Summit Backyard Bash with Secret Stash Revue and Haley Bonar, 9/7/13
There's a hell of a lot of good beer to drink in this state. Minnesotans love beer almost as much as we love our underachieving sports teams and musical heroes. As the number-two brewery in this land of sky blue waters, Summit looms large in the recent craft-beer boom our cities have been experiencing, cranking out 120,000 barrels a year and recently finishing an expansion that will double that amount.
Despite all that growth, Summit has retained a thoroughly populist sensibility. Mostly staying out of the high-gravity arms race present in the microbrewery scene, Summit has focused on accessible and reliable flavors with a broad appeal, and that's reflected in the brewery's annual music festival. Featuring a wide sampling of local musical talent, this year's Backyard Bash contained a few bold choices in beer and music, but mostly kept things professional and palatable.
With a rootsy, down-home kickoff from Charlie Parr and a bit of logistical shuffling, the 2013 Backyard Bash had a much more outdoors-y feel, compared to last year's massive tent enclosure. Taking full advantage of the brewery's picturesque prairie location near the St. Paul side of the Mississippi, the festival had a wide, sprawling feel with comfortable amounts of elbow room for sipping. Setting up the stage at the far end of a field, directly in the face of the blazing sunlight, might have cooked some of the talent, but it did allow more fair-weather patrons to bask in the lengthening shade of Summit's massive brew-tank building.
Night Moves was on next, and they marked the first of the festival's stabs at a younger audience, relegated to an earlier slot. Despite my personal fondness for the band's swooning, country-tinged psychedelia, the three serious young men had a bit of a struggle to win over the early crowd. Some of the issues stemmed from a personnel shortage, as Night Moves preformed over canned drum tracks in a three-piece style that they occasionally revert to. The quantized beats aren't a flattering look for a band that normally does a great job of wringing engaging drama from swirling, dynamic builds and restrained breakdowns.
More than any personal shortcomings though, Night Moves suffered from a problem of setting. Watching this particular band at 1 in the afternoon under the glaring midwest sun is equivalent to trying to enjoy candles and chilled champagne at a picnic. Micky Alfano's sultry croon and come-hither eyes had lost none of their charm, but merely seemed out of place.
Lizzo and Lazerbeak marked an even more adventurous choice from the festival's talent buyers, allowing the Houston transplant a chance to showcase the entirety of her new LIZZOBANGERS project, produced by Doomtree's resident beatsmith. While she's been in town just a little over a year now, Lizzo is hungry and hustles harder than the average diva around these parts, earning her a well-deserved buzz from Backyard Bash sponsors the Current. LIZZOBANGERS is her chance to cement her status as TC's new Queen Bee, drawing from the increased gravitas and musical skill of a more experienced producer, and damned if the results weren't impressive.
Her playful flow mixed some of Missy Elliot's unique cadences with a toughness bred from the trill rap Houston is famous for, losing none of that sound's danceability in the process. There's no doubt that 'Beak laced her up some quality beats as well, showing his range and versatility by updating his signature, punky "lavabanger" style with a bit of contemporary Southern flair.
The best by far were the tracks she jokingly refered to as "deep cuts," where she got down to some real and confrontational lyrical content. "I'm not your hook singer, I'm your feature" and other incisive lines seemed aimed squarely at her detractors and doubters within the local scene, and the fiery sentiments made for a nice contrast with the party-oriented material she's popularized in the Chalice. The MC also featured a few of her fellow crew members in the newly minted GRRRL PRTY group for a couple of songs near the end of the set. Sort of like a refreshingly tougher, more rhyme-focused update of the Chalice's standard themes of female badassery, the trio works because of the fantastic chemistry between Lizzo and her smoother-flowed bff Sophia Eris, but La Manchita's loopy fierceness adds a welcome element.
