Society of the Spectacle
Rock Your Body: The People's Celebration, January 16 at Target Center
Every day in every way, public life in Minnesota grows more and more like...Springfield. In Matt Groening's American Everytown, citizens are routinely awed by the appearance of bizarrely incongruous, fourth-rate celebs and washed-up rockers, a seemingly endless parade of weird spectacle. In Minneapolis, as in Springfield, we simultaneously wax small-town and cosmopolitan, and at times it seems as if the Twin Cities can't quite choose between being a Metropolis or a Mayberry.
So we take an ex-wrestler/rocker/actor, who resembles Homer in head shape and dumb luck, and we make him our governor. When Jesse Ventura made his fabulously over-the-top entrance at his inaugural ball--against a backdrop of fireworks and pyrotechnics, deafening explosions, and computer-graphics mayhem--it was as if Minnesotans had suddenly found themselves at some bizarre totalitarian be-in. (Imagine the inauguration of Andrew Jackson as the producers of Monday Nitro would have it.)
But the celebration began somewhat more modestly. As Venturians entered the building, local bands rocked the concourses. Trailer Trash, Slim Dunlap, and Paul Metsa held down the main areas with their own brands of heartland populism. But the big, early-evening party was hosted by the Rhyme Sayers All-Stars. Rappers Slug, Musab, and crew--backed by the briefly reunited acid-jazzers Casino Royale--dazzled the mostly blond, I-394 set with the revelation that locally grown, grassroots hip hop not only exists but succeeds--a coup almost as impressive as a Reform administration.
Later, after Jesse's aforementioned orgasmic entrance, Dave Pirner hit the big stage (flanked by Jessy Greene on cello) for an all-too-short performance of one of his best songs, "Black Gold." Then came an act my media program identified tantalizingly as "Nationally Known Minnesota Band," which turned out to be the nationally unknown Tina and the B-Sides. Tina's lyrics were flashed onto the video screens as if they were the state song or something. But the lyrics she sang--excepting the crowd-pleasing line, "I've never been to Heaven/But I've been to Minnesota"--were basically nonsensical. Rich guy Red McCombs came aboard next, billowing proud Purple platitudes, only to be upstaged by a much more interesting appearance by the soon-to-be-unemployed Vikings cheerleaders.
By the time Miss Minnesota took her seat behind me, the Springfield Factor had become overwhelming, especially during the anachronistic appearance of '70s folk-rock dinosaurs America. The band wowed the faithful with "Ventura Highway" and a hilariously ironic version of "Horse with No Name" (which was accompanied by slides of our first lady tending the steeds on the family ranch). This was followed by Ventura's now-legendary "Werewolves of Minneapolis" duet with Warren Zevon.
And then came the grand finale: The Kid. The night belonged to Jonny Lang and his career-crowning and innocuous headlining set. "I was gonna try to have Jesse pull some strings to get my driver's license for me," the witty youngster told the electorate. His performance's chief legacy: the reinvention of "Lie to Me" as political anthem.
Don't get me wrong. The People's Celebration was a surrealist blast, and it stands to reason that a unique mix of high kitsch and odd taste would be the distinct province of the people. It's just that this kind of thing was never supposed to happen in Minnesota, or anywhere else, for that matter. "This has been the most unique inaugural ball in history," Ventura bragged quite obviously. Well, thanks, Jesse. Thanks, Minnesota. Now get back to work.
The Kids Are All Kids: Teenage Rampage, January 24 at First Avenue
Speaking of spectacle, you've got to hand it to Flipp. Yeah, so their New York Dolls-style take on punk rock is mindless, hedonistic, and contrived--"spoon-fed pablum" as Steve McClellan used to say. Flipp knows that, and their sneering anthem called "I Don't Care" describes their position on the matter. Yet in the past four years, Flipp has masterfully cranked the machinery of hype and self-promotion to become demigods to teens of the inner burbs--all this from a bunch of clowns who are at least twice as old as most of them.
And at their second annual Teenage Rampage, Flipp continued to do it for the kids. Among other things, the band had conducted a high school band search, the winner receiving 15 minutes on the First Ave. stage after the night's Flipp performance. Teenage Rampage also provided three other worthy grown-up groups the rare chance to prove themselves in front of 1,200 all-agers--the only audience that really ever gives anything back.
First Ave. was already filled with legions of alienated and tormented youths by the time Ouija Radio took the stage. The band benefits mainly from a singer-guitarist who quite clearly simulates the look and shriek of Babes in Toyland singer Kat Bjelland, but lately it's the band's nearly perfected prog-centric thrash sessions that have set them apart. Still, the Ouija singer's best Bjelland screech was all that was needed to summon a dozen pseudo-satanic hand symbols from kids who were seven years old when Babes in Toyland's Spanking Machine came out.
Next up, Janis Figure, whose singer, Billy Bisson, offset his band's bombast with lewd pelvic thrusts and lecherous shout-outs to the "sexy little girls" in attendance. Eventually, the guitarist lit his own instrument on fire. Inflated hormone levels were much in evidence.
The dark-horse thrill of the night, though, was 12 Rods, maybe the least punk act of them all, yet the most ideologically similar to Flipp in terms of glam savvy. By this writer's estimation, they're the best live band in Minneapolis by a country mile, one that's able to translate an epic sound into onstage frenzies of busted drums and missing eyeglasses. Two or three mohawk kids sat on the main floor in bored protest, but for the most part, the Rods won over a potentially difficult crowd.
For the main event, Flipp ringmaster Brynn Arens debuted a headset mic, allowing the singer the freedom to work the crowd of "sick, crazy fuckers" (Flippspeak for "fans") with unprecedented vigor. If you've seen one Flipp show, you've seen 20, but this set did feature half-conceived Song Remains the Same-style fantasy sequences for each member of the band. Drummer Kilo Bale partook of his 5-foot bong, sci-fi bassist Freaky Useless strapped on rocket packs and enacted the musical climax from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and on and on and on.
But throughout the night, it was pretty damned weird to think that mosh pits and guitar-based punk still exist in any form in this pre-millennial year. The genre's perseverance must be attributed more than ever to the constantly rising postpubescent ranks who haven't experienced it before.
So it made sense that the winners of the teen band contest, One-Two Punch, were a familiar ska-thrash band that assailed the post-Flipp crowd with such timeless, pressing issues as moshing and "selling out." Ah, to be young, punk, and new to it all.
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