Sunday, February 18, 2018

Valerie June with Birds of Chicago First Avenue Minneapolis, February 17, 2018

by Cyn Collins
Photography by Mark Wojahn

Southern Comfort

Sweet soul solace was brought to Minneapolis via Valerie June’s concert Saturday night, February 17 at First Avenue Mainroom. Chicago-based Birds of Chicago husband and wife duo JT Nero and Allison Russell, kicked off the evening with inspirational old-timey country, blues and hollers. This was their fifth and final night touring with June, who they expressed much joy and gratitude for. Russell’s versatile vocals were riveting - at times ethereal, others guttural. She was adept at various instrumentation, from the clarinet to the ukulele to whistling. Nero’s gravelly vocals harkened to ‘70s country singers (they even name-checked John Prine in a song). One audience member aptly noted Nero reminded him of Lyle Lovett.

Birds of Chicago’s audience banter was funny and heartwarming. They harmonized beautifully and worked off of each other playfully. Each shared a story of their grandparents between songs. Nero wore his grandfather’s wool hat that he’d worn 41 years, then sang a song inspired by his grandfather. Russell talked about being inspired by her Scottish grandmother in Saskatchewan before singing heartwrenching “Barley,” a dark, mesmerizing song serving as a salve during these painful days. They closed their set with “American Flowers,” a folk tune inspired by Woodie Guthrie, and driving across vast plains, that they encouraged the audience sing along to the chorus, as is folk tradition.

Valerie June entered dramatically draped in a leopard print cape, her band sharply dressed, a couple guys had great beards. They opened with “The Hour,” instrumentally sounding like tight, classic Motown, replete with organs and bangles. June hauntingly hummed, before singing the bittersweet and yet hopeful song, causing audience members to sway early in. 

She then shed the cape, exposing a stunning sparkling playfully cute outfit in black, onyx and silver with powder blue cowboy boots. Tennessee native June was as sparkling as her outfit, refreshingly delightful and charming, impish in her warmly humorous stories delivered with her sweet Southern accent. She talked to the audience as intimately as though we were hanging out in her kitchen, for instance sharing a tale of kicking her man out. Like . . . you know how it feels when you want to throw out all his stuff out at once, real fast, along with the couch, and the couch barely fits through the door but you push it through anyway, so then the door’s broke, so you ask him to fix the door before he leaves? “It’s Tennessee, it’s warm, we have time for him to do that here!” She quips.

 

Time was a prevalent theme throughout June’s music and the show. They performed songs from her stunning second full-length record, The Order of Time, such as“Man Done Wrong” “The Front Door” the rousing “Got Soul” “Slip Slide on By” “If And” and “Just In Time.” At various points June talked about concepts of time, time in our lives, inevitability, aging, loss, grief and transcendence. 


They also performed songs from her preceding album, Pushin’ Against A Stone, such as “Tennessee Time.” Between songs, June shared strong messages in her sweet voice, crackling at times with emotion from the heart, at times evoking an old wise woman or a shaman, speaking from another plane. Before singing “You Can’t Be Told,” she encouraged audience members to rid their self-doubt. “Don’t let family or friends tell you how to be. When they tell you “don’t do this,” “Don’t do that,” continue to do what feels right to you!” she advised.
The band guys left the stage, while June sang acoustic, “Workin’ Woman Blues” telling the women we are all goddesses and dedicated that song to us. This soul-stirring song featured African rhythms, as did many during the show. For a few of the songs she played the banjo, that old instrument that originated in Africa. She played it in ways it used to be played before bluegrass, with more African, and old-timey Appalachian style and rhythms.

Her vocals also referenced old-time country and honky tonk with twang, singing with crackle and spitfire, laughter bubbling at the surface ala Wanda Jackson. Her band was excellent and fun, including a phenomenal pedal steel player. They were very tight and sometimes playful, and sang great harmonies with June. They played in an amalgam of styles from country soul to old time gospel, to African, honky tonk and old timey.

