About a year or so ago, I was at the Uptown Bar in Minneapolis, catching one of the strongest double bills I’ve ever seen: Tickle Fight opening for Junkyard Empire. If you ever get the chance to see either band, go for it. If you get wind that they’re on the same stage again, be ready for a night that has to be experienced to be believed.
Rock-jazz hybrid Tickle Fight is, plain and simple, a wild and crazy band. Along the order of, say, David Byrne, Frank Zappa…that kind of thing. To give you a little bit of an idea just how weird a head the band’s leader Cody McKinney has on his shoulders, the band is described on their MySpace site as “Pop/Latin/Lounge.” Okay, fine. What they are, bottom line, is a vastly imaginative, airtight powerhouse: McKinney (bass, vocals), Rachel Neels (vocals), Pete Hennig (drums), Jordan Carlson (vibes, percussion), Park Evans (guitar), and Tanner Taylor (keys).
Their EP Tickle Fight is an excellent introduction, leading with the cut “Apartment Review.” Oddball lyrics narrate a guy’s night in as he takes in “movies-for-tv dinner/and a card game on my cell phone/I dance in my tighty whities/I try on my lady’s nighty/break-dance inside my sweatpants/and then I give my smoke a lighty.” Don’t ask just what sort of smoke he’s lighting: you probably don’t want to know. “Fillin’ Me Up” is as catchy as an STD, grounded by nasty drums with an insistent pure funk bass riff, laced with sweetly economic guitar and snaking keyboard work (it’s been a long time since anyone used an organ at all, let alone with such finesse). Over this the chorus chants, “What is the matter with you?”—yeah, I know, McKinney’s got nerve asking that question. Tickle Fight is a mini-workout in the heavyweight division, mind-bending music in the first degree.
Junkyard Empire began as an avant garde jazz ensemble. Then, founder Christopher Robin Cox decided to add hip-hop. It turned out to be, as the saying goes, a stroke of genius: refreshingly innovative music matched to cutting edge prose-poetry. Proof positive is their newly released album Reclaiming Freedom. The music is tasty beyond belief, adventurous in every sense of the word, juggling time signatures as easily as if they were taking a lunch break, waxing melodic with sheer wizardry.
The band’s wordsmith MC Brihanu takes no short cuts when it comes to pulling society’s coat. Check out “Complex Crooks”: “Witness the days of corporate welfare/Forty-five million with no health care/but Fox News says that’s all fair and balanced/They wanna silence my alliance while the government commits to violence/$500 billion spent on defense/while twenty percent of the children live in poverty/It bothers me that robbery will put the hungry in prison/while CEOs stackin’ dough just from robbin’ the pensions.” Besides Brihanu, the band’s lineup consists of Cox on trombone and keys, Jaime Delzer on sax, Tony Blonigan on guitar, Ben “The Fury” Shaffer on bass, and the good doctor Adam Katz on drums. It works like John Henry’s hammer.
So if you weren’t there, imagine what that night at the Uptown Bar was like. Even the best bands are all the more exciting in the flesh. If you weren’t there, console yourself with these excellent discs—and, of course, be on the lookout for Tickle Fight’s and Junkyard Empire’s next gigs.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the TC Daily Planet.