I don’t spend much time in the Warehouse District. Don’t go there at all, actually, since Babalú closed almost a year ago. Accordingly, I paid the devil trying to get around that vicinity at all, let alone find JJ’s Dry Dock Café. Went this way and that, asked the bartender at JD Hoyt’s no less than twice—probably three times—where the place was and, God bless her, she was patient.
When I arrived, it proved to be well worth it. The joint is classy but not stuck-up, with a nice patio where you can catch the band and luxuriate in outdoor ambience. Added to which, Bruce Jackson and the Moondogs are a fascinating outfit, solid musicians working strong material behind a very effective fronting duo. The genre is blues and jazz done real tight. Bruce Jackson (piano, vocals) holds down the blues side of things, Beth Dodd (vocals) holds down the jazz, and both these seasoned pros are tight.
And their backup band cooked. Jackson was moonlighting away from New Primitives, which he rejoined last year after a way-long absence. Jackson contributed the pricelessly ribald “Bangkok Ellie” to New Primitives and will be writing and singing he’s doing for New Prims’ overdue second CD American Nomad. The guy has a feel for laid-back, natural funk. Brings it in his own wizened voice. Beth Dodd sings so sweet it’s hard to believe. Her flawless clarity brings Yvonne Elliman to mind, except Dodd employs grit along with the same quality of polish. Her intonation, phrasing, and overall chops in general are first rate. The music, in short, was, whether anything ailed you or not, just what the doctor ordered.
Glancing around between tunes, I saw that the dean of Twin Cities blues, the honorable Willie Murphy his own self, was there digging on the sounds. I went over and made a nuisance of myself—including bugging him to get up on stage (like it was my show or something). Thankfully, he was gracious and allowed me to go back to my table without calling for security. When I left, Murphy, Bruce Jackson, and Beth Dodd were talking shop and such.
JJ Dry Dock Café is at 401 N. 3rd St., south of Washington Ave. on 5th Ave. Get a map. Bruce Jackson and the Moondogs have a pretty full dance card through at least the middle of August. To find out when they’re playing where, look the band up online at myspace.com/moondogs88.
The next Thursday, it was a pleasure to catch Jackson for the second week in a row, this time as part of New Primitives for their regular gig at Nye’s, right by the Hennepin Bridge in Northeast Minneapolis. The purpose was to see the revised lineup in wake of recent upheaval. There’s a different guitarist now—Joel Schaan—and some question as to the status of drummer Joel “Family Man” Arpin, who, with frontman Stanley Kipper (drums, percussion, vocals) and Chico Perez (percussion, vocals) formed the core of New Primitives at its inception. In fact, the three of them were the crux of seminal Afro-Cuban rock outfit One World, which preceded New Prims and spurred several other careers. At this writing, he had been gone from the band several weeks. The door, however, remained open for his return.
That night the lineup was Kipper, Perez, Schaan, Jackson, Matt “Matteo” Stevens (bass, vocals), and Daryk “Durwood” Narum (baritone sax). It was on, too. In characteristic fashion, just about everything they played turned into a marathon jam that had the crowd whooping, hollering and shaking their hips. (The crowd, by the way, including New Prims’ other bassist Tommy Peterson, who got up and played.)
The newest Primitive clearly is a fine match and helps the band nail down the sound from its first album—a tight, freewheeling gumbo of Latin grooves and soul grit. Schaan, who will be on American Nomad, is economic, tasty, and plays with passion. He got to step up front and sing a solid rendition of the old Frank Zappa/Captain Beefheart ballad “Lucille (Has Messed My Mind Up).” Stevens aired his considerable pipes as well, taking lead on “Mary Jane,” Rick James’s timeless tribute to herb-induced happiness. Kipper did a splendid version of Prims staple “Bring Me Down,” and Jackson sang “Bangkok Ellie.”
Bruce Jackson and the Moondogs at JJ’s Dry Dock Café amounted to fine, relaxing fare in the evening air. New Primitives, at Nye’s, played get-up-and-boogie-down music at its best. Your truly highly recommends both.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.
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