6/23/15

Scene Report: Babes in Toyland at Rock the Garden

Babes in Toyland live; Rock the Garden; Mpls, Mn; 6/21/15
By Nathan G. O'Brien for Scene Point Blank


It’s difficult for me to write about Babes in Toyland without sounding at least a little bit gushy. Like other local-ish acts from their same era that made waves beyond the confines of the Twin Cities (Bob Mould, Soul Asylum, The ‘Mats) Babes had a lore about them that was intriguing and important to a north woods-dwelling punk rock-craving youngster like myself. There was Lollapalooza in the Civic Center in 1993, the uncountable suicide runs to see them play First Avenue—down from Bemidji and back up again in the same night, just in time to make it to class the next day—and the last local reunion back in 2001. And then there was the birthday message from drummer Lori Barbero that I saved on my phone for so long that it was eventually deleted when it exceeded the allowed number of days. To say I was excited to see them play again for the first time in 14 years would be a bit of an understatement.

Following a spirited set by Seun Kuti—son of revered Afrobeat artist Fela Kuti, and brother of Femi Kuti—who, playing alongside his father’s old backing band Egypt 80, performed the best hour plus of music Rock the Garden had to offer up until this point (rivaled only by the previous night’s headliner Belle and Sebastian) the trio took to the stage to an eagerly awaiting audience.

Things got off to a jittery start with “Bruise Violet” when the three sort of fumbled over each other. It wouldn’t be the last misstep of the evening, but that mattered little, as every time they were able to laugh it off and get right back into things without must disruption. And if a lyric was missed, and there were a few, the crowd filled in for them.

Barbero took to the mic early to express her gratitude. “Minneapolis is the place to be today. I promised I wouldn’t cry.” Then with a slight tremble, “But that’s going to be really hard.”

Following along the Fontanelle tracklist, they played an inspired version “Right Now”, which had some of the elders abandoning their positions near the front of the stage; amidst a cloud of dust they turned and headed for more stable ground further up the hill.

And then it was singer-guitarist Kat Bjelland’s turn to speak. “It’s nice to be here. We missed you. Our kids are here.” She paused to point out bass player Maureen Herman’s daughter and her own son (who could be seen headbanging stage-side throughout most of the set) before stating, “I’m really happy.”

They pounded through a lengthy set that drew heavily upon the three releases that this “classic” lineup of Babes recorded: Fontanelle, the Painkillers EP, and Nemesisters. Seeing them play songs like “Handsome and Gretel” and “Sweet ‘69” in the blazing hot sun conjured fond memories of the alt/punk festival boom of the ‘90s that Babes in Toyland frequented.

During “Spit to See the Shine”, one of two tracks in set from the To Mother EP, Bjelland really let go with her signature wails, showing her vocal capabilities haven’t lost any steam over the years. It’s awesome to see the song that inspired a 2006 retrospective collection of Twin Cities bands featuring women (Spit To See The Shine: Twin Cities Women Who Rocked 1987 – 1998) take such a prominent role in the set.

Despite their outwardly bombastic sensory assault Babes in Toyland were always sneakily groovy. In the live setting songs like “Drivin’”, the lone track featuring Lori on vocals, and “Vomit Heart”, from their debut album Spanking Machine, Herman and Barbero’s pulsing rhythm section is fully realized. The first crowd surfer of the evening appeared during the latter.

It was heartwarming to see all the young people, especially the young women, making moves to get near the front. Even more so to see adults making the necessary room for them rather than posturing with the whole “I was here first” thing that happens all too often among the arms-folded crowd. Babes in Toyland were a fierce favorite to young people and catalyst for female empowerment the first time around. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be some 20 plus years later. Perhaps even more so now, given the things each of these women have experienced in the time that’s passed since then.

They wrapped up their set with “Dust Cake Boy” and came to the front to take a sheepish bow. Barbero, always the gracious one, hung back to take photos of the audience with her giant pink-cased cell phone. And the only smile that was bigger than Lori’s was my own.

Setlist:
Bruise Violet
Right Now
Swamp Pussy
Won’t Tell
Ripe
Spit to See the Shine
He’s My Thing
Bluebell
Drivin’
Spun
Ariel
Oh Yeah
Handsome and Gretel
Vomit Heart
Sweet ’69
Dust Cake Boy

Follow Nathan on Twitter: @OMG_NOB

Photo courtesy of Michael Speake: www.MichaelSpeake.com

Originally posted here.

6/22/15

Scene Report: Guys Wearing Old Basketball Jerseys at Rock the Garden

And headbands...or hats...or a hat with a headband on it...and sandals...




