Sound Check

Rod McKuen, eat your heart out: Poetry recording artist Thien-Bao Phi

Mouthing Off

SINCE POWERHOUSE SPOKEN-word label Mouth Almighty went under last year, many poets have struggled to get their voices heard in the belt-tightening, megamerged recording industry. With the Mercury subsidiary history, perhaps more locals will follow the indie route of fiery local poetry slammer Thien-Bao Phi, who self-produced his new debut album, Flares. If Phi's marketing techniques are as fast as his street-slang verse or as seductive as some of his best stanzas, he should have no problem repaying the two Gs in credit-card fees amassed in recording.

While the disc performances lack some of Phi's live charisma, the poet can't be docked points for lack of ambition. In 22 tracks he attempts to fuse his poetry with a wide array of sounds, including Japanese taiko drumming by Jennifer Weir and the beatboxing of local hip-hop luminary Truth Maze. Phi even tacks on an ode to E.E. Cummings for those willing to wait beyond his final piece, the untimely "Why 2K."

Phi is more successful at molding inflection around emotion on "In Flares," where he sometimes roars like a revolutionary--an Amiri Baraka at the podium. His provocative critiques of an Asian-American cultural void ("Where Is Our Blues?" and "What's an Asian Man?") begin as assaults before he pulls back into the passionate hush of a Pablo Neruda. In the love poem "Light," Phi smoothly combines familiar rhyme with subtle, insightful metaphors. "I drive towards you," he intones, "the lights in the eyes of my car staring at stars/The minus marks on the highway subtracting the space between us/And I come to understand that at night/The absence of light/Is your distance."

Phi was recently dethroned as the two-time Minnesota Grand Poetry Slam champion, but he will return to competition to battle for one of the four positions on the 2000 Minnesota Slam Team. Last year's bunch, which included Phi, made the semifinals at the national slam championships--an impressive performance for their second year in the event and one that Phi and team hope to best in this year's championships in Providence, Rhode Island, in August. In the meantime, he has proven that poets can join in the homemade album rush. (Jeremy Swanson)

For the Benefit of Mr. K

I'VE SLOWLY GROWN to love the Dan One's expressionless drone of a radio voice, along with his emo-loving yet all-embracing programming sensibility, on a show called Local Sound Department. Normally abbreviated to LSD, the local music program airs every Friday from 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on KFAI (90.3 FM; 106.7 FM). Dan's takeover last year from mentor Mark Wheat signaled a wider generational shift, one also reflected in the lineup of an all-ages benefit concert for the station to be held on Saturday, April 1 at the Foxfire Coffee Lounge; (612) 338-2360. The evening features former Sound Check stars Decembers Architects and Valet, along with Poland, offering a rare chance to see these bands unplugged.

Wheat, by the way, hosts the Minnesota Music Association's Ballot Release Party on Wednesday, March 29, with American Paint, the Rank Strangers, and John Hermanson at First Avenue; plus the Urban Hillbilly Quartet, Dixie and the Cannibals, the Hidden Chord, and Ouija Radio next door in the 7th Street Entry; (612) 338-8388.

On the same night, meanwhile, tireless funk-rockers Peal hold a benefit for multiple sclerosis at the Turf Club in St. Paul; (651) 647-0486. They are joined by such Turf regulars as the Whiskey Sour Notes, the Karma Sluts, and the Youngers--the best local Southern-rock band going. Imaginary Posse from Illinois also join for the cause, if they exist. (Peter S. Scholtes)

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >