When We Land album release at the Turf Club

Technically When We Land is a boy band but they’re not a boy band in the traditional sense. They are deeper, more thoughtful. They opened with Throttle and the Wind off their latest CD (Introvert’s Plight Album). Whether fact or fiction the song is deeply personal and a uniquely male perspective on heartbreak that would almost make you hate your last lost love a little less.

Singer Jesse Baxter has a strong voice. The music is indie rock with some country sensibilities possibly based on the song themes. While I think there are usually four in the band, there were five on stage at the Turf Club Friday night.

They had an even bigger crowd than was expected and a crowd that clearly are big followers of the band. (And not your usual Turf Club crowd.)

Their second song was more rocking but equally melancholy in temperament Five Bar Blues. The drum was particularly strong but it’s really Baxter’s voice that leads the charge with most songs. That being said the guitars and bass meet the quality and support the sound. The set went on with new and old songs.

Ben Noble highlighting Whisky Priest at Bryant Lake Bowl

If you have time for just one song by Ben Noble, make it Little One. As he says, it’s a story song presumably about his own three year old. It’s a gentle song, too loud for a lullaby but the kind of song you’d listen to with your own little one cuddling on the couch. It showcases his falsetto range that produces an ethereal, soothing sound. The strings (especially on the album but also live) have a dream quality that plays against an otherwise straightforward tune. The lyrics are touching and sweet. The song is like a little vacation.

Luckily I had time for a few more watching Noble play at the Bryant Lake Bowl with a bass player, keyboardist and drummer. They played many songs from his latest CD, Whisky Priest. Keeping with a theme, he led with Daughter, which is another pensive almost melancholy song. Again the song features his unique voice. The lyrics, the voice, the guitar are very tender.

Noble’s song writing is very personal but it’s a case of when personal detail can make something so universal. Many of the tunes are inherently sad. Good listening for a cold winter afternoon.

Piano preview of Christmas peace from Steven C & Friends at the St Paul Cathedral

Steven C’s piano solos have been downloaded millions of times. Millions! He has played with the London Symphony Strings at Abbey Studios and with Mannheim Steamroller on the TODAY show. So I feel fortunate to have seen him in his own backyard, which it turns out is the same as my backyard.

Steven C (and his friends) played a set of Christmas and Emotive music at the Cathedral. His friends include the St Cecelia and St Gregory Choristers of the Cathedral Choir School, vocalist Kathleen Johnson and three musicians, Pat Frederick on violin, Charles Asch on cello and Lawrence Lawyer on pipe organ.

They started with O Come, O Come Emmanuel. The choir began a cappella. Then just the piano. Then the strings joined in. The music sounds like the Cathedral looks. The majesty draws you into the space but the details keep you there. A joyous start.

The second song was Still, Still, Still with piano and strings. It’s a more pensive piece and the audience was clearly touched – each in a different way. I find it soothing. It’s a one-hour break with stimulus that spoils you into a brain lull. But around me, I could see tears or joy and remembrance. Everyone has taken time from a busy week to escape and the music did not disappoint.

Some songs stand out – such as the siren’s plaintive start of Twas’ in the Moon of the Wintertime. And the husky low notes of Mary Did you Know.  There was a sing-along and Phil Coulter’s Irish Blessing. That’s always going to be a hit in St Paul.

I enjoyed Steven C’s original work too, especially Restored. Apparently, he felt called to write that just before he recorded the new album live at the Cathedral (Sep 2017). He wrote it based on his experience restoring old houses in the area and based on memories of the restoration of the Cathedral roof. (Remember when the Cathedral dome was green?) He wrote it during a 3-mile run to the Cathedral. And that is when I knew we shared a backyard. Because I had walked with a friend to the show that night,  4 miles each way in windy, freezing weather. But it was absolutely worth the hike!

Steven C has two more shows this season:

I rarely include video and I hope the artist won’t mind – but I thought everyone could a quick break of hectic for splendor of music and art

Hatchet Lady: Carry Nation, Angel of Destruction – the must-see musical

Crazy or chosen? That is the question that I’m left with after seeing Hatchet Lady, performed by Walking Shadow Theatre Company. Are larger-than-life zealots driven because they are crazy or chosen (by God)? And who gets to decide? A timely question for so many reasons!

