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Skyline Music Festival at Target Field, 7/26/13

Skyline Music Festival at Target Field, 7/26/13
Photo By Erik Hess

Skyline Music Festival
With Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Soul Asylum, Matthew Sweet, and Gear Daddies
Target Field, Minneapolis
Friday, July 26, 2013

Target Field has proved its worth to Major League Baseball, winning the right to host the 2014 All-Star Game, and to the 40,000-plus country music fans who attended both Kenny Chesney concerts, but the Twins' new ballpark hasn't fully linked with the rock community here in the Twin Cities. As Chicago's Wrigley Field and Milwaukee's Miller Park put on massive concerts by Pearl Jam and Paul McCartney within the past few weeks, our downtown park still awaits a full-fledged rock show.

The inaugural Skyline Music Festival was a smaller (and much safer) endeavor than any of the big tours currently making the rounds, but the nearly 7,000 people who sold out the 3rd base side of the ballpark were treated to the venue's remarkable views and good sound on an enjoyable night of outdoor music from a series of '90s rock titans.

See Also:
Slideshow: Skyline Music Festival 2013
Kenny Chesney at Target Field, 7/12/13
Twins Midwest Music Showcase series features P.O.S., Trampled By Turtles, the 4onthefloor, and more

Austin, Minnesota's beloved Gear Daddies opened the festivities with a folky, countrified set of songs that certainly pleased their longtime fans who were anxious to see them perform again and packed the ballpark straight from the start. The sound was a bit muddy and bass-heavy at first, especially back near the concourse, but those issues were worked out as the night wore on. Frontman Martin Zeller joked a bit self-deprecatingly about the band's place on the notable bill, "In 23 years we probably sold as many albums as the three bands could dream of selling in two hours."

Skyline Music Festival at Target Field, 7/26/13
Skyline Music Festival at Target Field, 7/26/13
Photo By Erik Hess

But the celebrated local heroes, who claimed to be working from a setlist for the first time in their long career, certainly didn't have to justify their inclusion to their loyal fans, who cheered on their regional hits like "Color of Her Eyes," "Goodbye Marie," and, of course, the set closing, "(I Wanna Drive the) Zamboni," which got most of the crowd up and dancing. "And we're going to end on that triumphant note," Zeller exclaimed, in an effort to keep the festival running on time.

The one troublesome issue of the Skyline Music Festival was that it was part of the LP Tour, with the final three bands on the bill (who are touring the country together along with the Wailers) all playing their most celebrated albums from start to finish. And with veteran bands who are already pretty set in their ways to begin with, knowing exactly what songs they will be playing and in precisely what order takes much of the thrill out of the proceedings from a fan's perspective. There are very few surprises or unplanned moments that happen during these type of performances, with the bands staying on script as they go through the routine of tackling their most popular work from beginning to end.

However, Matthew Sweet certainly made the most of his time on stage while working his way through his 1991 hit record, Girlfriend, proving to everyone in the crowd that he still can wail away on guitar with the best of them. While there were definitely some sluggish moments during the slower portions of his set, they were thankfully few and far between, as Sweet and his cracking three-piece backing band (featuring Dennis Taylor on guitar, Paul Chastain on bass, and Ric Menck on drums) tore it up on the opening number, "Divine Intervention," with Sweet leading the way with a scorching solo as the song drew fitfully to a close. "I've Been Waiting" soared in the early-evening setting, but it was the title track that got everyone going, with Sweet's deft guitar work blending fluidly with Taylor's, as the track erupted in a blissful guitar squall.

Skyline Music Festival at Target Field, 7/26/13
Photo By Erik Hess

Fervent takes on "Evangeline" and "You Don't Love Me" gave the set a spark, amid more downtempo tracks like "Looking at the Sun," "Winona," and "Day for Night," with Sweet's impassioned vocals and expert guitar work ringing true throughout the ballpark. During particularly rousing guitar solos, Sweet would turn his back to the audience while losing himself completely in the spirit of the song. "We're going off-album for this last one," Sweet announced at the end of his 55-minute set. "It's one of my favorite songs to sing because it always remains true." And with that, Sweet led the band through a raucous "Sick of Myself," complete with a few false endings, before Sweet left some experimental feedback ringing in the speakers as they left the stage to a well-earned ovation.

Set changes at events like this can sometimes take forever, and kill the momentum of the festival. But the stage crews worked hard on each changeover, ensuring that there was a quick, smooth transition between bands. As night slowly settled in over the stadium, Soul Asylum took to the stage to the Rocky theme song, with the band clearly in the mood to deliver a knockout performance. But rather than launch directly into their 1992 classic, Grave Dancers Union, frontman Dave Pirner took a moment to honor his departed bandmate, Karl Mueller, with the touching "Oh Karl," assisted by Cloud Cult's Sarah Perbix on French horn. It was a moving moment, with Pirner repeatedly looking into the heavens while he sang the song's simple but poignant lyrics.

