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The 12 Rods Reunion Show: It's Complicated

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12 Rods
With Rupert Angeleyes
First Avenue, Minneapolis
January 16, 2015

After signing to a major label, 12 Rods never quite had the breakout national success that they seemed destined for. They eventually broke up, and have been inactive, but influential, for years. On Friday night, the sprawling band (with nine various members joining in throughout the two-hour set) reunited for their first show in 10 years, celebrating the re-release of their 2002 album, Lost Time, on Justin Vernon's Chigliak Records imprint.

Vacillating between anthems laced with dissatisfaction and meandering electro-tinged pop, the enjoyable but uneven performance was a snapshot of 12 Rods' entire career. Local music fans still hold tightly to these songs, as evidenced by the large turnout. For one night, at least, 12 Rods clearly got their due.

See also:
Slideshow: 12 Rods Reunite at First Avenue

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The countdown-like strains of "Universal Time" over the PA built anticipation in the audience before the screen finally rose. The set kicked off with a ragged version of "Red" from the Gay? EP, with the band eventually locking in during the textured outro. "Wow," exclaimed frontman Ryan Olcott as he surveyed the packed house. "Damn, I don't know what to say. This town..."

The appropriate "Make-Out Music" followed, with the incisive lyrics coming from the Ohio-reared Olcott: "I wish I didn't grow up in the town that i grew up in/ Kept me silent, kept me stupid." From there, it was a flurry of hits/near-misses from throughout the band's under-the-radar career, as past members Chris McGuire, Matt Foust, Tal Tahir, Dave King, Bill Shaw, Jake Hanson, and Matt Flynn all joined Olcott and his brother Ev at one time or another, adding seamlessly to the jagged sonic fray. But in the effort to fit everyone into the festivities, the set lagged at times with plenty of wayward tracks next to classic gems.

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A reunion for a group such as 12 Rods, who have no new material forthcoming and no other shows planned, is a way to see just how well their songs hold up all these years later, and to examine how the material still fits in the lives of those who created it as well as the fans who initially took them to heart. For the most part, the songs have aged quite well, as the grunge-y, '90s undertones have softened ever so slightly in favor of a more modern electronic edge.

While the performance unfolded, there were reminders of why the band didn't cultivate a wider following on a national level. A sonic dichotomy was on full display throughout the set, with simmering, inspired tracks like "Summertime Vertigo" and "Accidents Waiting to Happen" standing in stark contrast to wandering numbers like "Stella" and "Friend."

The group was joined by original bassist Matt Flynn for a couple of dynamic early songs from the 1993 Bliss record. Flynn animatedly proclaimed as he took the stage, "Do you want to see something that hasn't happened in 20 years? Of course you do," before the band launched into "When Comes Sunday" and "Tell a Lie." Those old tracks bristled with a modern energy, and lit a spark in the uneven set. But sadly, that still couldn't carry them through the rest of the show.
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An unreleased song followed plodding takes on "Boy in the Woods" and the experimental "I Think I'm Flying," which really dragged the set down. But thankfully the performance ended strong, as the band closed out with exuberant renditions of "What Has Happened," "Kaboom," "Telephone Holiday," and a triumphant "Glad That It's Over," which turned into a rousing singalong that was one of the clear high points of the set. After Olcott insightfully announced, "Thank you very much. We were 12 Rods," he and the band were off to a well-deserved ovation.

The encore was kept short and sweet. "Rock N' Roll Band" gracefully closed the night while recapitulating the band's underdog career M.O. The talented members of the various incarnations of 12 Rods have gone on to myriad successful musical projects in the Twin Cities and beyond. Everyone in the building knew how important the group was to the local scene, and how it wouldn't be quite the same today without them.

Personal Bias: I moved to Minneapolis in 1992 to go to college at the U, and 12 Rods were one of the first local bands that I latched on to. Their music and performances helped introduce me to the scene and the clubs around the city. Hearing those songs live again immediately brought me back to that uncertain but exhilarating time of discovery.

The Crowd: With the myriad of musical choices throughout the Twin Cities on Friday night, it was heartening to see First Ave justifiably packed for the occasion.

Overheard: "This band makes me wish that I moved to Minneapolis earlier than I did."

Random Notebook Dump: The Lost Time vinyl looks and sounds wonderful. Great job to everyone at Chigliak Records.

Setlist:

Red
Make-Out Music
Fake Magic 8-Ball
24 Hours Ago
The Stupidest Boy
Mexico
Repeat
Summertime Vertigo
Accidents Waiting To Happen
Hide Without Delay
Stella
When Comes Sunday
Tell a Lie
Friend
Boy in the Woods
I Think I'm Flying
(Unreleased Song)
What Has Happened
Kaboom
Telephone Holiday
Glad That It's Over

--Encore--
Rock N' Roll Band

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