Local Music Yearbook '04

Jane Sherman

First Avenue closed. First Avenue reopened. Mark Mallman played nonstop for three days straight. As we look back over 12 months of Minnesota music, it's tough to imagine a year of more idealistic highs or dispiriting lows, tough to imagine more benefit shows or more need for benefit shows. So let's play the weirdest tracks from Now That's What I Call Twin Cities 2004!--"The Babylon Burns," "Prince Becomes Cool Again," "Farewell Flyte Tyme," and "The Only Winners I Know Are in the Dead Pool."


The Gustavus Adolphus Hall on East Lake Street goes up in flames, on the day before local punk band Damage Deposit is scheduled to play at the eight-decade-old institution. Over the years, the building has housed everything from raves to Creole restaurants. The collectively run Babylon gallery and cultural center is lost in the disaster, along with the PA system of punk booker Felix Havoc and the entire collection of art by Iraqi immigrant Haider Al-Amery. Havoc is forced to relocate his Midwest Hardcore Fest the following day to an Elks Lodge in Brooklyn Park. (By year's end, Havoc and the Independent Music Foundation are booking all-ages punk shows in the basement of the Walker Community Church.)

Eerily, the day after the Babylon burns, St. Paul's Bangkok City Supper Club (formerly Club Metro) is also totaled by a fire.

With rapper Slug replacing the phrase "respect the cock" with "respect hip hop" on "Trying to Find a Balance," Atmosphere make their live national TV debut on ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live. Atmosphere go on to join the Warped Tour and collaborate with the Roots at Northrop Auditorium. They also play the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on a stage facing the sun, leaving DJ Mr. Dibbs to fling warped vinyl out into the crowd.

R.I.P.: Carty Fox, writer, publisher, and musician in Pleasant Stitch, Overblue, Control, and A Most Happy Sound.


With the introduction of CD turntables for DJs, cheaper iPods, MP3 blogs, and other harbingers of a new age, Pepsi and iTunes launch a campaign to give away $100 million in free music downloads, with a soundtrack provided by Green Day covering

"I Fought the Law." Even predatory retailer Wal-Mart gets in on the rebel-downloader biz, with a little help from L.A.'s Liquid Digital Media--a software company once run by Twin/Tone founder Paul Stark.

Meanwhile, more local musicians than ever feature music on their websites. E-mail boxes clog with DJ remixes of the "Dean Scream." Having already picked up a CD turntable, techno-savvy local hip-hop collective Doomtree descends on the Fifth Element record store one night to buy every last copy of Dangermouse's The Grey Album--a remix combo of Jay-Z's The Black Album and the Beatles' The White Album. Not to be outdone, local mashup king DJ Cheap Cologne issues his Double Black Album--Jay-Z's Black Album combined with Metallica's Black Album.

Kicking ass with Beyoncé at the Grammy Awards, Prince initiates a year of relevance. Subsequent kicking of ass is reported from his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, several sold-out shows at the Xcel Energy Center, and reunions with old friends back at Paisley Park. Speaking of old friends, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis close their local Flyte Tyme Studios this year, making "the Minneapolis sound" the byword of a lost vocabulary.


Artists and musicians acquire a 3,000-plus-square-foot building in downtown Duluth with enough room for two stages and ample gallery space. Soon the MAC (Twin Ports Music and Art Collective) opens its doors as a rare all-ages venue in a city where alcohol is the fifth food group. Unfortunately, even local celebrities can't draw an audience to the dry spot. With his new band the Housing Project, Low guitarist Alan Sparhawk plays a series of Monday nights for the sound guy, two friends, and whoever wanders in wondering what's going on. In October, the venue hosts a giant sleepover called Slumber, with bands playing from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. in front of projections of 1950s industrial videos. If Thousands declare that they are proud to put listeners to sleep.

Duluth's NorShor Theatre fares slightly better this year, reopening late this month under new ownership--then closing again, then opening again under still newer ownership.

In a warmer clime, actress Minnie Driver croons with the Hang Ups at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Other groups raise their profile in 2004: Keston & Westdal at the Montreal Jazz Festival, Mark Mallman on San Francisco's Bad Man Recordings, Likehell and All the Pretty Horses in their own movies, Low on Sub Pop, Rob Skoro on Yep Rock, the Steeles and Wain McFarlane in collaboration with Parisian soul-jazz man Denis Colin, Dosh and Lateduster on Merck, the Bad Plus in the New York-based music press, and Shadow Box simply in New York, period.  


Declaring its mission to "fight the cycle of closing clubs and band breakups," free glossy music periodical Rift Magazine arrives on stands with extensive reviews of local music, filling a void left by the defunct Lost Cause Magazine. The mag joins a proliferating media focused on local culture, which in 2004 comes to include Industry Magazine, Trendsetter, Static in southern Minnesota, and the now-monthly-and-glossy Ripsaw in Duluth.

