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A few thoughts on Marina & the Diamonds and the Skyway Theatre, which I was experiencing as a music venue for the first time on Sunday.
• The Skyway, the old downtown Minneapolis multi-plex, has potential as a live music space. It has room for 2,000, which makes it bigger than First Avenue (1,600) and smaller than the Myth (3,200). The Skyway’s deep balcony accommodates about 700. The sightlines are good from both levels because the main floor is graded/sloped (think a movie theater with the seats torn out, duh) and the balcony has many steps/levels (and no seats, either, except in two “VIP boxes” in the front corners.).
• The sound was very good on the main floor, pretty good (read not as loud) in the balcony.
• The Skyway has featured Andy Grammer, the Big Gigantic and a couple other live acts, as well as lots of DJs.
• The balcony could definitely use reflector tape or some other device to mark the steps/levels. I could envision clubgoers taking a tumble in the dark during a show.
• There is one bar on the main floor and the others are in the spacious lobby, which also has chairs on which to lounge.
• The place is clearly worse for wear. At least, the air-conditioning worked, but the carpeting on the main staircase was badly torn in spots and the escalator did not work. And, after all these years, the place still smelled of popcorn.
• As for Marina, it’s easy to see why she’s a star in England (she’s from Wales) and why the Skyway crowd – mostly teen and 20-something women and some young gay men-- enjoyed her. Her lyrics speak to the frustrations, insecurities and dreams of youth. And she has built a following with an appearance at the Triple Rock, a slot opening for Coldplay last year at the Xcel Energy Center and lots of viral buzz.
• Musically, the 27-year-old’s piano ballads suggested Regina Spektor without the sophistication and deep talent. Her dramatic dance-pop brought to mind Florence + the Machine without the vocal power and Imogen Heap without the inventiveness.
• As forthy fun as “Primadonna,” “Radioactive” and “How to Be a Heartbreaker” were, they were pretty generic. Maybe that explains why clubgoers were Pogoing and not actually dancing to those numbers.
• Backed by a four-piece band, Marina Diamandis (her father is Greek, her mother Welsh) demonstrated the panache and quirkiness of a star – from dancing with a manikin to wearing beauty queen sashes with faux titles (“Teen Idle,” which is one of her songs, was one) to sporting a tiny heart on her left cheek (which many female clubgoers imitated).
Hundreds partied at the American Swedish Institute this spring. Star Tribune photo by Jeff Wheeler.
Everyone loves a party, especially arty types eager to celebrate in style. Three of Minneapolis' leading arts organizations are staging galas this summer either as fund-raisers or to celebrate their heritage.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts leads off June 1 with a simple "summer party" theme to raise money. It promises "sunset cocktails" followed by a "celebration of the Minneapolis music scene" with Doomtree and Morris Day and the Time. Pick your price range: General tickets: $85 per person for nibbles, 1 drink, 2 tickets to the special exhibition "More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness." VIP tickets: $175 per person including all of the above plus valet parking and more drinks. Gala tickets: $750 and up for 6 p.m. dinner, etc. (8:30 p.m. to midnight, June 1. Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 3rd Av. S., Mpls. 612-870-6323 or www.artsmia.org)
Next up on June 15 is the American Swedish Institute with a traditional, day-long Swedish Midsommar Festival. The family-friendly event includes singing, dancing, fiddling, "flower head-wreath making," glass-blowing, a flea market and a mini-golf course. Yep, just when Walker Art Center seemed to have a lock on mini-golf with its artist-designed course, the Swedes try to muscle in. The glass blowers will be giving demos in conjunction with the opening of ASI's new "Kingdom of Crystal," exhibition of Swedish glass art. Be advised that the festival food will include pickled herring as well as the usual hot dogs, ice cream and lemonade. (10 a.m. to 5 p.m., June 15, $7 adults. American Swedish Institute, 2600 Park Av. S., Mpls. www.ASImn.org)
Walker Art Center will round out the season September 21 with its annual fund raising gala in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Dubbed "Avant Garden," the event promises music, art, gourmet food, specialty cocktails, an auction and dancing. How long you can stay depends on what you pay: Silver Key, 8:30 to 11 p.m., $100. Gold Key, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., $500. (6 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Walker Art Center, 175 Hennepin Av., Mpls. 612-375-7600 or www.walkerart.org)
Dave "Cool Breeze" Brown in 1999 (photo by Joey McLeister, Star Tribune)
By Tom Surowicz
There's a memorial gathering Saturday for Twin Cities jump blues master, Dave "Cool Breeze" Brown, longtime leader of the Senders, a truly great bar band. Despite the shock and sadness of his sudden passing from cardiac arrest at age 58, it should be a swingin' affair. Because Dave was a "Good Rockin' Daddy," a high-spirited bon-vivant, the life of so many parties.
