Back in action at the Black Dog

Get in off the 294 express bus from Minneapolis and am way early for the gig at Black Dog Wine and Coffee Bar in Lowertown.  So, I take a little stroll around and am almost homesick: this part of St. Paul reminds me so much of Greenwich Village back in NYC.  Laid back, bohemian – a damn nice place to take a quiet walk.  Looking for a burger joint, happen upon the St. Paul Saints’ ballpark.  It’s beautiful.  Mainly because it’s a professional baseball field with all that electrifying atmosphere and you can actually get close up on the diamond.  I drop in at Mike Kelly’s Depot Bar & Grill.  The food and service are damned good blue-collar fare. A well-done bacon-cheeseburger, onion rings and a Coke later, I head over to the Black Dog.  It has been a hell of a long time since I had a real gig.  Not since Hell’s Kitchen about 5 years ago.  I’d done a year and a half or so at Corner Coffee in Minneapolis’ Warehouse District, but this was for pay, not tips.  Get over and Brian Charles Tischleder is roaming around, trying to do something about parking.  Haven’t seen the cat in ages.  That was another time opening for him.  Well, opening for James Curry, his duo with guitarist Casey Fearing.  Reviewed Brian’s Dreams & Fear CD for the Planet – damned good music.  We, of course, immediately start chewing the rag,  Before he has to get with his wife Ka Vang – poet/spoken word artist with whom he pulled strings to get me on the bill – he promises to see can he dig an old recording of James Curry as a four-piece band.  Would love to hear that.  Spot a poster for the show on the wall with pictures of names: am in pretty sweet company Rush Merchant headlining, Ka Vang, Lauren Koshere and Brian Charles Tischleder.  Nope, not too shabby at all.  And Saint Paul Almanac is filming.  Make a mental note to swipe that poster before the end of the night. Am doing my set, happen to catch sight in the back of the room of my man Bill Borea (a/k/a pro rassler Billy Blaze a/k/a William Borea,playwright, screen writer, director, actor).  The guy came clear over South Minneapolis. Continue Reading

Soundset 2015 Artist GLAM

Musings of Soundset Musicians

The Twin Cities Daily Planet’s Clara Wang spent some time in the backstage tent hobnobbing with many of the Soundset artists to get exclusive interviews. Enjoy… Manny Phesto

Your last album, “Southside Looking In,” was very connected to your neighborhood, very connected to your roots. How has growing up on the South Side of Minneapolis influenced your music? “I think it’s influenced it a lot. Continue Reading

It’s back: Walker on the Green Artist-Designed Mini-Golf

Artist-Designed Mini-Golf is back at the Walker’s Sculpture Garden. As part of the media preview on May 20, my friend and I putted our way through both A and B courses (9 holes each) and lazily kept score. There’s no par for the course, so we just chatted in between strokes and took the time to read about each hole (which were delightfully full of puns). The Walker has a masterful summer event here not only bringing the art outside but creating a way to engage, both with the pieces and each other. It’s no wonder people keep coming back. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Gypsies invade Mankato for “Kiss Me, Kate”

Minnesota Opera’s Carmen may have closed, but its gypsy cast – the titular zingara included – appeared to be alive and well on Sunday, when four of the principles appeared in the Mankato Symphony Orchestra’s concert performance of the musical Kiss Me, Kate. Unlike their last onstage appearances, there were no stabbings involved and hippie chic was nowhere to be seen. The general mood of Sunday’s concert was pleasant and amiable: an afternoon idle to enjoy some excellent music with a full orchestra. Kenneth Freed led the orchestra with from the podium, while the spotlight fell alternately on Bergen Baker (Mercédès in the previously mentioned production), Brad Benoit (Le Remendado), Rodolfo Nieto (technically not present at said production, but who’s to quibble about an extra barihunk?), and Victoria Vargas (one of the Carmens). Technically, each member of this quartet sang a character in this abbreviated version of Kiss Me, Kate, but none of those details matter nearly so much as the basic recipe of classically trained singer + live orchestra + fun musical theater songs. Continue Reading

Photos by Patrick Dunn

MUSIC REVIEW | New Kids on the Block at the Xcel

On the surface, one would not think there would be a lot of overlap between fans of Nelly, TLC, and New Kids on the Block. While all three are essentially a sort of danceable ’90s pop, there’s something about the mental image each group conveys that makes it difficult to put them together. Take that gritty, sexy, maybe a little vulgar, club sound from Nelly, mix it up with the smooth almost R&Bish sound of TLC, and throw in the, well, straight pop sound of the prototypical boy band that inspired all those knock-offs in the ’90s, and you’d seem to be on the right track to make about the most indigestible musical smoothie you could ever fix up. Really, the only common thread I can think off for all of this is “songs I had to listen to on the school bus growing up because the driver wouldn’t change the station from KDWB.”

