Twin Cities Year in Music 2011
If 2010 was the year of hyper-collaboration in the Twin Cities, then 2011 was the year of the meteoric rise. Minneapolitans Elite Gymnastics and Austin, Minnesota, native John Maus became recognizable names in the indie blogosphere this year, the former fueling and experiencing their success almost exclusively online. Poliça, too, had a full album recorded and a healthy roar of buzz accompanying them before they had played a single show, and by their third gig they were opening for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah on a sold-out tour. But no act had a more incredible rise than the young quartet Howler, who were plucked out of obscurity by a Rough Trade A&R rep while they were still in their infancy as a group and have since been shipped abroad to tour the U.K. with the Vaccines and accumulate enough press clips to fill a small library.
While this trend says plenty about the internet's effect on the industry—which has leveled the playing field for artists of all stripes—it also serves as a comforting reminder that even in a post-"industry" world these kinds of music stories are still possible.
When Howler began, it was a side project for Jordan Gatesmith, who spent most of his time gigging as the guitarist in locally popular folk-pop band Total Babe. Barely out of high school, Gatesmith has already kicked around in several projects, and in many ways Howler's debut EP is the next logical step in a progression of young Twin Cities indie bands like Total Babe, Nice Purse, One for the Team, and the Battle Royale, who married an ear for pop melody with a penchant for lo-fi garage fuzz. Could any of these bands have enjoyed the same success as Howler, given the chance? We'll never know. What matters now is that Howler was handed the tow rope and told to hold on, and now they're waving down at us from the clouds.
So here's to an incredible year, one that has trampolined bands on to the next level and left us here in the Cities feeling invigorated and inspired. Something tells me 2012 is going to be a ferocious one.
For now, let's take a look back at the last 12 months and see where this all started ...
The year gets off to a rough start in clubland. On New Year's Day, 2011, the Turf Club calls off its gig with Marijuana Deathsquads, turns out the lights, and hangs a sign on the front door that reads "Closed for repair." A few hours later, word gets out that Turf manager Dave Wiegardt, who had been with the club for 15 years, has been fired. Rumors start flying about the future of the club, but by mid-month the doors are back open and new manager Josh James is at the helm. Though James pledges that a "focus on local music will remain the cornerstone of the business," one of his first orders of business is to can the weekly Fat Kid Wednesdays residency in the Clown Lounge, which had hosted a revolving array of local and touring improvisational musicians in the club's basement bar throughout the past 12 years. By mid-year, attendance at Turf shows dwindles noticeably and the street in front of the club is completely decimated from construction of the new light rail line, but the club starts to rally by year's end.
On January 8, the 501 Club has one last hurrah before shuttering for good. Appropriately, the club, which had been open for only a year and a half and was a side project for 331 Club co-owners Jon and Jarrett Oulman, invites dissolving hip-hop duo MC/VL to play their farewell show on the final night. By fall, the Oulmans will announce a new venture: the expansive Amsterdam Bar and Hall, which aims to bring concertgoers into a dead area of downtown St. Paul.
Other notable January events: Ms. Lauryn Hill makes her way to Minneapolis for the first time in almost a decade to perform a very sold-out show in the First Avenue Mainroom; longtime Twin Cities R&B act the New Congress disbands; and blues-folk group A Night in the Box call it quits.
Adam Levy's curated celebration of lyricism and melody, the Southern Songbook, enjoys one of its most successful nights yet, making it all the more heartbreaking when news breaks a few months later that the Southern Theater is in serious financial trouble. By mid-year the theater cuts most of its staff and scales back its programming significantly, but thanks to some aggressive fundraising efforts the space is still managing to stay in operation.
Word gets out that Prince's first drummer Bobby Z is in critical condition following a heart attack. He spends the majority of the year recovering, and by fall he announces that he will reform seminal early Prince band the Revolution on February 19, 2012, at First Avenue to raise awareness of heart disease. The "Benefit 2 Celebrate Life" will be the Revolution's first show together since 2003. In addition to the 10 years he spent playing with Prince, Z has also become known locally for his work at Copycats Media, where he works as a producer for their small in-house record label.
Also in February: A series of benefits spring up for Grant Hart, the Hüsker Dü drummer-turned-solo songwriter, after he loses many of his possessions in a house fire; wildly popular dance night Get Cryphy celebrates two years of parties in the Record Room; improvisational hardcore collective Marijuana Deathsquads head to L.A. to play their first coastal residency (they also take up the Bowery Electric in NYC for the month of October) and work on their first album; Lady Gaga discontinues her deal to distribute Born This Way exclusively through Target after the Minnesota-based company donates money to action group MN Forward and, by proxy, notoriously anti-gay gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.
