Friday, April 9, 2010

Taking on the Twin Cities - Friday

The Twin Cities sure are nice. You betcha.

I spent last weekend in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area on trip planned out by my friend Steve a couple months ago. It went off pretty much without a hitch, and did I have a good time? You're darn tootin'.

OK, enough of that. People don't really talk like that. At least, no one did that I ran across.

My trip started off, as many trips do, at O'Hare International Airport. I showed up a bit early, so I spent a while watching departures (and a few arrivals) on runway 28. After boarding and a long taxi from terminal two to the end of Rwy 28, we took off to the west. I got a nice view of the cargo area, where a bunch of FedEx three-holers sat on the pad, and of the newly demolished neighborhood on Irving Park Rd. in Bensenville1. After a fairly uneventful flight, we descended through the clouds to a predictable view: lakes all over the place (Minnesota has a few lakes or something). We circled the city to the north and came down through the drizzle, passing over a neat-looking dam and downtown Minneapolis to my left, including Target Field. Landing was uneventful, though loud2 on MSP's RWY 12L. I hung out in the observation deck watching departures and arrivals until Steve's flight finally found a gate3.

We hopped into our rental car and then checked into our hotel in Bloomington and hung out for a bit until the Miles Kurosky show loomed. Around 7, we headed for the venue's neighborhood, the ominously named West Bank. It was an interesting place. The venue sits in the shadow of a number highrises that appear to have been transplanted from Mogadishu4. We ate dinner at the Acadia Cafe, a hip cafe kittycorner from the 400 Club. As the West Campus of the Univerity of Minnesota is a half-block away, the cafe was full of young, hip-looking kids. After dinner, we took a stroll around UM's campus. It looks like most college campuses, I suppose, except it overlooks the Mississippi River.

We headed into the bar around the scheduled start time, puzzled by the large number of regulars and a guest list that appeared to contain at least 578 people5. We noticed an unattended birthday cake in the corner of the room and briefly considered taking handfuls of cake and stuffing it into our maws. But we didn't. Instead, I bought a tall PBR and took in the first band on the bill.

As it turns out, this band's sole purpose was to play at the aforementioned birthday. The four-piece group played distinctly kindalonghairedjamband garbage, and it just happened that the singer/leadguitarwanker's sister was having the birthday. Unfortunately, the rest of the audience then had to suffer through 45 minutes of guitar solos and the whitest version of James Brown's "Sex Machine" (Ugh) Steve or I had ever heard6. After the band finished and the majority of the birthday party was sauced enough to leave, the d-bag factor dropped considerably.

Band two was a mediocre band with a human resources problem. Five people in a band should allow something interesting to happen, except the five pieces were drum, bass, guitar/singer, keyboards/synths, and cello. And the guitar and keys played the same thing the whole set. And the bass and cello played the same thing. So there was essentially no point to having a keyboard/synth or a cello. But the music was catchy (kitschy?) indie pop, played loosely and masturbatorily: the band allowed a photographer to crawl all over the stage taking "action" photos of them while a smoke machine pumped out choking white smog. Meh. After the set, I photobombed the cello player, who was taking a picture with her girls. I giggled.

Steve and I quickly tired of standing, but there no seats to be found. So we parked ourselves in front of the stage for Pancho San. Two of the three band members toured as parts of Beulah; they also would later play as part of Miles' band. Pancho San's live show defines power trio. They played tightly, loudly, and awesomely. The music was an amalgamation of Duane Eddy, DooWop, Noise Rock, and Elephant 6 goodness played by guys who look like people you've met somewhere sometime7. I enjoyed their live show; their album is arranged much differently, even though the songs were the same. I'm not sure if that makes the album better or worse8.

Miles Kurosky came on next, supported by Pancho San's guitarist and bassist, as well as a keyboard/synth player, a new drummer, and a trumpet player they'd met just before the show. The band was surpisingly loud and raucous at times, contrasted starkly by slower, more pensive moments. Kurosky's lyrics can astound with wit and painful honesty. Most of the music came from his newly released solo album, but he sprinkled in favorites from Beulah, including epic versions of "Emma Blowgun's Last Stand" and "Landslide Baby." The music was great and so was the performance, but what really sold me on the show was Kurosky's banter and his genuine interest in his fans. At times, he polled the audience for what states comprise the Midwest9. At another point, he noticed a fan shooting video of the show. Rather than berate the fan for bootlegging the show, he introduced the song for those on the Internet to see. For an encore, Miles asked for the house lights to be put on so he could see the audience. He then performed a medley of Beulah he songs he professed to barely remember, but the audience embraced Kurosky's apparent lack of memory by singing in unison to bipolar lyrics like "Everybody drowns sad and lonely" ("Gene Autry") and "Smile, please smile; I just want you happy" ("You're Only King Once.") It was indeed a very intimate finale, and one that was clearly meant to be personal for his fans. After letting the last note ring out, he stepped off the stage and literally shook every single audience member's hand and thanked them for coming. He then proceeded to hang out by the stage after the show and BS with anyone and everyone there.

Overall, it was one of the more enjoyable performances I've ever seen, and it was almost certainly the most personal. Steve and I headed back to the the hotel and crashed, our legs tired from standing through two crappy bands to see two good ones.

1 The O'Hare plan is overlayed on a current aerial view of the airport here. Also planned is a terminal on the west side of the airport, directly west of the current terminal. Using sets of parallel runways is generally safer and more efficient anyway, but the airlines at O'Hare don't really want the runways and they definitely don't want the new terminal.
2 I was flying on one of the DC-9-50s that Delta inherited in their merger with Northwest, who had inherited this one from their merger with Republic. It was this exact one, built in 1979, except it now features Delta's paint scheme.
3 Steve arrived on a DC-9 from St. Louis, though his scheduled gate was still occupied when he showed up. So his plane sat on the ground for a while until a gate opened up. Interesting fact: Steve's DC-9 was the plane made directly before mine, if the registration numbers correspond to when they were built.
4 This is particularly apt, because the neighborhood is actually a mixture of immigrants (primarily from Eastern Africa), college kids, and the working class. It's actually very nice, even if it looks a bit dicey.
5 Had we known, we would totally have pretended to know that one person who was having that one thing that required all those people on that one list.
6 I'd have paid good money, though, to see James Brown berate and whoop on the stupid skinny stoner suckers playing his funkiest number. Sacrilege.
7 This is actually a picture of Maps and Atlases, a band from Chicago. But that photo is the first thing that showed up when I googled "Indie Band." Interesting Fact: My old band recorded with the bassist (second from left).
8 I'm terrible at reviewing music.
9 General consensus from the MPLS crowd was that the Midwest includes: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. Steve and I said we considered Missouri part of the Midwest, and I said Ohio is part of the Midwest. I would probably throw Iowa into the mix, too. So, what say you?


  1. Sounds like a good time! Did you run in to Craig Finn or anyone in ass-less chaps? Somehow, I think the Twin Cities of Lifter Puller songs are much different than what it's actually like.

    What about Kansas? That's gotta be Midwest. In spirit, anyway.

  2. I never knew you had such a thing for airplanes.

    Kansas definitely needs to be on the list. Here's the test: if the state is more boring than Delaware, it belongs to the Midwest.