Tuesday, 03 April 2007

I had some time to kill on my way to see Keb ‘Mo at the new Guthrie, so I decided to take in dinner at Wassbi Japanese Steak House and Sushi. It was kind of on a whim, and despite mixed reviews I had read in the local rags.

I can’t help but compare it to my all-time favorite, Origami, and unfortunately doesn’t quite stack up.

When it comes to sushi in the Twin Cities, everyone buys their fish from one of two wholesalers. It’s all flash frozen immediately after being caught and is almost more fresh than if you bought it at the dock. With this in mind, there are very few ways for one sushi joint to distinguish itself from the rest.

One of those ways, and in my mind the most important, is service. I sat at the sushi bar and the service was very attentive, both from my waitress and from the chef in front of me. Pretty much I didn’t want for anything very long. About the time I’d look up for the waitress, she’d be right there.

The second, for me at least, is ambiance. This could stand improvement. The entrance is not well labeled, and you end up coming in through the bar. That wouldn’t be so bad if the bar, and the aisle around it, were larger. Get a happy-hour crowd in there and restaurant patrons will have to fight their way in and out. Once seated, it’s not bad, but not outstanding either. Tables, chairs, the obligitory bamboo, but nothing spectacular. The metal chopsticks are a nice touch, however.

Lastly is presentation; this includes preparation of traditional staples (ebi and sake nigiri, California maki, and hamachi nigiri are my usual test subjects) as well as specialty dishes. Their spicy tuna roll was good, as was the shrimp, but again not out of this world.

In one of the reviews I had read previously, they mentioned the sauces (flavored mayonsise?) that garnished nearly every dish, but I didn’t experience it myself. Perhaps ordering al-a-cart clues them in, or maybe it’s only used on house specialties. Either way, I was spared — I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to my sushi. .

Prices were reasonable, about $6 for a standard maki and roughly $3 for a single nigiri. Specialty rolls were all $10 or more. Basically the same as every other sushi place in town.

All in all Wasabi was decent enough to go back if you want someplace close to the Guthrie before a show. Personally I’ll stick with Origami for my regular sushi haunt. Their service and food are always impeccable and the ambiance, especially at the sushi bar, is first rate.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

It was roughly a year ago that I first saw Amiina in concert. They were the opening act when Sigur Ros played at the State Theater (or was it The Orpheum?)

It turned out, at the time, that they’re also the string section for Sigur Ros.

This time they were here as a headliner playing The Varsity, with a guy named Tom Broussard doing warmup.

In what seems to be becoming almost cliché, Broussard is probably best described as a singer/songwriter. Armed with just a guitar, a harmonica, and his voice, he put on a 30-45 minute set. Vocally, I’d compare him to Jeff Buckley, with a similarly high pitch and a tendency toward softer, almost introspective lyrics.

I tried to grab a CD after the show, but he had already packed up and was on his way out at that point. Maybe I’ll remember to find one later.

The four women of Amiina, like Sigur Ros and Bjork before them, are all from Iceland.

It’s also interesting to watch them on stage. Every so often, as each piece calls for it, they just get up and float over to a different instrument. Each of them seem equally adept any of the instruments on stage; from violin to cello to bells to keyboard to guitar to xylophone. I only saw one of them actually play the mandolin, but at least two played the musical/singing glasses.

Heaven must sound like Amiina, I think, because that’s the only way I can describe their music. Sonicly their songs are lilting and powerful at the same time. Pure magic.

Because they aren’t very strong with English, they didn’t really announce their songs at all. Couple that with only a few song even having lyrics, I have no way of doing a set list. They only have 1 EP, 1 single, and one album (brand new, released the day of the show), and did about 12-15 songs, so they petty much did everything they have.

In spite of their difficulty with the local language, they did talk a little between songs. That too was wonderful because even their accent is musical.

You can bet I’ll see them again given the chance.

Sunday, 25 February 2007

I first saw Erin McKeown when she was here, opening for Mike Doughty a couple years ago. She put on a great set and I immediately bought her CD after the show. There she was, working her own merch, and I got the chance to meet her. And what a firecracker she was. Cracking jokes and having a great time, it was infectious.