Volcano Choir, the side project of Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and the members of Milwaukee's Collections of Colonies of Bees, play their only Twin Cities show (and one of only two shows they've ever played in the U.S.) at the Cedar. That same night, Doomtree's Sims and Jacksonville-born rapper Astronautalis perform a sold-out show across the street at the Triple Rock, and the reception is so positive that it convinces Astro that he should leave his temporary home in Seattle and shack up in the Twin Cities. "That night was the nail in the coffin," he tells us when he makes the move in June. "I had been talking about it for a while, but the next day was when I started looking for apartments."
Beloved Nye's Polonaise Room staple Ruth Adams passes away at the age of 79. Known as the smiling accordinist for house regulars the World's Most Dangerous Polka Band, Adams had appeared everywhere from The Daily Show to a parade scene in Drop Dead Gorgeous in addition to holding down a tri-weekly gig at Nye's, and was a defining character of northeast Minneapolis. Adams and her band averaged 60 to 70 songs a night, for two to three nights a week for 35 years, meaning her fingers played likely more than 200,000 songs for fans at Nye's.
In the same month, former Bash & Pop bassist Kevin Foley passes away unexpectedly in his sleep at the age of 52. Foley's death comes just two years after the equally sudden death of his brother, Steve, a late-career Replacements drummer who was Kevin's bandmate in Bash & Pop alongside 'Mats bassist Tommy Stinson. When Stinson comes to town to play solo shows in May and November, his rendition of Bash & Pop's best-known single, "Friday Night Is Killing Me," is easily the highlight of both sets.
More March madness: Gayngs play their last show in Minneapolis and head out on their last tour before breaking up to focus on other projects; and Minnesota ups its presence at the South by Southwest music festival once again, with twice as many bands chosen to play official showcases as in 2010—making it damn near impossible to wander the fest without bumping into a familiar face from the homeland.
Longtime Twin Cities songwriter Tim Mahoney makes his nationally televised debut as a contenstant on NBC's The Voice. The show's gimmick is that the judges listen to the contestants with their backs turned. In the first episode, when judge Adam Levine swivels around to see Mahoney standing in front of him, he laughs and says, "So it's gonna get a little weird for a second ... I thought you were a chick." The two laugh it off and Levine becomes Mahoney's vocal coach on the show, but he is eliminated a few episodes later.
Craig Finn returns home to play a rare solo show as part of MPR's Wits series, where he appears as the musical guest at a show that features Fargo-born writer Chuck Kloseterman. Finn seizes the opportunity to debut three brand-new songs, then spends the summer in Austin, Texas, laying down the tracks for his first solo record. Clear Heart Full Eyes is due out January 24.
Pachyderm Studios, best known as the recording site of Nirvana's final studio album, In Utero, as well as the place where dozens of local bands holed up in the early- to mid-'90s to record their work, shows up on an Edina Realty website. The four-bedroom, five-bathroom house and the six-acre Canon Falls property are sold for about $300K. By the end of the year, a website promising the "future of Pachyderm" is up, and Gay Witch Abortion report that they are headed to the studio to record with engineer John Kuker.
Other notable moments: The Current debuts its new 24-hour all-Minnesota-music streaming service the Local Current; the Twin Cities celebrates its biggest Record Store Day yet; Rogue Valley perform their final of four seasonal CD-release shows and embark on a national tour in the fall; and unbeknownst to fans, Hildur Victoria release their final album as a band, with singer Margaret Lane leaving the group a few months later to pursue other projects.
Adding insult to injury, the Twins' dramatic, disappointing baseball season is made all the more painful when the organization removes longtime music director Kevin Dutcher, who was with the team from 2000 up until last year's inaugural season in the new stadium, and replaces him with 96.3 NOW programming assistant Dan Edwards. Local music programming is quickly phased out in favor of Auto-Tuned club mixes, much to the chagrin of area artists who once had the chance of receiving some airplay in the stadium.
Local hip-hop artists gather on the side stage at Soundset to pay tribute to Eyedea during one of his side project Face Candy's only gigs since his passing. Kristoff Krane, Carnage, Joe Horton of No Bird Sing, and more deliver freestyle verses about their fallen friend, and those same artists and many more reconvene at Cherokee Park on the one-year anniversary of Micheal Larsen's death, October 16, to dedicate a park bench, picnic table, and plaque in his honor.
The summer of 2011 finds nearly every big-name pop star steering a tour bus entourage into town, with both the Xcel Energy Center and Target Center keeping busy concert schedules. Pop stars Britney Spears and Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Ke$ha, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and the nostalgic supergroup NKOTBSB come to town, along with powerhouse rock reunion tours like Mötley Crüe and Poison, and Journey, Foreigner, and Night Ranger.
