Sound Check

Groupie alert: Dave Pirner and President Clinton play the Fine Line Saturday

Not For Women Only

WHATEVER ITS CHARMS (okay...its uses), the First Avenue Mainroom is hardly the ideal acoustic environment for a cello. Or a grand piano. Or a banjo. Yet the specific resonance of each instrument was integral to the May 29 Minneapolis performance of the Magnetic Fields' carefully honed chamber pop. And no venue could have been more ideal for that sound than the 630-seat theater at the Woman's Club of Minneapolis, hidden away at 401 Oak Grove St., just off Loring Park; (612) 870-8001.

Steve Weiss, representative from the Historic Theatre Group and shameless booster of the site, first became acquainted with the building when seeking a venue for the off-Broadway play When Pigs Fly in January 1999. That production didn't come off, but Weiss recalled the spot when it was time to stage a benefit revue by the cast of Ragtime. "Once we heard the actors' voices in there," Weiss recalls, "I knew we had a great acoustic room."

The Woman's Club theater became a site for live music when Chicago indie classical trio Rachel's sought a space for a March show. "They wanted to do an acoustic show without mics," Weiss recalls. He passed the Woman's Club's number on to the band and was amazed by the results: "I could hear every bow stroke."

The theater even has its own ghost. Beloved Minnesotan Tiny Tim suffered his fatal heart attack during a Woman's Club visit in 1996, which made Fields main man Stephin Merritt's ukulele numbers particularly poignant or creepy, depending on your perspective. The Fields' pianist Claudia Gonson saw fit to remark upon that notable demise onstage, even quoting Weiss's tasteful comment about the elevator in which Tiny died: "It was going up." (Keith Harris)

Bottom of the Ninth

IF ANYONE DOUBTED Hugh Wolff's status as one of the best-loved conductors nationwide, the standing ovation that preceded his last performance as the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra's music director at the Ordway put those to rest. Wolff shied away from the applause only to face an orchestra unwilling to play until he took another bow.

Wolff, music director for the past eight seasons and principal conductor for the prior four, now heads to Europe to devote himself to the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, where he has been chief conductor since 1997.

"Without you and your steadfast leadership," SPCO board chair A.J. Huss Jr. remarked in a short presentation, "we would not be standing here today celebrating the SPCO's financial and artistic preeminence." During Wolff's tenure the Orchestra has risen from near-bankruptcy to its current fiscal security and international prominence. A teary Wolff closed the evening making his way through the orchestra, embracing longtime colleagues.

Wolff's all-Beethoven program featured the Ninth Symphony, the only one of Beethoven symphonies the conductor hadn't previously performed with the Orchestra. Sources close to the SPCO report that two of Wolff's three children slept through the Ninth. (Bill Snyder)


Hugh Wolff's final program as SPCO music director will air Sunday, June 25 at 1:00 p.m. on KSJN (99.5 FM).

Trust Anyone Over 30

SCENESTERS CLINGING TO their dwindling 20s were steamed by Mike Wisti's recent contention (see "21st-Century Fox," April 19, and "Letters," May 24) that the local music scene belongs to the kids. So here's a fun little quiz for you old folks regarding the Foxfire's Second Anniversary Show.

First, the lineup: Jai Henry, the Contenders, Fed by Ravens, the Standbye, Of Empty Men, Muffler Jump, Magnatom, Valet, decembers architects, Smattering, Walker Kong, Lifter Puller, and Hieruspecs. Now, the question: How many of these acts feature wizened, over-30 veterans? Find out Saturday, June 10, starting at 4:00 p.m; (612) 338-2360. Come early, eat lots of sandwiches, sneak off between bands for a quick snort at nearby bars, and make sure this anniversary isn't the last.

Speaking of old guys, a Democratic fundraiser will be held across the street at the Fine Line Music Cafe that same day, headlined by the president of the United States, no less ($100 to get in, $1,000 to meet Bubba). As Clinton limps into the home stretch of his administration, he has once again enlisted the support of longtime Chelsea faves Soul Asylum for the show at the Fine Line; (651) 602-3517. Less than a decade back, our sax-wielding prexy seemed reasonably hip enlisting Pirner and Co. for a gig on the White House lawn.

Of course, back then, rock was gonna save the world (again?)--or at least locate a bunch of runaway homeless kids. These days, though, the kids are all listening to that rap music. After a rough latter half of the Nineties, it's clear that Bill and Soul Asylum are all just rock 'n' roll guys in a hip-hop world.

Finally, the members of Landing Gear, themselves casualties of the alt sweepstakes in their former incarnations as Shatterproof, will celebrate the release of their fine, new self-titled three-song EP on Friday, June 9 at the 400 Bar; (612) 338-2903. The disc rings with memories of a time when guitar pop ruled the earth (one song is even about Seattle!), and features a sure-fire pick hit in "Recovery"--a fitting title in this land so rife with addicts in remission that the 12 Steps are practically amendments to the state constitution. (Harris)

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