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Photo from www.larrybraggs.net
Larry Braggs sure knows how to make a parting impression.
After 14 years, he is leaving Tower of Power at the end of this year. He’s had the longest tenure of any vocalist with the 45-year-old Oakland funk band. And he is inarguably the best. He proved it again Wednesday night as TOP began a four-night stand at the Dakota Jazz Club.
In the 90-minute late show, Braggs was on fire – as a nimbly soulful vocalist and a charming, trash-talking chatterbox.
He made fun of the Vikings, the Petersons musical family, the burgundy faux-fur coat of Minneapolis musician Jellybean Johnson (who was in the crowd) and a front-row woman who brought a book to read. He even toyed with the band’s fill-in bass player, Mark VW (Braggs couldn’t pronounce the Dutch surname of the sub for Rocco Prestia, who is awaiting a kidney transplant). And, of course, Braggs took a shot at our weather because TOP had arrived directly from Hawaii.
But Braggs, a soul showman with elastic limbs and voice, also came to play. Backed by a funky band with a crisp, often jazzy horn section (led by cofounder Emilio Castillo), he sang his heart out, finding the ecstasy on “Me and Mrs. Jones” and mining the funk on an 18-minute James Brown salute during which he brought up Johnson on guitar and Ricky Peterson on keyboards.
Braggs may have been at his best, though, on “So Very Hard To Go,” the hit ballad from TOP’s 1970s heyday. He was suave and soulful and a little sad. For Tower of Power fans, it is going to be so very hard to see him go.
Braggs says he will work on a couple of solo projects and write a book. Meanwhile, he and Tower of Power perform again at 7 and 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at the Dakota.
Minnesota acts didn't fare as well as we had hoped on "The Voice" and "The X Factor," which means all hope now rests on Home Free.
The local a cappella group impressed the judges during last Monday's premiere of NBC's 'The Sing-Off" with its rendition of Florida Georgia Line's "Cruise." Ben Folds was particularly jazzed by Tim Foust's deep voice, which he said left him feeling like he had "bass in my butt."
Judge Shawn Stockman predicted that the five-man group could go a long way in the competition, which includes nine other acts.
Home Free returns to the show on Monday -- but you don't have to wait that long to hear them again.
The group will perform Christmas songs Saturday night at the Fitzgerald Theatre.
Star Tribune photos by Renee Jones Schneider
Bravo for iHeartRadio, the much-hyped but little-listened entity of Clear Channel Media. That brand was responsible for the significant upgrade in the production quality of KDWB’s Jingle Ball 2013 on Tuesday at the X.
Giant video screens with live action, slick graphics, flamethrowers, indoor fireworks, confetti cannons and even a revolving stage platform, which made this the most efficient Jingle Ball ever (eight acts in 3 ½ hours, not the usual five-hours-plus).
There was one annoying aspect of the production, though – the playing of TV commercials (like teens care about furnace repairs) instead of music video clips between acts. Leave the commercials (KD DJ Big D’s daughter Hailey may be cute but seeing her seven or 10 times was too much) for the radio – when we can change the channel.
In my review in the paper, there wasn’t much space to discuss anyone beyond Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke, the main attractions.
So here are some thoughts on the other acts:
Fifth Harmony, the female vocal quintet from TV’s “X Factor,” displayed nice hair, four quality singers but no charisma. These young women seemed stiff and manufactured.
Austin Mahone, a 17-year-old YouTube sensation from Texas and Justin Bieber wanna-be, manifested more swag than genuine talent.
Accompanied by four dancers but no live musicians, Nickelodeon-launched Ariana Grande (below), wearing a short skirt featuring a holly pattern, came across like a pint-sized Mariah Carey, complete with the breathy,
affected vocal gymnastics but minus the va-voom personna. With her big voice, Grande has potential but, considering that she’s only seven months younger than Cyrus, well, everyone matures at her own pace.
Backed by an eight-person band, Jingle Ball returnee Enrique Iglesias unleashed his sex appeal for a fast-paced 17 minutes of invigorating, Latin-tinged dance-pop.
