Schlock and Roll
Barneelzebub: A Hillbilly Porn Opera,February 5-12 at the Bryant Lake Theater
One of the major shortcomings of local music is that very few rock bands are willing to experiment with narrative styles beyond the tried-and-true verse-chorus-verse. Gargantuan song structures requiring roman numerals to organize? They're hopelessly out of fashion and probably always will be. But that hasn't discouraged schlock-rock band Jerungdu, which has pulled off one of the gutsier experiments recently attempted around here: a rock opera.
For years Jerungdu's Michael Donahue has occupied the fringes of local critics' collective consciousness with joyful nuisance bands like the Crashdummies and Sesamoid. His latest band hit its stride, however, with Barneelzebub, which attempted an adroit fusion of several easy satiric targets--Barney the dinosaur, hicks, porn, the Book of Revelation, and Jerry Springer--and resulted in a genuinely profound statement on the state of sex and television in America. I'll buy lunch for the next band that can compose nine songs, opus-style, that integrate so many seemingly dissimilar topics.
The band donned hillbilly garb and performed from a makeshift orchestra "pit," while director Mo Donahue's cast of imitation porn stars took most vocal duties. (Mary Winbauer, as a lesbian dominatrix, was particularly commanding.) Unfortunately, the music was limited to a wacky Dr. Demento tone, though you would hardly expect anything else in this case. If it seems unfortunate that the music from Barneelzebub was limited to two performances, here's a bright side: The band's next multimedia production, intriguingly titled Mahoney's Mirror: A Sci-Fi Musical Comedy Adventure, will come to the Red Eye in June (the soundtrack will be released in April). I'm not sure if Jerungdu's impression on the sci-fi music community will become as great as their influence on the porn opera community, but I'll be rooting for them.
"A Cavalcade of Stars," February 14 at the Clown Lounge
The appropriately named Clown Lounge, set in the basement of St. Paul's Turf Club, is essentially the insane asylum of local rock. It's a haven for the weirdest set of barflies, fashion queens, and rock addicts this side of the Terminal Bar--which is precisely the place's charm. Maybe it's a St. Paul thing: All the essential traits of "the Clownge" were intensified at a Valentine's Day installment of "A Cavalcade of Stars"--a monthly amateur showcase for hipster acts.
The Lounge's IronoMeter was apparently preset to rise slightly with each minute, for things started tame but eventually escalated to unadulterated absurdity. I regretted arriving too late to hear the singer Larme de Colere, a fellow whose voice, I'm told, had the tone of a swooning 1930s balladeer. Next Nancy Seward from the New French Cafe sang a song in German with a hauntingly deep and beautiful voice. But things really got rolling with the debut of a stuporgroup featuring piano man Mark Mallman, guitarist Walker Kong, and a drummer who goes by the name "The Sandpeople." The threesome made fun pop chaos, although it devolved into a medley of Journey songs. (Or was it .38 Special?)
Next up was Tulip Sweet and Her Trail of Tears, led by somewhat brilliant birthday girl Steph Dickson, extending the shelf life of her last band, Beangirl, the hipster legends who peddled punk-rock showtunes throughout the middle '90s. And what would the night have been without MC Mike Suade and his self-consciously atrocious lounge-singer routine? The guy should never be allowed behind a mic, especially to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner," but to his credit, he does it anyway. The alternative to all this would have been to stay home and be disappointed by the "total disclosure!" episode of The X-Files. At least at the Clown Lounge, the entertainment is intentionally outlandish.
* The first weekend of the month fell under some splendid planetary aspects. Power poppers Lily Liver reserved their greatest performance in years for their CD-release party at the 400 Bar (February 6). Lately I've been wary of the band's gradual shift of power from its female to its male members. The band once seemed to be about a prom-queen-versus-class-geek kind of sexual tension onstage, but with new bassist Dan Long balancing out the gender ratio, things are now slightly safer than your average neo-teensploitation flick. Still, if Long is the glue that holds the revived Lily Liver together, I'm for him. And is anyone else hearing the subtle Minneapolis 1986 sound (à la the buzz and harmonies of Candy Apple Grey and While You Were Out) in LL's new gait?
* Dropped by the latest installment of Skye Klad's "Solarium" series at 7th Street Entry (February 7) just in time to catch Al and Mimi from Low play a set with the enchanting Jessica Bailiff on guitar and vocals. Bailiff is a fellow artist on Kranky, Low's new indie label, and the threesome has been touring in combo this month. Low bassist Zak Sally was nowhere to be found. The show was a benefit for Simeon of krautrockers Silver Apples, who was recently injured in a car accident. Headliners Skye Klad were near-transcendent as usual, but dropped their cover from Pink Floyd's Piper at the Gates of Dawn for perhaps the first time.
* The new all-"female" version of transgender sensationalists All the Pretty Horses let it all hang out at "Fin de Siècle," a neogothic fetish ball at the Saloon (February 8). The live sound at the Saloon has always been inferior to the light show, and Steve's headset mic failed during her crucial bar-walking stunt. But the real glitz came from the outrageously (un)dressed attendants, making this event like Ground Zero's Bondage A Go-Go with better music. I confess, however, that my preferences are so bland that I was turned on by virtually nobody there of any gender. The Horses will throw these Fin de Siècles on a bimonthly basis, culminating in December at the literal fin. Sounds like as good a way as any to bring in the End of the World.
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