Girl Germs: A Tribute to Women in Music
With Aby Wolf, Alpha Consumer (feat. Debbie Duncan), Kitten Forever, K. Raydio, and Yoni Yum
Turf Club, St. Paul
Saturday, January 10, 2015
The test of a good tribute show comes down to how deep the connection the artists can forge with the material they're playing. When it's good, it's unspeakably good. When it's bad, you're better off hanging out at Vegas Lounge karaoke.
Like the last Girl Germs event held this past May at First Ave, organizers Dana Raidt and Sally Hedberg built a night with enough variety to pull fans of divergent genres spanning different eras. On paper, the allure of hearing Kate Bush, Erykah Badu, Marianne Faithfull, Aretha Franklin, and Beyoncé songs mashed up on a bill was unquestionable. Bringing the drama, soul, and potent commentary would prove to be an even greater challenge for the musicians themselves -- like riding above the wave of a male-dominated music industry on a surfbort. Yes, a surfbort.
English rogue pop star Marianne Faithfull proved an ideal muse for synth punks Yoni Yum at the outset. All of the emotional discord in Faithfull's work became frontwoman Jess Buns' ammo in versions that were disguised, sped-up, and bruised by the band. The dual-keyboard attack saluted 1979's touchstone Broken English with a drug-decrying "Brain Drain" and the fuck-all anthem "Guilt" ("If I could get away with murder I'd take my gun and commit it"). Because there are no damn rules at a Girl Germs party, YY wrapped up with the laser phaser blast of their own "Teenie Weenie."
In her own material, K. Raydio's outspoken wordplay and ease balancing tight R&B grooves with a crackle of the city streets shows a reverence for Erykah Badu's artistry. She mentioned being in an uncertain place in life leading up to a trip to Chicago to see Badu play. "And that was it," she said. With a Soulquarians-inspired backing band -- David Glen on guitar and some Zapp & Roger-style vocoder ( #MPLS, Hustle Rose), Hustle Rose drummer Miguel Hurtado, Javier Santiago on the Rhodes/keys, and Rob Coleman playing key bass -- splitting open the songs behind her, K. Raydio's set was a nod to the neo-soul singer's studio greatness as well as her precise live command on the flowing "Window Seat."
She said she was battling a cold, but it didn't keep her voice from glistening. Given our ever-troubled times, "Soldier" placed special emphasis and a steely glare on the line "I'm talkin' 'bout the dirty cop / they the one you need to watch." The entire set was tight, but the funky cover of Worldwide Underground-era "I Want You" with a bridge featuring Badu's hook from the Roots' smash "You Got Me" was as much fun as anything the night brought.
Hopefully this will not be the last time Kitten Forever -- a bunch of Sasha Fierces in their own right -- set an R&B bonfire. The crowd started moving almost as soon as the punk trio came out firing with "7/11" smacking in the air. The quick renditions of ten Beyoncé tracks retained little of the original melodies sung by Mrs. Carter, but all of the attitude. The typical role-reversal of a KF show brought Liz Elton, Corrie Harrigan, and Laura Larson all up to the mic for turns to shred through "Drunk in Love," a Clara Salyer-assisted "Crazy in Love," and "Irreplaceable," which started with semi-traditional "to the left, to the left" before exploding into a Ramones-style burst of power. Finally, "Run the World (Girls)" was a six-vocalist statement that brought home the point of the whole night. Flawless.
They were on the flyer, but Alpha Consumer were more of a secondary attraction for their set. With local jazz star Debbie Duncan, a.k.a. the First Lady of Song, lending her muscular vocal command, this performance of Aretha Franklin's classic material could've lasted for hours. Duncan mentioned that this was her first time at the Turf, and remarked with mock surprise, "This is a cool place." Her life-long familiarity with Franklin was clear from the opening notes of "Night Life," which got dirtied up when necessary, and pushed her talented rhythm section of drummer JT Bates and Mike Lewis on bass into a game of catch up that lasted the rest of the performance. With guests in keyboardist Bryan Nichols and Matt Darling on trombone, "Baby I Love You" featured inspired soloing. "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You" evolved into straight-up testifying, with guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker's eyes rolling back in his head during his lead section. The collective punch of this group was knuckle-splitting.
Keeping the energy high, Aby Wolf brought out the rest of the team she works with so seamlessly in Dessa's touring band -- keyboardist Dustin Kiel, bassist Sean McPherson, and drummer Joey Van Phillips -- for a Kate Bush dessert that proved sumptuous. Dressed in a billowing shirt and an ornate jacket, Wolf swashbuckled through "Babooshka," letting her eyes light up as much as her voice. She made it clear that tackling one of pop's unsung queens (at least in the U.S.) was a thrill when recreating the drama and levity of Hounds of Love jam "Cloudbusting." Rogue Valley's Linnea Mohn joined on backing vocals for "The Sensual World," and everyone crushed through "Running Up That Hill" with swagger. Finally, the tricky "Wuthering Heights" was the encore-free finale. Like the great Kate before her, she sang it with her eyes, and also with her heart.
Critic's Bias: Musicians should be celebrated for their talent, creativity, and personality -- regardless of their DNA. Still, not enough women get a fair shake when it comes to getting their music heard, and a lot of lazy, boring dudes are clogging up the industry. We all gotta keep working harder on this to celebrate the scene's best, and Girl Germs has developed into one of the Twin Cities' best resources for helping the process along.
Random Notebook Dump: This should be bumping in the Dakota.
The Crowd: An ever-changing cast of fans at the front representing all ages, genders, and general proclivities.
Overheard: During Yoni Yum, some guy in the back kept yelling, "Do you kiss your mom with that mouth?"
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