Odd Man Out

Gringo star: Danny Commando y los Guapos
Tony Nelson

The life expectancy of your average Twin Cities band is only slightly less than that of an astigmatic housefly. As a result, simply scanning the almost-always-unfamiliar names on a concert schedule often gives even the most avid clubgoer little sense of what to expect. But here's a tip: Keep an eye on the wanderings of your favorite musicians. After all, bands' names change all the time. Performers' names rarely do.

Which isn't to say that performers' names never change. Take Danny Commando, or, as his mama named him, Dan Haeg. The guitarist first started performing under this nom de guerre during his stint with the gratuitously, gloriously decadent glam faves the Odd. When that band changed personnel last January, Haeg carried the moniker over to his new project, Danny Commando y los Guapos (Danny Commando and the Handsome Young Men), for sentimental reasons.

"My sister gave me the name Danny Commando when I was five," says Haeg, grimacing slightly from a sip of unexpectedly high-powered (and low-priced) coffee as he sits in my living room. "You know, like when they say someone's 'going commando'? That's where it came from."

Each of Haeg's handsome young men boasts as impressive a pedigree as the Commando himself. Rich Mattson, frontman for the Glenrustles and former bassist for the Odd, sits in on drums. On guitar is Baby Grant Johnson--sometimes referred to as the "traveling minstrel of Minneapolis" because of his seemingly limitless musical projects, ranging from impromptu Springsteen covers with the Glenrustles to his own solo acoustic act. "Wacked-out jazz dude" (and Charles Grodin lookalike) John Davis and Bob "The Kid" Anderson complete the lineup on trumpet and bass.

"We're an alliance of tunesmiths from different places with one mission: to piece together the buffoonery," explains Haeg, summing up the band's philosophy with practiced concision. In fact the band's madly eclectic mix of neo-country, blues, and rock seems more often to expose and boldly showcase that buffoonery than to make it cohere. The band injects the incorrigibility of punk into the laid-back vibe of the long-haired jam, rambling over an array of subjects that includes The Wizard of Oz, puke-colored furniture, and Davy Jones, and the futility of hindsight.

Haeg's musical roots stretch back almost as far as his first Commando days: At age 13 he joined a cover band founded by future Odd partner and Tulip Sweet guitarist Tom Siler. "Both of our parents moved from the Twin Cities out to the country around the same time, and we were just kind of stranded out there with nothing to do," he remembers. "Siler was playing with this other guy when I met him. We used to sit around together and sniff film cleaner and get high, and one day, the other guy bogarted the film cleaner and poured the whole thing in a bag and wasted it. The stuff was like two bucks at the time, and you had to get your mom to drive way out to the Burnsville Center every time you wanted more.

"Tom and this guy had a band together, but Tom kicked him out because of the film-cleaner incident," Haeg continues. "I learned how to play on Siler's bass, and within two days, I knew how to play ten Rolling Stones songs. Our first concert was at this hoedown in southern Minnesota. I played on a hay truck/tractor trailer-type thing, and it was fucking nerve-wracking. My parents were there. I got stoned and froze. I just kept looking at the ground, I was so paranoid and scared." Despite this initial bout with stage terror (and cut-rate drugs), Haeg continued playing bass throughout his teenage years before switching to guitar at age 20.

And, ultimately, it is as a guitarist--one of the most versatile flicking his pick across the Twin Cities--that Haeg has staked his reputation. Along with the Danny Commando name, he has also carried over the signature guitar work that both punctured and punctuated the anthemic excess of the Odd. But here it comes across as something more subtle, drawing the listener in. Its echoes of Seventies psychedelic blues riffs bristle with pain, while folk rock and folksy meanderings support some lyrical musings.

Still, Haeg is no shameless would-be virtuoso: His strong sense of song (and humor) keeps any creeping self-indulgence in check. And so his impatience with those prefab pop stars currently migrating from the Box to a lunchbox near you doesn't sound like the yelp of a would-be artiste whose toes have been trampled. Instead, Haeg voices a wistful sentiment that strikes him as merely commonsensical--that music can be fun, sexy, and emphatic without seeming to be a monochromatic cartoon.

"The direction that music has gone is just wrong, to me," Haeg states, half-baffled, half-indignant. "I just don't get anything from seeing five people onstage dancing and singing when nobody's really playing anything. It seems like the musician has become an extinct entity in music."

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