THE CURSE OF City Pages is back with a vengeance. Beginning around '93, it seemed every new band we championed soon met their demise: the Sedgwicks, Picadors, TVBC, and an incredible funk band called Pink Cabaret were just a few of the early victims. Lately, it seemed that the hex had been contained, but this summer brought unprecedented devastation when a half-dozen of our heartfelt faves disbanded within weeks of each other. And that was just the beginning.
In times like these, I have to laugh to keep from crying. So, with benefit of 20/20 hindsight, here are some unofficial coroner's reports of the more recognized local bands, with some future listening tips for fans and friends of the deceased:
Cause of Death: Natural causes
After 10 years (dating back to their days as the Skivies), real life rears its ugly head for this lovably modest country-pop group. The sweet-singing Finstad sisters are near the end of their graduate school terms, and songwriter/co-leader Brian Swanson is increasingly busy with his own business, Hello Booking. Less than a year since leaving Proton Productions, Swanson already books such workhorses as Tim Mahoney and Mango Jam, has the Carpetbaggers out for three weeks with Son Volt, is readying a blitz for the Billys around the release of their new record, and has corralled national acts such as The Floating Men and Kate Jacobs. Put simply, Swanson's too busy to be in a band.
The Idlewilds, who may regroup without Swanson in the future, built up a strong regional audience but remained underrated, an unfortunate fate that often befalls local bands who improve steadily over time. The observant lyrics and memorable country-pop melodies of "End of the Line" and "My Last Day" are good examples of Swanson's maturation as a songwriter. "We never really shopped ourselves too hard," admits Swanson. "I don't think any of us really wanted to be famous, and I could never imagine even wanting to go to L.A. and put your life on the line to record. It's just such a crap shoot."
Visitation: Saturday, 400 Bar (with Terry Walsh and 2 a.m. presiding).
Last Will and Testament: Grand Forks (self-released CD), and maybe a limited cassette of this weekend's farewell show.
Next of Kin: Marlee MacLeod, Dust Bunnies
MOLLY AND THE HEYMAKERS
Cause of Death: Dismemberment
While the Heymakers' name may live on, the group as we knew it is fragmenting. Miss Molly is about to become a temporary--and perhaps long-term--member of Nashville stars the Mavericks. Recently she'd been gigging under her own name with a new band, and she's nearly completed a solo album, to be released next year on Doug Myren's flourishing Mouth Piece label (Ipso Facto, Hoopsnakes). Meanwhile, many of the old Heymakers have become Revelators, joining Kevin Bowe, who scored a few songs on the new national album by young bluesman Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and is reportedly making inroads on his own record deal.
Visitation (for the new Heymakers): Friday at Fillys in Chanhassen.
Last Will and Testament: Big Things retrospective CD, reissued on Mouth Piece.
Next of Kin: Kate MacKenzie, Mary Jane Alm Band
Cause of Death: Exhaustion
Most bands record much too soon; this multi-stylistic rap and rock group may have waited too long. A quality new recording might have showcased the fascinating changes they'd gone through in recent years. (Willingness to headline the Mirage may have kept them out of First Avenue for years, leading to further stagnation and frustration.) These days, percussionist/ vocalist Mike Johnson's busy running Hardline Productions, which represents Phull Surkle, Give, and Legion of Boom, among others. He's also recording and gigging with Suckerpunch, and sitting in with Otto's Chemical Lounge and, occasionally, the old national act Badfinger. Bassist Erik Fratzke is still busy in Phull Surkle/Auto Body Experience, vocalist Amy Kayne will dabble around as usual, and Scotty G. and Kip will raise kids and chill a little.
Visitation: Next year's Cedarfest if we're lucky.
Last Will and Testament: Full Metal Backswing cassette.
Next of Kin: Ghost Dance Deluxe, Premium, Tribe of Millions, Phull Surkle, Suckerpunch
Cause of Death: Homesickness
The native Tennessean's many songs about drifting down south were apparently no joke. Rose was gone to Santa Fe without a trace sometime this summer, but reportedly has some recording leads on major indie labels specializing in music by Native American artists. Her local live shows may not have always captured her recorded beauty, but Rose had real potential. I hope our loss is the nation's gain. (Rose is survived, of course, by her sister Karen Therese of Jai Cafe. Sad to say, Karen has plans of her own to relocate in Seattle.)
Last Will and Testament: Tracks South (self-released CD)
Next of Kin: Lojo Russo, Jamison Mahto and the Lakota Blues Band.
Cause of death: Irregular heartbeat
Fifth drummer Bob Herbers looked like the one to push this rapidly improving roots-rock combo into respectability, just as the urban country movement was becoming trendy. But like many previous PA drummers, Herbers soon wanted to write songs for his own band. After a winter hibernation, the remaining trio may reemerge in quieter formations, but Prest Asbestus, in name, is dead. Frankly, the name was my least favorite part: Matt Arthur is still a wicked country vocalist, and writing partner Guy Brua is an overlooked lyricist. Somebody bring 'em back alive.
Last Will and Testament: Self-released three-song single, and the world's longest version of "Never Talking to You Again" on Dü Hüskers: The Twin Cities Replay Zen Arcade.