More May notes: Fans of Trampled by Turtles are nearly trampled themselves at the popular speed-bluegrass group's Spring Jam gig at the University of Minnesota, causing the police to come in and pull the plug; Adele reschedules her First Avenue show, beginning a months-long drama of date shifts and cancellations that eventually finds her performing at the Xcel Energy Center in August.
Just a few months after celebrating the 10-year anniversary of his popular new-wave/indie/Britpop dance night Transmission, DJ Jake Rudh is brought on staff at the Current to host a weekly hour-long show (catch him every Thursday night from 10 to 11 p.m.).
Let's get meta for a moment: Cee Lo Green quits Twitter temporarily after creating a PR nightmare for himself in Minnesota. Turns out Cee Lo didn't like our review of his Target Center show, where he opened for Rihanna, so he replied directly to our @gimme_noise Twitter account and to the author of the review (yes, that's me), by saying, "I respect your criticism but be fair! People enjoyed last night! I'm guessing ur gay?and my masculinity offended u?well f--k u!" Needless to say, GLBT advocacy groups aren't too happy about his tweet, and he spends the next few weeks apologizing to everyone who will listen.
The Stone Arch Festival of the Arts celebrates its 17th season and what turns out to be its last. Founder Ira Heilicher (son of legendary Soma Records head Amos Heilicher and a vocal local-music advocate) passes away in August, and by the next month most of the nonprofit organization's staff has disbanded to pursue other projects. In recent years, the festival had become a reliable showcase for Minnesota musicians, as the performances had expanded onto four separate stages and the event was one of the largest free outdoor music and art festivals in the Twin Cities.
Other June memories: Rumors swirl about the possibility of Paul McCartney coming to Target Field for the stadium's first public concert, but after a gig is scheduled for September 1 it's later canceled; Cecil Otter and Swiss Andy's mash-up project Wugazi (which combines—you guessed it—Fugazi and Wu-Tang Clan songs) lights up the internet; and Twin Cities Radio founder Jazzy J passes away at the age of 60 after a battle with cancer.
Elliot Hill, best known locally as the drummer for the Softrocks, passes away at the age of 26. Hill was diagnosed with colon cancer in late 2010, and the cancer advanced to an untreatable stage and was diagnosed as terminal in April. In addition to drumming with the Softrocks and, earlier, with Ennui, Hill worked as a roadie for Pink Mink and played in a comedy band with his friend and roommate Christy Hunt. He had just started a family with his wife, Ashlee Fanning, and the two welcomed their daughter, Veronica Hill, in May.
The University of Minnesota's TCF Stadium hosts its first concert, and it's enormous: Nearly 60,000 fans navigate through the U's construction to get to the stadium, where U2 had constructed a gigantic claw-shaped stage and lighting rig to project their show to every corner of the arena. In typical over-the-top U2 fashion, the group perform through a downpour that seems to only make them play harder and toss in an oh-so-appropriate cover of "Purple Rain."
New restaurant Republic, which took over the space occupied by Preston's Urban Pub on Seven Corners, gets city approval to start hosting live music in the side room. The intimate new room, called Aux 1, promises to remain an all-ages venue, and is overseen by Matty O'Reilly, who has experienced similar success with the Aster Cafe on St. Anthony Main and the 318 Cafe in Excelsior.
Pink Mink set sail for a CD-release show on the Mississippi River with Birthday Suits; Kanye West and Jay-Z announce, then cancel, the Twin Cities stop of their Watch the Throne tour; Austin, Minnesota, native John Maus receives loads of national blog attention for his Pitchfork-approved second album, We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves.
Recognizing a void in the large-scale music festival circuit, the Somerset Amphitheater reopens with a new owner and new name (it was previously known as Float-Rite) for the first annual SoundTown festival. The expansive amphitheater was previously home to primarily heavy-metal and country festivals, but new owner Matt Mithun is hoping to revitalize the space and gear his festivals toward the indie-heavy Current crowd. The first year's headliners are the Flaming Lips, and the band performs along with a couple dozen other national and local acts to a small crowd curious to investigate the new endeavor. Plans are already in the works for a bigger and better round two.
After taking a year off from presenting the Music & Movies series in Loring Park, the Walker Art Center steps back up to the plate to present a four-night run. Unfortunately, due to weather the first night is moved to a much smaller indoor space, while the last night is moved onto the Walker's own grounds, making the tradition feel more fragmented than it has in the past.
Husband-and-wife duo Alexei and Channy Moon Casselle announce the end of their folk-turned-soul group Roma di Luna, and their last few shows find only Channy leading the band. Almost immediately, Channy (now known as Channy Leaneagh) dives into her new project, Poliça, recording a full-length album with Gayngs producer Ryan Olson and performing riveting sets, while Alexei continues performing in Kill the Vultures as well as a new, sprawling improvisational project called Coloring Time, who make their debut as a 20-person freestyle group at the Cedar.
