MUSIC REVIEW | Kevin Presbrey and Danny Pratt warm the Whiskey Junction

When Kevin Presbrey and Danny Pratt played the Whiskey Junction, Friday, February 28, the whole thing felt very familiar. They brought Americana that bled household-name influences from folk to country to Top 40. And Whiskey Junction, with its long, worn bar and wall decorated with Budweiser-brand guitars, existed with all the same faces as Trails End and Larry’s Good Time Inn and all the other bars from my rural Wisconsin hometown as it gives refuge from all the wind, cold, and misery outside. It certainly took me back to where I grew up, like we could’ve been back home, we four or five dozen crowded between the tables, talking while on stage Kevin Presbrey and Danny Pratt hammered out songs about the trials of life and love.With Presbrey handling guitar and vocals, while Pratt hit percussion and keys, they introduced themselves over the crack of pool balls to the bar rabble sitting at tables and huddled in circles. There were a lot of folks younger than me and a lot of folks older than me and Presbrey and Pratt caught a warm if scattered wave of claps and whoops.Presbrey and Pratt mostly played songs from their summer 2013 EP Dust Unto Dust. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | g’Beau’s new album “The Tears”: Soulful with a few bright flashes

Music and love are fickle things. With the November 26 release of their new album, The Tears, Twin Cities soul singer g’Beau and his eponymous band attempt to tame both with an expanded and expansive backing band and tracks probing the spaces between people.G’Beau (pronounced “je-bo”), self-bill as “SoulPop” and fit comfortably in the neo-soul movement, which has flagged a bit in recent years, though that doesn’t count against this album, which has some exciting cuts. They’re musicians well versed in a genre that ranges from soft ripples on an acoustic guitar to the sharp punches of a six-person brass section, fronted by a smooth voice at home in falsetto.Of the ten tracks, three are the work of others: “If I Fell” by the Beatles, “Just the Way You Are” by Billy Joel, and the Sidney Wyche composition, “A Woman, A Lover, A Friend,” which has been previously recorded by the likes of Jackie Wilson and Otis Redding.All three are excellent examples of g’Beau’s ability to produce new, compelling arrangements of classics. While “WomanLoverFriend” is a slow-building soul tune, “If I Fell” gets an emotional gospel makeover and Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” features a rhythm section doing a mean impression of Weather Report’s Heavy Weather.g’Beau — “WomanLoverFriend”While the songs are familiar, g’Beau has made them new and all deserve repeated listens, because they are timeless songs skillfully reimagined and executed. However, doubtless g’Beau’s primary concern is how the seven originals on The Tears fair a close listen.Well, there is some exciting stuff. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Roe Family Singers and their House of Mercy friends celebrate Heaven Send Us Better Times

Friday, November 1 the filled-out Ritz Theater in Northeast clapped and sang and watched their kids dance for the album release of the old-time group Roe Family Singers’ Heaven Send Us Better Times.Though the show was billed for the dynamic, charismatic duo, which for the release expanded to an eight-piece, the night was also a showcase of House of Mercy Recordings, all with their own place at the wide intersection of country, blues, and gospel. Belief wasn’t necessary to enjoy the line-up, which mixed degrees of skill and style, but it can’t have hurt.House of Mercy Recordings is a wing of St. Paul’s House of Mercy church, which “offers a discriminating blend of high church and low, of tradition and innovation, sincere worship and healthy skepticism.” Their house band Blood Washed Band opened the night with reinterpretations and originals familiar enough they all reminded me of listening to the radio with my grandfather, drinking root beer while he tipped an Old Fashioned.Billed as an alt-country supergroup, Blood Washed Band’s set was lighter on the alt and heavier on waltzing country, including “Pour Me a Whiskey” from their latest Driftin’ Along.   They’re a talented bunch, but their song selection limited their vocal and musical range. There’s nothing wrong with openers trying to show everyone up with the kind of dynamism that gets an audience out of their seats—I wish they’d tried. Good band, particularly if you’re into gospel country, but I was left wanting more blood.When they came out to back Molly Maher two acts later, they got dirty. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Deltron 3030 at First Avenue: Past, present, and future