 

But the guys were certainly ready to rock after that, with Pirner leading the group -- featuring new guitarist Justin Sharbono capably taking the place of Danny Murphy, alongside drummer Michael Bland and bassist Winston Roye -- through the agitated anthem, "Somebody to Shove." Pirner then took a moment to acknowledge the ovation of the hometown crowd, "Thank you. This one goes out to Trayvon Martin." A feisty version of "Black Gold" then followed, with the band briskly tearing their way through the start of Soul Asylum's best known album. "Runaway Train" became a bit of a crowd singalong, with Pirner delivering the emotional lyrics in fine voice.

Skyline Music Festival at Target Field, 7/26/13
Skyline Music Festival at Target Field, 7/26/13
Photos By Erik Hess

It was interesting to hear the band play "Homesick" in the middle of their home city, a point which Pirner acknowledged after the song drew to a close. "That's crazy, this sure feels like home to me." Pirner continued to try to personalize the performance by later leading us through a stadium-wide singalong of "Happy Birthday" to his father, Donald, sharing that "When I was a kid, my dad would take me out to Met Stadium to catch a ballgame." A fuzz-fueled, Aerosmith-like "April Fool" proved to be one of the standouts of the set, as the band teased out the massive guitar riffs at the start of the track, with Pirner doing his best arena rock poses to accompany the number.

"This next jam we're going to play for you, we always dedicate to Mr. Karl Mueller," Pirner announced toward the end of their set. "But we already played a song for Karl. So, this goes out to Slim Dunlap." A heartfelt "Without a Trace" rang out for the former 'Mats guitarist, who is still recovering from a stroke he suffered in 2012. The album, and subsequently the set, ran out of creative gas just a bit, even with Pirner rambunctiously knocking over a special mic that was brought out solely for his vocal effects on "99%."

Perbix rejoined the band for "Sun Maid," which closed out the album portion of the show, before Dave introduced "local legend Larry Long," who joined the band with a quartet of backup singers to help the group finish the set with "Stand Up and Be Strong," which brought the 65-minute performance to a spirited end.

It was a bit surprising to learn that Colorado blue-rockers Big Head Todd and the Monsters would be closing out the night over the hometown boys in Soul Asylum, but as the crowd swelled to its largest point in the night, it was clear that Todd and company were the biggest draw. The quartet worked their way through their beloved 1993 album, Sister Sweetly, with a majority of the increasingly well-lubricated crowd singing along in full voice along with frontman Todd Park Mohr.

The anthemic radio hit "Broken Hearted Savior" won over the audience immediately, with Park Mohr adding a fiery guitar solo which gave the end of the track some extra teeth. "Sister Sweetly" was given a funky undercurrent by bassist Rob Squires and drummer Brian Nevin, while keyboardist Jeremy Lawton would occasionally add a gritty pedal steel guitar sound to the numbers, giving them some added depth and dimension.

Skyline Music Festival at Target Field, 7/26/13
Skyline Music Festival at Target Field, 7/26/13
Photos By Erik Hess

After a smoldering version of "Tomorrow Never Comes," Todd took a moment to address the appreciative crowd. "This is probably our biggest show of all time outside of Colorado. Thanks for having us tonight." And the guys certainly made the most of their opportunity, delivering a smooth rendition of "It's Alright," and a simmering, Van Morrison-like "Bittersweet," which again had the crowd singing and dancing along. A lively rendition of "Circle" featured Park Mohr's sublime guitar work, with the rest of the band ceding the stage to him as he closed out the album with a tender solo version of "Brother John."

"That was the Sister Sweetly album right there," Todd exclaimed as the rest of the band returned to join him on stage. "We're going to play a few more for you. All right, let's have some fun!" The swampy churn of "Cashbox" started things off strong, with Lawton's pedal steel guitar giving the track some bite. They kept the momentum going with "Rock Steady" and "Conquistador," which flowed smoothly into a raucous cover of John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom," which emphatically closed the main set down.

The crowd clearly didn't want the night to end, so the band returned with a one-song encore, a rowdy new number called "We Won't Go Back to the Way It Was," which will be featured on a forthcoming album due out in January. And hopefully, for fans of outdoor live music in the Minnesota, we all won't go back to the way it was when Target Field hosted nothing but country concerts.

Skyline Music Festival at Target Field, 7/26/13
Photo By Erik Hess

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: While I had seen both Matthew Sweet and Soul Asylum many times over the past two decades, this was my first time seeing Gear Daddies and Big Head Todd. But the real draw for me was seeing how a rock show looked and sounded at Target Field. And I came away quite impressed with the festivities. Radiohead at Target Field in 2014, anyone?

The Crowd: In their 40s and thirsty as hell -- this crowd had their babysitters working late, and were hitting the city pretty hard while clearly having a good time listening to music that they love.

Overheard In The Crowd: "If Matthew Sweet is playing the whole album straight through, it doesn't make a lot of sense to be screaming out song requests at him."

Random Notebook Dump: Kudos to K-Twin and everyone at Target Field for organizing the Skyline Music Festival. It was well-run, with few of the problems that typically plague first-time events like this. The sound was great (and only got better as the night wore on), the stage was situated close enough to the fans to make it feel like a more intimate concert, and the crowd turned out.


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