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MN Music on-a-Stick at the Minnesota State Fair, 8/30/13

MN Music on-a-Stick at the Minnesota State Fair, 8/30/13
Photo by Tony Nelson

MN Music-on-a-Stick
With Trampled by Turtles, the Suburbs, Mason Jennings, P.O.S, and the Chalice
Minnesota State Fair Grandstand, St. Paul
Friday, August 30, 2013

At their second annual State Fair Grandstand showcase, MN Music on-a-Stick, 89.3 the Current brought a six-hour slate of acts that cover a full range of distinctly Minnesotan sounds. The independent hip-hop scene was well represented by power trio the Chalice and the always-intense P.O.S. Mason Jennings shrank the sprawling venue with personal and emotive folk, a genre pushed forward by a certain other floppy-haired Minnesotan. For those who came to rock, the Suburbs brought us back to 1983 -- even those of us who weren't around for their first go-round. And then there was Trampled by Turtles.

Though each of the five acts seemed to have fans who came out mostly to see them, it was clear from the beginning that this was really the Turtles' show. The cheers in response to hosts mentioning their name rivaled the ovations for the other bands, and the excitement built as the night went on. Their performance, the show's final one, more than justified the anticipation. But before that, fans were treated to a filling sampler of local music to match the cheese curds and fried everything from earlier in the day.

See Also: Slideshow: MN Music On-a-Stick at the 2013 State Fair

The Chalice
The Chalice
Photo by Tony Nelson

The Chalice typically play much smaller stages than the fair grandstand, but they adjusted well to the less intimate setting. Lizzo and crew immediately provided the receptive crowd -- many of those who were there that early in the night were fans of theirs and stayed near the front of the stage -- with the powerful yet inviting presence they're known for. A particularly strong performance of "Real Recognize Real" had even middle-aged women who wouldn't have seemed out of place winning a horticultural prize throwing their middle fingers up.

P.O.S
P.O.S
Photo by Tony Nelson

P.O.S was introduced by Barb Abney as a Current employee, as his show, P.O.S Is Ruining the Current, runs on Saturday night. The set opened in appropriate Minnesota get-together fashion: The Doomtree rapper waved to the crowd, and most of them waved back. Though his energetically anti-capitalist opener "Fuck Your Stuff" may not have seemed in keeping with the unapologetic consumption of the State Fair, P.O.S proved to be as down with the gluttony as anyone. "I can't wait to go to French Meadow and get a cronut," he said, before getting into a debate with his DJ about the merits of all-you-can-drink milk during the week's killer heat wave -- P.O.S was pro-milk.

P.O.S was hard at work throughout his set, throwing all of his energy into the crowd and riffing on the fair during the breaks. He was so hardcore that it threw off the groove of a few songs, like "Optimist," but when it worked, it was powerful. "Get Down" was the livest song of the show, managing to get essentially the entire crowd jumping even during the last gasps of the week's heat wave. He continued to make the most of the unique "on-a-stick" setting. During "Weird Friends," he reached into the crowd for a Sweet Martha's cookie and ate it onstage with the appropriate look of satisfaction -- the State Fair equivalent of lighting up a blunt onstage.

 

Mason Jennings
Mason Jennings
Photo by Tony Nelson

Things cooled down considerably as Mason Jennings took the stage during the golden hour. Not a native son, Jennings chose Minnesota, and for more than a decade we have accepted him as our own. His stage presence projected a quiet power and unsentimental intimacy. His rendition of "Jackson Square," Dylaned-up with a headgear harmonica, showed his command of the fundamentals of Americana folk. Shortly after, Jennings went behind the keys for "Clutch," opening the meditation on lost love with the question "what good is remembering?" Throughout the set, there was very little jamming, and the instrumentation was solid and straight up, though his at times raw delivery reflected the emotion behind the lyrics beyond what's on the record.

As the sun set, Jennings treated the crowd to a solo acoustic version of "Your New Man," with more than a few singing along. After a particularly sincere rendition of "Be Here Now," he spoke to the crowd for one of the few times of the night, simply saying, "I'm so glad to be home" before closing out with "Sorry Signs on Cash Machines."

The Suburbs
The Suburbs
Photo by Tony Nelson

When Mark Wheat asked who had seen the Suburbs play with the B-52's three decades ago, about a fifth of the crowd put their hands up. Their first song, "Reset the Party" from the new album, Si Sauvage, their first release in 27 years, was their most conspicuous nod to nostalgia of the night, with the line "turn back the clock and lets get started." Each of the band's frontmen had their moment. Chan Poling nailed the keyboard solo of "Music for Boys" and at various points toasted the night onstage with a glass of red wine, and Blain "Beej" Chaney performed the new "What's It Like Out There?" like a man possessed, leading to more than a few shouts of "BEEJ!" from the crowd. Though performances of material from their new album were generally stronger, the closing "Love Is the Law" was as special as you could expect it to be.

Trampled by Turtles
Trampled by Turtles
Photo by Tony Nelson

At this point the crowd, which had been building gradually all night, had finally reached its peak. Mark Wheat played the role of hype man with gusto -- not that Trampled by Turtles needed it -- leading a chant of "TBT!" When they took the stage, it was immediately clear what we were in for. The opener "Victory" and the follow-up "Help You" were played with absurdly furious energy and a power that a lesser band would never have been able to control, leading to several mid-song ovations for masterful stop-on-a-dime breaks. "Widower's Heart," backed with a welcome addition of steel guitar, showed that they could slow it down too. One woman going to get more beer observed that "everyone's making out; it's awesome."

One thing that can keep a good set from becoming great is a lack of attention to anticipation tension, but the Turtles proved to be masters. After a cover of Loudon Wainwright's "The Swimming Song," they launched into "Burn for Free" following a long pause and a flash of red light with a taut intensity that almost made it seem like a Metallica cover. They expanded the range of the night with a nearly psychedelic rendition of "Gasoline," stretched out with trippy electric fiddle riffs.

There were very few in the audience who didn't see the ending sequence of the show coming from the beginning, but the Turtles still managed to surprise us. After "Midnight on the Interstate," they ended their set with "Alone," bringing out Claire de Lune of the Chalice to sing backup vocals and a full pipe band to power the final crescendo, along with steel guitar and chello. All of these elements blended perfectly, lending the song a new level of power and depth. Returning after a standing ovation, Dave Simonett half-smirked knowingly and said "We don't have a lot of time, so we'll have to play it fast." Of course they played "Wait So Long," of course everyone went nuts, and of course it ended 15 seconds before the fireworks started.

Overheard in the Crowd: "WOO! I need more mandolin!"

The Crowd: It looked like a general sample of fair-goers, if slightly younger. There were more than a few families, especially up in the grandstand itself. The faux pas of wearing a band's merch to their own show was blatantly disregarded.

Random Notebook Dump: Whoever was running the PA system during breaks was really into Red Hot Chili Peppers.

See Also:
50 cool facts about the Minnesota music scene
Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list
Top 10 must-see Minnesota music videos this week

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