It's over, but denial is still running high for fans of the Uptown Bar. It felt like business as usual these past few weeks as many of us fit in as many of the final shows the club had to offer as we could. It seemed impossible as we chatted with friends in the comfy booths we had grown so accustomed to that it would all soon be just a memory. How many times had we come to this spot over the years to see our favorite bands? Countless. But last night was the last time, and the finality of the show was palpable.
As the Hawaii Show began their awesome (and I don't use that word lightly) opening set of rock, comedy and lip-sync, a friend commented he had seldom seen so many eyes at the Uptown totally focused on the stage. Everyone in the music room was facing forward, watching the show, from the stage to the very back of the room. This was all the more amazing by virtue of the fact the Hawaii show doesn't even play live instruments on stage, instead using inflatable or cut out guitars, a Casio keyboard that didn't even try to look plugged in as the many members of the ensemble go through costume changes behind two gigantic fake Marshall amps situated on either side of the stage. Those of us who knew what to expect were no less enraptured than those who had no idea what they were in for. The Hawaii Show's final song, "The Uptown Monster Ballad," was an ode to the Uptown Bar (listen to it here) with one lyric saying "Without the Uptown Bar Uptown is lame." True that. As the song ended, a band member passed around a box of tissues for the audience as five people on stage held signs spelling out WE'RE - ALL - HOME - LESS - NOW.
Up next was Happy Apple. Merely being in the presence of such musical greatness reminds me how lucky we are to be from the Twin Cities. Mike Lewis astounded, variously playing soprano and alto sax. The inimitable Dave King mesmerized on drums. Erik Fratzke caressed the low notes on bass. This world-class jazz trio was spot on last night, and between songs Dave King expressed his thanks humbly to Dennis Willey, Uptown Bar manager since 1995.
Rounding out the night was the Twilight Hours, the new project from former Trip Shakespeareans Matt Wilson and John Munson, whose recently-released Stereo Night is surely one of the best Minnesota albums of 2009. (Stereo Night will be released nationally in January, 2010.) We swooned last week when the gorgeous red vinyl incarnation of the album came in the mail. It was clear last night the band (which is rounded out by Dave Salmela, Jacques Wait and Steve Roehm) was having a blast even if they had to extend the instrumental introduction to "Dreams" when an over exuberant reveler climbed shirtless onto the stage and lit a clove cigarette. But the stage invasion ended without incident and the final set at the Uptown was all about the music, as it should have been. The Twilight Hours closed fittingly with "Stay With You."
After I confirmed with Uptown booker Brian McDonough that music really was done for the night (there was at least one false rumor floating around that Paul Westerberg would get up on stage to bring things home) I left the Uptown Bar for the final time 45 minutes before close, glad in a way I wouldn't be there to get kicked out one last time.
Goodbye, Uptown Bar. We'll miss you.
Check out more photos from the Uptown's last show.