Sound Check

Sharing a Garage with a local music institution: Cracker

Monsters, Fevers, Flakes, and Hookers

TRUE TO HIS band's powerhouse soul-punk anthem "We Want Rock Action," Short Fuses guitarist Travis Ramin (a.k.a. Smack Ramen) has taken it upon himself to bring a little balls-out punk rock to an alternately poppy and metallic local scene. In fact, he has organized the rock festival of his dreams in one of his favorite watering holes--three consecutive nights of what Ramin calls "action-packed rock, not that crappy crap," at the sturdy Turf Club.

The Rock Action 2000 extravaganza promises to be the most visceral underground music event of the year--or at least the one with the best band names. Thursday's lineup includes out-of-town acts Manscouts of America, Teenage Frames, the Snatchers, Pistolero, local punks American Monsters (with members of Dillinger Four and the Salteens), local greasers the Midnight Evils, and Jersey City DJ Dave the Spazz. Friday features sets from local old-school punkers the Hypstrz, plus the Flakes, the Fevers, the Shemps, raunchy locals the Dirty Robbers, and Kentucky's much buzzed-about Hookers. On Saturday Fancy Ray hosts and the Fuses headline. Openers include Cherry Valence, the Sea Monkeys, the Chicken Hawks, and Tina & the Total Babes. Got all that?

"People are going to go away with 18 new favorite bands," says Ramin, an unflagging font of rock-action enthusiasm. "It's totally rock 'n' roll!"

Ramin has been busy contacting bands for the past year--he met many of them during extensive, and presumably action-filled, tours. The only thing standing between the Fuses and a tour jaunt behind their edgy new record Get the Hell Down (Sympathy for the Record Industry) is a sadly unstable lineup: Ramin hopes to find a permanent bassist before he explodes. (Amy Carlson)


Back to the Garage

THE WORLD NEEDS a two-disc career retrospective from Cracker like I need a hole in my head. In fact, the success of these rootsy rock 'n' rollers--led by former Camper Van Beethoven frontman David Lowery--has always struck me as a fluke. What's even more flukish is that the band titled its new best-of compilation Garage D'Or (Virgin)--inadvertently copying the beloved Lyn-Lake record shop of the same name.

When owner Terry Katzman heard about the title, he contacted the band, who were familiar with the place, and set up an in-store show to precede Cracker's First Avenue concert on Thursday, May 18. Katzman says the guys in the band were happy to play a stripped-down set in the shop's cozy confines. "I'm very excited," Katzman says. "I think this could be the best in-store we've ever had, other than maybe the Melvins."

Cracker has an additional local tie: Lowery owns Pitch-A-Tent records and recently signed Minneapolitan lo-fi indie-rockers Koester, led by former Punchdrunk guitarist Steve Koester. Koester is accompanying Cracker for part of its tour and will also play a Saturday, May 20 show with the Rank Strangers and Malachi Constant at Christiansen's Bar, 1567 University Ave., St. Paul; (651) 645-8472. (Amy Carlson)


Jug Ears

ST. PAUL HARP master Clint Hoover knows how to make a harmonica sound new. It's simple: Cast aside those 12-bar blues quoted in countless smoky bars and toot out something you might call chromatic jug-jazz.

In fact, other local harpos consider Hoover the best at his gig. "It's well known that Clint is one right up there with [chromatic jazz master] Toots Thielman," says local Hohner repairman and former Harmonicatz bass-harmonicist Dick Gardner.

Proud winners of the 1998 Minneapolis Jug Band Contest, Hoover and the other Sugar Kings--Cam Waters on guitar, Steve Sandberg on tuba and trombone--were rigged up for ragtime on their recent debut album, the swingy Take Your Time, Mr. Brown (Arabica). The disc gambols through a range of happily swinging Forties songs, such as Gene Autry's upbeat "Bear Cat Mama." Clint's own "Darling's Dream" is a tribute to rag harmonica player Chuck Darling and is dedicated in the liner notes "to all the great pre-war diatonic harp pioneers."

Still, the album's sound is hard to pin down, vintage-wise: Is this quietly loopy punk, or a time-capsule tribute? Either way, the Sugar Kings jug 7:30 p.m. this Sunday, May 21 at the Cedar Cultural Centre, 416 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls.; (612) 338-2674. This is their last Minneapolis performance before heading on tour to Sweden, where, we hear, they're yust nuts about yugging. (Ella Meyerson)

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