It’s the year thirty-thirty…we came back. We were always coming back.Sunday, October 20 it began there, in the year 3030, with Del the Funky Homosapien, Dan the Automator, and Kid Koala—the three-headed supergroup, Deltron 3030—leading the sold-out First Avenue mainroom through a hip-hop telling of their epic battles against the corporate oligarchs of the future.The group’s sci-fi story sprouted from Deltron 3030’s debut eponymous album in 2000, which endures today thanks to its cult status. They dipped into that album to open their set, with a boisterous reception from the crowd.Despite a vocally muddy start for the yellow sunglassed MC Del, by the third verse of “3030” his tongue had loosened and his free verse poetry flowed uninhibited, like spice melange in a Harkonnen daydream.When the last hook in “3030” hit, and Deltron 3030’s three-piece backing band (we were one of the tour dates without the 16-piece orchestra) swelled over Dan the Automator’s prerecorded beats and Kid Koala’s scratches, and the lights blared through the fog and swung over the crowd, it was like their ship had come blazing through the clouds in one momentous om.Welcome back to the future.“3030” and the next two songs, which are also on Deltron 3030’s first album, went over huge with the herby-smelling crowd.But then it was time for tracks from their new, second album Event 2, released last month.Thirteen years passed after their debut. In that time fans bonded and mythologized Deltron 3030 as Event 2 hit delay after delay for nine years. With such a beloved album, with expectations so high, how could Event 2 have fully satisfied fans? Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Four Fists (P.O.S & Astronautalis) debut new 7-inch with old favorites at Triple Rock Social Club

Four Fists threw a party Tuesday, October 8 at Triple Rock Social Club and though it was billed to support their new 7-inch, it felt like instead it might’ve been for the end of the world. A boarded up federal government. Politicians shouting at each other down hallowed halls, throwing apocalyptic spin into the Twitterverse. Tuesday, all the news that’s been fit to print recently, seemed like an appropriate backdrop to the combined catalogs of the duo making up Four Fists—Astronautalis and P.O.S—as well as this new project, the double-headed group named for an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, the Minnesotan who wrote so often about the excesses and downfall of the Gilded Age.Though their 80-minute set was bookended by the two tracks from their new 7-inch—“Please Go” and “Mmmmmhmmmmm”—the night was a collection of both artists’ previous efforts, selected and spun at whim by DJ Fundo, often catching the two emcees off guard. It was fun and irreverent and often devolved into silliness borne from genuine friendship.When the smartly dressed Astronautlis begged to catch his breath after a taxing opening run, P.O.S cracked, “Maybe you should untuck your shirt so you can breathe.” The banter, DJ Fundo’s improvised setlist, and the smallness of the Triple Rock—particularly when compared to the release for P.O.S’s We Don’t Even Live Here—made it feel more house party than spectacle. They weren’t leaning over the crowd from up on First Avenue’s four-foot ivory stage. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Nine Inch Nails begin the “Tension 2013” tour at the Xcel Energy Center

On the first night of their “Tension 2013” tour, Saturday, September 28, Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and his band hit the Xcel Energy Center with an opening blast of four songs beefed-up to fill an arena—“Copy of a,” “1,000,000,” “Terrible Lie,” and the near-perfect “March of the Pigs”—before catching their breath on song five, “Piggy.” With the song’s final notes still ringing, a metal grill, the kind convenience stores pull over their windows each night, descended across the front of the stage, trapping Nine Inch Nails behind it. Despite all his rage, Trent Reznor was just a rat in a cage.Among that opening salvo was a song from their new Hesitation Marks and three more from Pretty Hate Machine and Downward Spiral, albums that turned many of those in attendance into NIN listeners as teenagers. Five songs in and the show had already supplied most fans plenty to cheer for a night where nearly half the set would be devoted to an album only a month old and NIN’s perhaps best-known single, “Closer,” never made an appearance.And so the night played out in movements. The crowd, who started off on Reznor’s heels, lagged while the grill obscured the band. Visually, it was striking how well the lighting and linked steel played thematically with the industrial group.Grids of lights hung overhead and streamed down bright shocks like factory windows catching dust motes, while percussion and triggered beats ticked and clanked on.Meanwhile, the grill served as a porous screen, upon which were projected shifting, angular patterns, that at times looked like something out of Cube. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Screaming Females play like they’re saving rock ‘n roll at the Triple Rock Social Club

