The Year in Music: P.O.S., Solid Gold, and Owl City break through
A quick scan of the biggest Twin Cities music happenings of 2009 isn't exactly uplifting: Venue after venue was shuttered, while the biggest local act to break was a watered-down, Auto-Tuned electro-pop kid from Owatonna. Time magazine recently declared that the '00s were the worst decade in America, and the Minneapolis community certainly wasn't spared the rippling effects of economic decline and music-industry upheaval. But before we get too down on ourselves and give a big ol' middle finger to aught-nine, let's remember the silver lining: The Twin Cities is still a diverse breeding ground for talent, plenty of our best rappers and songwriters got their due in the past year, and a few new venues even sprung up in the wake of all the closings.
So while we suffered more than a few blows over the past 12 months, there's still plenty to be proud of in our corner of the musical world. As the winter chill sets in and we prepare for the dawning of a new decade of Twin Cities music, let's take a moment to count our blessings and remember some of the biggest events that shook up our scene in 2009.
Only two days into the new year, news of sound engineer Tom Cesario's death ripples through the community. Cesario worked on and off at First Avenue, freelanced for bands like Yo La Tengo, and most recently had toured as the soundman for longtime friend Martin Dosh. Cesario was only 35 at the time of his death. As Dosh tells City Pages, "He died too soon."
The Chinese zodiac tells us that 2009 is the Year of the Ox, but in terms of the local music scene, our records tell us this was the Year of P.O.S. The Doomtree crew member releases his second solo album on Rhymesayers and spends the rest of the year playing to increasingly larger audiences and building up quite the hype. By year's end, Mr. Alexander finds himself performing on the MTVu Woodies, nominated for Spin's "Rapper of the Year," being added to the Warped Tour lineup, selling out First Avenue, receiving a favorable rating on Pitchfork, and flying to Europe to greet a whole new continent's worth of fans. Those who have been following P.O.S. from the beginning are left shaking their heads, as he joins the ranks of Rhymesayers artists-done-good on a national and global scale.
Back home, Jayhawks diehards are treated to the release of a Gary Louris and Mark Olson duet record, Ready for the Flood. It's the first time in over a decade that the two have laid down tracks together, and a pair of Minneapolis shows confirm that the founding Jawhawks members' harmonies and chemistry are still goosebump-inducing after all these years. A clan of obsessive audiophiles immediately starts gossiping about the possibility of a full-on Jayhawks reunion.
Prince releases a three-CD set exclusively through Minneapolis-based retail chain Target for a mere $11.98. The set includes two new Prince albums, LotUSFLOW3R and MPLSoUND, as well as a debut by his protégé Bria Valente. As with much of Prince's recent work, the albums are hit-and-miss, with a few catchy singles mixed into a collection of somewhat generic R&B and pop cuts. Prince promotes the new albums by playing a three-night stand on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, dressed in a winning combination of white socks and platform flip-flops. Later in the year, Prince quietly leaves his house in L.A. and returns home to Minneapolis, creating a stir around town as locals start spotting him at places like Envy Nightclub. Once the rumor mill is in full swing, Prince announces that he will open his Paisley Park doors for a party. He surprises guests by taking the stage punctually at 11 p.m. and playing for a solid three hours, spanning his entire back catalog and ending with an encore of "Purple Rain."
After spending a few years splitting his time between hosting 89.3 the Current's Local Show and producing segments for Minnesota Public Radio's news department, Chris Roberts announces that he will be moving to the news division full-time. He is replaced by David Campbell, who has a decade's worth of experience volunteering for KQRS and Drive 105's local broadcast, Radio Homegrown, and is a familiar face to anyone who has seen his ELO cover band, E.L.nO., perform or shopped at the Electric Fetus. With Campbell at the helm, the show expands into a two-hour broadcast that incorporates live performances, interviews with members of the music community, and show announcements into a mix of old and new local tracks.
To the utter dismay of the local hip-hop community, the Dinkytowner Cafe announces it will be closing its doors on May 31. In the latter part of the decade the Dinkytowner had developed into a hotbed of independent hip-hop talent with recurring events like Brandon Allday of Big Quarters' producer summit, Last of the Record Buyers, and Unicus of Kanser's weekly live hip-hop night, the Hook Up.
While the small fish in the local hip-hop world are reeling from their most recent loss, the big fish throw their most impressive party yet at Soundset '09. Presented by Rhymesayers, the event sells out Canterbury Park and showcases hometown heroes like Brother Ali, P.O.S., Eyedea & Abilities, Heiruspecs, and members of Doomtree alongside national acts like El-P, Pharcyde, and MF Doom.
Solid Gold headline First Avenue for the first time, asserting themselves as a prominent act in town. By the end of the year, the dreamy, guitar-driven electro-pop band will play to a crowd of thousands at the Walker Art Center's Rock the Garden, form a new partnership with Mountain Dew's Green Label Sound, play high-profile gigs in Brooklyn during the CMJ festival, and come home to sell out First Avenue at their second Mainroom show of the year.
St. Paul singer-songwriter Jeff Hanson dies unexpectedly of what is later determined to be a drug overdose, at the age of 31. Hanson was in the midst of a successful recording career with prominent indie label Kill Rock Stars, and was critically lauded for his angelic, high-register voice and his talent for creating intricate, complex compositions. His most recent album, Madam Owl, was considered by many to be his most accomplished work yet, making news of his death all the more painful.
After four years of business in the Warehouse District, Trocaderos nightclub closes with little warning or lamentation from the surrounding community.
