Run Westy Run at Triple Rock, 8/25/14
Photo by Steve Cohen
Run Westy Run Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis Monday, August 25, 2014
Most Minnesota bands take years to complete a tour of the state's most iconic music venues, but the recently reformed Run Westy Run are making a run at it just eight months in. The Westies performed a raucous set at the Triple Rock Monday night, a gig that followed Christmastime bashes at First Avenue and the Turf Club and June shows at the 7th Street Entry, Amsterdam Bar & Hall, and The Rex in Duluth.
Monday's concert was only the local legends' sixth since returning from a 15-year hiatus last December, but more significantly last night, their first since the death of founding bassist/guitarist Kyle Johnson. The blood and musical brother of Westies frontman Kirk and guitarist Kraig, he passed away earlier this month at the age of 54. The Triple Rock show, booked to coincide with Saturday's memorial service for Kyle, was surely the musical equivalent of that for the members of Run Westy Run.
Run Westy Run were never as popular as fellow locals the Replacements or Hüsker Dü, but as the two-hour show proved, have always been just as meaningful to their biggest of fans.
Photo by Steve Cohen
Kirk took the stage holding a Corona. Once he tossed it aside, he picked up the crowd and placed them into the palm of his hand. Cuts like "Mop it Up" and "Circles of Joy" from the Westies' 1988 self-titled LP and "Take Me a Little Higher" got the front few rows of fans dancing and fist-pumping early into the two-hour set.
Johnson was such the consummate frontman that, on a couple occasions, he even had select audience members' clothing in his hands. At one point early on, the singer stole the fedora off an unsuspecting fan's head and wore it himself for a few measures. Later, as the band ripped into 1988's "Bad Guys," another fan threw some kind of scarf onstage. Kirk playfully snapped it at the front row and swung it around like a cowboy swings his lasso before tying it to his head, Betty Draper-style. Kirk's brother Kraig and special guest Jim Boquist, the ex-Son Volt axeman who joined the band for two songs, could also be seen donning the garment.
Photo by Steve Cohen
Speaking of Kraig, a sometime member of the Jayhawks who also fronted Kraig Johnson & the Program, he got his turn on lead vocals with a cover of Sister Double Happiness's "Freight Train," which quickly turned into a giant sing-along. His insertion of what may or may not have been a freestyle rap into the middle eight reinforced the fact that there's more than one recently-reunited local band that can be counted on for an unpredictable live set.
Each of Run Westy Run's three official full-lengths -- 1988's Hardly Not Even, the self-titled effort from the same year and 1990's Green Cat Island -- along with the group's 1994 EP, Cockroach Park, got plenty of attention Monday night. When you're a band with two hours to fill and a hungry crowd in front of you, how could they not? Cockroach cuts "Take Me," "Tell Everybody" and "The Ladder" were played early on in the proceedings, while Green Cat Island dominated the latter half of the setlist, thanks to killer renditions of the spirited "Johnny John," the beautiful "Kiss the Night" and the haunting "Cardinal Drive."
Photo by Steve Cohen
Considering the circumstances, the latter's refrain of "Gone/Gone/Our days are gone" and lyrics about taking a ride "to see if you're still alive" were given double the weight at the Triple Rock. "Cardinal Drive" (the lone mention of Shakopee roadways in recorded music?) and the previous song, Hardly's "Bye Love," indeed served as the emotional centerpiece of the show. One of the physical centerpieces, a painted wooden sign that sat atop an amplifier and featured Kyle's name wrapped inside of a bent guitar neck, was held aloft by Boquist towards the end of the encore, eliciting many cheers.
Photos by Steve Cohen
The members of Run Westy Run laughed, hugged, danced and sang throughout Monday's concert. At times it was hard to believe that one of the Johnsons had just passed away, and at others it seemed like a night of rock 'n' roll was just what the band needed to cope.
The surviving Brothers Johnson both fled Minnesota for the coasts a while ago, so the Westies' recent strings of shows have been planned around times when the whole band is back home. Monday may have been one of those classic "It sucks that this is what brought us together again" moments, but after 15 years of inactivity, the silver lining is that the members of Run Westy Run can once again come together through music.
When do you think you'll be back in town, boys?
Critic's Bias: From a nostalgic perspective, not much at all. Prior to moving to Minneapolis four years ago, my only knowledge of Run Westy Run was that they were mentioned in a couple of my R.E.M. books, thanks to Peter Buck producing them. I suppose I am biased toward Green Cat Island because of that, though.
The Crowd: In their late 30s to mid 40s and very friendly, for the most part. Those who got pushed around by the excited fan who subsequently got a talking-to from security might have a different take, though.
Overheard in the Crowd: After a lively take on "Mop It Up" - Guy 1: "That's energy. That is energy." Guy 2: "That's fuckin' energy!!!" Random Notebook Dump: This won't be true in a couple of weeks, but as of right now, The Replacements will have played about a dozen shows since reforming, all of them outside of Minnesota. Run Westy Run, on the other hand, have played six shows since getting the band back together, all of them in our lovely state.
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