Mid West Music Fest, Day Three: Kimya Dawson, the Melismatics, BNLX, and My Private Eye

Mid West Music Fest, Day Three: Featuring Kimya Dawson, the Melismatics, BNLX, and My Private Eye
Winona, MN
Saturday, April 21, 2012

See also:
Mid West Music Fest Day One with Tapes 'n Tapes
Mid West Music Fest, Day Two: the 4onthefloor, Rogue Valley

The final day of the Mid West Music Fest found the gray skies holding off from any substantial rain for much of the day, but the rocking line-ups all over Winona would have won out in the end, no matter how threatening the weather. It was certainly a noisy Saturday night line-up across much of the city, with performances scheduled from plenty of Twin City rock veterans and fledgling Winona acts, as well as the festival headliner Kimya Dawson.

Winona indie-rock quartet Wake Up Bedhead had it in gear early on at Dibs Cafe, a nice upstairs venue with good sound and plenty of space to move (which also featured a sweet pop-up record shop to celebrate Record Store Day). Their guitar-heavy, melodic sound really set the scene well for Dibs, which would play host to plenty of loud acts throughout the rest of the night. Wake Up Bedhead really picked up steam as their energetic set rolled on, and closed with the guitarist flailing about on the stage as he lost himself in the strident discord of the band's final number.

Minneapolis trio BNLX were up next, and they surely were the only band at MWMF who brought their own light show, which certainly complimented their fiery, tempestuous rock 'n' roll. The group is getting set to release their seventh EP this upcoming weekend, and this show featured plenty of new material (though sadly not their awesome Lana Del Rey cover). Ed and Ashley Ackerson are now joined by drummer David Jarnstrom, who really adds a steady, pounding beat over their churning sound.

The group started their set with their propulsive new single, "See What I See," and followed that up with an boisterous version of "Frogger (Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler)." "Burn The Boats" proved to be such an incendiary version that Ed broke a string, but proceeded to play with 5-strings during the rest of their breakneck set, churning through "LMAO CMEO," brand-new track "110 dB's (Until Death Do We Party)," and "Meet Me At The Barricades," a moody, New Order-esque track that the band claimed to have only played live once before.

The set concluded with a strong flurry of the group's best early material, as they tore through thunderous renditions of "Do Without," the blissful, JAMC-sounding "Blue and Gold," "Where Is the Love," and a celebratory "BNLX Today," which brought their raucous performance to a spirited conclusion, leaving everyone's ears ringing in the process.

Winona three-piece My Private Eye were up next, and they drew the largest local crowd that I witnessed at the festival, as their friends and hardcore fans all bunched up close to the stage to witness their set. The indie-rock outfit certainly didn't disappoint, either, as their crunchy, distortion-heavy riffs blended nicely with the sugary vocal harmonies of frontman/guitarist Todd Hanson and bassist Megan Hanson (who actually took over lead vocals and guitar for a song later in the set).

The group was the most accomplished and original Winona group of the festival, and even a mid-set hiccup where Todd played a minute or so of a different song than the rest of the band before he realized his mistake couldn't derail the band's momentum or diminish their charm and appeal. They are still quite a young band, but their infectious songs have clearly found an audience already, and with enough seasoning and exposure, My Private Eye could certainly make some waves outside of Winona in the Twin Cities music scene and beyond.

Mid West Music Fest, Day Three: Kimya Dawson, the Melismatics, BNLX, and My Private Eye


The riotous Minneapolis quartet the Melismatics kept the energy level at Dibs sky high throughout their stormy set, churning out one massive riff after another for both new and old fans gathered in the club. Frontman Ryan Smith joked with the crowd while introducing their second number, "This next song is about machines that are modern and it's called 'Modern Machines.'" The group tore through a bunch of new songs from their recent record, "Mania," but that material took on a spirited, gritty edge in a live setting.

"Lost The Feeling," "Your Love Is A Poison," and "Divided Devotions" all sounded stellar alongside incendiary older material like "Industry Of Cool," "Like People," and "Soul Sucker." The band were really hitting on all cylinders as the set drew to a fitful end with the anthemic "Speaking In Tongues," which had the entire group posturing in time with the churning rhythms as they slayed everyone that was gathered at Dibs.

The last headlining performance of the festival was just a few blocks away at the Masonic Temple, as Kimya Dawson played to a capacity crowd at the stately venue. Her 90-minute, solo acoustic set started with a bunch of lighthearted numbers off of her kids albums, but as the performance drew on, Dawson's stories grew weightier as her material shifted in tone. Kimya's songs are rather therapeutic for her, and have steered her out of some dark times, but they also have given plenty of hope to her enraptured fans, who sat cross-legged on the floor hanging on her every word and lyric.

As Dawson grew more comfortable with the stage and the crowd, her stories and songs became more confessional and emotional for her. She told about the passing of her favorite teacher who encouraged her to write, and how she wrote "Happy Home (Keep On Writing)" for him. She also told a lengthy story about how her childhood home that had been in the family for five generations had to be sold, and recently burned to the ground, giving her song "Fire" added significance.

It was quite a shock going from unquestionably the loudest sets of the weekend to the quietest, but Dawson's set proved to be the perfect comedown as the festival drew to a close. "Loose Lips," "Underground," and "The Beer" were all augmented by background stories that gave the songs some extra context. But the performance truly became special when Dawson decided to experiment with a cover, "A song which doesn't even have guitars in it." And when she said "It's by one of Minnesota's finest who is not around anymore," I had a hunch it would be a song by Eyedea. And sure enough, she tore through an acoustic version of "Smile," by Eyedea & Abililities, that was far from perfect, but so very moving.

She then told us about the circumstances that led her to write her very first song, "Eleventeen," which led to "Walk Like Thunder," which is one of the saddest songs I've ever heard. The heartbreaking number features a final verse by Aesop Rock, who Dawson is currently recording with. She gave a shout out to Fifth Element after the song's bittersweet conclusion, saying their Record Store Day collaboration might still be available there, and that their full-length album should be out by year's end. And with that intimate, heartfelt performance by Kimya Dawson, the 2012 Mid West Music Fest drew to a fitting end. Until next year, Winona -- thanks for the hospitality!

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: I didn't really know what to expect coming into the festival, having not been to any of these venues before and not being all that familiar with the non-Twin City bands. But I had a great time each day of the fest, thanks to the bands, the kind and helpful MWMF volunteers, and the wide array of unique music venues spread throughout Winona.

The Crowd: Much bigger on a Saturday night than they were the previous two evenings. College kids and seasoned locals mixed harmoniously together in the name of good times and rock 'n' roll.

Random Notebook Dump: It would be great if Minneapolis could put together something along these lines but in a much bigger way, stretching from the downtown area all the way to the West Bank. I know that live music is happening each and every night in our city, but it would be cool if the venues and the bands coordinated their efforts to make something truly special happen in Minneapolis (or St. Paul). Until then, there's always Winona (and Austin, Texas of course).

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