Rock the Garden, 6/23/15

6/21/15

Scene Report: Belle and Sebastian at Rock The Garden

Belle and Sebastion live; Rock the Garden; Minneapolis, MN; 6/20/15
By Nathan G. O'Brien for Scene Point Blank


As a hot and humid day began its turn towards much needed cooler temperatures, Scotland’s baroque pop sweethearts Belle and Sebastian took the stage to close out the first day of this year’s Rock the Garden; an annual weekend of music hosted by the Walker Art Center and 89.3 The Current.  Stuart Murdock, draped in his signature black and white striped longlseeve, and company started things off with “Nobody’s Empire”, a single from this year’s Girls in Peactime Want to Dance. Pausing for a brief acknowledgment from the crowd, they transitioned effortlessly into “I’m A Cuckoo” from 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress, which had even the most worn out folks up and dancing.

Murdock took a moment to address the audience, stating, “This is my kind of party. I do like a garden party. It’s very civilized.” And that couldn’t be any truer. For an event that’s taken some heat from critics in the past for playing it too safe (known by its detractors as “the yawn on the lawn”), this year’s first day lineup—including thestandard4rd, Lucius, Courtney Barnett, and Conor Oberst—wasn’t exactly a raucous one. (Fret not punkers, Babes in Toyland reunited for a co-headlining slot on Sunday.)

The crowd really started heating up by the time they played “The Party Line”, the disco-ish track from their latest album, which was followed by “Another Sunny Day” from 2006’s The Life Pursuit. Security took it upon themselves to douse the welcoming front row with cold water. Recognizing that they now had the audience in their palms the band took to the mic to share some crowd-popping anecdotes. “I went swimming in Cedar Lake today”, said guitarist Stevie Davis. Murdoch followed up with a quip about the (rumored) longstanding Minnesota tradition of “cornholing.”

While it was all teens and twentysomethings up front, when taking a look around the vast amount of people populating the hill the generational gap became more apparent. It's hard not describe the older contingency without using the tired “aging hipsters” axiom because by and large, that’s who it was. (Present company included.) Salt ‘n’ pepper bearded rad dads in faded Twin Tone Records tees and selvage denim; women in colorful printed slouch necks, large-brimmed hats, and Egyptian-style sandals. And then there’s their children; sporting oversized protective earmuffs while hanging in dad's BabyBjörns or playfully prancing around on Aztec-print blanket with mom. Rock the Garden, like many of Twin Cities events of similar ilk, is a people-watching goldmine. And if you were looking close enough you'd have spotted Woody Harrelson making his way down the hill mid-set. (He's in town filming a movie.)

The band, which had swelled in size to include local orchestra accompaniment, played a trio of songs that included two new ones and an older crowd favorite. “The Model” (Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, 2000) was sandwiched between “Cat with the Cream” and “Perfect Couples.” During the latter Davis retooled some lyrics to give them a local albeit clichéd flavor. “He was from Minneapolis; she was from St. Paul. He liked Prince; she liked the Replacements. But they both had an affinity for Spider John Koerner!”

The rest of the set included songs that spanned their catalog, with a focus on recent works, but the most magical moment of the evening came during the second to last song. It was the perfect convergence of sensory awareness, as day had given way to night completely, and the lighted backdrop of our beloved Minneapolis shone bright: the Basilica and downtown skyscrapers to the right; a crescent moon and three bright stars to the left. A large group of fans were invited to the stage to boogie alongside the band as they performed a stunningly beautiful rendition of “The Boy With the Arab Strap.”

They played one more and the day wrapped up as most festivals in Minnesota do at the end of the night: with everyone scrambling to cash in those remaining tickets on footlong corndogs. Civilized indeed.

Setlist:
Nobody’s Empire
I’m a Cuckoo
The Party Line
Another Sunny Day
Cat with the Cream
The Model
Perfect Couples
Piazza, New York Catcher
The Everlasting Muse
Jonathan David
The Wrong Girl
Dog on Wheels
Dirty Dream #2
The Boy with the Arab Strap
I Didn’t See it Coming

Follow Nathan G. O'Brien on Twitter: @OMG_NOB

Originally posted here.

6/12/15

16bars




Mpls St.Pl, MN, Spring '15

6/11/15

Scene Report: White Lung live at 7th St. Entry

White Lung live; 7th St. Entry; Minneapolis, MN; 6/11/15
By Nathan G. O'Brien for Scene Point Blank


Abandoning my beloved NBA Finals, I bounced somewhere during the third quarter and rushed downtown to catch White Lung. Upon landing in Minneapolis tonight the four-piece were at the mid-way point of their current North American tour. The first handful of gigs was alongside the recently reformed Refused, but tonight’s show, like the majority of the tour, they were supported by So-Cal longhair quartet Obliterations.

Obliterations are made up of guys from Black Mountain, Saviours, and Night Horse. They released an album on Southern Lord last year that I never got around to listening to. And unfortunately tonight I arrived at the 7th St. Entry towards that tail end of their set; only catching two and a half songs. I’d say they’re a metal-punk mix of D-beat, Bl’ast, and like, the Germs or Poison Idea. The singer thanked White Lung for taking them out on the road, and then antagonistically threw in, “You guys are really nice. If that’s what you want to be known for…being nice.” Someone in the audience took the bait and yelled out, “Minnesota nice, motherfucker!” Touché.