In a year packed with memorable benefit concerts, "Rebel Rebel Rock for Pussy" is the best name of the bunch. Mary Lucia's Bowie-tribute-cum-fundraiser for no-kill cat shelters hits a snag, however, when the event's racy title leads two prospective beneficiaries to refuse to participate.

Onstage, Lucia announces that the money will now go to her anger management course.

R.I.P.: Sonia Peterson, founder of Hair Police and scenester extraordinaire, who pioneered the "dreadperm" and hosted legendary house music events.


Punk karaoke ringmaster Ian Rans hosts Drinking With Ian, a show in which bands do just that. Set to air on the local WB affiliate KMWB (Channel 23), the program is suddenly pulled over station objections to all that drinking. The series soon finds a new home on MCN Cable Channel 6, though, and bartender to the stars Ollie Stench goes on to appear on MTV's Control Freak in December.

On the same day that his redoubtable '60s garage band the Underbeats is inducted into the Minnesota Rock & Country Hall of Fame, singer and drummer Thomas Nystrom dies, losing a long bout with cancer. He's equally remembered for crying "Why?" with the Accents, and for drumming with Gypsy in the '70s.



With more music fans than ever under the age of 18, Radio K (KUOM-AM 770, FM 106.5) revives its Battle of the Underage Underground event at First Avenue for the fourth year in a row. Clubs such as the Red Sea, the Triple Rock, and the Quest hold regular all-ages shows, and teen clubs sprout up in suburbs such as Shakopee, modeled on the nonprofit likes of the Garage in Burnsville, TC Underground in Minneapolis, and the Depot in Hopkins.

Playing his last gig with Guided By Voices in the Twin Cities, Dayton indie icon Robert Pollard participates in a Grand Old Day promotional stunt--being led onstage in handcuffs by St. Paul police chief-in-waiting John Harrington, who introduces the band as "Guided By Patience." In another bid to out-hip Minneapolis this year, Garrison Keillor begins hosting a live cabaret at the Fitzgerald called the Rhubarb Show, inviting "edgy" local acts such as Spaghetti Western, Coach Said Not To, and live hip-hoppers Heiruspecs to perform.

Fans, friends, and family pay tribute to local Caribbean music groundbreaker Aldric Peter Nelson at the Cabooze, in a celebration that doubles as an exuberant family reunion for the reggae and world-music scenes. The Trinidad-born multi-instrumentalist led Shangoya for 30 years until his death of a heart attack in May, just hours after playing a show in Duluth.

R.I.P.: Jackie Lee "Blackjack" Robinson, co-founder of the Institute of Production and Recording, a Minneapolis school that teaches the fundamentals of recording to musicians.


At First Avenue's Rock for Democracy event, a fundraiser for progressive candidates, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak invokes the memory of Paul Wellstone in a speech. He then stage dives into the audience, adding "crowd surfing" to his list of ceremonial mayoral obligations, alongside ribbon cutting and baby kissing.

Fresh from his dance-off against Ben Stiller in Starsky & Hutch, Har Mar Superstar returns home overexposed, yet with a surprisingly sweet set of live R&B in Loring Park. Backed by drummer Michael Bland and bassist John Fields, the loverman saunters out through the picnic blankets until he reaches his extended family, who are seated in lawn chairs, and begins serenading them from behind, massaging their heads.

Rapper Big C (born Darrell K. Humphrey Jr.) is found lying on a bench in front of the White Castle on West Broadway, with multiple gunshot wounds. He's taken to the hospital, but dies later that night. The MC had reportedly signed a record deal earlier in the year with Junior Mafia's Chico Del Vec.  

R.I.P.: Gospel and reggae singer Julitta McFarlane, who launched the pop band Ethical Treatment and played in Ipso Facto, led by her brother Wain McFarlane.


12 Rods play a 28-song final show at First Avenue, having already performed each of their albums in its entirety at earlier concerts this year. Before leaving the stage for good, singer Ryan Olcott turns to the audience and shouts: "Remember!"

Squeezed into a pleather dress and fishnet arm-warmers, DJ Ian Lehman screams into a microphone over techno beats, leaving a Dinkytowner audience gape-mouthed. The venue has become a dance music haven this year, with minimalist DJ JP popularizing the slogan "Microhouse--little, mellow, different!" among Friday's jaded ex-raver regulars.

St. Olaf College in Northfield announces that it will sell its tiny, freewheeling classical music radio station, the 82-year-old WCAL-FM (89.3), for an estimated $10.5 million to the 35-station Minnesota Public Radio chain, which owns rival classical station KSJN-FM (99.5). Opposition soon builds in the form of SaveWCAL, an organization that condemns what it calls MPR's media conglomeration. Within months, the 12 remaining public radio stations not under MPR's control give their loose association a new name--Independent Public Radio.

