Friday, August 25, 2006

More fun in MPLS, starring JNS LKMN

Minneapolis has a great network of bike and rollerblade trails. When I was doing advance research, I actually got more useful information from this rollerblading site than from any official sources. We plotted out a loop that ran along part of the Grand Rounds (a route that, if biked in its entirety, would’ve taken more time than we had…maybe next time) tracing the Mississippi River, down to the old Soo Line railbed that has been converted to an asphalt track and is in what looks like the final stages of refurbishment.
This took us west through the city between 28th and 29th Streets, under a long series of overpasses and eventually out into the pretty green space between Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. The Southwest LRT Trail continues to the west, but we turned North on the Kenilworth Trail to get back downtown. The Cedar Lake Trail will take you most of the way downtown, but there’s not a really obvious and easy route through the city and back to the river yet. There’s a dedicated bike trail down the middle (!) of Hennepin Avenue, and that will get you most of the way. It was really frustrating to be pedaling past so many of Minneapolis’ great old movie palaces without being able to stop and take a picture, being in the middle of the street and all! I was, however, able to get a shot of the boisterous signage at Lee’s Liquor Lounge.
We picked up the West River Parkway, which gave us a good view of the Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minneapolis.
Before long, we were back where we started—next to the WPA Rock under (I think) the 27th Street bridge.
I had lost my cell phone somewhere along the trail, so we had to take a few minutes back at the hotel to call Verizon and get them to suspend service until I could get a new phone. Unfortunately, the customer service representative instead disconnected the line altogether (after I had asked her as carefully as possible if I’d be able to get my old number back when I get my new phone, just so she wouldn’t make exactly the mistake she made) and it took a week for me to get my service back. Since my cell phone is the business number for my DJ service, every call I miss is a potential $500 down the drain, so you can imagine how mad I was at Verizon. Can you hear me now?

John Kass had promised us his “patented tour” of the Twin Cities, and he figured we’d find all the old-school commercial-strip stuff on our own—so he drove us through the network of pretty parkways that crisscrosses the metropolitan area, connecting the lakes where locals swim and sail. We did take a detour through downtown St. Paul and the neighborhood John grew up in, so he could show off the old Mounds Theatre he used to attend as a kid—now refurbished and thriving after thirty years as a warehouse.
We encountered a group of Swedish tourists at Minnehaha Falls, which was a nice bit of foreshadowing for the evening’s entertainment. But before we checked out Gothenburg’s favorite singer-songwriter, we had a fine Thai meal at Sawatdee (one of several locations) and tracked down a few more golden-age movie houses.
The Uptown Theatre anchors the neighborhood celebrated in song on an early Prince album. The carved mural on the side wall and the huge vertical sign are still impressive, and movies are still shown here. The Uptown has the Twin Cities' largest screen, and it's operated by Landmark Cinemas in conjunction with the newer Lagoon multiplex about a block away.
Not far from the Uptown is the Suburban World Theatre, now available for live performances. Somewhere along the way, we also bumped into the Music Box (formerly the Loring Theatre), home of the long-running show Triple Espresso... …and the Avalon, now home to a puppet theatre company called In the Heart of the Beast. (As if puppets weren’t creepy enough already!)
Couldn’t pass up this fantastic Car Wash sign, either.
Finally, with dusk approaching, it was time for the event that brought us to Minneapolis in the first place: Jens Lekman in concert. The Triple Rock Social Club is used to performances of a punkier variety (the bar’s general vibe is similar to that of St. Louis’s Hi-Pointe), which may explain why Jens’ publicity was a little sketchy. His name was misspelled one way (“Lekmen”) on the concert flyers, and another in the club’s ad in CityPages. (I bet they never misspell NOFX!)
Jens’ recorded output—which, in America, amounts to two CDs’ worth—leans heavily on melancholy, often trenchantly funny songs sketched out on piano or acoustic guitar and decorated with horn or string arrangements sampled from another record. He’s often compared to Morrissey and Stephin Merritt, but there’s an optimistic undercurrent that pops up in the occasional unabashedly Ishtar rhyme or a starry-eyed declaration of love, and that gives him a leavening dollop of Jonathan Richmanesque charm. (Yes! I used “Ishtar” as an adjective! And in the context of a compliment! But I suppose most of you have never seen “Ishtar.” Well, you don’t know what you’re missing. When the plot focuses on Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty as struggling, clueless songwriters, it’s as nerd-tastically funny as “Napoleon Dynamite” or any of Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries. But I digress. )

In concert, the affable Swede’s more upbeat material carries the day. The cut-and-paste horn arrangements are recreated live by a band of six attractive women, dolled up in tasteful homage to ‘80s couture and switching expertly from saxophones and trumpets to a variety of percussion instruments, keyboards, string bass, and a stripped-down drum kit. Jens, with a fedora tipped precariously toward the back of his head, plays guitar, jigs around a bit, sings and tells a story or two—pausing at one point to inform us that he actually speaks no English and is, in fact, “doing all this phonetically.”

There is, however, a hint of potential trouble right from the beginning. When the first of two opening acts—local folk-rocker Robert Skoro—approaches the microphone, a broad-shouldered frat-boy type, in a t-shirt emblazoned with “SNEAKY PETE’S” across the back, steps right up to the lip of the stage, about eight inches from Skoro and at least fifteen feet from the next-closest observer. He greets the end of each of Skoro’s low-key tunes with the sort of whooping and clapping you’d expect to hear at, say, wet t-shirt night. Skoro looks a little unnerved, and it’s apparent that he’s never seen this dude before. Is he heckling him in an ironic way? Is he so drunk he doesn’t realize he’s being inappropriately boisterous? Is this, like, the first concert he’s ever been to? Katie and I decide that he’s just a random overserved lunkhead who was dragged here by his girlfriend, and this might turn out to be their last date.

When the second performer, a mildly eccentric and rather pretty Swedish blonde named Frida Hyvonen, takes a seat at the piano for her solo set, I’m sure I’m not the only observer who’s worried that this might get ugly. Sneaky Pete is at this point distracted, being scolded sporadically by his date, who seems to be worried that he’ll forget he left his flip-flops up by the stage. Still, I’m a little concerned that if Sneaky gets a second wind he’ll somehow manage to ruin Jens’ set. But you know what? Dude’s a fan—a huge fan; he knows all the words and sings along with gusto. No harm done! Jens seems rather bemused by his football-fan enthusiasm. When, toward the end of his set, he seeks volunteers to help rattle some tambourines, he hands one to the broad-shouldered lad, and more than one audience member is heard to groan “Oh no—Sneaky Pete!!”

Funny thing—in the end, the fella had made the show more memorable and maybe a bit more fun. The only performer he disrupted at all was Skoro and, well, let’s just say the crowd didn’t seem all that into Skoro anyway. To be honest, he wasn’t my cup of tea either, but I could see him going over big as an opening act for, say, Son Volt. Live and learn, bookers…

NEXT: Arbus, Ikea, Twins, Hell.





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Great story! Go Sneaky Pete!

-joe

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