At times her songs sounded like they came from another space and time. Her unique angelic vocals soared and lifted the heart, her poetic lyrics inspiring to the core. She shared a story about hearing a beautiful voice in her head, then quickly writing the song down so she wouldn’t forget it, as one does with a dream sometimes. Then she sang us that beautiful mesmerizing song, “Twined and Twisted.”

The show had fun twists, moving from sweet country soul songs to old country blues stompers such as “Shakedown,” where June showed her dance skills and made people dance. June laughed while she emphatically told us she dances every day, every single day. She turns the music loud, then “I go like this [gives a high kick, then shows seriously wild dance moves] then the neighbors complain. I tell them, 'it’s only 10 minutes!'” she retorts every time.

There was so much heartwarming humor. When June pulled out a very small banjo, she introduced it as "Baby Banjo" and informed us she wasn’t sure “she” [Baby Banjo] would ever play, but then one day she “sang like Aretha! She laid it down.” June cooed, cradling her little banjo like a proud mama. She gestured at the bigger banjo she’d played oft throughout the show, introducing it as Mama Banjo, then introduced the bandmembers, noting they are like family.

The show felt like a dream sometimes, spellbinding as June spoke entrancingly about experiencing the feeling of the very dark cozy space just before sleep, floating in the clouds, or talking about fairy dust, in the palm of our hands, as we look for the light in ourselves. How it feels to have lived a beautiful day, simply because we lived for one more day.

Toward the end, June expressed her love for Minneapolis, how great the First Avenue staff and venue are, performing the Cedar in the past, the beautiful people, the ethnic food, and looking forward to going to the mega mall, because “I love shopping, as you can see” laughingly gesturing at her sparkling sequin suit. June explained she was wearing the sparkling suit tonight to symbolize how she wanted people to feel, to know they can find their light inside, let it shine. Then she sang her inspiring song about finding your light within, “Astral Plane.”

Like shots of Southern Comfort for the soul, the Valerie June performance was just what so many of us needed. Afterwards, a local musician/ audience member expressed to me what I’d also experienced, that this was just the show he needed. It made our hearts feel good. Her music, stories and spirit were healing, lifting people up from cold, loneliness, and sadness in these hard times. It brought people together, congregating in the warmth and inspiration of a truly unique, authentic artist. We can’t wait to see her again.


Friday, March 31, 2017

Night Moves/The Black-Eyed Snakes/Mike Munson at Turf Club March 24

The Midwest Music Fest Showcase at Turf Club gave the audience a delectable taste of what to expect at the Fest in Winona, MN April 28 and 29. The showcase began with great old-time country and stomp blues of Winona's Mike Munson, singing classic, and classic sounding songs about traveling, trains, loss with emotive inflection over his highly skilled slide guitar and driving stomp rhythms.

Black-Eyed Snakes sinuous, sinewy music grabs you and shakes you to the core. Stirring up something primal in the soul, the near trance-inducing heavy repetitive rhythms makes you want to dance and grind. Percussion is at the forefront of The Black-Eyed Snakes music, with vocals and guitar by Alan Sparhawk, guitar by Bob Olson, a drum duo Brad Nelson and Bryan "Lefty" Johnson, replete with two kits, as well as shakers, tamborines and more. Alan Sparhawk (Low, Retribution Gospel Choir) repetitively and rebelliously sings, snarls and wretchedly howls into the dark night of the soul. Their swamp and boogie blues songs swirled with heavy psych, at other times funky '70s funk and soul, at others slow, heavy dirges such as "Don't Kick Me Out," were performed with punk propulsion and Sparhawk's distorted vocals and cathartic abandon.

Night Moves were fantastic to see again, performing new songs - releasing Pennied Days on Domino Records March 25. Their unique psych-country with a lush haunting sound, slow groove and primal pulse with achingly poignant lyrics and vocals pull the heartstrings. Their dreamy, shimmery psych pop with moving vocals transports you to another place and time. Night Moves sound Beatles-esque, with tinges of Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young and 70s California dessert sounds. As they played earlier songs such as one of their first, "Headlights" the audience sang along, swaying, dreamily enrapt. Their newer songs sound classic already.