R.I.P.: DJ Baby Judy (Nate Forneris), who collaborated widely on the scene, performing with If Thousands and Gild.


"I know there's a war going on," says Mark Mallman, speaking in the middle of his nonstop performance of a 52.4-hour song at the Turf Club over Labor Day Weekend. "But there's another war I want to talk about: the cola wars."

Still onstage 24 hours later, Mallman looks exhilarated leading his band toward the finish line. When he reaches it, a giant banner of stars and stripes unfurls behind him: "Mission accomplished."


Former Hüsker Dü singers Grant Hart and Bob Mould share the stage for the first time in 16 years at a Quest benefit concert for Soul Asylum bassist Karl Mueller, who is fighting cancer but still rocking out with his band. The duo's choice of songs? "Never Talking to You Again" and "Hardly Getting Over It."

As Hart quips, "If me and Bob can get together, that means we can all get together and put Bush out of office, right?"

It's a season of politicized rock, with the title of Mason Jennings's 2004 album, Use Your Voice (Bar None), feeling suddenly prophetic. Dillinger Four and Atmosphere collaborate on a reinterpretation of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War." Mark Mallman finds himself performing after Linda Ronstadt at a Kerry rally in Arizona. The C.O.R.E., Big Quarters, and other acts travel the country in a bus urging eligible voters to register. Their vehicle breaks down in Harlem for five hours, in the middle of the street.

Back home, the democratic spirit invades even a show by the sardonic likes of Conquerors and the Autumn Leaves, who hold an election for the best band of the two at the Hexagon. Conquerors bassist Keith Patterson warns the crowd, "If you vote for the Autumn Leaves, there will be a terrorist attack!"

Backed by a live band at the Pantages for the third night in a row, Paul Westerberg smashes not one, but two guitars. He seems frustrated over a blues he can't play. Coming back out onstage and starting over again, he pauses to tell a story about how, when he was 17, his best friend played him this song one afternoon, then "went home, wrapped his lips around the barrel of a shotgun, and blew his brains out all over his parents' kitchen floor."

An unbearable silence follows before Westerberg sings the old standard "I've Got a Mind to Give Up Living."


On Election Day, St. Paul hip hoppers Guardians of Balance and Eyedea organize a flatbed truck tour of low-income neighborhoods in the Twin Cities, performing with a mobile sound system and giving people rides to the polls.

That same afternoon, First Avenue closes, filing for bankruptcy. When the nightclub reopens two weeks later under new ownership--with ousted managers Steve McClellan and Jack Meyers back in control--metal band GWAR christens the audience with gallons of fake blood. (The band's first victim: somebody in a John Kerry costume.) Mayor Rybak backs off his earlier pledge to stage dive at the show, but follows through at a later concert by the Frogs.  

Meanwhile, the city of Moorhead buys landmark rock dive Ralph's Corner Bar, giving owners until April to decide whether they want to make costly city-mandated improvements in order to stay open.

VH1's reality series Bands Reunited features Information Society, the former Minneapolis club sensations best known for their Leonard Nimoy-sampling 1988 hit, "What's On Your Mind (Pure Energy)." But fans tune in only to discover that singer Kurt Harland is a no-show.

"He's a tortured artist," explains his former bandmate Paul Robb, speaking to City Pages a month later. "VH1 didn't know this, but we were communicating before the show. Kurt was very insulted that they ambushed him like that."

R.I.P.: Bemidji resident Roger Johnston, who pioneered a primitive style of '60s punk drumming with expatriate Hamburg greats the Monks.



Radio K's Cosmic Slop (770 AM, 106.5 FM) retires from the air after 12 years of gabbing about obscure 1970s music. MPR's Pop Vultures (KNOW-FM 91.1) is canceled after 22 episodes of gabbing about current popular music. The Root Cellar record store closes after 11 years of gabbing with used-record buyers on Snelling Avenue. And pop troubadour Donovan flies in from Ireland to play the opening of the IN (Intelligent Nutrients, an organic restaurant launched by Aveda founder Horst Rechelbacher) after 38 years of gabbing with psychedelic hallucinations.

Goochers vocalist Sheela Namakkal and Sweet J.A.P. bassist Ben Crew get married onstage at the Turf Club. Ollie Stench performs the ceremony at the "punk rock wedding"--shortly before the couple's band, the Divebomb Honey, plays its first major gig. The event includes a reading by Felix Havoc of "The Rose," a tune made popular by noted punk icon Bette Midler.

Thanks to all the contributors: G.R. Anderson, Jen Boyles, Cecile Cloutier, Chris Godsey, Robert Morast, Peter S. Scholtes, and Lindsey Thomas.

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >