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Even before they could start their first national tour, young Twin Cities rockers Hippo Campus will make their national TV debut Tuesday night on “Conan.” The jangly guitar-pop band – whose members are all ages 19-20 -- earned the gig with only a couple days’ notice after the music booker for Conan O’Brien’s late-night TBS show caught on to their buzz at the South by Southwest Music Conference over the weekend in Austin, Texas.
“We’re all freaking,” singer/guitarist Jake Luppen said Monday afternoon from a Chipotle restaurant in Yuma, Ariz. He and his bandmates were already headed to California from Texas to start their first tour in San Francisco on Wednesday with the Mowgli's when they heard the news. “Now we have hotel rooms in L.A. we can stay in,” Luppen quipped (“Conan” is filmed in Los Angeles and provides lodging to guests).
The band members did not immediately announce the news on Monday because they wanted to surprise their parents with a video announcement from the road. Such nice boys! They just posted the video via Instagram, re-posted below.
“Conan” music scout Jim Pitt reportedly caught one of Hippo Campus’ Austin gigs after first hearing their track “Suicide Saturday” on SXSW’s “New Music Meeting” panel, whose speakers included 89.3 the Current’s program director Jim McGuinn. The quartet will follow hugely popular comic Kevin Hart, who’s plugging his new movie with Will Ferrell, “Get Hard.”
As we reported in our frontpage story on the Minnesota youth movement at SXSW 2015, Hippo Campus already enjoyed quite a successful debut at SXSW even before the "Conan" gig came around. The mostly Woodbury-bred crew played seven gigs total in Austin, including parties for the AV Club, Lollapalooza/ACL Fest promoter C3 and TV foodie Rachael Ray, in addition to a well-attended official showcase on the Maggie Mae’s rooftop patio.
“It seemed like each of our shows were more and more crowded with people,” Luppen happily reported. They hung out with a few celebrities in Austin, too, including Elijah Wood and Green Day’s Mike Dirnt. And they’re not even TV stars yet…
“Conan” airs at 10 p.m. here in Minnesota. Hippo Campus will swing back through town with the Mowgli's for an April 3 show at the Varsity Theater on their way to a summer of touring that also includes My Morning Jacket opening gigs and a Red Rocks Amphitheater date with Walk the Moon.
Never mind yesterday’s snow, here’s proof summer is on its way: The Memory Lanes Block Party announced what might be the best lineup yet today for the 7th annual parking lot party outside the Seward neighborhood's bowling alley, happening again the Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. We already told you that Minneapolis surf-rock legends the Trashmen would be there when we wrote about them in January, but we didn’t say they would be topping off the Sunday bill with their vintage guitar-guru pal Deke Dickerson. Saturday’s show will feature the gods of the golden thong, Tickle Torture, for headliners.
For the first time ever, attendees will have to pay the price for the quality of the music. A whopping $5 cover charge will be required both days. If I hear anybody complain about that, I will personally whack them upside the head with a bowling pin. More details on the party can be seen on the event Facebook page. Here’s the lineup.
SATURDAY, MAY 23
Tickle Torture / Rupert Angeleyes / Suzie / Fort Wilson Riot / Southside Desire / Hardcore Crayons / Black Audience / Dead Larry / Phantom Tails / Private Oates
SUNDAY, MAY 24
The Trashmen & Deke Dickerson / Cactus Blossoms / Davina & the Vagabonds / Pavielle / Crankshaft / L’Assassins / Nato Cole & Blue Diamond Band
The host and a woman a head taller than he walked into a recording studio control room filled with a dozen or so invited guests.
“This is Judith Hill," he announced just before midnight Sunday night at Paisley Park in Chanhassen. "And I’m Prince.”
Yes, Prince is working with Hill, 31, the Los Angeles singer who caused a sensation on NBC’s “The Voice” in 2013 and also was featured in the Oscar- and Grammy-winning documentary “20 Feet From Stardom” about backup singers.
But Prince invited representatives from Fox 9, City Pages, 89.3 the Current and the Star Tribune to preview Hill’s album at Paisley and ask her – and him – questions. (The three members of Prince’s band, 3rdEyeGirl, were there, too, along with staffers Trevor Guy and Josh Welton, who are married to band members.)
Six selections were played from “Back in Time,” which Hill recorded in two or three weeks at Paisley Park with Prince as producer. “It’s the fastest album I’ve ever made,” he said.
After the first number was blasted over giant speakers in the studio control room, Prince piped up: “Ask your questions now. She’s going to be a superstar and you won’t be able to talk to her.”
Surprisingly, Prince did not discover Hill on “The Voice” or in the Michael Jackson movie “This Is It,” where she was featured as a backup singer in rehearsal for his upcoming tour. He learned about her when he saw a video clip of her being interviewed on a European TV show and she mentioned that she’d like to work with Prince.
Prince eventually tracked her down and invited her to a listening party in Los Angeles for “this album,” he said, pulling on his long-sleeve T-shirt which depicted the cover of last year’s “Art Official Age.” They talked briefly at the party and Prince asked what kind of music she wanted to make. He said she said “Sly and the Family Stone.” He said, “That’s all I needed to know.”
