501 Club is out, Turf in transition

Minneapolis loses one of its best new venues, while St. Paul's favorite old hangout hangs on.

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The 501 Club will close with a weekend of shows, including MC/VL's farewell.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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Well, this sure is a crapola way to start out the new year.

First came the news that the 501 Club is going out of business this weekend, a year and a half after its owners nobly attempted to bring the 331 Club's hip neighborhood-arts formula into downtown Minneapolis. Increased property taxes and other challenges for downtown businesses pretty well nipped that experiment in the bud.

The only upside is the 501 now has a flush farewell weekend lined up -- thanks in part to what happened last weekend over at the Turf Club.

On Saturday, a Turf gig with Marijuana Deathsquads was abruptly called off and a "closed" sign hung on the door. Rumors that somebody in the Deathsquads had lost their vehicle and equipment (as they did in Gayngs) gave way to the hard truth that St. Paul's Midway mainstay, too, has been going through a rough patch. The end result is a management change and a shuttering that will last at least through early next week.

"It's quite a huge thing to take over a club like this, but I'm trying to do it in as short a time as possible," said new manager Joshua James, who has been a Turf bartender for five years and previously managed at Eagle Street Grille. He said he felt bad about canceling shows but hopes the end result will be "better for everyone."

The Turf's former manager, Dave Wiegardt -- who proved why he's so well-liked by being incredibly gracious about being cast aside -- quelled fears that the bar will be anything less than its cool indie self under James. A similar panic ignited five years ago when Dubliner Pub owner Tom Scanlon bought the place. The fact that booker Ryan O'Rourke has been retained certainly provides hope to the club's regulars.

"It's been the greatest gift to have had the opportunity to contribute to the Twin Cities music community," said Wiegardt, who said he still expects to be a regular patron of the bar.

The Turf's sudden closing provided an unlikely bump for the 501 Club, and a fitting one at that: Saturday's farewell night at the 501 is now doubling as the final show by hip-hop duo MC/VL, originally booked for the Turf (more on that gig below).

Whatever business that's generated from this final weekend is money that doesn't have to come out of the coffers for the otherwise stable 331 Club, said Jarrett Oulman, co-owner of both venues. The biggest hindrance to the 501's chances of success, he said, came at the start of 2010 when its property taxes rose around $1,000 per month. He also believes the space was too large and the location too problematic compared with the successful formula at the smaller and more neighborhoodly 331 in northeast Minneapolis.

"We're basically putting an end to the 501 now before it can become any kind of drag on the vitality of the 331 Club," Oulman explained.

Ironically or not, the 501 was crowded last Saturday for an early all-ages show by Zoo Animal, one of many bands that I personally saw for the first time at the 501 in its short lifespan. And let me repeat my refrain about how venues that host all-ages shows like Zoo Animal's should be getting tax breaks, not tax hikes.

"Can I just say what a bummer it is this place is closing?" singer Holly Newsom said mid-show, prompting an awkward bit of silence (not exactly a reason to cheer). She added, "Go ahead and clap for the 501!"

Yes, a round of applause is indeed in order. You can't win 'em all.

R.I.P., MC/VL

The sudden change in venues caps a half-decade of surprises for slapstick hip-hop duo MC/VL -- the most shocking of which may be that "two guys with no tangible music talent" could become as popular as they were, co-vocalist David Hansen admitted. With their overexcited, clumsy rap deliveries and wiseacre lyrics, Hansen and partner John Henry never pretended to be as serious a project as some hypesters made them out to be, but they did have many a fun show.

"We were always just spectators when it came to music, and here we are five years later with two albums and a few tours under our belt," said Hansen, who believes that five years "is a good cutoff point for most bands, and especially this one." MC/VL's second album, titled "Curt Flood" after the notorious St. Louis Cardinals player ("the best pose on a baseball card ever," Hansen said), will be given out at the show, featuring fellow fun-lovers Pink Mink, Slapping Purses and Kitten Forever.

Curtiss has left the 501

"We can't go on together," Curtiss A & the Jerks of Fate will be singing Feb. 4 at the 331 Club -- and apparently that's also what they told the fellas of MC/VL. His birthday tribute to Elvis, originally planned at the 501 Saturday, was rescheduled at its sister venue to accommodate the last-minute change. With four fun bands playing MC/VL's final gig, it certainly seemed like too much for one night -- even for the 501's last night. And as anyone knows who caught Curt & the Jerks at Mayslack's Elvis impersonator contests in years past, they can play all night.

Palmer's downscales

Still more bad news on the local venue front: Palmer's Bar on the West Bank has let go its talent booker of the past few years, Chris Mozena, and is scaling back on music. You can still catch the Liquor Pigs on Friday evenings and Nick Mrozinski on Sundays, plus Thursday shows including Slim Dunlap the first week of every month. One of Mozena's last Palmer's bookings was another four-week run of Saturday shows by Chooglin', which kicked off last week and lasts through Jan. 21. These shows (9 p.m., $5) are always a hoot, if only to watch male restroom-goers maneuver around the horn section.

Mozena also runs the label Halfdoor Records, which is hosting a showcase Saturday at Nick & Eddie with Hastings 3000 and the Book of Right On (9 p.m., $5). Led by former Kentucky Gag Order/Belles of Skin City frontman David Joe Holiday, BORO just issued its debut on vinyl through Halfdoor, "All These Songs About Music."

Random mix

At least one venue is adding more music to downtown Minneapolis: Hell's Kitchen restaurant, newly located in the downstairs space that used to be Rossi's at 80 S. 9th St., was already hosting brunch and dinnertime jazz and blues and is now booking more late-night rock and hip-hop shows Thursday through Saturday, including Brad Senne, Minor Kingdom and Thomas Kivi this Saturday (10 p.m., $5, HellsKitchenInc.com). ...

The Current (89.3 FM) is putting together a first-ever all-local compilation CD to sell at its Jan. 21 birthday bash at First Ave plus online and in stores. Recorded entirely at the station, the 17-track collection will include Eyedea & Abilities, Trampled by Turtles, Dessa, Jeremy Messersmith, the Twilight Hours, Romantica, Roma di Luna, Communist Daughter and Charlie Parr. ... The lineup is set for First Ave's annual Best New Bands showcase Jan. 26: the Goondas, co-winners as best live act in our Twin Cities Critics Tally 2010 (online at startribune.com/music), with Hastings 3000, Phantom Tails, BadNraD (worst new band name of 2010?), BNLX, Pink Mink and Grant Cutler & the Gorgeous Lords. The latter three acts are also playing First Ave Friday for the Onion's promotional party. ...

Heiruspecs will headline the annual Dre Day celebration at the Triple Rock Feb. 19 (the good doctor's birthday), promising a cast of guest rappers and a set filled with Dre-related classics. ... Here's hoping More Than Lights' EP-release show Jan. 22 at the Fine Line ends more peacefully than their afterparty at the Marriott City Center on New Year's Eve. Police units and pepper spray are not good ways to start the new year.

Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisRstrib

  • 501 CLUB FINALE

    Friday: Buildings, the Central Division, Desert Vest. $5.

    Saturday: MC/VL with Pink Mink, Slapping Purses, Kitten Forever. $7.

    Where: 501 Washington Av. S., Mpls. www.501.mn or 612-338-3848.

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