The D'4th of July.
A time-tested tradition for, well, nobody seems to know exactly. Previous attendees generally recall the stacked lineups and some Dillinger Four hilarity — though often not the namesake band’s tightest performances. But that was D'4th in the past.
This year brought a new format. Now with a large outdoor stage behind the Tripe Rock, it was a daylong summer celebration. The heat and the Surly-brewed one-off #Merica! (a hopped pre-Prohibition style lager) beer wreaked havoc on attendees, although most people were too busy enjoying the music to care about sunburns and future hangovers. Using the club’s normally tight parking lot, there was surprisingly ample space to move about between the stage, the indoor air conditioning, the beer stations and merch tables, and the Moral Omnivore food truck parked at the curb. The only challenge was the steamy weather, which still beat a rainy day by a longshot.
As with previous D'4th celebrations, the bill was comprised of the band’s friends: local musicians and out-of-towners making a special trip. Going bigger this year, they pulled Against Me! to headline and brought Lifter Puller out of retirement as a surprise-ish guest. A result of the bigger-name bookings, the audience had a lot of weekend visitors making the trip from Chicago, Wisconsin, and parts even further away.
The day started out with a local trifecta: United Teachers of Music, Nato Coles, and Pink Mink played as the crowd gathered, followed by Tim Barry’s audience participation that slowly moved people closer to the stage. However, it wasn’t until Off With Their Heads that the crowd was in full force, making it feel more like a festival than a parking lot. While there was much to celebrate, it was mostly a day of letting the music do the talking. Off With Their Heads’ frontman Ryan Young shared some nuggets of past experiences at the club, as did many, but the banter was mostly kept brief.
After Off With Their Heads, Toys That Kill took stage and the beach balls came out, further announcing summer as a cooling breeze occasionally forced its way through the lot. I grabbed an ice water and came back out for Scared of Chaka. It’s amazing that this band, which broke up in 2001, can still play so tight. With their hyper-speed garage rock, they shredded through most of their catalog — keep in mind most of their records were about 15 minutes each — with the enthusiasm of an active band.
It was interesting to watch Lifter Puller, for so many reasons. First, of course, is the lineage to the Hold steady. Second, the crowd featured so many non-Minnesotans that it wasn’t your run-of the-mill homecoming show. There were a lot of first-timers there and not just people who recalled when the band played the inaugural Triple Rock show with D4 in 2003. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Lifter Puller was a memory trip to 2000 and the setting was perfect. With button-down shirts and salt-and-pepper hair, the band is still made up of the weird guys at the punk show, defined by Craig Finn’s speak-sing belting over the keyboards that drove their brand of art-punk in new directions. With a backdrop of Riverside Plaza, it was a perfect urban Minnesota environment for the group and the crowd ate it up, especially “Manpark” when they referenced 15th and Franklin to a group shout-along. Finn was his usual positive self, flailing his limbs in awkward dance poses while the rest of the band stayed relatively stationary. The setlist pulled from different parts of their discography, though songs off final album Fiestas and Fiascos were definitely popular, and Finn also gave a nod to original bassist Tommy Roach (in the crowd). It felt short, but with 10 bands, things were generally kept to about 30 minutes per band, which is understandable. There were a few sound issues but, like most outdoor events, the closer to the stage was the best area for quality.
If you think D4 don’t play the Twin Cities enough, imagine how hard it is to be a fan living elsewhere. That, in part, is why so many traveled so far to be here, and D4 didn’t disappoint. While some past D4th of July shows have been highlighted by the banter, the indoor fireworks, and the hotdog shots instead of the musicianship, the big stage brought a greater focus. Like the others playing, their set was tight and to the point, unusually lacking in banter while highlighting songs from their last album, Civil War (which is already 7-years-old), and older fare from Midwestern Songs of the Americas, Versus God, and Situationalist Comedy. Even the backstage area was clear instead of the usual entourage party that can siphon attention away from the stage. The beers had been flowing all day, and it was getting pretty clear in the audience that some people were nearing the end, but it wasn’t reflected that way on stage. The set was clean, and only one song had to be stopped and restarted, which is the best way to say the D4 was on point. They were up for the organization challenge of the day, but also for holding their end of the bargain onstage. Well done, though it seems that Monkey Hustle wasn’t having his usual success ratio with the drumstick tosses.
I wish there was a D'4th wiki for easy research, but this is probably the first time a band other than D4 headlined. Against Me! has played the venue countless times — this writer last saw them there in 2004. A lot has changed between members, record labels, critical receptions, and the newfound transgender activism role of leader Laura Jane Grace. Also evidenced by Lifter Puller, when a band gets bigger, it’s always appreciated when they can revisit places from their past. Grace took the stage bearing a “Gender is Over” shirt, but the politicking was downplayed and the environment the highlight. The set was all smiles, mixing last year’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues with earlier material like “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong.” While not an encore, per se, the band even slipped in a cover of the Replacements’ “Androgynous” at the end. The crowd was sweaty and tired, but old friends and new raised voices in a final sing-along.
Holidays are meant to be spent with family and friends. As D'4th of July grows, it continues to do just that.
Critic's bias: This lineup was stacked. I wish there had been an intermission for an excuse to get more A/C or food.
The crowd: Mostly 20s and 30s in a mixture of black concert Ts and patriotic-themed gear.
Random notebook dump: The staff made sure to mark each person to cut off — at roughly 6 p.m.