Astronomique Single Release of Mimic Forms – 60s aesthetics and 80s musical influence

Astronomique is the band you thought you’d be seeing in the future back in 1987. They’re a synth pop band with 60s aesthetics and 80s musical influence. They played Thursday night at the Icehouse to introduce their new single, Mimic Forms.

There are four members: Logan Andra Fongemie on vocals and keyboards, Sean Hogan on vocals and guitar, Mitch Billings on vocals and drums and Jordan Morantez on bass guitar. The band is solid; the keyboards really set the tone of the music, bringing the space age feel. There’s a nice contrast between the harder rocking band and the pop appeal of the keyboards. The vocals – especially on tracks where Fongenie and Hogan both sing – bridge the difference. There’s a sweet and salty, high and low, mix that sounds really good together.

Adding to the space age feel was a Sci-fi video on in the background, the video for their new release Mimic Forms (shared below); I presume. The folds in the majestic curtain behind the stage of the Icehouse make it difficult to confirm. It was fun to guess the movies that influenced the obscured video (Barbarella, Tron?) in the same way it’s fun to guess the influence on the music. Mimic Forms is less synth, more vocals than some of their earlier songs. There’s something soothing and almost wavy to the music.

They also played the B-side to the new single, 23rd Century. I enjoyed the Spanish feel in the castanet-sounding drums.

Sarah Morris: Americana singer song writer with a lot of friends

The Hook and Ladder has never felt cozier than with snow blowing outside and a sold out show for Sarah Morris inside. Even the stage was brimming with a rotating cast of impressive characters.

I was immediately struck with Morris’ song writing; her ability to turn a clever phrase like “good at good buys” into a full-fledged song: good at goodbyes. It reminds me of the kind of old school country music I listened to during a road trip; the “if you don’t leave me I’ll find someone who will” listen-twice lyrics.

Morris talked about her song writing style or tactics – the online writing groups and video challenges. In fact, my favorite song from the show and the latest CD (Hearts in Need of Repair) apparently came from a video challenge on a day when she was very sick. The song feels like a childhood music box and celebrates breezy summer love and suits her sweet voice. It’s emblematic of the love songs on the album.

Michael Ray Pfeifer Love Americana Style

Thursday night Michael Rey Pfeifer released his new CD, Blind Faith at the Hook and Ladder. There was a lot of love in room with family from all around, which seems fitting for a man who seemed to write a lot about love for the new CD.

Starting with the CD namesake Blind Faith, a song about love that comes with time. It, like most of the songs, has an old school county rock sound. There’s a 70s twang to the guitar in this song but there’s also a poppiness in the album that hearkens back to earlier days.

Marry Me Tonight has a different boppiness with the sentiment and toe tappiness of a surf song. It’s fun to listen to and has a multi-layer American feel with the overt Americana and covert beachiness.

Pfeifer writes songs for guitar players and guitar lovers – from the guitar start of Marry Me Tonight to the standout guitar solo in Rockets. It’s no wonder he has so many strings on stage. He is ably backed up with Curt Hutchens on guitar, Dan Carlsen on bass, Pat Wheeler on guitar and Ryan Inselman on drums.

Holly Near and John McCutcheon performing together September 23 for Chile fundraiser

Near and McCutcheon join for benefit concert to support Educación Popular en Chile (EPES) a Community Health Initiative in Chile

Date/Time: Saturday September 23, 2017, 7:00 pm
Location: Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 9185 Lexington Avenue North, Circle Pines, MN

Additional Information:
On Saturday September 23, 2017 Educación Popular En Salud (EPES) is celebrating their 35th anniversary with a benefit concert featuring musicians Holly Near and John McCutcheon. The concert will take place at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Circle Pines. Tickets are $25 in advance; $30 at the door. Order online

Folk musicians John McCutcheon and Holly Near will be playing a show. Multi-instrumentalist McCutcheon is regarded as a master of the hammered dulcimer; he writes from the heart highlighting social injustice all over the world. From Broadway to protest march, Near’s award-winning work speaks a message of equality and peace. She has spent time in Chile collaborating with EPES.

