The Blind Shake rattle and roll at Grumpy's


Blind Shake photos by Ben Clark

Certain professions require nocturnal darkness: bat photographers, stargazers, prostitutes. But for too long the work of rock and roll musicians has been relegated to the midnight hour. Saturday's six-hour music fest at Grumpy's in downtown Minneapolis eschewed this stereotype--mostly because of the city's strict 10 p.m. amplified noise cutoff, but still. The outdoor festival proved the pale and impeccably coiffed spirit of rock and roll can survive daylight. And sure, the steady flow of $2 PBR probably lent a hand in this situation.

Grumpy's parking lot transformed into a real-time Pabst infomercial for the event. Local designers Anthem Heart screened free t-shirts emblazoned with the beverage's logo. A photographer snapped free photos of partygoers' faces poking through the cut-out head of a PBR-clutching princess. Cornered in the back of the patio, a stocky man with a pervy mustache and black short shorts veering toward the obscene held post in a dunking tank. And white, beer can-shaped ads dotting the stage flapped in the breeze like angel wings.

These alone would make the adults-only reverie a pleasant, if corporate fueled, afternoon. But local noisemakers like Private Dancer and Gay Witch Abortion had to go and make the vitamin D starved hipsters' sweaty experience even more worthwhile. The real purpose of the throng's attendance was to celebrate the release of Cold Town/Soft Zodiac, the new split record by locals the Blind Shake and Michael Yonkers. Yonkers, the atonality-glugging cult hero of high-tolerance noise fans, announced his retirement earlier this month after an on-and-off career dating back to the early '60s. Though his performance was sorely missed Saturday, Yonkers' presence nevertheless rendered its apparition in full force, largely due to his influence on the Blind Shake.

The trio roused Yonkers' attention in 2006, leading to their joint effort of 2008's Carbohydrates Hydrocarbons. And on Cold Town, the Blind Shake's swirling fuzzery pleasantly backs Yonkers' surprisingly uplifting baritone.

"If at first you don't understand a Yonkers song, wait 40 years, you'll come around," said the Blind Shake's Mike Blaha. "It's been a pleasure getting to know him, and we're lucky to get a chance to work with him. He keeps things very simple, and I think that has helped our own songwriting process."


If simplicity is Blaha's goal, he and his band mates have an odd way of approaching it.  They layer repetitive guitar lines and drum beats, high-pitched bleats and dual vocals into three-minute-or-less flurries. Each piece is easy to digest, but together, the sonic blend forms a zeppelin armada, sneak attacking listeners and bashing their brains without remorse. In a good way.

During their set, the Blind Shake positioned themselves as a speedy, angry Devo, donning black and silver windbreakers and looking like automatons with impressive circulatory movement. Their brand of rock is likely to be a hit during the robot apocalypse, when their binary code-like orchestration touches pneumatic heartstrings like no pop songstress ever could. Take "Wise Mr. Owl," for example. The one minute, 39 second blitzkrieg cements itself on a three-note riff, with careening squalls of feedback flattening upon each other to make an illustrious, mathematical whine. If Top 40 radio's hits are based on popularity-making equations, the Blind Shake endorses the anti-formula. Their results burn through lovey-dovey bullshit to lay a soldering iron right on the secrets of the id. They are methodological. They are mystical. They may not have human hearts.

And with the sun setting behind the stage and demonic red lights flashing from a helicopter in the sky, the show seemed like a perfect moment to usher in our robot overlords.

Openers Gay Witch Abortion. All photos by Ben Clark.