Dark Dark Dark at the Cedar, 10/03/12

Dark Dark Dark at the Cedar, 10/03/12
Photo By Robbie Manalo

Dark Dark Dark
with Mountain Man and Emily Wells
Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis
October 3, 2012

A series of strong, original female voices kept the packed Cedar Cultural Center entranced and thoroughly entertained on Wednesday night, as Dark Dark Dark celebrated the release of their glorious new record, Who Needs Who, along with Mountain Man and Emily Wells. The Minneapolis-based chamber-pop quintet kicked off their U.S. tour with a 90-minute live show that not only highlighted the impassioned songs on their new album, but also their bold growth as a band as of late.

See Also:
Dark Dark Dark explores breakups, moving on
Dark Dark Dark's Nona Marie on her all-female Choir side project

Opener Emily Wells started the night with a riveting set which featured the New York singer/songwriter blending her vocals along with textured samples and pre-recorded beats and melodies, while she augmented all the material with booming live percussion. She introduced one of the last numbers in her all-too-brief set, "Don't Use Me Up," by saying, "This song is about friendship, Jesus, and whiskey." Who can't identify with at least one of those themes (if not all three)?

Her affable personality and quiet intensity really augmented her material, and her deep affinity for Minneapolis was made clear when she announced how excited she was that her album, The Symphonies: Dreams Memories & Parties, is now available on vinyl for the first time, thanks to the fine local folks at Noiseland Industries. Wells closed her set with a spirited cover of the Little Willie John/Peggy Lee standard, "Fever," which really showcased her golden voice and inventive arrangements.

The mesmerizing trio Mountain Man were up next, playing their first show under their own name in over a year, since they've been on tour with "the pop lady, Feist." The girls joked about how they had to learn synchronized dance moves, wear matching outfits, and "sometimes we even wore lipstick," during their recent stint supporting the Canadian music star. That easy charm only imbued their stark, harmony-driven songs with a relaxed elegance that easily won over the swelling crowd. Most of their numbers featured just the perfectly mixed vocal harmonies of Molly Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, and Amelia Meath, with the women occasionally passing an acoustic guitar between them to subtly enhance their songs.

In between enthralling numbers like "How'm I Doin'" and "River," the band joked about how they saw Snoop Dogg from the side stage at a festival this summer, and they were shocked that he had strippers on stage with him. When one of the girls corrected another by saying they weren't technically strippers, she playfully responded by saying, "Well, each time they came back out on stage they had less clothes on." That loose humor formed a nice balance with their austere material, and their powerful voices and amiable, easygoing charisma left the crowd impressed.

Dark Dark Dark have solidified into a definitive quintet during the writing and recording of Who Needs Who, and that camaraderie and trust was on full display during their captivating 16-song set. However, the band did appear to be a bit nervous throughout the show, playing to a packed Cedar audience full of fans and friends who eagerly anticipated hearing their new songs for the first time. And they certainly didn't waste any time spotlighting their new material, as Nona Marie Invie settled in behind her keyboard and lead the band through opener "The Great Mistake," which was augmented by the soaring trumpet of Walt McClements, who would deftly switch between that, accordion, and keys throughout the set.

Midway through the second number, "It's A Secret," the five-piece choir that Nona has now christened the Anonymous Choir joined the group, and they provided elegantly understated harmonies and backing vocals for most of the night. The carnival-like bounce of "Celebrate" got things warmed up in the room, reminding all of us that we were there to indeed celebrate their release of Dark Dark Dark's new album. An assured, impassioned take on "Meet In The Dark" quickly followed, with Nona's voice soaring as she delivered the poignant lines, "I will never get tired of singing these songs" as the song truly took flight, with Marshall LaCount's guitar flourishes giving the song an underlying edge.

Nona joked how yesterday was Marshall's birthday, "And he didn't get a spank tunnel. So, if after the show you could all line up in two rows, I think you'll know what to do." That brought a much-needed bit of levity to the proceedings, and seemed to loosen the band up a bit as well. A somber, moody, and moving version of "Hear Me" followed, with McClements at one point playing both the trumpet and accordion at once. The choir really provided a nice vocal emphasis on "Tell Me," which was quite devastating to hear live, and proved to be one of the night's many highlights. It was such a spirited version that Nona even announced afterwards that "I broke a nail playing that last song. And now I'm just telling you everything I'm thinking."

Nona came out from behind the keys to sing "What I Needed" from the front of the stage, as the upbeat, rousing new number really provided the middle of the set with a vigorous swing, driven by Walt's accordion as well as the tight rhythm of drummer Mark Trecka and bassist Adam Wozniak, who were locked in a pocket all night. LaCount took a moment to warmly address the crowd at this point, mentioning how much it meant for them to be playing for us that evening, but wasn't talking into the microphone, so most of the room couldn't hear it. Nona then joked about how when the band are rehearsing, Marshall only speaks to them through the mic even though there's obviously no need to when it's just the five of them.

The band truly seemed comfortable as they launched into an absorbing take on "How It Went Down," with Marshall leading the way with a muted guitar riff while Walt took over the keys and Nona retreated to sing along with the choir. Things continued to soar during a gorgeous version of "Without You," which had a decided Eastern European swing to it. Dark Dark Dark's material is drenched in wistful, vivid memories and intense feelings, and each song hits you right in the heart if you let it, and the stone-silent crowd was obviously letting these songs in and were duly moved.

After a lighthearted version of "Daydreaming," Nona introduced the next number by saying "Here's another piano jam, I guess." And the version of the Who Needs Who bonus track "Love Lies" was indeed led the mournful strains from Nona's keys, and proved to be yet another tender, touching moment in a show full of them. Before their last song of the main set, Nona said "This song is for my Minneapolis friends who are kind of hoarders. You all need to clean your rooms." What followed was "I Collect Things," a true stunner that saw the band off to a rousing ovation.

The three song encore started with one last focus on the new material, as both "Patsy Cline" and "Who Needs Who" took flight in the intimate room, with the warms sentiments of the songs washing over the riveted audience. Nona introduced the last song of the night, "Trouble No More," by saying "This is one of the first songs that I ever wrote for this band, so don't judge me--or do, just don't tell anyone." But the only way to judge this show is as an unqualified success. Dark Dark Dark are truly coming into their own, musically, and their striking new songs reflect that distinct growth and maturation.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I've professed my love of Dark Dark Dark many times over the years, and am proud to do so once again. They just keep getting better each time I see them.

The Crowd: One of the largest turn-outs I've seen at the Cedar, which is a well-deserved tribute to the stellar bands on the bill.

Overheard In The Crowd: A random, unexplainable call of "Aerosmith" during the middle of Dark Dark Dark's set.

Random Notebook Dump: These bands are all playing the Cedar again on Friday, you should go if you can.


The Great Mistake

It's A Secret


Meet In The Dark

Hear Me

Last Time I Saw Joe

Tell Me

What I Needed

How It Went Down

Without You


Love Lies

I Collect Things

Patsy Cline (Encore)

Who Needs Who (Encore)

Trouble No More (Encore)

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