MUSIC | Art Vandalay at the 501: Good music, nothing suspicious about it

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It’s my very first time at 501 Club in downtown Minneapolis, and I’m greatly looking forward to my visit. For one thing, it’s owned and run by the same fellas who have the 331 Club over Northeast, but this is much closer to my crib. The 331 is a class, low-key outfit: good drinks, great customer service. It’s not easy to come by that combination. The other reason I’m stoked is that I’ve been promising myself for practically ever to catch me a set by singer-songwriter Art Vandalay. His album Dancin’ With Your Demons is beautifully-done acoustic rock and I can’t wait to see if he’s as good live as he is on the disc.

Jeez, talk about the best-laid plans going straight to Hades in a hand basket. Art Vandalay is late, very late setting up and checking sound. During which time I learn there will be no mistaking the cordial, attentive staff at 331 for the folk at 501. Not by a long shot. I could die of thirst before anyone asks to take my order. It’s not a case of them being too busy: there isn’t a real big crowd this particular Thursday evening. Maybe 30, 35 customers spread out over a good sized, double-deck expanse. The lady waiting tables glances briefly at me, looks away, and keeps right on going. This happens twice. And when she isn’t covering stations, she’s blithely chatting it up with the bartender. I give myself a sniff test—maybe one of my cats peed on my jeans. Nope. I’m good. Aw, well, what the hell, it won’t kill me to do without my customary double-Jack-rocks. My liver might even thank me for it.

Art Vandalay finally gets going and I settle in to enjoy the music. It’s a good set. Sounds kinda Byrdsy, real catchy folk-rockish stuff. He’s on vocals and guitar backed by a keyboadist/backup singer and a drummer—though it, of course, doesn’t quite come up to the album, but it’s still damned good. “Fool’s Gold” and “Northern Lights,” a song he says a guy at the bar inspired, are just two of several tightly rendered, comfortably laid-back selections. And the more the guys play the better it gets. Then, out of nowhere, one of the staff walks over and dumps a couple cases of Pabst right down on my table. Without so much as a by-your-leave. Doesn’t even acknowledge that I’m sitting there. Just takes a six pack to the bar, comes back for another and, eventually, carts the rest of the cans away. I’ve heard of rude, but this takes the proverbial cake. I decide I’ll say something to the manager when I get the chance. For now, I’ve got some tasty, live music to review.

Not for long. Two or three songs later, this guy with the lousy manners comes up and orders me out of the club. Walks me to the door, in fact. Naturally, I ask him why. “You look suspicious”, he tells me. “You’re just sitting there, not ordering.” Turns out, he informs me, he thinks I’m casing the joint so I can come back later, after it’s closed, break in and rob the place. I’m not making this up, swear to God, those were his very words. Now, mind you, there’s no cover charge and no—at least posted, anyway—drink minimum. Not to mention the only way I’d’ve been able to get so much as a glass of water would’ve been to stick out my foot and trip the woman waiting tables. It doesn’t do any good to explain that I’m there doing a review of Art Vandalay. He just says, “Mm-hm,” nods, turns his back and goes inside. I make up my mind to go home, double-check my jeans and, if necessary, have a word or two with my cats.

Looking at the glass as half-full, the night’s not a wash. I got to catch enough Art Vandalay—7, 8 numbers—to legitimately say he was worth waiting for. Maybe not the whole half-hour it took, but once he got going it was all Grade-A. I think, though, next time I go see him it’ll be somewhere else.