Be sure to catch these bands at the Midwest Music Fest Showcase at in Winona, MN April 28 and 29!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Revenge Wedding DEBUT & SXSW SENDOFF, North Of Grand and ELEGANZA! March 14, 2017

Eleganza! kicked off the Debut show of Revenge Wedding like a shotgun. Eleganza! tore up the stage, with their intensely tight instrumentation, and a fine balance between tautly timed, impassioned vocals and at times campy delivery, remniscent of the Rolling Stones. Having seen every show I could over their decade of delivering real rock 'n' roll, I can say, like the best whiskey they've gotten even better over time. Brian Vanderwerf's voice is stronger and more nuanced than ever, his guitarwork with fellow guitarists Jeff Johnson and Greg McAloon, intricately intertwining and raucously playing off each other. Tony Zaccardi is stellar on bass - versatile in punk, funk, rock and country rhythms and bass riffs, and fluidly holding it down whereever Eleganza! goes. Zaccardi's former Kruddler mate, Tim Baumgart, one of the best drummers in town, keeps everything rock steady and exciting. Altogether, Eleganza! are easily one of the most rocking bands in town, that deserve more recognition locally and internationally.

Songs from their forthcoming new album, such as "Man On The Move," sound like classic rock 'n' roll already, with the defiant lyrics of a band that's done their time and seen it all, and gonna keep on movin':  "I'm a man on the move, I've got nothin' to prove to you. Twisting up the road, no, no zip code. Standin' in the crowd, same shit show. I'm a man on the move, I've got nothin' to prove to you . . . but I still do. I still . . . do!"

Lead singer/guitarist Brian Vanderwerf said they were gonna slow things down a bit, and went into the  slow burner "Old News" an excellent nostalgic country song that will tear your heart out and would've made Merle proud. This has become a fast favorite of mine. More songs such as rebel-rousing "Big City Fill" is a prime example of how Eleganza! is real rock 'n' roll, strong, fast and tight, yet kicking ass, wild and loose at the same time, thrilling, making you feel stuff, and and wanna dance. It's always a bummer to see them end, as it goes way too fast. But they have another show March 30 at the Hook and Ladder, and a new, highly anticipated full-length record coming out this summer, so look out!

North of Grand, a trio from Des Moines, Iowa performed an excellent rock show, with tinges of metal and tight melodies. They sounded inspired by some of the best indie rock bands of the '90s and 00s such as Queens of the Stone Age.

Revenge Wedding, debuted in advance of their SXSW tour. Their name is both intriguing and funny - as the best names do, this one came from a joke between band members a few years back. Their cool T-shirt featuring an image of Lou Reed's Transformer album cover was a great enticer for what was to come from: Brent Hedtke, Reed Wilkerson, J Cole Blodgett, Brent Hanson (the members of Guns 'n' Roses tribute band Appetite for Zaccardi, except for Zaccardi). Self-described as: "four beautiful boys with more hooks than a god damn tackle box" was aptly accurate.

Lead singer Wilkerson has cut his long locks short, now sporting a blonde shag ala Iggy Pop circa '70s when he lived with Bowie in Berlin. Wilkerson seemed more in his element than ever, singing wildly and freely, while taking on some of the spirit of Iggy in his stage mannerisms, twisting and writhing dance and dramatic pose-striking, backed by one of the tightest, most solid rock bands in town.

They performed with a propulsive rocket-fueled energy. Guitarist Brent Hedtke (Metalagher, Vulgaari) was mesmerizing to hear and watch.












Revenge Wedding is a great full force rock band with great energy and a riveting stage show. They sounded exceptionally promising right out of the gate, with exciting, excellent rock songs with hooks that sounded somehow familiar already as good rock songs do. I look forward to seeing more from Revenge Wedding soon.