Near says, “Through dictatorship, fire, earthquake and poverty EPES has survived, always there in solidarity with those who get hit hardest by life’s challenges. I have visited Chile three times at the invitation of EPES. I have always been inspired.”

EPES was created in 1982 to promote health with dignity for the poor through empowerment, mobilization and collective action. It began as a program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile (IELCH) and maintains close ties nationally and internationally with the Lutheran church and is an ELCA Global Mission supported ministry. EPES works with community members to advocate, train and assist with community health in the face of both natural disaster and in support of ongoing wellness especially for women and children.

Since 2010, 150 people from 19 countries have participated in International Course on Popular Education in Health, (fondly referred to as la Escuela). Those students bring their knowledge home teaching others and improving community health where they live. The impact echoes. Earlier this year EPES helped Chile deal with ramparts fires that destroyed 1,151 homes and left 6,162 people with precarious housing.

The benefit will help support their continued efforts. The concert is hosted by EPES and Action for Health in the Americas (AHA), the US counterpart to EPES. Please visit the AHA website for more information on EPES and the upcoming concert.

The Suburbs sell out First Ave playing new and old music

Friday night First Avenue turned into a time machine. The Suburbs on stage and happy crowd bursting the seams. There may have been a more pounds and more wrinkles than 1986 but there were also fewer curfews and fake IDs. Yup the crowd that has been enjoying the band for decades was in their rightful place at the foot of the stage.

But the crowd was open to new songs – and the band started with Lovers off their latest release Hey Muse! People were happy enough for the new. Followed up with Hobnobbin from In Combo, released in 1980. But it was the third song – Waiting that really got the join jumping.

The band too is a mix of original and new flavors, including founding members keyboardist and singer Chan Poling and drummer Hugo Klaers. Saxophonists Max Ray (who played with The Wallets back in the day) joined the band years ago. And there were some newer folks including Stevie Brantseg and Jeremy Ylvisaker on guitars, Steve Price on bass, Janey Winterbauer on backup vocals, Rochelle Becker on Bari Sax and Stephen Kung on horns and keys.

A great blend of Minnesota musicians!

Show highlights include the tried and true favorites: Life is Like and Love is the Law – the de facto anthem for marriage equality. But toes were tapping for some of the newer songs too – Hey Muse! and Turn the Radio On.

Opening for The Suburbs was Ryan and Pony. I just caught the tail end of their set but it was fun and upbeat. Just a little bit hippie in a good way!

Grand Oak Opry sprouts a new branch for The Pines

Want to catch a glimpse at the heart of St Paul’s West Seventh neighborhood? Then check out at the Grand Oak Opry. It is the ultimate house concert location. Sean and Tim open up their backyard (and bathroom) to guests to enjoy local music. Sounds pretty mundane but it’s a pre-civil war house with a double lot, shaded under a 200 year old oak tree (hence the name) and we’re not talking 20 people!

While it was started in one backyard, the whole neighborhood has adopted the regular event. Neighbors are taking money ($10/person donation all going to the band). Neighbors are selling t-shirts, giving directions and watching the show. This has been going on for years and they have never had a call to the police! (Maybe having the Mayor in attendance helps – but I don’t think that’s the reason.)

Want to catch the heart swooning? Come when The Pines are playing. It’s as if the music is coming from the wind at times. Last year, The Pines brought in 300+ guests. That was a record breaker. They blew that away last night with 525+. The crowd was so big that the neighbor next door opened up his backyard too!

While I’ve loved The Pines in several location (News Years at the Icehouse comes to mind), the Grand Oak Opry was really made for them and them for it! The moment they started the crowd hushed to hear Benson Ramey’s aspirated voice, smooth sounds of David Huckfelt and Alex Ramsey on the keyboard. There’s something wintery and ethereal about the songs that feel so refreshing on a summer day – like a breeze finally coming across crowd.

