Songs for Juliet, a celebration of unicorn moms for Katy Vernon’s CD early preview at the Hook and Ladder

Katy Vernon celebrated her birthday with a fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society called Songs for Juliet, a tribute to her mother. She was kind enough to invite everyone. It was also a sneak preview of her upcoming CD, which was a treat.

Vernon’s catch phrase is “sad songs on a happy instrument”; the show last night was a demonstration of that marriage of opposites. She has a very upbeat persona, slightly self-deprecating, wears light-up shoes and plays the ukulele, while her songs pull hard at the heart strings. I heard this especially in Heart is in Your Hands, a song for her daughters Lily and Daisy; it’s a sweet slower song with an added emotional aspiration in her voice last night. Very touching.

Somebody’s Daughter is apparently a song in progress, written for the powerful women in her family. It showcases her clear voice highlighted with slight modulation. Vernon has a strong, very pretty voice. The deceptively upbeat nature complements the dark humor of a song like Five O’clock – a song about her own battle with alcohol, which she is wining. Taking the old phrase – it’s 5:00 somewhere – a phrase that usually conjures a gregarious image of folks on vacation or in the pub together and putting it on the face of a young mother at home is realistic look at what motherhood and life with alcohol can look like. There’s an important backdoor to feminism in the song; an example of women in art owning the things that are hard for women today.

It was great to see her with the full band. The band gives a range of genres that one instrument just can’t do. Look to the Sea has a bold festive feel, Undertow has a twang and some songs have a feel of old radio shows. The horn especially is a great counter to her voice – both loud and strong but different. I loved the keyboard in Lily, it sounded like a xylophone. Lily, about Vernon’s daughter, was a song that caught my ear because my oldest daughter is named Lily, after Pictures of Lily. But I think I’m going to tell my Lily that I named her after this song, it’s much more mom-approved.

The night began with Home Fires, a duet of Vicky Emerson and Sarah Morris. I think it was Morris who used a phrase that captured a theme for the night. She mentioned how glad she was to meet other moms who were musicians – a creature to her that seemed as rare as unicorns. So they sang for the unicorn moms. That feeling isn’t restricted to musician moms.

The Home Fires sounded great. Their voices blend well together. If theirs voices were a painting Emerson would be the green of the grass with Morris the blue of the sky and together the picture is richer. It’s tough not to like a songs like Front Porch about kindness and wine. Ad added bonus was ABBA-solutely, Vernon’s ABBA cover band. Nothing will take you back to be 10 years old faster than an ABBA song.

The Long Odds play to a full house at Mortimer’s

I got a sneak preview of The Long Odds a couple weeks ago at the Rock Your Rights NARAL concert at the Icehouse. So I was excited to get a chance to see them play their CD release (Level Ground) party at Mortimer’s. I have to say, I liked them even more there. It was a full room, cozy feel and a Americana-loving crowd.

The band filled the stage: Tim Heinlein on guitar, Missy Heinlein on keyboard and vocals, Jonas Lader on drums and vocals, Jason Streitz on guitar and vocals, Mike Fruncillo on bass and vocals and a special appearance from Jimmy Rogers on bass.

The music is easy to listen too, a nice twang with beat that keeps in interesting. I love the keyboard, which seemed to Hammond organ sound at times. I’m sure I heard a mandolin pop out and pretty sure I heard a cowbell too. The variety of instruments add an interest to the music.

One of my favorite songs was Paper Made. It’s slower, moodier than some of their other toe-tapping tunes. But it particularly showcases the combined vocals and I’m a sucker for a song that tells a good story. Throughout the show, each musician gets a chance to be the star, to highlight their talent, but with Paper Made I feel like everyone really comes together in a cohesive way.

River High at O’Gara’s – dark, pop, 80s appeal

The last band in the back room at O’Gara’s had a 1980s sound – no wait – it was the 1980s. So I’m not sure how much that memory infused my take on River High but I was definitely getting some 80s sensibilities out of the band.

There’s a dark undercurrent to the music – the last album is entitled Blood and Darkness and they sing about blood quite a bit so there’s truth in the advertising. But there’s an underpinning to the sound as well – a drudging beat that moves the songs forward and a drone that gives it a pleasant finish. The dark gives the music a depth.