She didn’t have change when I paid for my CD, so I just said to keep the extra $5 and it was no big deal. She wrote a bit extra for my autograph and was happy to pose for a picture — one which she took herself by holding my camera at arm’s length. A couple minutes later, as I was waiting in line to talk with Doughty, she practically tackled me to give make sure I got my change since she had it. The disk was We Will Become Like Birds and, as it happens, I rather enjoy it. It has a near-permanent place on my iPod and gets played quite often.

I was glad to see her coming back to town as a headliner at the Cedar Cultural Center. I would have preferred a bigger venue, but this was good. I didn’t hesitate in buying a ticket and really looked forward to the show.

When I got there, I discovered that she had many more than just the one CD. In addition to Birds there were five others and I bought them all. I simply couldn’t resist.

The opening act was a woman named Haley Bonar. She was O.K., the songs being mostly very simple 4/4 numbers free of any real complication. I ended up passing on her CD. The set just wasn’t good enough to pay $15 for the disk.

One of Erin’s disks turned out to be covers of old Jazz tunes; stuff from the 20’s and 30’s. It’s an era I hold dear to my heart. Much of my favorite music is from that era. It’s the stuff that really sticks with me through the years.

Once Erin came out, things got good. She did a bunch of stuff from the Jazz disk, as well as from Birds and her older releases. The set list went something like this: Thanks for the Boogie Ride; Paper Moon; White City; James!; I Was a Little Too Lonely (You Were A Little Too Late); You Were Right About Everything; The Taste of You; Coucou; Sing You Sinners; Melody; Rhode Island is Famous for You; What Kind of Lover Am I?†; I Will Never Leave You†; To the Stars†; Slung-Lo; Wooden Boat?† (a new song); We Are More; Halleluja…Get Happy; with an encore of: If You a Viper; Blackbirds.

After the show Erin came out for autographs and meet-n-greet. I got to chat with her for a couple minutes and got my photo from the Doughty show signed. She actually remembered the occasion and the $5 thing. I also found out she has been in town nearly a dozen times. I admitted that the Doughty show was the first I had heard of her, and I wish it had been much earlier. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to perhaps the tiniest fanboy crush, so that’s about as far as I got. My brain went to mush because I was talking to a cute girl with a great voice and I completely forgot go get any of the new CDs signed.

You can bet I won’t miss her again and I can’t wait for the next time. If you get the chance, don’t miss it.

† I’m not 100% sure of the song title. Erin didn’t announce them and I can’t seem to pick them out from just looking at the track lists on her CDs.

Saturday, 24 February 2007

I originally wrote this on my BlackBerry at and after the show, but for some reason never posted it. It may have something to do with how the it just dies at the end, but I’m tossing it up anyway.

The Cedar, another former movie theater that has found new life as a concert venue, is a neat little place. With a capacity of about 500, it now plays host to folk and minor rock acts, rather than the latest picture show.

It’s not big on amenities, preferring to bring in quality music and retain the history of the place. And it really works for them. Ic’ve seen such varied music as classical guitar (California Guitar Trio), Swedish rock (Hoven Droven), and even Klezmer music in the form of the Klezmatics.

In truth, The Klezmatics are more a fusion of traditional Klezmer music and more modern, rock sensibilities. Their newest album is all Woody Guthrie lyrics set to up-tempo Klezmer instrumentation.

I thought, at first, that thuds was obscure enough that it wouldn’t be that full. Not was I wrong. The Cedar was packed. Filled to capacity. Standing room only. I’m not sure if it was from the Guthrie fans or the local Jewish community. Either way it was a strong show of support for something other than what we’re force-fed on the radio.

The Klezmatics came out to strong applause and did a 60-minute first set with a good mix of rocked-up traditional influenced music and quite a few song from their most recent CD.