They played for an hour – old songs, new songs, borrowed songs. Folks of all ages sat on blankets and folded chairs, eating and drinking picnic goodies they packed themselves. Kids stood up, sat down, stood up, dragged parents to the bathroom – again. Benson talked about rabbits and a squirrel ran across the powerline above him in jealousy. David observed that despite today’s politics – this is what it’s really about – power in the people in a community. And fireflies flew past. I’m not even making that part up. I haven’t seen a firefly in years but it seems everyone wanted in on the show of the summer.

It’s a tough act to follow but the Grand Oak Opry is going to try with three more shows scheduled: Lady Midnight (Aug 5), Jayanthi Kyle (Aug 12) and Frankie Lee (Sep 2).

Leslie Rich rocking the Whiskey Junction with Rocket Soul Choir

Thursday night Leslie Rich played at the Whiskey Junction. My only regret is that it wasn’t a later show – one where folks might get up and dance. Leslie Rich plays fun, super dance-able rock music. By the end of the show there were a few folks on out on the floor, which is pretty impressive for an early gig on a school night. But two hours later, we have all been up there.

Originally from Belfast, Rich moved to the US in 2004 and makes Minneapolis his home. Previously he had played with several bands in Belfast and a few in Minnesota, including Hounds of Finn, which as you might surmise from the name pulls strongly from his Irish roots. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from his new setup. Turns out it’s there’s not a lot of traditional Irish music to be found; it’s just straight up rock.

There are hints of punk (which I guess you could say was like Stiff Little Fingers) and bits of folk (easy comparison would be Van Morrison and while I’m sure there’s an influence the musical similarities aren’t direct) but it’s really rock.

There’s often a slow build to the songs (as in Kidder’s Son) that sets the story of the song then the rest of the band hops on and we’re off to the races. He plays with Pete Boulger on the drums and Jason Wahl on bass. They have been performing as Rocket Soul Choir since 1997. The experience shows. The music weaves like an intricate tapestry, each member with a colored thread creating its own design that comes together to make the experience more interesting for the audience.

Corey Palmer Heartache is released and the heart is regained at the Icehouse

It’s fun to see a full band at the Icehouse -and Saturday night Cory Palmer brought a posse with him to release his latest album Heartache – guitars, basses, drums, three keyboards, a tambourine and just when I thought I’d counted them all, someone whipped out another instrument. It was a reunion of sorts. Palmer took some time away from music for happy reasons (family) and hard reasons (car accident and depression) but he has reconnected with his bandmates for the new work.

The band, talented with many members playing multiple instruments and with long stories of their own, includes Adrian Suarez (of Adam Meckler Orchestra and Vicious Vicious), Nick Tveitbakk (of These Modern Socks and from Pachyderm Studios), Jeff Marcovis (with Al Church and Tyte Jeff), Park Evans (of Fireball and Enormous Quartet), Katie Marshall (of Parts for All Makes and Katie Marshall Three-O), and Scott McVeigh (with Mark Mallman and of Speed’s The Name).

The new album and the show remind me of Chicago (the city), which to me means it’s funky and somehow reminds me of the 70s. The 70s connection might just be the conceptual album. Heartache plays like one long song – no breaks. Perhaps you could slice it into songs but there are themes are twist in and out, like an opera. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And the opera is the story of Palmer’s recent history. The sound is funky and poppy, the lyrics run dark but show a resilience that is catchy.

Palmer has an easy voice that is soothing and balances with the dark lyrics. There’s a great use of repetition and aural motifs in the music that bear out the sense of history of being in a dark place the idea of doing the same thing, expecting a difference answer but somehow the music does find a different answer, eventually. Marshall’s voice adds a dimension. The keyboards keep up the funk and the repetition. The advantage of three keyboards is effect of conflicting tunes in a small space – but not in a cacophonous way. In their raw honesty, the words can be hard to listen to – the music never is.

