Last Friday night at Target Field, the Skyline Music Festival stage occupied foul territory near third base, showcasing an evening of pleasantries from headliner Andrew Bird, accompanied by Dosh, S. Carey, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, and the New Pornographers. It was a somewhat unusual environment for these bands, with an abundance of stadium food and cans of craft beer stacked high in refrigerators manned by Target employees in periwinkle shirts. The evening's Vikings game played on screens nearby, and an uninterrupted view of the downtown Minneapolis skyline towered above.
Percussionist and loop manipulator Dosh opened the evening early with an ethereal solo set as fans slowly trickled in. The distance between the stage and fan seating detracted somewhat from the intimacy of Dosh's performance. Heads were often turned upward at screens mounted high in the outfield as Dosh used keyboards, tuned percussion, and drums to create the soundscape wafting through the dusk. Dosh has been performing solo sets more regularly this summer, including his opening slot for the tUnE-yArDs at First Avenue last month. His work has become more abstract, utilizing complex layering techniques to create looped environments that aren't quite song-like, but are more reminiscent of a particular space created by the combination of sounds.
The evening's second local act, S. Carey, presented a series of songs that flowed easily and fit the mold of what 89.3 the Current had designated the evening: "Indie Night." Is indie music dead? According to the first evening of this festival, no. (Saturday's show featured Melissa Etheridge.) Sean Carey, also the drummer and supporting vocalist of indie folk outfit Bon Iver, led a plaid-clad band through his solo work. There was little to no movement on the stage. The most captivating moment came when the band's two drummers dueled through a song. The audience remained seated and quite quiet, and S. Carey engaged in very little banter between songs. It felt almost too relaxed.
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down brought some much-welcome energy to the stage. Fronted by Thao Nguyen, the band is a San Francisco-based alternative folk-rock group. On their 2009 album Know Better Learn Faster, Thao is joined by Andrew Bird on the title track. Bird didn't join her onstage to perform the song. The band did perform their single "Holy Roller" to much crowd appreciation. At times, Nguyen set her guitar on its side and plucked its strings, also using a metal slide. She was enthusiastic and engaging, and her vocals were strong. It was pleasant to listen to, and pleasant to watch. Nguyen jumped up and down. Still everyone remained seated.
By the time the New Pornographers took the stage, the audience had filled out quite a bit. If anything, this band is the epitome of indie rock. Sometime-vocalist Neko Case, who has a successful solo career of her own, was not with them. "Do preachers talk about how much they love life?" singer Carl Newman asked us, before going into a rendition of "The Spirit of Giving." Upon urging from Newman for a "kiss cam" experience, cameras panned over the audience, as they encouraged couples to make out. Like every baseball game, and this year's Miley Cyrus concert at Xcel, people started grabbing each other to kiss for the cameras, pointing and laughing when they saw their image on the gigantic screens. A fog machine behind the band created the illusion that there was something somewhere on the stage that was actually on fire.
It was interesting to watch Newman and Dan Bejar share vocal responsibilities, as they have strikingly different singing styles. The band functions effortlessly as a whole, and each musician's talent was evident in their performance finesse. In a time when indie bands tend to come and go at random, the New Pornographers have found a means of remaining relevant and maintaining a loyal fan base in Minneapolis. The day after the concert, they announced a headlining show with the Pains of Being Pure at Heart at First Avenue coming up in November. [page]
The true gem of the evening was headliner Andrew Bird. It was still early when he began onstage alone, surrounded by pedals, holding his violin. At times he would whistle, shrilly layering tunes over his loops. Slowly, his accompanying musicians crept onto the stage. He was joined by bassist Mike Lewis, guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker, and Dosh on drums. It was a local all-star super group representing the Cloak Ox, Alpha Consumer, and so many other fine ensembles. They played together perfectly. It was quite captivating.
Bird was later joined onstage by singer-songwriter Tift Merritt, who remained by his side for the duration of the show. They began merrily with Bird's "Dear Old Greenland," singing, "On the way to Greenland I shall find/ No mundane distractions of any kind." Merritt injected somewhat of a country-folk mood into the music, with her guitar and laid-back vocals. Together they were practiced. Merritt has opened for Bird on several stops during his 2014 tour, and often plays as a member of his backing band, the Hands of Glory. They have an easy chemistry, and joyful stage presence. In a sense, Merritt sometimes outshines Bird, although only vocally. Bird often strummed his violin rather than playing the instrument in a traditional manner.
No one spoke much -- it was more about the music then anything else. Bird did pause for a moment to tell a brief story about his song "Something Biblical." He spoke of dry counties in Iowa, and how the French considered potatoes to be the apples of the Earth. He went on to say that a biblical scholar had told him that the French had buried apples out of guilt for original sin. He found it to be in direct relation to the lyrics of the song. All of us were under Bird's spell.
Near the end of the set, Dosh left the stage and the remaining band members crowded closely around Bird to play through the last remaining songs. Only after they had initially left the stage did the audience finally stand up, though there were a few revelers toward the front who danced valiantly through the entire set. After a brief tease, the musicians performed a quick encore, playing the song "Don't Be Scared." The crowd cheered enthusiastically, watching the spectacle on those giant screens.
The Crowd: Minnesotans who listen to indie rock.
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