I hate the cold and am thoroughly convinced all this snow in Minnesota is a white conspiracy. But the Twin Cities area is a good market for writers. So, I find myself dressing in layers, headed out to cover the Devine Collection at the Fine Line in Minneapolis on the coldest night, so far, of the year. This is good a time as any to ask myself just how crazy I am about vocalist-songsmith Steph Devine.
The answer, of course, is very. Otherwise, I’d rather dance bare-butt on barbed wire than walk out the door. This woman is a force with which the Twin Cities music scene would do well to reckon. Doesn’t take a crystal ball to see she has a future.
Devine, for starters, is manager and band member for R&B-rock phenoms The New Congress (who are headlining the show, hawking their long-awaited, hellified new album, Anguish, Love & Romance). Second, she’s a top-flight singer-songwriter. There’s a compilation disc from Pachyderm Studios, So Large We Ran Out Of Room…Again that has Devine waxing sultry on her haunting ballad “This Is What It’s Like.” If she does that song tonight I’ll come back home froze but feelin’ fine.
Turns out, the Devine Collection doesn’t do the song. They take the stage and, from open to close, it isn’t a night for ballads. It’s funky time, as this band is about a hard-charged, urban groove. And all God’s chillun got chops. Weighing in with Devine are vocalists Jessica Johnson and Debra G, guitarist-vocalist Jesse Larson, Russ King from The New Congress on keys, Pat Nelson (bass) and Barry Alexander (drums). Johnson is, in a nutshell, one of the baddest singers God ever saw fit to give breath. She can bring gut-bucket soul one minute and be sweetly subtle the next, and has all the stage presence in the world. Debra G hangs tough, has a strong set of pipes. Alexander drums so tight and nasty he could, you’ll pardon my French, put his foot up Godzilla’s ass. All of which leaves me quizzical and frustrated as the band cooks hot on a set largely comprising pedestrian material. Added to which Larson perpetrates a grandstanding cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff” that is all overkill. He’s a fine guitarist, but lapses into one of those see-how-many-notes-I-can-play-real-fast-at-one-time moves. He’s a fine vocalist, but lapses into gratuitous look-at-me-have-soul phrasing that simply doesn’t work. Ultimately, it was disappointing that the Devine Collection didn’t feature more of Steph Devine taking center stage.
It just wasn’t my night, because The New Congress weren’t much better. This outfit is well known for providing fire-fueled music. Where most bands sound better in the studio than on-stage, The New Congress customarily burn the walls of a joint. They actually improve on their records, wearing a song to the bone with inspired jamming and, their trademark, pure, unbridled passion married to downright evil chops. Not tonight. Frontman Aaron “Orange A.C.” Cosgrove is a rising star. The guy is one of most inventive cats around, in a climate crawling with inventive cats. He sings great, writes great and can play guitar like nobody’s business. Regrettably, Cosgrove chose to go more with sizzle than steak. He strutted across the stage without playing much guitar, and when he did pick his instrument up, it was mainly to play chords and only occasionally burn blistering riffs. I left at intermission.
All was not lost. Before going, I got introduced to show-opener Alison Scott (only caught the tail end of her set), who kicks the R&B ballistics to the bone. She handed me a package of her music. Went myself on home, slapped some Alison Scott on the box and, trust me, homegirl can sang. Not just sing, she sangs. Scott brings it.
Bottom line, I think I’ll limit my reviews, for the near future, at least, to staying indoors and putting a disc in the machine. This weather and me just don’t get along.