They play rock with a catchy chorus. There are four in the band – Joe Masanz (bass), Jason Anderson (drums), Justin Law (guitar and vocals) and Rena Rasmussen (vocals). I think they’re at their best when Law and Rasmussen harmonize. Their voices blend really well together. Rasmussen has an I-won’t-take-crap attitude on the stage that makes her fun to watch and a powerful voice. Masanz looks the part, he’s fun to watch as a performer and Anderson keeps the songs going with a strong beat.

It is hard to pin down the genre. It’s  high energy with catchy chorus. Some songs (like Red Canary) are very danceable, while some are more like ballads. Then there’s that 80s feel, which I think is a quirkiness that gives over to rock. It’s hard not to like a band with a song called K.I.S.S.

Anahata Collaboration – nice place for a show

I love going to see new venues. I’m partial to bars but open to other places. Tonight I went to another place – the Anahata Collaborative. I went for their Living Room Series showcasing Singer-Songwriters. Sadly I was only able to stay for part of the show (Joyann Parker was great!) but it was enough time to get a good vibe for the space.

The venue is across the parking lot from the Egg and I. Ever-late I was worried about parking but – and this is important – you can park in the lot behind the Egg and I. So easy.

The curb appeal doesn’t do the space justice. It’s well situated between bars and restaurants but again potentially tough parking and in a basement. But it’s not really a basement. It’s high-ceiling, white-wall, window-garage-door-overlook to the Greenway space once you get there. It has the potential to be a truly awesome space in the summer if they can open those doors.

It’s cozy but open. I’d say it would seat 50 pretty comfortably – hold more without chairs. It’s a quiet space where you can really concentrate on the music but not so quiet you’re afraid to sneeze. We got there just in time but were welcomed and immediately shuffled to the cupcakes, which are included in the price of admission. And were super tasty. Then we were able to find comfortable seats.

With high ceilings and lots of open space, the sound is good. And the performer we saw (Joyann Parker) seemed very comfortable. She had a nice balance of talk and music. I learned things about her I hadn’t learned seeing her before and I thought she sounded even better in the setting where I had seen her before.

Allen Ruppersberg at the Walker: dark but funny and very book forward

The art of Allen Ruppersberg is an arty librarian’s dream – art and books, books and art. The collection includes books and words as regalia and as something to be organized. He pulls the dark but funny out of mundane of life and words.

One of the bigger pieces was Al’s Café. Ruppersberg created a cafe and invited guests to come in like a restaurant debut. The trick was that the café didn’t serve food. But it did serve up plates with odd pairings of objects. It reminded me of the dinner party game where you invite guests to order their own meal – including silverware, cups, food – but all in a language that hopefully no one speaks. I like the idea. The exhibit was interesting in the same way a Richard Scarry or Eye Spy book is. So much to see. (And I had to sing Alice’s Restaurant the whole time we were in the room. Mandatory.)

The theme of big picture, lots of details, carried through many of the works. There was the wall of posters. Upon first look they all just look like carnival posters but once you look at each poster you’ll see that some are carnival-type posts but maybe have semi-phonetic  messages. There’s also a wall of book titles, authors and quotes. The one that caught my eye? “Every life is in many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves.” It’s a quote from James Joyce’s Ulysses.

There’s a darker section, Still Life that includes morose stories of murders on the walls surrounding a smattering of severed concrete heads. The work is from 1982 but the heads look like cartoon heads from heads in 40s. There’s blood dripping from the posters and Still Life written in blood. It’s creepy but cartoonish.

A special treat for me was the simple drawings of a home library with different instructions for organizing the books. My favorite? “Honey, I rearranged the collection according to two categories: Nice and not nice.” It’s very close to how I organize people.

A special treat for Aine was finding an article about and picture of her favorite Chuck Close in a room full of pictures of Ruppersberg objects.

Pussy Riot brings post punk feminism to the Turf Club

The show sold out quickly and apparently everyone with a permanent guest pass showed up for Pussy Riot at the Turf Club.

I think most folks (who remember Pussy Riot) remember when they were arrested and detained for staging a protest performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. They were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and at two of the members spent two years in jail.

I had no idea of what I might be walking into when I showed up. The night started with an interview with one of the members – Nadya. She talked about why the members do what they do and introduced their media channel – Media Zonna. It was interesting to hear about what it’s like to want to bring the news to Russia and other places where the government wants to control every message. In short, she said that all of their partners have decided that they are at peace with whatever should happen to them should they be detained for their work. Frightening and inspiring.

