Someone is breaking pint glasses in the middle of the room, and the girl with the smeared mascara is giving the stubbly punk kid in the corner a full tongue shave. I'm at the Triple Rock for my five millionth trip to their Two-for-One Tuesday, and at this point, everyone is up to Sixteen-for-Eight. A few minutes later, I see Mascara Girl hunched over a toilet straight out of Trainspotting, smiling big with her steaming puke mouth. "I feel so much better!" she exclaims. That make-out session must have been worse than it looked.
Getting Triple Rock Sickness--the drunken urge to completely humiliate yourself, followed by the urge to throw up--is like having chicken pox. You're much more likely to catch it when your friends have recently had it. (If you were the designated driver last week, you sure as hell ain't gonna be one again tonight.) And once you've had it, you'll never get it again. Last Tuesday's Triple Rock run proved to be my own firewater inoculation shot. So this week, I decided to go concert-hunting while totally sober. If I were a more cynical person, I would estimate that this new trend will last exactly three days. But I'm feeling pretty optimistic. I give it four.
The Unicorns, Monday, January 19 at the 7th St. Entry "Hey St. Paul!" yells singer/keyboardist Nick Diamonds to a packed house in Minneapolis. No one says a word.
"Hey Chicago!" tries singer/guitarist Alden Ginger.
"Hey St. Louis!" Silence. "Hey Missouri!"
"That's Missour-uh," a lone voice finally shouts back. Everyone laughs, though we're unsure if the joke is on us. Throughout their indie-pop set, these baby-faced Canadians make mistakes ranging from the fully intentional to the totally accidental, though it's anyone's guess which is which. The band declares tonight Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday (the man was born January 15), issues predictions for the next presidential election (in 2005?), and tries to convince us that the bewigged joker onstage is a homeless guy searching for "boobs and beer" (said "vagabond" is later spotted sharing the band's stash backstage). After all this, they launch into a video-game jingle whose eerie beauty envelops the crowd precisely because the sputtering keyboards aren't working properly. But it's the group's version of their pulsing garage-rock send-up "The Clap," which segues effortlessly into Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You out of My Head" and then into 50 Cent's "P.I.M.P.," that first elicits knowing grins.
"It's nice to see all of your smiles," Diamonds later acknowledges. "Even though some of you aren't so attractive."
Hip-Hop Night, Monday, January 19 at the Loring Pasta Bar Watching the underdogs get humiliated over and over at the Loring's monthly hip-hop battle, I feel thoroughly shocked and embarrassed--just as I'd hoped I would. A heavyset rapper takes flak for looking as if every time he gets his ass kicked, "pork chops fall out." A long-torsoed guy is slammed for legs that are "shorter than Hank Hill's dad." Though decency prevents me from repeating the line verbatim, a thick-lipped MC endures teasing for looking like the goods beneath his nose should be hidden behind a thong.
And then genes give way to jeans as the best grounds for brawling. "He don't shop at the mall, he shops at the trash," Nate Ball, fierce in his MOA-friendly sweater, spits at his opponent. Booty Regulator (formerly Ice-Rod) glances from Nate Ball's ensemble to his own thrift store jacket and accepts the challenge. "This stage will be your burial ground" he retorts. "I shop at the trash? You shop at Merry-Go-Round!" Booty advances all the way to the very heated final round, where he's narrowly defeated by Vesh, a talented, buttoned-down rapper who claims his lead after the Regulator tries to rhyme "MLK" with "testes." As Vesh pockets his cash prize, the two rappers slap each other's backs in congratulations.
Elliot, the night's host, shakes his head in mock-protest. "Stop huggin' and shit!" he scolds. "This is a battle."
The Plastic Constellations, Friday January 23 at the Uptown Bar and Café Out on Hennepin Avenue, it's two degrees below zero. Inside the bar, our sweat vaporizes; one bald concertgoer's skull steams like a freshly hard-boiled egg. "Is there a fog machine in here?" Jeff Allen jokes as the temperature climbs and the windows cloud up. Maybe it's the collegiate punk spirit rising in the crowd that makes me want to run my fingers over the glass, inscribing an obscene message for the self-satisfied fellow who whistles contentedly as he strolls down the miserably cold street outside. But I can't figure out how to write backward, and anyway, I get the feeling that Allen wouldn't approve.
Even when he's scratching at his guitar strings so fast you'd think they gave him poison ivy, he looks quite serious, much older than he did when I last saw the Plastic Constellations play a year or so ago. ("Was that when he was two?" a friend of mine jokes about the youthful singer-guitarist, who graduated from Hopkins High in 2000.) But a certain intensity comes from the band's newfound reserve. Where he used to jump around the stage, edging dangerously close to Matt Scharenbroich's drum kit, bassist Jordan Roske now nods his head with each angular chord. And co-singer/guitarist Aaron Mader stands relatively still beneath the blue-green lights, picking out a Lifter Puller-like melody.
"Never spent spring break in Mazatlan," he sings. I'm ready to log onto Priceline right now.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Franz Ferdinand, "Take Me Out" 7-inch single (Domino) There's an ancient proverb we scholars of musicology reflect upon when we're lounging in our smoking jackets, testing the physical properties of our vinyl collections: You've got to break up before you make up the breakdown. So when Scottish pretty boy Alexander Kapranos snarls, "I know I won't be leaving here with you," drawing each word out like he's Julian Casablancas's Casanova, the song should fall apart on cue with his relationship. But instead, the music launches northward, rising in smoke rings toward the ceiling of a Glaswegian bar. The rhythm section builds to a stadium stomp, drums and guitar converge, and the most brilliant disco riff of the new year waves its hands in the air before socking you straight in the face.
You shake your hair, your hips, your fingers, your feet--hell, if you could figure out how to shake your spleen to the bassline, you'd do it. And all the while, Kapranos repeats his refrain. Maybe he's not threatening to take someone else home. Maybe, you hope, if he's not leaving here with you, he might stay all night, dancing on the tables until the sun comes up and he's all out of coins for the jukebox. If someone will just toss him a few more quarters, you'll never leave this bar again.
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