During this 50-minute listening session, Prince was remarkably relaxed. He wasn’t putting on airs or playing games. He seemed committed, sincere and proud. He seemed to relish that Hill is a singer with serious vocal chops, not just another attractive wanna-be. Not that Hill isn’t a striking figure, a tall woman in a kimono-like dress with frizzy hair piled atop her head.
Hill explained that some of the songs on the new album were written a while back and others more recently.
“Cry Cry Cry,” the first number played but not the first tune on the record, is an exciting big blues workout, with terrific big-band horn arrangements, some inspired R&B vocalizing and “that’s me on guitar,” as Prince put it. The song sounded like nothing associated with Prince. It was more like a young Irma Thomas doing an Etta James song with sizzling instrumental work. Prince said of Hill: “She has an analog voice.”
“Turn Up” and “My People” are funk pieces with a more familiar Prince vibe. “That Angel song,” as Prince called it, is a digital-sounding number, with Hill’s strong, soulful, mysterious voice surrounded by synthetic sounds.
“Beautiful Life” is a pretty, piano-driven ballad with strings. It's a number that Hill had performed on tour opening for Josh Groban in 2013 but Prince urged her to change it from a minor to major key.
Prince then pointed out how Sly’s big, joyous hits like “Dance to the Music” and “Stand” were done in major keys -- and praised Sly as a songwriter, not just a musicmaker and cultural force.
While Prince has felt comfortable in recent years as a mentor working with young musicians, he also was seeking knowledge on Sunday from the invited guests.
“What’s the most efficient way to get this music out?” he asked, noting that the music-bz landscape has changed..
City Pages’ Reed Fischer suggested a video. I suggested TV appearances because Hill has a built-in audience from “The Voice” and she appeals to multiple generations – like Adele did. (How ‘bout an entire hour of “Ellen” devoted to Hill, with surprise guest Prince playing guitar on “Cry Cry Cry”?)
Rachel Chazin, a digital producer for Fox 9, suggested Spotify. Prince had no idea what Spotify is.
So Chazin, who said she’s 23, explained how the online listening service works, with a $10 fee per month or free music with commercials mixed in.
Prince liked that suggestion and asked his associate how long it would take to get on Spotify? “One week,” Guy said. Prince said to pursue it even though he was told that Spotify pays very minimal royalities to artists.
Getting the album on Spotify might be premature. Hill said she has no release date for the project and is close to signing a record deal. She inked a contract with Columbia Records in 2013 but no album was released.
Hill does have a cover photo for "Back in Time":– a picture of her as a young kid at a toy piano. Her mother took the photo. And, no, Hill didn’t play the toy piano on the album. In fact, its whereabouts are unknown.
Prince was asked how he felt about making music available on iTunes. So he recounted a dinner meeting he'd had with Apple executives in about 2005. He asked what was the biggest selling album at the time on iTunes. He was told 200,000. “The meeting is over,” he said.
He then mentioned that Hill’s album cost a lot to make because it involved many musicians who need to be paid. If she doesn’t get paid, he said he couldn’t afford to keep buying shoes.
Radio programmer Jim McGuinn asked if Hill would perform on the Current.
“No,” she said unknowingly. “But I’ll play at Bunker’s.”
Then Prince apologized and said he should have explained that the Current is a radio station.
The Purple One has shown her a bit of Minneapolis, including going to the Dakota Jazz Club together in December to see Lisa Fischer, who was also featured in “20 Feet from Stardom.”
After the Current faux pas, Prince led the invited guests back to the NPG Music Club room at Paisley Park, where about 100 lucky Purple fans had gathered. It was show time for Hill and her six-man band.
She tore into “My People,” which was the last song heard in the listening session. Next came a new tune with an old-school jazz vibe and the key line “I wanna love choo choo.” New Orleans funk is probably the best way to describe the ensuing song, which could be titled “Let’s Get Wild Tonight.” Hill played keyboards on “Cry Cry Cry,” which sounded soulful but strikingly different without horns.
Still, the slam-bam, 30-minute performance proved that Hill has a world-class voice that has improved since her TV-talent stint -- and a formidable band with a funky bent. Prince never joined her onstage. She didn’t really need him.
Steve McClellan has always done things his way. Quirky, cranky, verbosely opinionated and hugely influential, he ran First Avenue for 30 years. Now, the mayors of both Minneapolis and St. Paul have declared Stephen McClellan Day. On Sunday. Today. A day of rest? Nah, McClellan never rests.
The timing is not his quirkiness but rather whereas March 22 is his 65th birthday, the mayors made their declarations on this day.
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges’ proclamation points out that McClellan was born in Minneapolis and went to DeLaSalle High School there. He has served on the board of the Cedar Cultural Center, KFAI Radio, Minnesota Public Interest Research Group and the Downtown Warehouse Association.