I’m not sure what else to say about the show… I can say, with confidence, that it was great and I enjoyed myself immensely; but somehow that doesn’t feel like it’s enough. Sadly, it will have to do this time.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

G. Love has always been one of my favorite artists. Starting with his eponymous debut CD in 1992, I was an instant fan. His Philly-Blues style never fails to please and always seems to improve my mood, no matter how dark.

The show was completely sold out. While waiting for the doors to open (so up could check my coat, grab a beer, and still get a good spot), I heard they had 30 tickets available. If you didn’t already have one, you weren’t getting into the show. The extra effort paid off, because I managed to get right up front, just left of center. The only way I could have done better would have been as a member of the band.

One of the things I always dread about concerts at First Ave. are 18+ shows. They tend to bring out all the club kids that think going to shows is all about being seen and getting as wild as possible. Back in my early days I left that stuff up to the drunks and the beautiful people. For me it is, and always will be about the music.

The opener was a group called Redeye. As rumoured before the show, they turnred out to be a white-boy reggae act. They weren’t half bad, doing 8 or 9 songs in their 40 minute set. Mostly original tunes, with a couple covers tossed in. I don’t know that I’d go see them as a headliner, but as a starter they were pretty good.

G. Love took the stage around 10:50 and did about 90 minutes. The show was filled with several songs from his latest album Lemonade (which came with a scratch-n-sniff sticker) and many of my favorites. Among them was “Cold Beverage” and “”.

After the show, the coat check line was huge. While waiting my turn I saw them escort Garrett out of the club. That meant no sitphraph for my picture from last time. The night could have been only slightly better — if I had had someone to share it with. It was Valentine’s Day, after all, and I’m not completely immune. Still, it was a fantastic night and I would certainly do it all over again.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

It’s been years since I’ve been to a comedy show. Back then I went to several local clubs to see standup the way I think it should be: small, smokey, and intimate. Back before they all got big and started doing stadium shows instead.

There are only a few comedians whose work I enjoy enough to actually rant to see them live outside a club setting. Dennis Miller, Denis Leary, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor (although he was slightly before my time), and Lewis Black.

After seeing him on The Daily Show and several TV standup specials, he came to the State Theater in Minneapolis and did his thing.

Always the angry sort, he did riffs on religion, politics, sports, and the absurdity of life in general.

He spent a lot of time on politics, but that wasn’t always the case in his act. I think the big change came about shortly after 9/11, when entire world governments truly went berzerk. Now the jokes seem to write themselves — a concept he even touched upon in his performance.

All told the show was between 2 and 2.5 hours, which included John Bowen opening and a 15 minute intermission.

Both Bowen and Black came out for autographs after the show. I’m still enough of a fanboy that I stood in line after the show just to say hi. OK, maybe not just to say “Hi,” I did get my CD autographed and a picture wpth him too.

It was a fun show and I laughed the whole time. Pretty good for a big theater show, although I think I still prefer the smaller clubs instead.

Once home to a movie theater, The Varsity has taken on new life as a concert venue. Due to it’s on-campus location and difficulty finding parking, I wasn’t the biggest fan at first. However, having been there for at least a half-dozen shows over the last couple months, the place has kind of grown on me.

Outfitted with café tables, couches, and comfortable chairs, The Varsity feels more like several small living rooms than it does a concert hall. Table lamps and candlelight add a certain homey quality that makes you feel as though you’re among friends. It’s a place that lends itself toward easy-going artists such as Kaki King and Stuart Davis.

The first opener was a group called Jelloslave and I just have to ask “What the fuck?” Is this really what music has come to? In our unending quest for something new are we to believe that the new frontier is cacaphonous, discordant noise? Please, for the love of all that is holy, NO! Two cellos, a pecussionist on tablas, and a drummer, and a percussionist; each apparently playing at different shows. It had that same unrecognizable quality that free-form, acid Jazz has. Completely random sounding, but played with such purpose that it must have been intentional. It wasn’t until their last song that they played something accessible enough that I could get into it.

