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Posts about Minnesota musicians

Brian Setzer rocks his town with early Christmas present

Posted by: Jon Bream Updated: November 15, 2014 - 2:24 AM

“Merry Christmas,” Brian Setzer told the sell-out crowd Friday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. Look, it’s not even Thanksgiving and he’s sincerely wishing everyone “Merry Christmas.” That’s because it was opening night of the annual 28-city holiday tour by the Brian Setzer Orchestra.

That’s how Setzer pays for his pomade, so he has to play the yule role when he kicks off the tour in his hometown, where he rehearsed with his 17-piece ensemble for two days. He dressed up the stage with Christmas trees, tinsel, stockings, presents, Santa, Mr. Grinch and snazzy outfits for himself, his musicians and backups singers, the Vixens..

Even if you consider this celebration too early (who buys poinsettias in mid-November?), you won’t find a more energetic, exciting and musical holiday concert than what the Brian Setzer Orchestra delivered for 110 minutes.

To be sure, a handful of selections were not holiday fare. Setzer has to do some Stray Cats hits (“Rock This Town,” “Stray Cat Strut”) as well as his own hit “Jump Jive and Wail.” Plus he did one number from his brand new rockabilly album in addition to a gorgeous interpretation of “Sleep Walk” (the Santo and Johnny instrumental hit from 1959) and a killer version of the Johnny Cash classic “Ring of Fire,” complete with mariachi trumpets.

No one comes up with more imaginative arrangements for yule music than Setzer and BSO (he has released four Christmas albums). “Sleigh Ride” traveled at practically NASCAR speed. “Angels We Have Heard on High” was mostly a hard-charging instrumental. In “Jingle Bells,” he rode in a ’57 Chevrolet. And never has the “Nutcracker Suite” sounded more playful.

Setzer also offered some obscure holiday ditties, including “Boogie Woogie Santa,” that fit his sound and style perfectly. Plus he did some original Christmas tunes, including “Fishnet Stockings,” which was a rockabilly riot.

What tied these tunes together were the contagious spirit of the musicians and Setzer’s outstanding guitar work. Whether he was jazzy, twangy, classically inclined, surf-styled, rockin’ or whatever, it was the gift that kept on giving. 

Martin Frost weighs in on SPCO collaboration

Posted by: Kristin Tillotson Updated: November 12, 2014 - 6:11 PM

Martin Frost, star clarinetist, will work with the SPCO on tours, recording and some concerts here at home through the 2018-19 season.

When Martin FrÖst performed a weekend of concerts with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in October, audiences were so excited they looked as if they might turn cartwheels in the aisle. This week, the SPCO announced that FrÖst will be the next in a line of impressive artistic partners, with plans for recording, international tours, new commissioned works and involvement with the star clarinetist's current passion, his" Genesis Project," which will trace the development of classical music from its earliest folk and religious roots to modern compositions.

FrÖst, 43, also recently signed a contract with Sony Classical, and hopes to record with the SPCO as both soloist and conductor on that label during his partnership. He said he's branching out beyond just performing now because "I didn't want to look back on my life and say, oh, I did [Mozart's] Clarinet Concerto 900 times. I'd like to be able to say I was brave enough to try new things, to open new doors for classical music."

FrÖst waxed enthusiastic about his upcoming collaborations with the orchestra (to last through the 2018-19 season). He described the chamber orchestra’s members as musicians who “don’t just sit there. They sit on the edge of their chairs. They're very flexible to work with and can play some extremely hard stuff. They are offering a wonderful musical home for me, a perfect pairing to try new things.” One of those new things, he hopes, will be performances of his original conceptual work “Dollhouse,” which combines music, dance and special lighting effects, with musicians taking cues from his choreographed movement onstage. The work premiered in Stockholm in 2013 and was performed last month in Gothenburg, Sweden.

"I call it 'conductography,' " he said."It's about liberation, in both physical and symbolic form.". Okay, SPCO -- prepare to be liberated.

