After an unsuccessful holiday attempt to decorate my dog using a bagful of glitter, I started thinking about how many cool ideas get shipwrecked on the rocky shoals of practical considerations. For instance, a group of artists came to Minneapolis last summer with a busful of raw materials and a peculiar goal: to fashion a raft out of curiosity and junk, and float it down the Mississippi River. Part carnival, part commune, they called their flotilla The Miss Rockaway Armada.
The vessel that headed out of town proved more effective as a mobile playhouse than as a mode of transport. After months on the water, the ship could go no farther, and she's wintering in Andalusia, Illinois.
But some of her crewmembers were back in town last week, playing music together as DarkDarkDark. (The band shares members with local group Woodcat, as well as with the Blackthornes.) At an ad-hoc show, the six musicians of DarkDarkDark were surrounded by flickering luminaires and Christmas lights. Two fiddlers strummed through a rendition of the roots classic "16 Tons" accompanied by an accordion and a saw. The rhythm section came from the clanky slither of a metal chain shaking around in an overturned washtub. It was gently spooky American folk music with an Eastern European exoticism. I couldn't have been the only member of the audience wondering if the band had enough Gypsy in them to make collecting their tears worthwhile.
"It's an ephemeral group," explained Marshall LaCount. "Lots of us are drifting out of town after this, and some of us will wait out the winter in New Orleans with other people from the Miss Rockaway. In spring, we hope to get it back on the river."
Three years ago, Eclipse Records ran aground on the shoals of domestic conflict. The popular record store and all-ages club closed down after years of fighting with a neighborhood that didn't want to hear anything but crickets chirping after dusk. Owner Joe Furth put his club in spiritual drydock while he looked for a more appropriate location. This month, he's finally putting the finishing touches on the new Eclipse Records, at the corner of University and Prior in St. Paul.
"Our goal is to open the retail part of the space on Friday, December 22," Furth said when I talked to him by phone. "We have to get a parking variance, and after that, we can get our certificate of occupancy. Then we need to get permits to build out the performance space. We've already got the plans and the construction guys. The club should have a capacity of 135 to 140 people. Then we'll also have an arcade that's a similar size to the venue. I'm trying to get the classics, the older games."
This time around, Furth is navigating smoother waters. "The area is zoned commercially," he explains. The new Eclipse even received some financial help from the city. "We got a STAR grant for $15,000," he said. Of course, as an all-ages club, "we're not going to have a bar."
Great. Can I bring my own alcohol? "No," answers Furth nicely. Sometimes, we all get left high and dry.