The Suburbs find a time machine at the Turf Club with the energy and sound of the 80s

Sometimes I wish high school me could see snippets of adult me, like last night hobnobbing with The Suburbs in the Clown Lounge before their song out show – getting a sneak listen to their newest songs. It would have made high school me much cooler.

The set up was a private party in the Clown Lounge for supporters of The Suburbs’ latest fundraising effort, which turned into a record party with free Summit beer and roomful of faces from long ago. (And to help you connect names with faces, Cyn Collins was there with her new book Complicated Fun, a history of the music scene in the Twin Cities from 1974-1984 featuring more than a few folks in attendance.) After and hour or so of reminiscing – we all went upstairs to the sold out show.

The band was tight. They reminded me of The Suburbs I saw back in the high school mixer days. Unadulterated dance music – with barely a pause between songs. They started off strong with Cows. In fact I was amazed at how the show was really hit and hit with a couple new songs snuck in for good measure and the new songs fit in seamlessly.

The new was great. Hey Muse starts like a Stone Roses song. It’s more psychedelic than their usual repertoire but the psychedelics are an additive, it still has the strong dance beat and the energy of a full band – which makes sense as they have a full band of new and old faces on amazing musicians. It harkens back to some of the beats of the 90s but it feels new too. Chan Polling’s voice is unmistakable and comforting. Lost you on the Dancefloor Is a song that calls out for an old school MTV video – nor Real World or Teen Mom style – but the videos like A-ha or Safety Dance used to do. Polling voice is emotive. They make good use of Janey Winterbauer on backup. The song tells a story. The beat is mellow. There’s a catchy refrain. It brings back the best of the 80s.

The old was like a favorite sweater that fits again! Music for Boys, Waiting, Spring Came – again hit after hit. Love is the Law brought down the house – a symbol of how things have changed since the 80s, used a few years ago to celebrate the hard-fought freedom for anyone to marry. The night was capped off with a bonus double encore of Baby Heartbeat.

And to bring it full circle I came home and told my high school daughter that I’d seen The Suburbs. “The guys who sing Turn the Radio on?” she asked. “Cool!” The time machine is working, The Suburbs are still cool in the high schools.

Record Store Day 2017 – 8 record stores, one Science March and a lot of Prince

12 year old: Is Record Store Day a competitive sport?
Me: Yes
12 yo: Does anyone else know?
Me: Nope, that’s how I win

Aine (12 year old) and I have been going to Record Store Day for four or five years. No matter the weather or whatever else is going on – we go. Yesterday was no exception but we went into it knowing we would not beat last year’s record of 11 stores in six hours. This year we had two other events – the Science  March and the first anniversary of Prince’s death – a sad and momentous occurrence.

So this is how our day went…

Because we were driving through downtown Minneapolis, we stopped and took a picture of Prince’s star at First Avenue. There was a gaggle of tourists in matching t-shirts posing when we got there. I thought they could have spent hours – but it was fun to watch them be so excited. (Also they let us sneak in our 30 second shot.) They had obviously come to Minnesota (maybe from Georgia) for the weekend for Prince. They were hitting all of the haunts. Reminded me to appreciate all that we have in Minneapolis and what a draw and influence Prince remains.

Our first official stop was Hifi Hair and Records. It was a quick visit but I went back later with a grownup friend to say hello and watch Paul Metsa play. I haven’t seen Paul play in 20 years. He still sounded great. It did feel strange to see him outside the West Bank (of the U of M campus).

We did a couple of drive-bys with Treehouse Records and Fifth Element. Treehouse is always a fun, old school used record shop. Fifth Element features a lot of hip hop and rap music. I am always astounded at how friendly the staff is – especially on what has to be one of their busiest days.

We hovered at Electric Fetus long enough to get a free Glam Doll Donut – purple for the day that was in it. And tasty! It was as packed as I have seen it. Busier than the in-store performance of Polica a few years back. Folks were buying. Somehow I got away with not buying a dress this year. I’ll probably be back soon though.

