Steeplejack says No mas

Last call: alt-country mainstay Steeplejack splits up after years of twang and ruckus

Steeplejack says No mas

Mixing self-effacing wedding-toast humor and cowpunk zeal, Steeplejack has hung on as the quintessential good-time Minneapolis bar band. With just enough songcraft to set them apart, the group manages to turn a disparaging satire like "The Salesman"--about falling sales figures and falling in love--into a plaintive ballad that makes a lovely refrain out of the phrases, "You're such a disaster/You're such a mess."

The song is all the more poignant for being the last cut on the band's final CD, appropriately titled Post-Action Blues. With the EP's imminent release and a goodbye gig set for Saturday, Steeplejack ends a messy six-year career marked by lay-it-on-the-line live shows and self-depreciating humor. "It's good for your soul to occasionally play shitty gigs and have people hate you," says the band's co-singer and co-guitarist Andy Sullivan. "Then when you do get success and connect with people, you've earned it."

The songwriting partnership of Sullivan and Ben Connelly began a decade ago at Macalester College, where the two played dueling-guitar hippies around campus in an attempt to impress girls. Finding a home in the twang ruckus of Steeplejack, their chemistry brewed for years, culminating in a 1996 deal with the nationally distributed Texas label Dejadisc.

Unfortunately, the band received some bad news just weeks after the release of their acclaimed album, Kitchen Radio. "We met our label guy," remembers Sullivan, "and he said he wanted to take us to lunch--someplace cheap." As it turned out, the imprint had folded, thus foiling hopes to properly promote the record. After extensive touring with a new rhythm section, the guys came back this year with a series of three EPs on Bert Records (ending with Post-Action), and decided to hang it up after current bass player John Atheneos quit the band.

Connelly and Sullivan performed a month ago with a new outfit called Twin City Rollers, but Sullivan finds the audience pool thinner than it was in 1992. "There's less interest in local music now than when we started," he says. "When I came here, I was impressed. I grew up in Maine, and you'd get the shit kicked out of you if you didn't play songs people knew. Here, people played original songs. But I think when alternative music became successful, something was lost."

Steeplejack perform their farewell show at 9 p.m. Saturday at the 400 Bar. Baby Grant Johnson and the Navins open; 332-2903.

First, we take Manhattan

If only for its NYC location and sheer size, the annual four-day, 1,300-band CMJ Music Marathon still awes musicians and fans who'd otherwise be put off by the enterprise's naked intent to sell hundreds of "unsigned" rock groups to big corporations. This year, a number of top-shelf local and semilocal bands have made the trip to Gotham to participate in the Marathon, which begins Wednesday. Among them are American Paint, Deformo, Esthero, Janis Figure, The Legendary Jim Ruiz Group, Love-Cars, Own, Sukpatch, and Matt Wilson.

Of the Twin Town contingent, one group has yet to play out locally. A trio calling itself the Hot, featuring noted producer and ex-Hang Up Brian Hanna on drums, ex-Polara bassist Jason Orris on guitar, and King Can vet Tal Tahir on bass, will debut at a bar called Nightengales. The band describe themselves as "a mixture of all that is good about the Yardbirds, 10cc, and Let's Active." Here's hoping the art-poppers don't get billed on a lineup with Vanilla Ice's new rap-metal band.

Make a circuit with me

Ravers and electroheads who think no one takes their music seriously shouldn't miss a day of the Walker Art Center's Sonic Circuits VI series, which begins tonight at the Center with a screening of Iara Lee's film history of techno, Modulations (see Film Clips, page 38). Reaching for as wide an audience as possible, the series sports a family event on Saturday running from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., in which composer Craig Harris will create an interactive installation where kids will be able to craft their own electronica. Paras Kaul and Mark Applebaum will also demonstrate "brain-wave-controlled" music, which should also interest most parents.

That same night, the music snobs have their due with an electronic music orchestra, again at the Walker Art Center, including such electro-noise specialists as DJ Rod Smith, Rexor, Lost in Translation, and the infamous DJ Ts (a.k.a. Slanty-Eyed Art Fuck). Then on Tuesday at 7 p.m., "socio-musicologist" Carty Fox brings the topic into the art world, discussing sound sculptors who "blur the fine line between sounds and space" at Intermedia Arts on Lyndale Avenue.

But the truly Brave New World-type event occurs at 8 p.m. on Friday at the Science Museum of Minnesota Auditorium. Perhaps making a play for the hundreds of International Telecommunication Union delegates whose monthlong locally held conference ends that day, the panel discussion is rapturously titled "New-Media Art for a New Millennium." It cordially invites us to "join experts in art, technology, and finance as they explore interactive multimedia and global telecommunication innovations." Futurism is never apolitical, folks, and one hopes a critical word will get in edgewise about who will control and profit from the giant virtual-media machine of the future.

For info on all Sonic Circuit events, call 375-7622.

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