Photography by Mark Wojahn

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

SXSW Day 5 - March 17, 2012

96 Bar on Rainey Street, St. Patrick's Day

Lustre Pearl, Rainey St.


Lustre Pearl!

People hanging out enjoying the beautiful St. Patty's Day in the backyard of the Lustre Pearl before OFF! take over with loud old-school punk!

Spotify occupies an entire wicked green house.

Whoever actually wears these shades back home, gets called a hipster.

Whoa-oh-oh, magic "vintage" bus! So cool. Want.

Get the feeling I liked Hotel Vegas? Hotel Vegan during SXSW as Brooklyn Vegan resided with awesome rock parties over 4 days here, two metal parties elsewhere, and more! Over 95 bands! .05% of the festival! Brooklyn Vegan, a great blog I learned about via the festival and fellow Rockstar Motel advisor, rules!

Diamond Rugs, easily one of the funnest, and my most favorite bands I saw at SXSW. This is an alt-rock/psych/country supergroup composed of members of: The Black Lips, Los Lobos, Dead Confederate and Deer Tick. This was at 6 p.m. at Hotel Vegan. I loved them so much, I wanted to see them again right away. Happily I had that chance again at the end of the evening!

Hotel Vegas inside post-Diamond Rugs. Pretty mellow scene for St. Pat's Day on the last day of SXSW.


Back patio of Hotel Vegas

Okervil River, of Austin, TX joined the bill at the last minute. Yay!

Happy people enjoying the day.

Loved Okervil River! I could've listened to their uplifting, slightly anthemic-but-not-too-much music which at the time to me sounded a bit like Talking Heads meets early Arcade Fire, but ultimately they really had their own awesome folk rock thing going on. I was so happy to see this band live. Why haven't I spun them yet on Spin with Cyn! Must, pronto!

Sunny, mellow people. More St. Patty's Days should be like this. Thankfully I was not on 6ixth St. most of this day!

See the shades? Easily I spot Spotify house attendees.

Sunset on East Sixth Street

Bands pretty much played ever few dozen feet in Austin.

Wow, I made it to this show! A couple favorite Seattle bands of a friend who also works with Rockstar Motel. Hopefully sending the good vibes her way.

The Gracious Few

The Gracious Few

The mid to late evening scene at the Candlebox/Live/The Gracious Few show at Antone's. It was fun, but by then my feet were killing me and I was nearly burnt to a crisp. No floor space to even sit, sigh.

Live. Wow, I had no idea I would remember all the lyrics to these songs!

Live

St. Patrick's Day Street scene

First time recharging (iPhone and self) in at least 6 hours.

1:00 a.m. I was going to go home, but . . . a chance to see Diamond Rugs again, twice in the same day? And to expose a friend to them as well? Alright, let's go! I saw First Avenue booker Sonia who also saw them earlier in the day and loved them as much as I! Already these songs sounded very familiar and I had favorites. The banter in between sets was funny. At the beginning of the set a lead singer discussed his appreciation of Prince and his big question of whether he danced in high heels, someone asured him that he did. Quandary solved, they kicked off a set with a great country rock song. Later, they did a cover of the Replacements "I Don't Know." Seems they had Minneapolis, on their minds. Hopefully enough to come play here! Their first record is being released April 24, 2012. I can't wait! Till then, you'll hear their great single, "Gimme a Beer!" in regular rotation on KFAI Spin with Cyn.

Lustre Pearl bathroom. Beautiful!

Lustre Pearl, Rainey Street. One of my favorite bars in Austin.

Lustre Pearl

Lustre Pearl

You can pretty much see through this shotgun house straight onto the big stage. Sounds like this little house with missing windows and doors has better sightlines than the Brick.

We love Diamond Rugs, so fine, so fun, in so many ways! What a perfect ending to a spectacular SXSW, rife with great music discoveries such as this.