Soap Factory in Minneapolis to celebrate 25th anniversary

Posted by: Mary Abbe Updated: November 12, 2014 - 1:22 PM

Alexa Horochowski's 2014 installation at The Soap Factory. Star Tribune photo by Tom Sweeney

A lot has changed in the 25 years since The Soap Factory art complex started life as No Name Exhibitions.The popoular outpost for Halloween fun and experimental art is celebrating its quarter century anniversary with a benefit  party from 6 p.m. to midnight, Saturday, Nov. 15 in its cavernous, brick-and-timber warehouse, a former soap factory,  at 514 S.E. Second St., Minneapolis.

The Factory's presence there has been a spur to development in what is now a fast-gentrifying neighborhood near the Mississippi River. Back in 1989, what is now a rough-hew home to avant garde art was still a functioning factory.

"There have been a lot of changes in this building," said Ben Heywood, executive director of The Soap Factory. "Back then they were literally melting down animals and turning them into fat and then throwing lye into it and turning it into soap."

Back then a group of local artists banded together and started No Name Exhibitions in another quasi derelict building known as the Skunk House. On the opposite side of the Mississippi and just west of Hennepin Av., the Skunk House was subsequently acquired by the Federal Reserve bank to house its air conditioning plant, Heywood said. No Name then moved into the bottling house of the former Grain Belt Brewery and from there to the Soap Factory in 1995.

"Our exhibition space went from 600 square feet to 50,000 square feet when we moved here, so that's a big change," Heywood said.

The Factory building is still pretty raw, but it too has changed over the years. Now, for example, it has bathrooms. And in January it will add heating and air conditioning for the basement and first floor. Previously the place closed in winter months when there was no heat.

Other improvements include the addition of a permanent staff, rather than volunteers who ran the place until 2002. With staff came a year-round exhibition and performance program. And the ever-popular Haunted Basement Halloween shindig. And now the 25th anniversary party. 

Billed as a "day of citywide fun," the anniversary committee may have overpromised a bit. There won't be hot air balloons or marching bands on Nicollet Mall, much as Heywood would love such stuff. By "city-wide" they mean art impressario and cultural gadabout Andy Sturdevant leading a Soap Factory History tour starting at 3 p.m. Saturday in a vintage bus that will roll past previous Factory locales.

"Andy is a city-wide celebration in himself," Heywood explained. Indeed.

The Factory invited 9,000 people to the shindig and expects a good turn out.

"We can hold 700 people on the first floor and we should have a full house," Heywood said.

Party goers can expect Beatrix* JAR and Solid Gold to kick off the event with DJs Diarrhea (Jackie Beckey) and Christopher Saint Christopher (Christopher Allen) commanding the dance floor and emcee Ian Rans running the show.

There will be complimentary cocktails by Bittercube, gourmet nibbles from Fabulous Catering and Common Roots catering, small plates from Tilia, Heyday, Haute Dish, Third Bird, and the University of MN College of Design. Plus art by Aaron Dysart and Andy DuCett. Performances by artist Jaime Carrera and theater company Live Action Set. Plus an auction, of course.

(Party 6 p.m. to midnight, Nov, 15, tickets $50 to $2,000. The Soap Factory, 514 Second St. S.E., Mpls. For tickets: www.soapfactory.org)


Surly's Doomtree beer to debut next month

Posted by: Chris Riemenschneider Updated: November 10, 2014 - 4:11 PM
Like wolves guarding the hen house: Members of Doomtree hit the Surly brewing facility recently to oversee quality control. / Photo courtesy Surly

Like wolves guarding the hen house: Members of Doomtree hit the Surly brewing facility recently to oversee quality control. / Photo courtesy Surly

Imagine First Avenue nightclub serving Jucy Lucy’s from Matt’s Bar or  “A Prairie Home Companion” being taken over by Har Mar Superstar. That’s the kind of only-in-Minnesota pairing that has been taking place behind-the-scenes with the Surly Brewing Co. and local hip-hop troop Doomtree, who have teamed up to create a new beer in time for the latter’s 10th annual -- and final – Blowout concert marathon.

