somersaults with a cover of Bjork's "Hyper Ballad," and Caroline Smith put on her game face for a cover of Beyonce's "Why Don't You Love Me."

There was perhaps no one who better demonstrated the seductive potency of lyrics than Gabe Douglas, though, whose original "Spoken For" was a force of words and vocals. The quiet, sparse tune built on Douglas' dirt-road voice until the climatic, screaming chorus -- which certainly woke up some audience members.

Throughout the evening, Koza proved himself a willful moderator, moving things along with a good mix of casual humor and pointed discussion. If Koza's goal was to get people thinking about the music they loved and surrounded themselves with, he was more than successful.

Critic's Bias: I'm a fan of all the artists on stage, but I was a little skeptical about how successful a show like this could be. My fears were happily quashed.

The Crowd: Quite the range, from elderly MPR subscribers to hip Current youngsters.

Random Notebook Dump: Gabe Douglas' beard is phenomenal.

Salt - Rogue Valley
Onward and Over - Rogue Valley
Brass Monkey (segment) - Rogue Valley (Beastie Boys cover)
Firework (segment) - Rogue Valley (Katy Perry cover)
Stairway To Heaven (segment) - Rogue Valley (Led Zeppelin cover)
Hallelujah (segment) - Rogue Valley (Leonard Cohen cover)
Last Goodbye - Chris Koza (Jeff Buckley cover)
Home - Matthew J. Olson
Burn It Down - Sims
Bombs Over Baghdad - Sims (Outkast cover)
Hyper Ballad - Linnea Mohn (Bjork cover)
Child Of Moving On - Caroline Smith
Why Don't You Love Me - Caroline Smith (Beyonce cover)
Big Yellow Taxi - Rogue Valley (Joni Mitchell cover)
"Mmmedley" - Chris Koza
The Wolves And The Ravens - Rogue Valley
Spoken For - Gabe Douglas
Virginia - Gabe Douglas (David Bazan cover)
Walk On The Wild Side - All (Lou Reed cover)
Red River Of The North - Rogue Valley
In A Graveyard - Rogue Valley (Rufus Wainwright cover)
Rockaway - Rogue Valley

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