Next up was Kubla Kahn, a 6-piece rock-n-roll act. Quite simply, they kicked ass. Throughout their eight-song set they put on a solid show with lots of energy and great tunes. People in the audience got up and danced a bit, sang along and generally had a good time. Kubla Kahn was just what an opening act should be, a warm-up for the crowd and a taste of things to come. I’ll have to pick up a CD sometime (they packed up their merch before the end of the Honeydogs set.)

Finally, taking the stage at almost 11:30, was The Honeydogs. Now, I’ve seen them before, and Adam Levy is one of my favorite local musicans; so to say I was looking forward to this show would be a bit of an understatement. I was not to be dissappointed either. Through their 90+ minute set they did a bunch of stuff from the new album, Amygdala, as well as older stuff. They kept up the energy the whole time and really turned it out.

All in all, it was a great evening and well worth it. If you ever get the chance, see them live and say hello to Adam, you won’t regret it.

Monday, 30 October 2006

In the early planning for my 2006 Heartland Tour there were some logistical difficulties. The first Roger Clyne show was in Cleveland, then Detroit, Chicago, and Minneapolis. As a series of one way tickets, or a multi-city trip were prohibitively expensive. I don’t know that the truck would survive a 1000-mile road-trip, so I ruled out that option as well.

Then I discovered that Los Straitjackets were still touring Twist Party and would be in Chicago a few days before the first Roger show. It was a eureka moment. They didn’t have any Twin Cities dates on the schedule, so I quickly changed my plans to a round trip to Chicago, car rental from there to hit Cleveland and Detroit, back in the Windy City for another Roger show, then home for the final show. I’d find things to do with the spare days in between.

Los Straitjackets where playing the Abbey Pub in Chicago. Once I found the place, I learned just how tough Chicago can be. Finding a place to park anywhere in the city is harder than finding something on the U of M campus. It’s all on-street and everything is restricted to permit zones. I got lucky and found something a couple blocks from the club.

Inside, the Abbey is a tiny little place with one bar, an upper level all under barrel-vaulted ceilings. The walls are painted to look (somewhat) like stones from a castle or old church. I was also surprised to learn that Chicago has not yet banned smoking in bars and restaurants. Not that it matters to me since I don’t smoke, but New York has gone that way, I was sure Chicago had too.

The opener was a group called the Patrick Sweeny Band. A three-piece rock-n-roll group that were kicked ass. It was so good that I picked up all both of their CDs plus Sweeny’s solo acoustic CD that he released before forming the band.

After Sweeny and company’s 60 minute set, there was a Halloween costume contest where a guy in a Mexican wrestling mask took first prize. I think it was more for his schitck, rather than the costume. The MC asked each contestant their name and he had this 20 word stream of Spanish that he blurted out. Second was some guy dressed as a “North Korean rocket scientist” and third was this pair of girls dressed in very lame Martian outfits. I thought the 70’s styled “Pimp Daddy” should have taken second with the Korean in third.

Finally Los Straitjackets took the stage and tore it up. They had the World Famous Pontani Sisters and Kaiser George with them, as usual, and the show was just great. I’m so glad I went.

During the show I realized that the Straitjackets work without a set list. Daddy-O announces them in his rapid-fire Spanish and they just lay into each song. I had never actually noticed that before.

The girls were beautiful as always, with their Go-Go/Twist routines and a few new costumes. Kaiser George sang for a few of the songs and play saxophone here and there.

I also noticed that the Straitjackets have a new CD/DVD combo available. It’s called Twist Party and has several of the twist type songs on it like “Peppermint Twist,” “The Twist,” and “Twistin’ Gorilla.” I’ll have to check, but there are a few songs that appear on some of their other albums and quite a few new ones.

I will actually be able to put together a set-list for the night, but it will take some time. I used the video function on my camera to shoot clips during each song. I just have to listen to each one and match it up with the CDs.

Overall it was a great night and Los Straitjackets are still the premier instrumental rock-n-roll band around.

I didn’t stick around for autographs and pictures after the show, but still managed to snap 227 pictures and 38 chunks of video.

Tuesday, 03 October 2006

Monday, 25 September 2006