An excellent guitarist, "Cool Breeze" was Mojo Buford's favorite Minnesota sideman. And Lynwood Slim's right-hand man. And Charmin Michelle's early duets partner. Dave loved honkin' sax-driven blues sounds of the 1940s and 1950s, the wilder and more risque the better, and his Senders delivered the goods.
They got to play live and record with one of the ultimate purveyors of jump blues art, Big Jay McNeely. In their heyday, Brown's band also supported Lowell Fulson, John Lee Hooker, and Johnny Adams, and recorded with Charles Brown, legends all. But "Cool Breeze" remained self-deprecating, often laughingly referring to his "Dean Martin-style crooning."
Omnipresent on the 1990s bar scene, Brown was less prominent, but still active in recent years, working with several groups, including some new Senders lineups and, most frequently, the Detroit Don King Blues Band. "Cool Breeze" blew no ill, and left behind thousands of smiles.
The service will be at noon Saturday at Lakewood Cemetery Memorial Chapel, 36th St. and Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis, followed by a celebration at the Artists' Quarter in St. Paul.
Gifts in his memory may be made to the Cool Breeze Memorial Fund, www.coolbreezememorial.com.
Ward Rubrecht got the highest score at the second Moth storytelling contest last night at the Amsterdam in St. Paul.
Love hurts, but storytelling is the best revenge. Several skilled raconteurs proved it Wednesday at the Amsterdam Bar & Hall in downtown St. Paul, where the second of the Moth's Minnesota storySLAMs drew a crowd of 200.
The Moth, a New York-based organization devoted to the craft of storytelling, first became prominent by taping celebrities telling stories. It's now gone national, producing storySLAMS in several cities. The slams here are hosted the last Wednesday of each month by MPR, which airs the Peabody Award-winning "The Moth Story Hour" at 10 p.m. Sundays.
Last month's theme was "secrets," last night's "love hurts." Part of the event's charm is its mix of randomness and rules; storytellers toss their names into a bag and ten are drawn. Three sets of judges are also picked from the audience. Each performer's story must not go longer than five minutes, a long whistle is blown softly to warn them when time is running out.
Host MIke Fotis, who won last month's premiere event with a story about something terrible he did on a plane, gave encouraging feedback to most of the performers. "I could feel the lightning shaking off your hips," he told Hope Koon, after she recounted her resentful retaliation toward a "candy boyfriend" who two-timed her.
Ward Rubrecht nailed the highest score with a biting account of bullying. Matt Burgess's creative take on the theme involved stalking a mysterious codger who might have been J.D. Salinger, or not. Leif Walvin from Minot (with the accent to prove it) had us on the edge of our seats when he told of hitching a ride with a creep to reach his lady love.
Though the contestants are chosen by luck of the draw, the deck seemed a bit stacked with a clique of professional or at least very experienced tellers who know each other, like first-up Nancy Donoval, a former national champ whose excellent story about playing the "what-if game" about a lost love during "a dry spell I like to call my 30s" ran the gamut from hilarious to poignant. A few more gutsy amateurs would have made for a better mix, and maybe more will dare to share at the next event on March 27, when the theme will be "detours."
After revisiting a beer style from the 1800s for the last installment of its popular Unchained small-batch series, Summit is turning to a newer, trendier brand of brew for the next one: 100% Organic Ale has been announced as Unchained #12. The limited-edition brew will hit bars and stores next week. Per the beer-geeky promotional machinery at the pioneering St. Paul brewery, the "100%" designation is relevant because most beers advertised as organic aren’t entirely so.
“It is extremely difficult to find ingredients like organic yeast,” explained Unchained brewer Gabe Smoley, who apparently gave 110% to create his own certified organic yeast strain for the beer. The designation could distinguish Summit’s brew from the other popular organic beers out there, including the Organic ESB by Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery, Deschutes’ Green Lakes Organic Ale (from Oregon) and Peak Brewery’s Peak Organic (Maine). Summit’s brand is advertised as a lighter ale with 60 IBU (mid-level hoppiness). Click here to read more about it.
As always, Summit will roll out the Unchained barrels with a series of events:
March 11: Meet the brewer – MacKenzie’s Pub, Minneapolis, 2-5 pm
March 11: Release party – Butcher & The Boar beer garden, Minneapolis, 5-8 pm
March 13: Meet the brewer and food pairings – Brasa St. Paul, 5-9 pm
March 14: “Hoppy Meals” pairings – Republic Uptown, 4-6 pm; Republic Seven Corners, 7-9 pm
March 15: Firkin Friday with Organic Ale cask – Grumpy’s NE, 4 pm
March 21: Meet Gabe and sample Organic Ale – Four Firkins, 6-8 pm