The inescapable thought about the Screaming Females’ set on Tuesday, September 24 at the Triple Rock was that if we’re not careful, they’re going to save rock and roll. And they’ll do it while cribbing sounds and skewering moves of every self-important rocker who tried to do it before.Screaming Females are a tight, expressive rhythm section of bass and drum backing one of the best, most urgent guitarists playing. From the Triple Rock floor, it was often difficult to see singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster’s shaggy Ramones-ish hair over the seething crush of bodies. At least until she threw a foot up on a monitor and ripped a red-blooded solo like some rock god.The band is simultaneously familiar and the freshest thing I’ve heard or seen in years. Paternoster is a chimera, an amalgam of parts of legends she’s absorbed over years immersed in the genre—or perhaps born with.Through “It All Means Nothing” and “Rotten Apples” Tuesday, they played like My War/Slip it In-era Black Flag disciples who decided to update by mainlining Dinosaur Jr. Their songs surged forward while Paternoster laid psychedelic riffs and blistering solos fans in the crowd air guitared on cans of Hamm’s.Though between songs her voice is small and sounds a bit put on, when the guitars buzz, her vocals flow through the low end with slides and vibrato I imagine might have come had Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick hired the Dead Kennedy’s Jello Biafra as vocal coach.There were Iggy Pop-level mic makeouts. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Iron & Wine fall into a routine at First Avenue

“It’s New Year’s Eve/…Back home the hammer always has to fall/cross is barely hanging on the wall/some day I know you’ll never leave me/but we’re far from the hard light tonight.”Sam Beam, the man behind the name Iron & Wine, started off his set at First Avenue, presented by 89.3 The Current, with that darkish lounger, “The Desert Babbler.”Beginning with a forced perspective stirred up the ether of memory as Iron & Wine has done for so long, but when the night ended I left only with a vaguely good feeling, like I’d seen some talented musicians, but couldn’t remember a thing about them. It began with Widowspeak, a Brooklyn quartet of longhaired shoegazers, who opened in a haze that hung around them like a halo of hookah smoke, colored magenta and cerulean by stage lights. In their bio they brag—I kid you not—that Widowspeak has been praised for “its reverential spaciousness.” They could be the house band for an indie opium den called Nirvana Was So 90s.Pretension aside, the three others performers in Widowspeak followed singer/rhythm guitarist Molly Hamilton’s droning chord progressions and wispy vocals the entire thirty minute set, only occasionally building to something bigger, something reminiscent of the horse monster hooking a fury claw around your ankle, dragging you deeper. It pains me every time a band falls so neatly into a stereotype without offering something more remarkable with their obvious talent and dedication. From there it seemed Iron & Wine could only improve the night.Sam Beam came out with a backing band of 12, including singers, strings, woodwinds, and brass, as if he were some white, bearded Duke Ellington. That backing crew is a part of Iron & Wine’s new blue-eyed soul sound, all pale and awkward, looking like Beam recruited them from a Savannah, Georgia private school. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Against Me! barrel on at the Triple Rock Social Club

Against Me! didn’t slow down. For nearly an hour and a half the Florida punk band barely spoke a word to the sold out Triple Rock crowd between beating their guitar strings and shouting over the thundering kick drum. The kids in the pit were whipped up and dangerous, the older punks in the back stomped their feet and sang along. It was as if everyone had come in out of the rain to get something urgent off their chests.Against Me! Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Red Daughters and Bigtree Bonsai at the Triple Rock Social Club: Country, but not too much country

Country, but not too much country, is in. On Thursday, September 12, bands Bigtree Bonsai and Red Daughters played their indie sets with nods to the past.Following guitar/producer duo Negative Breach, Bigtree Bonsai opened with songs from their first full-length, dropping in December. These songs varied, fitting in with current acts Band of Horses and Avett Brothers, accented with grooves and solos that remind me of favorite Zepplin and Skynyrd tracks.Having added to the building-to-a-soar rhythm section heart-forward lyrics that only occasionally borrow from clichés and huge three- and four-part harmonies, Bigtree Bonsai has produced memorable and affecting tracks like “The Game” and “Rain in the Wintertime,” that bring chills and all.It’s good, appealing whiskey music, whether that whiskey’s sipped at a UMN frat party, while barhopping in Northeast, or around a Boundary Waters campfire.Andrea Swensson said of them, “I’ve been starved for music with grit and teeth lately, and [“Black Iron”] by Bigtree Bonsai appealed to me right away for that reason. They’re a little country, a little blues, a little stomp-y, but not in a contrived way. I definitely want to check these guys out live.”Having fielded a much smaller crowd than the headliners Red Daughters, Bigtree Bonsai needs more of that, though it should be easy if they can, like in Swensson’s case, just get their music into your hands.Finishing the night was the often—and rightly—hailed Red Daughters. Continue Reading