As talent buyer, marketing director and eventually general manager of First Avenue, he helped nurture the careers of such local heroes as the Jayhawks, Husker Du, Replacements, the Suburbs, the Wallets, Prince, the Time and the Flamin’ Oh’s.
McClellan also presented such future giants as R.E.M., U2, Nirvana and Green Day early in their careers.
In an identical declaration (who writes these things?), St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman mentions that McClellan teaches music business classes at McNally Smith in downtown St. Paul and helps run Diverse Emerging Music Organization (DEMO) to assist aspiring musicians.
“Austin is the one that put me on the map.”
So declared Charles Bradley, who was an unlikely SXSW buzz act in 2012 at the age of 62. The Florida soul-man showman came back triumphant Thursday night, wowing a crowd of about 8,000 at Auditorium Shores with a view of the skyline that matched his shimmery silvery muscle shirt. It was a quintessential SXSW showcase, with gorgeous spring weather, a cool hidden-gem artist like Bradley and a revered hometown band for a headliner, Spoon, who similarly reiterated their worth in a set reminiscent of last year's Rock the Garden finale.
Here’s how the rest of Thursday went.
MOST QUOTABLE: “I hope when they put these pictures up on BrooklynVegan, they’ll objectify my whole band, not just me. I don’t want to leave them out.” –Speedy Ortiz frontwoman Sadie Dupuis at Red 7’s patio, apparently unhappy with some of the media coverage her ¾-male band has gotten this week.
“We’ve played about six shows today. I’ve been drinking beer since about noon.” –Brandon Rush of the slick, chant-loving Portland pop/rock band Priory, who replaced an ailing Catfish & the Bottleman at the ACL Live theater and could pick up where Imagine Dragons left off at commercial FM radio.
“I thought there’d be a buffet.” –Slug of Atmosphere’s opening remark on the industry panel celebrating the 20th anniversary of Minneapolis’ Rhymesayers Entertainment at the Austin Convention Center.
CAN’T WAIT TO SEE HER AGAIN: Australian rocker Courtney Barnett -- who's lined up to play Rock the Garden in Minneapolis on June 20 – took a bold approach that paid off beautifully Thursday afternoon at the Tumblr day party in a dark club off Sixth Street. After playing a couple songs off her earlier EPs (but surprisingly not her hit “Avant Gardner”), she proceeded to roll straight through her entire new album, which comes out next week. The new songs alternated between a cool, cocky, Lou Reed-like sleazy swagger and Nirvana-like bombast, all of which her noticeably tightened band nailed. They’re definitely ready for festival gigs like RTG.
HOPE TO SEE THEM AGAIN: Neither the Districts nor Palma Violets have Minneapolis gigs on their current itineraries, which is really a shame. Both of the garagey, spunky fuzz-rock bands put on impressively full-throttle, rock starry showings late Thursday night at the Parish. Pennsylvanians the Districts sounded less polished and more grimy – in a good way – than it often does on record, with traces of early Kings of Leon and a nice cocksure stage show. A band that has been scarce on tour since their breakout at SXSW 2013, scruffy Londonites Palma Violets earned even more Libertines comparisons with their rowdy, unhinged, could-fall-apart-any-moment approach. But they never actually did burst at the seams, and in fact were gloriously in step on by the time they got to “Best of Friends” at the end of the night -- about the best way imaginable to end an 14-hour day of watching bands.
Thursday night’s other big treat was a near-opposite live music experience in a downtown church, where Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear – a son-and-mother acoustic duo out of the Kansas City area – charmed the bejeezus out of its audience. Madisen, 26, has a deep-but-smooth baritone voice and evocative folk-writer lyricism that would make him a worthy act on his own. His mother Ruth added a valuable sweetness and serenity, though, with her rich harmony vocals and extra guitar work. I could see them fitting in nicely at the Dakota or Cedar Cultural Center on the other end of I-35.
THE EH FACTOR: Arcade Fire bassist/keyboardist/whateverist Will Butler, brother of the band’s frontman Win Butler, took a noticeably (and admirably) different approach to his outing behind a new solo album Thursday at Pitchfork’s day party outside, but it was only mildly enticing. Sporting matching T-shirts with their first names emblazoned on the front, he and his band – which featured three women on backup vocals and keyboards but no bassist – giddily tore through his choppy, semi-manic, Jonathan Richman-evoking songs but were a bit disjointed and really just silly in their fun-loving delivery. Hopefully they will have their act together better by the time Butler hits the Cedar on June 3.
Big Data won’t have quite as much time to gel, as it’s due at the Fine Line in Minneapolis on March 31. Producer Alan Wilkis’ poppy Brooklyn-based electro synth-wave band came off like a cross between Fitz & the Tantrums and Erasure musically, with sexy grooves and dramatic melodies. But it wound up sounding like a hot mess despite being at the most hi-fi facility in town, the ACL Live Moody Theater, with a sometimes murky sound and overthought arrangements.
See Tony Nelson's photo galleries and more SXSW coverage at startribune.com/sxsw.
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