Nadya recognized that art can amplify a message. She didn’t use the word apathy but called people back to a time – the 1960s and 1970s – when people were more political. Art and music will make politics cool again. They are tools we can use to engage people.

Nadya asked what was the call to action for everyone attending? A pointed question. And the answer was to invite everyone to get engaged in politics and bring a friend. It was an invitation to go to the Capitol, to talk to legislators – not just during protests but on regular days to tell them how you feel. It was a good suggestion. Politicians who want to stay in office listen to voters. They try to represent their constituents. But they need to hear from all voters to do that.

The second set was music – techno pop, super energetic pounding beats. It is what I used to heard in discos in Catalonia back in the 1990s. But that music is fun. Some songs were in English; some in Russian (with subtitles).

Art is My Weapon at Homewood Studios: the brutality of fragility of gun violence

I didn’t go to the opening of Art is My Weapon (Part 2) last night with the intention of writing about it but I saw two works that struck me so much I just have to talk about them. The show is a collective of artists creating pieces on gun violence.  There were works made out of guns, artistic representations of guns, a welcome to America sign created from shot gun shells and statistics on gun violence. Something for everyone.

I was drawn to Tha Boys by Rikki V. Heck and then I had the good fortune to meet the artist. I was drawn to the work because it reminded me of a mural I saw in Belfast 10 years ago. (I will include a super shaky video I took below.) It was of a masked gunman; as you walked by the work, the gun followed you. Now that I see the video again I see the similarities in the work but realize that I remembered the mural differently; I remembered more of what Rikki had in her work.

There is a brutal vulnerability to her work. The terror and tears in the eye. The swirl of smoking gun. The real gold chain (not painted) around the neck. It’s someone dressing up for a part that they may not want. Rikki said she did the piece for her brothers. They are young black men who may also be put into a position to play a part that they do not want to play. But as she says, what do you do when you can’t get a job because of the way you look – yet you still want to eat? People get pushed into roles.

It’s a wake up call to those of us who push people into those roles. There is something scary in the human condition where we lose sight of the role that the “dominant culture” plays in forcing a role onto others and the ramifications of those actions. I wish this picture could be placed as prominently as the Belfast mural to remind us all of the roles we play and how those roles are chosen.

Just around the corner from her work was Untitled (An Elegy to Sandy Hook) by John Ilg. There are 26 delicate white butterflies representing the 20 students and 6 teachers that were killed in the Elementary School in Connecticut. They are so beautiful, so fragile, so ethereal. There’s always something wrong about beautiful butterflies suspended and dead. It makes me uneasy because they should be fluttering – much like the 26 people in Sandy Hook should be doing what they did before the shooting.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet this artist but Rikki was able to answer a few questions for me. Apparently, the artist ordered them online. “Like some people order guns online?” I asked. That was apparently part of the point. And she told me that Ilg learned that you can’t order a gun replica in Minnesota but you can order a real gun. (I did a little searching to verify this info – seems like replicas are OK with they are antique but modern replicas are not OK.)

The work as it stands is beautiful; the story behind it makes it even more meaningful.

These were two pieces that struck me last night. There’s a gallery full of others that might easily strike me another night and the show is open.

Annie Mack’s Soulful CD Release at the Aster Café

Annie Mack’s music is uplifting, her voice is strong and she has an slow confidence that exudes cool. She opened her set Friday night at the Aster Café with Love, a slow, anticipatory song. Her voice is smooth with a depth. But it’s the assuredness that is so appealing.

She played songs from the new CD – Tell It Like It Is. Two highlights were Just Do Right and the CD namesake, Tell it Like it is. They are both upbeat and they seem to straddle a few genres – gospel, Americana and soul.

With Tell it Like it is, there’s a sassy redemption to the recovery story of the song and the tempo speeds to lift up your dancing toes as much as the story lifts the spirits. The back up vocals add to the build and the live version ends in a joyous rasp. Just Do Right has a self-righteous bossiness of a good friend setting you straight. Her voice is controlled and comforting so that there’s no edge, just wisdom coming through.

An added delight was Hey Momma, a slower song written for Mack’s mother and her experience raising two kids in North Minneapolis. The music is Americana. The voice is soul. That’s what makes for such an interesting blend.

It doesn’t hurt to have super talented musicians on stage including Joel Sayles, Noah Levy, Peter J Sands and Jon Herchert. It’s a glimpse and the wealth of musical talent we have in the Twin Cities!

