Molly Maher and Her Disbelievers spend one last night at Nye's

Molly Maher and Her Disbelievers's residency finale with Erik Koskinen November 30, 2011 Nye's Polonaise Room, Minneapolis

"I feel like it's the first time at Nye's where there's been more room on the stage," Thom Middlebrook noted last night at Nye's, where Molly Maher and Her Disbelievers played their last gig of their five-and-a-half year Wednesday night residency. Middlebrook, the band manager-slash-wrangler, was right: the Nye's sidecar bar was pushing its occupancy limits as long-time regulars and friends packed themselves into the room for their last chance to whistle and stomp and enjoy the "Americana with a side of roots" that Molly Maher and Erik Koskinen have been bringing to Northeast for over half a decade.

For the celebratory night that closed on an era in Minneapolis roots music, the band held nothing back. The setlist was the same as always--songs that the gang have played so much the chords might as well be burned into their hearts--and as always on Wednesday nights, they spun off in any different direction in a superb jam-session way that only the most accomplished veterans can get away with. It thrilled the crowd, for which the playing never gets old, no matter how many different times and alternative versions the people hear (and, I suppose, after a few drinks it matters less, anyway), but moreover, it thrilled the band. You could tell, because no one was smiling more than the six people crammed up on the corner stage.

"You all look so beautiful!" exclaimed a shining Maher halfway through her set. "I want to raise a glass to all of you now. I want to say thank you to all of you for the past five and a half years, but most of all I want to say thank you to this fucking band!" Multiple glasses of Jameson went in the air, and many more were delivered after to the band ("So much brown liquid up here, it looks like Christmas!" smiled Maher).

"Can you include something about it sounding sultry?" implored one of the enthusiastic Wednesday night regulars as he saw me scribbling in my notebook. "Like an aphrodisiac. Or an elixir."

Well, to his credit, Maher does kind of have that effect. Especially last night, as the Christmas lights lining the stage kept flicking on and off and Maher was at the top of her game, in her element, running through her catalog of tunes and gesturing to her band for more of this, more of that, each player riling the other up further. Maher is all country tough, not afraid to sweat it out in a western shirt and jeans, and her gravel road-meets-wildflowers voice (think a more honeyed Lucinda Williams) is the perfect complement to the stinging bite of the rollicking guitar riffs that she, with her expert band, can conjure up.

The band, by the way, is much more than just the background on a lovely painting, with Richard Medek (the band's drummer for the past three years, often switching out time with Noah Levy), Paul Odegaard (trumpet, adding an unmistakable and essential spirit to the songs), Frankie Lee (bass guitar, and an up-and-coming singer-songwriter in his own right), Paul Bergen (guitar, and one of the best), and Erik Koskinen (guitar, vocals, and, hell, a band on his own). Any one of those players would get attention standing solo; together, they are a calamity of professional music meets "know the rules to break the rules" wiles.

Koskinen followed Maher after the set break, delivering a steady bulk of his own tunes, the sort of blues-country stuff that was raised--like Koskinen--on blue-collar work with overtures of honesty and American ethics, simple and true and timeless.

And for a man who doesn't get enough mention, ever: Paul Bergen is one of the Twin Cities' foremost guitar players, revered and sought after, but he is the type of musician who doesn't make a great show of it, and probably wouldn't tell you he could play if you didn't ask him or already know. He's more comfortable with a guitar in his hands than not; without knowing him, you can see it in the way he plays--the instrument is his oldest friend, and he knows it well. His was the third and last set of the evening, and in one of the finest moments of the night, Minneapolis's busiest drummer, JT Bates, was beckoned out of the audience and took over Medek's kit to back Bergen on a cover of "Truck Drivin' Man."

"I grew up in the semi seat next to my dad," said Bergen by way of introduction, "and I used to listen to this song about 17 times a day." The crowd had thinned at that point to about breathing room, to the very most loyal, and as always at Nye's, the band played to the very last dregs, 'til bar close. And then it was over.

Of course, it's not really the last chance to enjoy Maher and Koskinen and Bergen and all the Disbelievers--the band isn't really moving very far from Nye's. They'll be taking the month of December off, and January 2012 will find them in their new home, on Wednesday nights at the Aster Café, with a little earlier hours (9 p.m. to about 11 p.m.). The intimacy of the Aster will offer a different sort of charm from the kitsch and old school in-the-know-ness of Nye's, and will certainly be bringing a little more excitement to St. Anthony Main, which gets downright lonely in the winter. Here's to 2012, then--mark it in your calendar: January 4, Molly Maher and Her Disbelievers at the Aster Café, the new Wednesday night house band, every Wednesday until infinity (or at least, we hope so).

Molly Maher and Her Disbelievers spend one last night at Nye's
Molly Maher and Her Disbelievers spend one last night at Nye's
Molly Maher and Her Disbelievers spend one last night at Nye's

For more photos: See the full slideshow.

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