Next stop, we crossed the river back to St Paul to check out Eclipse. You know how records are organized by genre – then by alphabet by band name? Aine could not get over the fact that there was no “Q” section. She’s a huge Queen fan. Eclipse had two other things going for it – proximity to Candyland and the Science March.

In fact we had to scoot right out of Eclipse to hoof it up to the Capitol for the Science March. Rumor has it there were 10,000 marchers. There was a heavy youth focus – both in that there were a lot of young people there and speaking but also the signs people held urged people to remember science to help create a better future for you – really to ensure a future for youth.

After some inspiration science talk and feeling buoyed by the support for science and worried by the need to support science – we were back on the record store road. We went to Flashlight Vinyl in NE Minneapolis. I’d never been there. They were set up for fun festivities – and more free mini-donuts. They had a find the Doc Marten contest – where someone would win a pair of Doc Martens. I was tempted – very tempted – but also pressed for time.

So we trekked off to Hymie’s – where Record Store Day is a street festival. You can always pick up a free record, chalk up some sidewalk or grab a quick bite next door. I got a chance to see The Blind Shake, one of my favorite punk bands. They did not disappoint and I got a much needed opportunity to do a little dancing.

There was a shift of gears to check out Americana, country leaning of Miss Becky at Barely Brothers. She sounded great. We were able to sit in the sunshine and listen for a while. Best use of great weather and record store day.

The final record store for us was Dead Media. (And at some point “us” shifting to a grownup friend while Aine retreated back home, which opened the door to more punk than she’d like. We caught Kitten Forever. The tiny place was steamy hot and cheek to jowl – but worth it and a good shot of energy before gearing up for the shift to night time focus on Prince.

I like Prince. I saw a few shows. Prince was one of the most amazing performers I’ve ever seen live. His steaminess alone on stage leaves Dead Media in the dust. But I didn’t know Prince and I don’t have any Prince stories. But I have friends who knew him well. So I’m happy to celebrate Prince and his music to support his memory to support friends and because he was one of the greatest boosters of Minneapolis that Minneapolis will ever know!

We started the Saturday Prince festivities at First Avenue’s street party. It was nothing like the impromptu showing of love and mourning of last year – but it was well done and a chance for lots of people to remember Prince together. Local musicians (and dancers) played Prince songs – led and organized by Michael Bland. I saw Mark Mallman, Kerry Alexander from the Bad Bad Hats, Adam Levy and Jack Brass Band sing, accompanied by and Jeremy Ylvisaker, Ricky Kinchen and Bland. (I may not have gotten everyone.)

The event was free – but ticketed. There was a fence to keep people out. I have to think that was to allow First Ave to sell drinks and maybe for some insurance. It was easy enough to feel a part of the scene from outside the fence. Hard to keep in the music.

Next we made a quick stop into Bunker’s to see Jesse Johnson from The Time. So he can play guitar and look good doing it. You could see the influence of Prince or maybe on Prince. He’s fancy and good and has a that brighter look about him that stars have. We had to leave after just a few songs.

Our grand finale was the family party at the Metropolitan. It was great to hear musicians such as G Sharp, Andre Cymone and Apollonia play the songs as they were intended to be played – albeit without the main attraction. It was touching to hear the stories.

Through the generosity of a family friend, it was very fun to have VIP tickets, which meant no long lines on the way in and a fantastic view of the stage all night long.

But more than anything it was the best people watching ever! People had come from all over the world. Some folks were dressed to the nines! Lots of men in hats. Women in one-legged leotards, leather jumpsuits, lace and feathers and anything in between. People dancing. And minimal grousing about the bar closing at 1 am (for a party that started at midnight).

Also a treat – free breakfast starting about 3:30 am. It was surreal to walk into the full café next door to the Metropolitan and have it be full of fancy people at that hour. There was a little bit of a feeling like we’d all been through the high school lock-in together. Although maybe older and less able to stay up all night – or sadly sleep the whole next day!