On the heels of Gary Louris and Mark Olson's successful duet record and a one-off reunion show in Spain, the Jayhawks announce that they will play their first hometown show with Olson since the band opened for Bob Dylan at the Target Center back in 1995. The band reunites at the Basilica Block Party in early July, joined by Marc Perlman, Tim O'Reagan, and Karen Grotberg, and plays a set of early songs like "Waiting for the Sun," "Two Angels," and "Blue," complete with backing vocals from the Basilica Choir.
An act of arson sets a vacant building next door to University Avenue's Big V's ablaze, causing many to wonder if we are about to lose yet another venue this year. Luckily, the fire is quickly extinguished and the St. Paul dive bar is left unharmed.
A ray of light appears as a handful of new venues pop up on the local landscape, including the 501 Club on Washington, opened by the 331 Club's owner Jon Oulman; Sauce Spirits and Soundbar, which takes over the old La Bodega space on Lake and Lyndale; and the Music Box, which is repurposed to host concerts after serving as the home for comedy show Triple Espresso for 13 years.
There's not much good news to report in August. Mid-month, the Southwest Journal digs up an application filed with the city by a developer who intends to demolish the Uptown Bar and Cafe and replace it with a three-story retail space. Despite the bar being a profitable restaurant and a staple of the local music scene since the '80s, plans are quickly pushed through and the Uptown announces that it will close on November 1. Local musicians new and old rush to book shows at the ill-fated bar, and in its final days the stage is filled with acts ranging from the original lineup of Faux Jean to Janis Figure to a grand finale concert with the Hawaii Show, Happy Apple, and Matt Wilson and John Munson's new project the Twilight Hours. As part of the funeral process, surf-rock demons Lusurfer parade through the streets of Uptown with a casket on their shoulders, leading a parade of mourning fans into the bar for their farewell show. Just a few short weeks after the bar closes, a bulldozer reduces the building to a pile of rubble, paving the way for yet another yuppie retail chain to set up shop on Hennepin Avenue.
On the same day that news of the Uptown's demolition spreads across town, a source tells City Pages that the Myth Nightclub in Maplewood has fired its staff and closed. An investigation into the closing reveals that two co-owners are locked in a legal dispute over control of the club, and bookers and investors are forced to migrate elsewhere.
Like salt in an open wound, a tornado sweeps through south Minneapolis in late August to blow out the front windows and tear apart the roof of the Electric Fetus. With some remodeling, the record store is fully functional again by the end of the year.
After years of attempting to acquire a full-time FM signal, Radio K announces that it has purchased a new 99-watt transmitter and will begin broadcasting on 104.5 FM (100.7 FM in St. Paul) 24 hours a day, seven days a week in addition to its regular daytime broadcast on 770 AM. It's a big win for the station, acquired after a decade of PowerSurge fundraisers and campaigns, as well as a breath of fresh air for local listeners hungry for more around-the-clock independent music on their FM dials.
Owatonna-based electro-pop artist Adam Young, a.k.a. Owl City, becomes inexplicably huge. His Universal Republic debut, Ocean Eyes, opens at No. 27 on the Billboard charts and only rises from there. The first single, "Fireflies," becomes the best-selling download on iTunes in the U.S. and holds the position for weeks. While Young is praised by the mainstream pop and twee sets, he is simultaneously bashed by hipsters nationwide and accused of ripping off the Postal Service by more than a few snarky bloggers. At the time this article is written, over 22 million viewers have watched the video for "Fireflies" on YouTube.
In a move that shocks and confuses the hell out of everyone, Bob Dylan releases a Christmas album. Titled Christmas in the Heart, the disc is composed of standards like "Little Drummer Boy" and "Here Comes Santa Claus." Proceeds from the sale of the disc in the U.S. go toward the hunger-relief charity Feeding America. Dylan promotes the album by releasing an absolutely ridiculous music video for "Must Be Santa," which features the folk icon galloping through a house party in a white top hat and scraggly gray wig as guests get sloshed, start fights, and jump out the window.
In honor of the legendary punk band's pair of reunion shows at the Walker and late-night appearance at the Dakota, Mayor R.T. Rybak proclaims November 7 "Suicide Commandos Day."
In honor of the 25th anniversary of the seminal Replacements album Let It Be, First Avenue hosts an extravaganza of 'Mats cover songs by local artists in both its Mainroom and 7th St. Entry. Musicians as far-ranging as Caroline Smith, Adam Levy, Curtiss A, Arzu, Josh Grier of Tapes 'n Tapes, Sarah Nienaber of Gospel Gossip, and Dan Wilson take turns singing Let It Be tunes as a house band plays the record from start to finish, while the photographer responsible for the record's iconic cover photo, Dan Corrigan, snaps photos of attendees poking their heads through a life-sized cut-out version of the album.
Bruce C. Allen, guitarist for '80s rock band the Suburbs, passes away at the age of 54 after struggling with a variety of medical problems. The next night, as is getting to be an unfortunate tradition, the legendary Curtiss A dedicates "In My Life" to his recently departed friend toward the end of his 30th annual tribute to John Lennon at First Avenue.
And speaking of Lennon-related tributes, our state is not spared from the Beatlemania that swept the nation this year. On the heels of the complete Beatles reissues and the creation of the Beatles Rock Band game, we throw our own contribution into the pot with the release of the stellar Minnesota Beatle Project, Vol. 1, which features covers by locals like Lucy Michelle, Jeremy Messersmith and Zach Coulter, Romantica, Mark Mallman, and Roma di Luna—a well-timed gift for local music fans who saw their share of defeats this year.
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