After the melting temperatures in front of the stage for Lizzobangers, most of the crowd retired to the shade for the jazzy stylings of the New Standards. Formed on something of a lark by local musicians with a strong pedigree in groups like Semisonic and the Suburbs, the New Standards reinterpret modern pop with a '50s-and-'60s lounge-jazz flavor. The results were a mixed bag, with songs like Britney Spears's "Toxic" proving completely unsalvageable, even through layers of irony, while a surprisingly earnest cover of the 'Mats "Androgynous" rang true. Perhaps it's because singer/pianist Chan Poling was around for those '80s glory days, but the cover felt like a welcome shot at capturing some of the Replacements mania of this summer.
A few short days before this show, Haley Bonar posted a cryptic announcement on her website that 2014 would contain not one, but two new releases from the local roots rocker, and entreating her fans to "stand by." After a career-altering bout of motherhood, Bonar has mostly been taking things slow since her return to the Twin Cities in 2010, releasing a lone 7-inch last year and otherwise sticking to side projects. The single from that recording, "Bad Reputation," made for a great early-set jam, with Bonar confidently leading her band to the climax of the song's slow burn and utilizing keyboardist Kate Murray's plaintive background vocals with a great sense of timing.
Another, unnamed new song was the other standout of the set, working off of a chugging country-rock riff warped ever-so-slightly by Bonar's unique songwriting style. The guitaristic arrangement gave longtime band member Jake Hanson some room to show off his impressive command of the Fender, spinning out a trail of glorious, country-style leads. The show remained pretty subdued outside of those few sparks. Haley and co. were tight and well-rehearsed, but seemed as overheated as the crowd was.
Backyard Bash 2013 turned out to be an extra special treat for soul and R&B nerds such as myself, with DJ sets full of stellar selections from our local crate-diggers the Hot Pants crew and a headlining performance from the Secret Stash Soul Revue. The label's Twin Cities Funk & Soul compilation was a runaway success in 2012, revitalizing the careers of several local legends by giving their music the pedestal it so richly deserved. Now bringing that same spirit to the live setting, the Secret Stash Revue gives these aging singers a chance to "do it to it," in the words of Jackie Harris, with the help of a crack young band.
Hosted by the always magnetic Fancy Ray McClooney, the Revue got underway with a snapping instrumental from the seven-piece band known as the Lakers before Sonny Knight took the stage. Formerly a member of the Valdons, Sonny has become "Mr. Secret Stash" since the first TC Funk & Soul reunion show thanks to a relatively strong voice and a career's worth of showmanship. He played a couple of old chestnuts and a new tune, an ode to a sweet little thang he called his "Jucy Lucy."
Up next was Wee Willie Walker, who apparently missed the memo that the Revue was a suits-only affair, but still charmed with a gritty, vulnerable take on his gem "There Goes My Used to Be." Continuing the old-school revue style, Walker announced his departure as the band played him out, inviting Sonny Knight back to the stage for a while before Maurice Jacox got his chance to deliver a bit of the sweet soul sounds he's known for. Other standout performers included the Valdons, who arrived in matching blue leisure suits to perform their hit "All Day Long," shouting out their hometown of St. Paul in the process, and "The Queen of MN Soul" herself, Wanda Davis, for "Save Me."
The show rotated like this, seldom giving the band any chance to rest over the show's near 90-minute run time, and it's a testament to their impeccably well-rehearsed talent that all of the transitions went off without a hitch. The best combo of the night involved Sonny, Maurice, and the Human Chocolate Orchid himself, Fancy Ray, for a run at Maurice McKinnies's "Sock-a-Poo-Poo '69." McClooney did a hilarious bit of signifying before the band kicked into the uptempo, James Brown-esque number, willing the crowd to dance and shout along while Secret Stash founder and Lakers drummer Eric Foss bashed out the song's funky break. By the time the show was wrapping up and the singers were given their musical farewells from the furiously cooking musicians, the crowd was ecstatic, finally dancing in the unselfconsciously gawky way that only Minnesota beer festival patrons can.
Critic's Bias: Lizzo said it best during her set: "Shoutouts to Summit Beer, I like to get drunk too!"
The Crowd: Mostly seemed to be there for the beer, but really seemed to love the Secret Stash band.
Random Notebook Dump: I guarantee that, had Summit provided drink tickets for journalists, this would have been a far more positive show review. Next year!
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