Art is … Black Light! PaviElle curates a show to young Black Women Artists

Last night I was introduced to three amazing young artists: Amani Ward, Yoni Light and ShaVunda Brown. They were all selected by PaviElle French to perform as part of the Art is series at TPT. Each performed and then answered a few questions from PaviElle; each clearly had a nurturing relationship with PaviElle and a strong sense of community. It was awesome to see how each had thought about how her community had an impact on her and how she would have an impact on her community.

It was also awesome to see the community in the audience supporting the performers. It would be nice to bump this show up to LowerTown Line status. To get the promotion and production power of LowerTown line behind these women to help lift them up – because they are worthy of the heights! And the audience deserves to be let into this powerful  community.

First to the stage was Amani Ward, starting with George Gershwin’s Summertime. She has been performing since she was 8, which maybe wasn’t all that long ago. She’s young but her voice is powerful and she has ease on  stage. She chose a set list that include greats from the past – such as Nina Simone. When asked about her greatest influence the answer was – her mom. So already I love her. She was wise beyond her years when she spoke about learning to have the confidence to present yourself in your situation.

Second to stage was Yoni Light, a multi-disciplinary artist who sings, dances and does spoken word. She’s inspiring. Like the other young women, she had a message for all ages. She said she had learned that she didn’t have to sacrifice herself to give. That is a message I hope my daughters hear. That is a message that I hope I learn to heed. She has the grace of movement and presence of someone stays in control, someone who takes it to the edge but will only cross the line on her own rules.

Finally ShaVunda Brown took the stage. She is a young mother, originally from Texas and came up here for the Guthrie. She is wow! The imagery of her poetry is vivid, so even if you haven’t been in her shoes you feel like you get it – a little. She speaks (and I abbreviate hugely) ” My name is poetry …blues… jazz… hip-hop…the residue of resilience.” She has a poem about the creativity of African American names. There’s a wonderful line about how these might not be names designed for a resume’ – they are names for becoming the owner! How wonderful! A new lens. Well, a new lens for me and I have gratitude that I got to see through it for a night. Her presence is luminary.

Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty – dark to light

The Minneapolis Institute of Art never ceases to delight me. The Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty was a treat to see, touch and smell. Well, I’m hoping it was meant to be touched; I can definitely tell you I touched it!

The exhibit is 10 rooms containing items from the museum’s collection. It’s an entirely new look at everything old and familiar – or at least familiar to regular visitors. They collaborated with Robert Wilson, international theater and opera director, designer and artist. He set up the rooms in quickly, compelling ways.

The first room is a dark meditation – literally. It’s a ticketed and timed event and so as a cohort a number of us set out into the room for 5 minutes. There are some funny dropping, crashing sound effects – but otherwise it’s dark. Dark like wondering where the rest of the people are. It sets a somber tone – which is immediately broken in the next room focused on prosperity. It’s a collection of items on shelves accompanied by items on the wall paper – some of the same items but not all. (I had some time to double check.) There was an outdoorsy smell and soundtrack that reminded me of Bozo the Clown. It was like party whistles.

The next room contains a series of ceremonial robes – all gorgeous. Again with a soundtrack that synced with lights that left ominous shadows from the robes and a smell of lemongrass that matched the straw on the walls. The next room is dark, bluish with one little bronze man. Strike that, one tiny man in a museum display pedestal. It was very calming. The next room is reminiscent of a Chinese antechamber. There was bed and items that you might find in a bedroom or antechamber. But most striking was the tin foil (OK maybe Mylar) crinkled all over the walls. As a kid I used to make doll houses in shoe boxes, including adding wallpaper to the walls – usually from toilet paper. This was like that – only well done and much cooler.

Branching off that room was a devil-dragon room. Amazing and red with a soundtrack of screams and moans. The dragon’s tail wound around the room. And there were two rooms on either site. One was cool and steel. Steel walls and floors like the inside of a commercial cooler and filled with five Buddhist statutes. They looked like there were floating and running in air. On the other side was three Daoist paintings.

The penultimate room was full of jade and lacquer and an intricate silk tapestry. There was a scene documented the lives of the monks who had reached Nirvana. The colors of the tapestry were woven into the cloth. The jade sculptures were scenes – like from a mountain side and the wallpaper in the room mirrored the mountains except they were urban, not pastoral, in nature. There were like castles from afar but up close more like urban decay.The final room is a blast of bright light.

It was a whole experience.