Next of Kin: Glenrustles, Sycamores, John Casey and the Old Possums
Cause of Death: Nerve damage
Lori Wray's slow comeback has ended much too quickly. Wray was a classic folk-pop songwriter in a band that preferred to jam and tinker with arrangements and sound textures. When it worked, the clash of the traditional and ultra-modern methods made for highly original pop music, but the long-term viability was bleak from the beginning. Bassist Jeffrey Herrmann has joined June Sunday, and drummer Dave Domal is in Max Press, featuring Paul Hiraga (Mings).
Last Will and Testament: two-song demo that scored some Rev-105 airplay.
Next of Kin: Girl Friday, Whoops Kitty, Green Pyramids, Lisa Wooster, Speed of Rain, Big Red Ball.
Cause of Death: Blurred vision, overwork
This crew was doomed to a hard life trying to play no-sample, classic power-soul in Minneapolis rock clubs. Once they broke through the door, they antagonized numerous key club managers, and probably played West Bank way too much this winter and spring. New clubs like The Quest or St. Paul's Jazzville would seem to offer a haven, but the members are scattering. Drummer Kevin Washington will attend the illustrious New School of Music in Manhattan. That's a great move for Washington, but a big loss for local bebop jam sessions, and father Donald Washington's exquisite New Day Blues Band.
Last Will and Testament: Afro Soul (self-released CD)
Next of Kin: Mint Condition, Curbfeelers, Westside, Who Are Those Guys, the Jets
Cause of Death: Neglect
Investigators are stumped! This nostalgic pop foursome had just made their CD debut, and seemed to have generated goodwill among local bookers and many influential friends. All they lacked was a fan base and broader critical support. But hey, if a retro-pop band didn't experience unrequited love, what would they write songs about? Ultimately, they were probably greater fans than practitioners of Big Starry pop. If the band carries on in name, it will be without key songwriter Chris Dorn.
Last Will and Testament: Five tracks on SymPOPphony #1: A Collection of American Power Pop.
Next of Kin: Rex Daisy, National Dynamite, Vandalias, Skeleton Ed, and the embryonic Devin Hill band.
LITTLE TIN GODS
Cause of Death: Exposure, or the lack thereof.
Reportedly this classic rock foursome was one of many bands left out in the cold after the 24 Bar closed. Their hard, free-form sound didn't cross over much beyond Red Sea, or weeknights at 400 Bar, and plans for a possible double album were scrapped .
Last Will and Testament: Four-song demo.
Next of Kin: Tonal Fog, Vena Cava, Acetylene
Cause of death: Kidnapping
We at CP are beyond objectivity when it comes to Ad Boy--fronted by our estimable food critic Amanda Ferguson. But just ask anybody. It seems ex-Breeder Kelly Deal has relocated here and stolen the boys in the band for her own project, which soon hits the road with the Grifters and Red Red Meat. While it's cool havin' Kelly around, did she have to stick a fork in Minnesota's cutest band? Sigh. P.S.: Fem. voc. seeks orig. project.
Last Will and Testament: Three-and-a-half song single (Prospective).
Next of Kin: Wahinis, Lily Liver, Girl Friday
VINNIE AND THE STARDUSTERS:
Cause of Death: Comic-schtick dependency
I'm too scared to say anything, or I'll get another angry letter from these duplicitous, conceited, juvenile, no-talent rip-off artists. Hey lads, just e-mail it: email@example.com.
Last Will and Testament: An admittedly hilarious comic book history of the band, Stardust Memories, and a "compact disc": "The Girl From Ipanema Wants to Kill Me" b/w "Walk Around Naked" (Ultra Modern).
Next of Kin: Vinnie and the Stardusters
...And the list doesn't stop there: Gneissmaker, Sugarat, Gosh, Bashful Habits, Inspirational Coffee, Sal (formerly Stifblow), Jack Tripper and The Sea also ended this summer. Most of Gneissmaker is playing as Command Module, and half of The Sea is now in Ex Animo... Finally, good luck to Linda Pitmon, who's leaving Fauna to go look for adventure in New York City, at least temporarily. A return to town, and to the band, is not out of the question, but Fauna will carry on with an unnamed drummer in the meantime.
KEEP ON PUSHIN': Enough of this morbid music news. There is an exciting newborn on the scene: Rick Fuller (Harder/Fuller Films, Venison) has launched Earmark Records, whose first products just hit the street. One is the long-awaited Workman's Comp, a cooperative venture with Big Money Inc. Eleven local and regional rockers--including Mezzo Fish, Likehell, King Can, Chicago's 77 Luscious Babes, and Chris Johnson's new project, Royal Pain--take two swings each. Also featured is Push on Junior, whose new EP Want is Earmark's first full-on release. Junior and friends--Tongue, Saucer and Ishkabibble--celebrate the CD with a round-robin rockathon, Thursday at 7th Street Entry, with special guest MC Mike Suade... Also, Harder/Fuller Films producer Andy Grund will broadcast his short film Salt Shaker, starring the Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli on the season opener of Channel 2's MNTV, Sunday at 10:30 p.m.
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