But given the audience reaction throughout the evening, this trio of 90s superstars (for the sake of ease we’ll lump them in there, even though NKOTB had a bit of the ’80s in, too) were a perfect match. The crowd was electric all night for this eclectic mix of talent, which delivered a very, very good show last night at Xcel Energy Center. Continue Reading

Kathryn Fumie as the title character in Theatre Unbound's all-female production of Hamlet. Image by Richard Fleischman Photography.

THEATER REVIEW | Theatre Unbound serves up an all-female “Hamlet”

Let’s get this out of the way right up front. You should go see Theatre Unbound’s production of Hamlet because you should see Kathryn Fumie in the title role. Not because it’s a woman playing Hamlet. Because it’s a great actor playing Hamlet. Just like every Hamlet I’ve seen over the years, in good productions and bad, the problem with Hamlet is never the actor playing Hamlet. Continue Reading

A photo from Pao Her's ATTENTION!

Minnesota Artist Exhibition highlights the cross-cultural and the unseen

As a society, we are often ignorant of the deeper ideas, the larger events and even the items of material culture that serve to connect us to other global societies, a complicated condition that the installations “ATTENTION!” by Pao Her and Near and Far by Shana Kaplow address in unorthodox and insightful ways. That such links are oblique or overlooked rather than obvious, abstract or intangible rather than specific is the point. As discrete but complementary projects, “ATTENTION!” and Near and Far innocently unite to create one of the most quietly beautiful and intellectually resonate MAEP offerings in recent memory. With the recent 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, Her’s installation “ATTENTION!” is salient. It comprises ten archival ink-jet prints of Hmong Vietnam war veterans from California, Minnesota and Wisconsin who wear military dress and stand stoically before a curtain of rich burgundy brocade. Continue Reading

Mezzo-soprano Joyce Di Donato.

MUSIC REVIEW | Joyce DiDonato dazzles, entrances at Ordway

The Schubert Club closed out the 2014-2015 run of of its International Artist Series with some good news and a bang. The good news was that, despite reports to the contrary, classical music is alive and well in some quarters: ticket sales for this five-concert series hit a new record for the Schubert Club. The bang was a sterling performance by mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. DiDonato is one of classical music’s preeminent stars, an opera singer who fills houses and attracts a dynamic fan base that cuts across age groups. Her performances are renown not just for her vocal beauty and skill, but also for her acting and character portrayal. Where, then, to begin with describing Tuesday’s recital? Continue Reading

Chicago Band 2013

MUSIC REVIEW | Chicago at the State Theatre

Chicago came into the State Theatre on May 19 loaded to the teeth with a full catalogue of hits and classics that span over 40 years, and they unleashed a wide variety of those hits, from the funky and jazzy to the slow jams and ballads, upon a largely energetic and enthusiastic audience. Right from the get-go, trombonist James Pankow, one of four founding members of the act still with the band, was into the show, moving with a swagger and energy that maybe one wouldn’t expect from the guy who is rocking the trombone. … Wait, did you expect me to say a man his age? Oh no, let me tell you, there was no sign of age on Pankow, nor really any sign of age or rust on this lot. Continue Reading

Photo credit Richard Fleischman Photography

THEATER REVIEW | Sandbox Theatre’s “War With The Newts”: A darkly funny cautionary lizard tale

I had the pleasure of seeing the original War With The Newts back in 2007 when Sandbox Theatre first tackled the Karel Capek science fiction novel, so I knew this reimagined revival was also bound to be a lot of fun. In a way, Capek’s tale is not your standard sci fi cautionary tale. Normally, you’d use the race of newts as a stand-in for human behavior and the audience would have just enough distance from themselves to be able to see the pitfalls of the newts’ way of dealing with one another. Here though, the newts are addressing us in the audience as fellow newts, using human beings themselves as the cautionary tale, putting on masks in order to imitate human beings and just making the whole thing a lot harder to ignore as a straightforward indictment of human folly. “No sensible man has any business going to Devil Bay.”

Sandbox Theatre as a company has also been evolving over the eight years since this story last hit the stage, and it shows in this new improved version of War With The Newts. Continue Reading