A Wake, a Scavenger Hunt, and a Prison: Sending Off Brother and Sister


*Brother and Sister*
*various locations*

For a band named “Best Performer” by the _City Pages_ last year, extravagant concerts from the group “Brother and Sister”:http://www.brother-and-sister.com should come as no surprise. However, this past Saturday the band, made up of siblings Michael and Katie Gaughan, organized an event that surely amazed even the die-hardest of fans. Dubbed the “Sister Send-Off Show,” it was all-day extravaganza, part rock and roll festival and part scavenger hunt. The sum of these parts was an experience that its participants will not soon forget.

Besides playing guitar and singing in the band, Michael is a visual artist, a Special Education Assistant at the Golden Valley Arts High School, and a teacher for MCAD’s Continuing Studies program. Drummer Katie is a University of Minnesota student majoring in Journalism and Women’s Studies, as well as editing the student-run magazine, _The Wake_. Her departure for study abroad in Northern Ireland was the motivation for the show.

The two saw the event as an elaborate reversal of an Irish custom. “In Ireland,” Michael said, “when people would leave for America, they’d have a wake because they’d never see them again. They’d have a big party to send them off. So it’d be funny to have a party because she’s going to Ireland.” This was more than just a party, though, as participants needed to decode clues to determine the day’s performance venues.

A combination of an encrypted eBay listing and Michael’s MySpace site revealed that the event would begin at the Oak Street Cinema at 9:00 Saturday morning. About 80 people piled in to watch Woodcut, who played messy, yet entertaining rock and roll, as archaic home movies rolled behind them. The clue, shown afterwards, was a short film of a “NE Marshall Ave” sign and the Marshall manufacturing plant. Befuddled, we looked to Woodcut’s lead singer, also named Marshall for help, and he flashed a fresh tattoo on his arm with directions to the Metrodome Light Rail station.

At the Metrodome, we found a piece of paper and a Confederate flag in a plastic bag. On the paper was printed a Scottish woman and a tank top (Lass + Top equaled “Last Stop”). With the Confederate flag representing South, we realized that we were heading to the Light Rail’s last stop in the southern direction, The Mall of America. At the Mall, a series of clues took us to Prints Plus, Camp Snoopy, the Bose store, and finally to the entrance of the Rainforest Café. (The last clue was a poster with eight pictures of Ali G and the word “OR” printed underneath: Ali G + 8 + OR equaled “alligator.”) As people started looking around the Café’s large animatronic beast, a “security officer” approached us and said that we had to follow him. We were given white biohazard-type suits and told to board two school buses for our next, extremely unexpected, destination: the recently closed Scott County Jail located in Shakopee.

“I’ve been trying to have a show in a prison for over a year,” Michael said, and his wish came true on Saturday. The mythologies of B.B. King and Johnny Cash’s prison performances seemed to crystallize as we were lead into a cell block for performances by Faggot and Brother and Sister. The first band, whose lead singer acted as the Mall “security officer,” raced through their set of thrashing and pounding rock as the crowd danced in the cramped space.

Brother and Sister then took the “stage” to play a short set. (The two were actually supposed to perform at Camp Snoopy, yet the Camp’s administration unexpectedly cancelled the show on Friday.) Michael is especially known for his creatively-wrought guitars; for this show he brought out the Quad Chopper, which has four guitars combined into one, each neck jutting outwards to form an “X.” Moreover, a special harness allowed him to spin the instrument while playing, giving new meaning to the term “windmill guitar.” Their short set consisted of just a few songs, including the crowd favorite “Best Sister Ever,” its letters shouted repeatedly over a wash of Michael’s dissonant, distorted guitar and Katie’s crashing drums.

Gaughan wanted this “Jailhouse Rock” to evoke the idea of a music video; as one of my fellow, um, inmates put it, on the level of “pure rock awesomeness” this was something pretty extraordinary. Faggot’s guitarist concurred, shouting “This is probably the last time you can dance in a jail!” Thinking beyond fantasy fulfillment or anti-authoritarian hedonism, however, left me rather conflicted. The blatant anti-establishment stance of Faggot, most obviously in their choice of name and their songs (one was called “Fuck You America”) rang a bit hollow. Whatever authorities were being fought by the band, they were not those representing the prison, who did not even charge Gaughan for the show. One of the two men overseeing the event helpfully walked participants over to the adjacent courthouse to use the bathroom. More generally, no one was actually incarcerated in the jail, in contrast to the millions of people who are imprisoned in the US, including the highly disproportionate number of African-Americans in this country’s prison-industrial complex. It was hard, then, to completely celebrate the experience of seeing a rock and roll show in an unused prison.

After returning to the Mall, we again boarded the Light Rail, as word spread that we were to depart at the Franklin Avenue station. Three more clues led us in succession to the Blue Nile, the corner of Franklin Avenue and 28th Street, and ultimately the Matthews Recreation Center, the final location of the night. Here, the audience participated in games of basketball, kickball, and dodgeball, to the strains of J+N, Haunted House, and Bri Smith, performing as I Miss My Best Friend Forever.

After such an exhausting day, what did Katie think of her extravagant sendoff? “I was really honored,” she said. “It was fun to see so many familiar faces.” She was especially happy to see the development of “a community within the audience,” from pooling their collective wisdom in deciphering clues to playing kickball in the Matthews Park gym.

Michael echoed these sentiments, as he wanted “to give an audience a chance to have fun, more than just be passive, to have as much fun as the band is having.” As the sound ricocheted off the steel and concrete walls of the Scott County Jail, audience members joined in to play different parts of the Quad Chopper, fulfilling his goal as any remaining barriers between performer and audience were demolished. Given the wholly unique experience that was the Sister Send-Off Show, Brother and Sister will have their work cut out for them in surpassing this effort when Katie returns.

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Posted 1.16.05