Fall Out Boy, those emo rockers from Chicago, thrilled the few guys in the arena with "Thanks for the Memories," "The Phoenix" and "Alone Together," though this band is starting to sound more professional than punky.
Flo Rida (below), the hard-working rapper from, of course, Florida, shifted the party into overdrive with such sing-along hits as "Good Feeling" and "Whistle," which featured a dancing, present-delivering Santa Claus, wearing a giant "HoHoHo" pendant. For his finale, Flo removed his shirt to show off his famous tattoos while three dozen Minnesota girls danced around him onstage as he implored them to "Turn Around."
Here’s a quick roundup of some late-winter and spring concerts announced over the past couple days:
*St. Vincent will tackle her biggest local venue yet, the State Theatre, on April 3. Tickets go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. for $25-$29.50 through Ticketmaster and the State box office. The experimental Dallas art-rocker's new self-titled album is set to arrive February 25. The first single from it, “Birth in Reverse,” is posted below.
*Ex-Minneapolitan Bob Mould will return March 4 to the Woman’s Club Theatre of Minneapolis on a short acoustic tour tied to the 25th anniversary reissue of “Workbook,” his first solo album and last recording as a Minnesotan. Tickets go on sale Friday at noon via First Ave outlets for $25. He’s expected to play "selections from the record" (not the whole thing) and other songs that fit the "Workbook," um, mold, with only bassist Jason Narducy for accompaniment.
*Christian rocker TobyMac is bringing his “Hits Deep” tour to Xcel Energy Center for Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, with guests Brandon Heath, Mandisa, Matthew West and Matt Maher. Tickets are $22-$42 and go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m. through Ticketmaster and the X box office.
*We can’t seem to get their regular band to play anywhere close to town, but Phish bassist Mike Gordon will follow his bandmate Trey Anastasio’s lead and play a solo date here March 11 at the Varsity Theater. Tickets ($25) go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. via Ticketfly.com. Gordon's new album, "Overstep," is due Feb. 25 via ATO Records. Anastasio is already set to play First Ave on Feb. 4.
*Loungey jazz-pop favorites Pink Martini return to play the Fitzgerald Theater on March 5, with $40-$65 seats on sale Friday at noon via Ticketmaster or the Fitz box office.
*Underrated fuzz-pop darlings the Dum Dum Girls will play an April Fool’s gig on April 1 at the Triple Rock, on sale via First Ave outlets Friday at noon for $15. Their latest Sub Pop album, “too True,” arrives Jan. 28.
*Landing on quite a few year-end lists with their sophomore album “Hummingbird,” Los Angeles indie-rockers Local Natives will return to First Ave on April 6. Tickets ($22) go on sale Friday at noon.
The lineup is still coming together, and performers themselves will not be announced until April. Tickets will be sold at that time as both two-day and single-day passes. Prices have not yet been determined (last year’s were $49). As always, members of the Walker and Minnesota Public Radio will get first dibs. All 10,000 tickets have sold out in recent years faster than you can imitate Mark Wheat pronouncing “Messersmith.”
A membership drive first and foremost, RTG also brings in money to its co-producing nonprofit organizations. The 2012 party with the Hold Steady for headliners, for instance, profited about $32,000 after $690,000 in expenses. Since part of the annual costs is setting up the stage in front of the Walker’s grassy knoll and prepping the grounds – one-time expenses that are the same whether it’s a one-day or two-day event – the 2014 installment should thus be all the more profitable with a second day to make money.
Still, there are risks with this doubling-down bet. The first day of RTG 2014 will go up against the long-awaited return of 89.3 the Current favorite Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds at the State Theatre. First Avenue is also still considering the launch of its inaugural outdoor festival at Parade Athletic Fields in July, which could steal some of RTG’s thunder.
Working to RTG’s advantage this year, however: It will not go up against Bonnaroo in Tennessee this year like it did last year, which cut out 100-plus prospective acts for them to bring to the garden party. Bonnaroo is scheduled the weekend before, June 12-15.