Surly Doomtree will be available in kegs throughout the Blowout X eight-day run, Dec. 6-14. The flavor of the beer is being kept tightly under wraps until then by Surly brewmaster and metal shredder Todd Haug, but the newly arrived press release for the brew promises “it’s a style that is fitting of both Doomtree and Surly -- non-traditional and hard to classify.”

The logo for Surly's Doomtree brew, based on the brewery's logo and the rap crew's "No Kings" album art.The second day of the eight-day farewell Blowout schedule, Dec. 7, has already been billed as Doomtree’s Surly Day. No performance is scheduled that day but members of the group will be doing something else they’re very good at: bar-hopping. They will hit a handful of beer havens around the Twin Cities that day and mingle with fans to tout the new brew. Word is the beer may not be limited to Blowout week, too, should demand for it outlast the rap shows.

Details of the Surly-Doomtree mash-up -- home brewers might get that pun -- were finally announced last night at the release party for another new beer, Surly 8, at the Dakota Jazz Club, where Doomtree members surprised partygoers with a short set. Mutual admirers for several years, Surly staff met with the hip-hop crew members over the summer to brew up ideas for their collaboration. The pairing is well timed for both parties promotionally spaking, as Surly is about to open its new $30 million facility near Prospect Park area of Minneapolis, and Doomtree will drop a new all-crew album in late January.

“Witnessing the pride and dedication they have not only for the beer that they create but the state that they come from, it all just kind of clicked,” Doomtree producer Lazerbeak said of Surly. And Surly president Omar Ansari said of the rap kids, “They shared our belief that putting out a quality product that you can be proud of is more important than chasing what you think consumers want.”

This beer shouldn’t have any trouble finding consumers, though.

Bob Dylan wraps three-night Orpheum stand same as he started

Posted by: Chris Riemenschneider Updated: November 7, 2014 - 12:01 AM
Before the marquee changed. / Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Before the marquee changed. / Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Maybe he’s trying to make up for the shockwave he caused by that whole going-electric thing. Or at least it felt like Bob Dylan had completed a 180-degree turn from his legendary 1965 transformation at the Orpheum Theatre on Thursday night, since he played the exact same set list for the third night in a row there.

The surprise is there was no surprise on Thursday. Although, fans who paid attention to set lists in other cities – and it seemed like this was mostly a hardcore crowd that knew what's what – knew that Dylan has been sticking to the same lineup of mostly recent songs from night to night, even in other cities where he’s playing multiple nights. Click here to see the set list posted from Night 1 at the Orpheum, with six songs from the last Dylan album, "Tempest."

Of course, ours is the only city where Dylan actually used to own the venue, a fact he never once referenced throughout the three shows. No surprise there, either. He never said anything, really, other than his standard pre-intermission salutation, “Well, thank you. We’ll be right back.”

Surprise might be overrated, though. Dylan has been trying to shake things up performance-wise  for five decades now. The point of this current outing seems to be testing out how well he and the band can settle into playing this particular set of tunes, or how much they can vary the music within these tight parameters.


Stylistically, the songs ranged in sound from the mambo-like rhythmic reworking of “Beyond Here Lies Nothing” to the waltzy rendition of “Waiting for You,” and from the wicked grind of “Lovesick” to the light, jazzy vibe of “Spirit on the Water,” in which Bob sat at piano and traded playful licks with guitarist Charlie Sexton like they were in the least-psychedelic jam band of all time. Things a-changed aplenty musically even with the songs remaining the same.

Or maybe the cemented set list was more about what’s left of Bob’s voice, chosen based on how well he can build up his cords around these particular tunes – because his singing was clearer and more inspired than it has been in recent memory Thursday, much like the other nights. Even the two “Blood on the Tracks” tracks, “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Simple Twist of Fate,” were delivered more elegantly and just plain more annunciated than they had been in years.

Three nights was certainly enough – in fact, one of these shows really did suffice in this case, as special as they were – but it would be interesting to see how different Bob and the band sound toward the end of this current string of shows, even if they’re still playing all the same songs. Or especially if they’re still playing this same damn set list.  


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