Additional August action: The Pizza Luce Block Party pulls in its biggest crowd yet with headliner P.O.S., causing many to wonder if the festivities have outgrown the narrow confines of the street outside the Uptown restaurant; Elite Gymnastics gain traction nationally with a pair of digitally released EPs.
The Family, a Prince-formed band that recorded one album and played one sold-out show at First Avenue back in 1985, reunites under the new name fDeluxe to record an album and perform at the Loring Theater. Fronted by St. Paul Peterson and Susannah Melvoin, the twin sister of Revolution guitarist Wendy and a onetime fiancée of Prince, the band makes a funky “debut,” Gaslight, which hearkens back to the once-prevalent Minneapolis Sound.
After a couple of years of uncertainty, Eclipse Records opens in a new location in downtown St. Paul right next to the new Amsterdam Bar and Hall. The all-vinyl store is part of some serious cultural revitalization on that stretch of Wabasha Street, thanks in part to the support of St. Paul Director of Arts and Culture Joe Spencer, who championed adding Amsterdam and Eclipse to downtown as well as a neighboring poster-and-print shop, Big Table.
More in September: Bon Iver fever catches on in Minneapolis, as the band performs for the first time in two years at two sold-out Orpheum Theatre shows; Maria Isa and Muja Messiah decide to cement their musical friendship in a new project, Villa Rosa, releasing an album together and playing a series of shows.
Brother Ali closes down the streets surrounding his mosque in north Minneapolis, Masjid An-Nur, for a full day of community outreach called Day of Dignity. In addition to distributing free health care services, haircuts, meals, winter clothing, school supplies, and health/hygiene kits to the public, Ali caps off the day by performing a free show with fellow Rhymesayers artist Freeway.
As the Occupy movement picks up steam, local musicians step forward to lend their voices to the OccupyMN protests. Artists ranging from hip-hop acts Toki Wright, Sean Anonymous, and Guante to R&B maven Mayda to former Hüsker Dü drummer Grant Hart perform in solidarity with the movement, while Jeremy Messersmith pens and releases a free track inspired by the events called "Blue Sky (Corporations Are People My Friend)."
Tom Keith, sound effects man for A Prairie Home Companion and co-host of MPR's long-running roots-heavy Morning Show, passes away at the age of 64 after suffering a heart attack in his home. Best known for character sketches he performed under the psuedonymn Jim Ed Poole, Keith was an integral part of MPR's history. Garrison Keillor pens a touching tribute to Keith in the days following his death.
Other October notes: Minnesota accessory designers Coco & Breezy, who left our state recently for New York City, show up in the Beyoncé video for "Party"; Mr. Dibbs, a one-time Atmosphere tourmate and friend of the Twin Cities' Rhymesayers label, reveals that he has been undergoing a series of surgeries after being diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, and a series of local fundraisers spring up in his honor.
Another in a series of Prince-related band resurgances and name changes, the Time announce they will release a new album under the name the Original 7ven. In addition to recognizable frontman Morris Day and fDeluxe/the Family drummer Jellybean Johnson, the re-emergence of the Original 7ven marks a return to the stage for seminal producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and their new single "#trendin" is awesomely cheesy and catchy.
Laura Kennedy, the original bassist and co-founder of seminal no-wave band Bush Tetras, passes away. She was diagnosed nearly two decades ago with Hepatitis C, a "scourge of an illness" she once wrote she believed she contracted in the '80s while living and playing in New York, and her death was caused by complications from that illness. Born in Cleveland, she moved to NYC in the late '70s and eventually made her way to the Twin Cities 12 years ago to live with her girlfriend.
More November notes: The Twin Cities' love affair with Dawes continues as they come to town to perform one of several sold-out shows in the area this year—they return on December 30 and 31 to play the Varsity and yes, tickets have already been snatched up; Gwar guitarist Flattus Maximus, a.k.a. Cory Smoot, passes away on his tour bus just hours after performing with the band at First Avenue.
Riding high on the success of their stellar full-crew record No Kings, Doomtree book a seven-night run at First Avenue, curating five nights of sold-out shows led by their five MCs in the Entry and finishing up with back-to-back Blowout performances in the Mainroom. Their "rap week" residency effectively dominates the dialogue of the Twin Cities.
Northeast Minneapolis's Shuga Records closes up shop to move back to the store's hometown of Chicago, citing "growing needs of our online mail order operations." Shuga has operated out of Minnesota for the past seven years, three of which were spent at their storefront in Northeast, and have always placed a heavy emphasis on developing their online store.
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