Historically, Carry Nation was a passionate member of the temperance movement, known for destroying taverns with her hatchet. Hatchet Lady is inspired by her story and her modern-day, fictional biographer (Frances) who bemoans her own lack of passion or courage, striving only for “what will make people like her.” Frances presents as a third option to the “crazy or chosen” option – damned by mere adequacy.

And the story is a musical!

That idea of “crazy, chosen or adequate” gets to the root of some of the feminist themes in the play. Girls have traditionally been taught to aim for adequate over chosen or risk being labeled crazy. The title character sings a song comparing herself to John Brown, American abolitionist who believed in violence. They are similar in some ways; different in others. Both were religious and both were violent. One fought against slavery and the other against alcohol. Or is it that one was a woman and one was a man? If the story were about Joan of Arc, the important difference would be clear. The fact that we’re comparing Brown to Nation leaves room for deeper consideration.

The action of the play is driven by vignettes narrated by a community radio talk show format (think SNL skit) and punctuated with musical numbers from punk to country. Admittedly the flow could grow tiresome if the writing and acting weren’t as good as they are. As it stands, it’s a good way to convey info (I might not have passed a test on Carry Nation) and start conversation on themes of isms and historical perspective.

The acting is suburb. Keeping with the SNL references, Maren Ward as Carry Nation and her biographer brings the physical humor of Melissa McCarthy. Megan Burns nails the community radio personality. Maureen O’Malley as the intern sent to work with the seasoned biographer is a good wide-eyed balance. Chelsie Newhard rounds out the cast playing several roles, including Mr. Carry Nation. The writing (Savannah Reich) is clever and thoughtful. It’s the kind of writing that makes you happy to have an MA in literature and sad that you can’t discuss the work in great depth in class the next day. So many levels.

The music (by Luc Parker) stops the action in important places and allows for total turnaround in plot. It sets the tone. The band includes Britt Collis on guitar, Katelyn Farstad on drums, Pamela Laizure on violin and Shannon Boyer on bass. Dressed as angels with wings and halos, the musicians are part of the performance. The music in integral but not overbearing.

Remaining performances:

  • Thursday, Dec 14, 7:30pm
  • Friday, Dec 15, 7:30 – post-show discussion
  • Friday, Dec 15, 10:00pm
  • Saturday, Dec 16, 7:30pm – CLOSING

Amanda Grace releases new CD – Better Life

Amanda Grace played a cozy set of new and old songs at the Warming House to release her new CD, Better Life. She started with a brand new song – first time played publicly I think. It was a slightly bluesy piano song with a hint of drumming. It’s a format and tone that sets nicely with her sultry voice. The drummer stayed with her as she played some covers and older songs. She was joined on stage with fellow singer Joyanne Parker to sing a Christmas song.

She saved the music from the new CD for the second half of the show. There were two songs that really stood out – Better Life and Los Angeles.

Better Life has a popular music feel, with a folksy twang that harks back to Jewell; maybe that’s combination the guitar and voice with range. And Los Angeles has a marching drive forward. She talks about the song pouring out of her when visiting a sick friend in California. It has touches of sweet keening but it’s the step by step rhythm that pushes the song forward.

Grace’s music is very personal. She writes, sings and talks about the death of a nephew, the death of a brother-in-law and a sickness with friends. There’s an undercurrent in spirituality seemingly born of life experience balanced with hints of the harder rock she noted enjoying as a student. She uses her talent as an opportunity to work with ChildFund, a nonprofit that strives to feed kids all over the world. During the performance she mentioned two children – Bui and Vilma – and asked us to think about them. After the performance, she is available to speak about the kids and ChildFund. Guests are offered a free CD as they learn more about ChildFund. It helps spread the word. ChildFund helps promote the artist and compensates them for the cost of the CDs. It’s a win-win.

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 http://epes35.brownpapertickets.com/.

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. http://actionforhealth.org/

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!