The Entry is one of the finer venues in this city to see fast and heavy music; it’s dark, intimate, has great sightlines, and is loud as fuck. It was really difficult to gauge the medium age of the crowd. Even though it was 18+ there was a large contingency from the 30s and 40s hip dude crew. As usual the in-between bands set changeover signaled the great stare-at-our-glowing-phones onslaught that is show-going these days. Tallboys of Old Style and Stag beer were on special for $4.00 but coming off a week that has already included Best Coast on Monday, and CJ Ramone and Shonen Knife last night, I steered clear of the bar and kept a level head.

Mish Way and co. took the stage for a brief tune-up—asking the soundman for more reverb in both her mic and the bass monitor— and then blazed into a trio of songs from last year’s Domino release Deep Fantasy: “Sycophant”, “Face Down” and “Drown the Monster.” Even though Deep Fantasy marked the band’s progression into more indie-rock territory, these songs, when played live were done with the ferociousness of their earlier work on Deranged.

White Lung’s hardcore punk meets couture aesthetic is part of the band’s uniqueness and appeal. Way appeared in skin tight leather pants, a designer spiked bracelet, and a slouch neck long-sleeve that hung off her shoulder exposing a tattoo and a black bra strap. Deap Vally’s Lyndsey Troy, who’s filling in on bass for this tour, was also looking exceptionally stylish in her all-over print crew neck sweatshirt and miniskirt.

By the time their second set of tunes came around they were really getting into stride and the audience responded appropriately. The strongest reception of the evening thus far came as a result “Bad Way” and “Bag” which are two tracks from their 2012 album Sorry. The area in front of the stage soon became a reeling dervish of gyrating hips and sweaty foreheads. Way expressed her appreciation. “After driving so long to get here, it’s nice to see you enjoying yourselves rather than standing there with your arms crossed like, ‘I’m too cool for music.’” Then adding, “That’s what they do in Russia.”

Aside from two songs (“Lucky One” and “In Your Home”) they played the entire Deep Fantasy album. The final four songs however, were two standalone singles—“Two of You” and “Blow it South” sandwiched between two from Sorry. Midway through “Thick Lip” Way’s mic cut out. In typical punk rock fashion she powered forward, screaming the lyrics at the top of her lungs as Kenneth William laid his signature squealing guitar licks on thick, and drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou pounded the skins with thunderous authority.

They ended the set with a vicious version of “Take the Mirror”, said ‘thanks’ and promptly left the stage, never to return. It was an abrupt ending that left the audience bewildered and wanting more. It was funny looking around the room at everybody as it settled in that they weren’t coming back for an encore. But I’m not complaining about a show getting over by 11-ish on a school night.


Setlist:
Sycophant
Face Down
Drown the Monster
Bad Way
Bag
Wrong Star
Snake Jaw
I Believe You
Just For You
Down it Goes
Thick Lip
Two of You
Blow it South
Take the Mirror

Follow Nathan G. O'Brien on Twitter: @OMG_NOB

Originally posted here.

6/10/15

carefree2











Minnesota Valley  National Wildlife Refuge, Summer '15

6/1/15

Record Review: Barcelona - Extremo Nihilismo En Barcelona

Barcelona - Extremo Nihilismo En Barcelona 12" EP (La Vida Es Un Mus Discos Punk)
By Nathan G. O'Brien for Scene Point Blank

Similar to how Sorry State, Vinyl Rites, Lengua Armada, or Katorga Works do here in the US, Hackney, London-based record label La Vida Es Un Mus (subtitled Discos Punk) tend to work with bands that challenge the constraints of traditional hardcore and punk, which in turn sets them apart from the masses. The latest in a long line that includes Anasazi, Escroto De Rata, Hoax, my personal favorite, Glam (with whom Barcelona share members,) and most-recently LA’s Blazing Eye, comes this new 12” 45 rpm EP, Extremo Nihilismo En Barcelona. And yes, the quartet is indeed named after their residence in Barcelona, Spain.

All the lyrics are in Spanish, and sung by the former vocalist of Firmeza 10. Her nasally throat oozes malice that is impossible to shake; a true voice of the angry and alienated. The bass and drums have a peculiar rigidness to them; certainly in the D-beat vein, but not dumbed-down Discharge worship by any means. It pulls you cranium first into mean-mugged, head-nodding obedience. The guitars surge forth with power; every so often spinning out of control in a squealing, fitful manner that will have you involuntarily shaking your body as if you’re fighting off an exorcism. Extremo Nihilismo En Barcelona is a completely entrancing, unsettling 10 minutes. It serves as another reminder of why we all got into this punk shit in the first place, and why we’ll never abandon it.

Originally posted here.