Today, my bro-in-law moves out and heads back up to Duluth, MN for his fall semester. It's been great to have a guy and fellow music obsessive in the house. Lately, JB’s had a case of the end-of-summer blues so we decided to have him go out with a bang. In his final week in the big city, we went on a rampage of live music mayhem. Granted, ‘rampage’ may be an overstatement but we did catch three great live shows this week around town. A proper way to send him off, wouldn't you say?
1) Monday - Low @ Loring Park
One of JB's favorite bands played the final night in the summer “Movies in the Park” series held annually in Loring Park, Minneapolis.
Review: Quietly impressive set of songs from their entire catalogue. Relaxed, sunset-picnic-in-the-park vibe was a perfect setting.
Highlights: “Dinosaur Act” and thanks to JB’s Duluth connections, hanging out with Matt Livingston (Low's bass player) after their performance.
2) Thursday – Sonic Youth & The Flaming Lips @ The State Fair
Yes, you read that correctly: The State Fair. The very same ‘Great Minnesota Get Together’ that usually features a Toby Keith clone or even better, a butt-rock reunion band (e.g. Poison). Not on this night. Instead, thralls of unlikely fair-goers descended on the fairgrounds despite the evening's foreboding weather to watch a too-good-to-be-true pair of headliners. As ordered, the rain halted and the skies cleared just in time for the show.
Review: Sonic Youth played an energetic show featuring mostly tunes from their latest LP. A few too many obnoxious teenagers in the crowd whining about wanting to see the Lips and not this ‘noisy band’ …damn, I sound like an old man. Anyway, Kim Gordon is one sexy dancer, oh and she is a good musician, too. Sonic Youth's been around forever, but these guys are aging gracefully and their live chops are as good as ever.
Highlights: Opener “Teen Age Riot;” Thurston and Lee sword fighting with their guitars to wonderfully noisy effect.
Review: The Flaming Lips are well known for their live extravanganza and they did not disappoint in this regard. True their stage setup took over an hour but once they took the stage it was impossible not to get caught up in Wayne Coyne’s delirious antics, including his bubble crowd-surfing, endless explosions of streamers and confetti into the crowd, puppets, dancers in alien and Santa costumes, etc. The over-the-top show is truly a remarkable entertainment and unique from most shoe-gazing performers in the indie music scene. In fact, he is one of the most unashamedly gleeful rock stars I have ever seen and it is infectious. They also play music, too.
Highlights: Opener “Race for the Prize” and encore cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” with expected political video. Also, a quick two-song acoustic set by the Magic Numbers whose opening act was canceled due to stormy weather.
3) Saturday – Damian Marley and Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals @ Roy Wilkins Auditorium
I’ll preface by saying that I’m actually not too familiar with Ben Harper but I’ve always heard his live shows are not to be missed. This show was originally to be held outdoors in Somerset, Wisconsin but due to fire-hazard conditions it was moved to St. Paul.
Review: Opening act Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley set the bar high with an energetic show of flag-waving Jamaican reggae. A very danceable and lively performance, with two of his father’s songs included for good measure.
Then, Ben Harper. My expectations may have been mixed but the rumor was undoubtedly true: he is incredible live. I now know this first-hand. I had never heard most of his original material but I didn’t care. His stage presence is fantastic and welcoming. His musicianship is startling. Who knew Ben was such a mean slide-guitar player? I guess most people know but I didn’t until now. And each one of his Innocent Criminals is an incredible musician in their own right. They must have played for nearly 2.5 hours and I could have used at least another hour.
Highlights: The entire show. I don’t know the names of his songs except for the aptly titled “Burn One Down.” But I can say his selection of cover songs was impressive, including Prince, Bob Marley (with Damian joining in of course), Marvin Gaye and Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.”