And on the 10th day, God gave the grandstand rock ’n’ roll — and hip-hop, R & B, punk and country.
For the third straight year, the State Fair welcomed the MN Music On-A-Stick concert to its main stage, featuring a wild array of left-of-center homegrown artists favored by sponsoring station 89.3 the Current.
Even more than in past years, Saturday’s 7,524 fans were treated to a Tilt-a-Whirl-dizzying mix of music. Vintage country harmonizers the Cactus Blossoms kicked it off with a throwback set that could have fit the fair’s senior stage just as well (that’s a compliment), and north Minneapolis-weaned fire-starter Brother Ali finished it off with a heated set of topical, gritty rap tunes.
Most Minnesotan moment: While past On-a-Stick concerts have ended with Minnesota music classics — the Semisonic-led all-star singalong of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” in 2012 was particularly memorable — former Minneapolitan Bob Mould raised the state flag high mid-concert by finishing with a guitar-blaring cover of “Love Is All Around” (the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” theme). His old band Hüsker Dü famously re-recorded the theme in the mid-'80s.
Most old-school Minneapolis rock moment: No duh, Mould again. After taking the stage with a sprint, the 53-year-old proceeded to wham-bam the crowd right away with two fast-and-furious roarers off his former band Hüsker Dü's 1985 album "Flip Your Wig," starting with the title track and straight into "Hate Paper Doll." He ended with a few more Huskers oldies, too ("I Apologize," "Celebrated Summer," "Makes No Sense at All"). Just as big a treat was hearing classic-mold songs from his stormy new album "Beauty & Ruin," including "The War" and "Hey Mr. Gray."
And that's just the start of Mould's old-school fix this weekend: He announced from the stage Saturday he's playing a surprise show Sunday night at his old stomping grounds, 7th Street Entry. (Tickets are expected on sale Sunday morning via First-Avenue.com).
Worst case of bad sound spoiling an otherwise solid set: Much of Doomtree’s set was marred by muddy acoustics, especially early on. All that was audible from the two producers/beatmakers’ decks was booming bass and little subtlety. Some of the hip-hop septet’s five rappers could not be heard through their microphones at key moments.
The murky sound was especially disappointing given the fact that the group debuted a lot of new songs in its hour-long performance, including the all-crew track “.38 Airweight” and more from its rappers’ Mike Mictlan’s and Sims’ upcoming solo efforts (the latter’s comes out Tuesday). Of course, the group’s older tunes still came off just fine thanks to fans filling in any vocals that couldn’t be heard, especially in “No Way” and “Bolt Cutter” at the start of the set, and “Low Light Low Life” and P.O.S.’ “Bangarang” and “Get Down” toward the end.
Most personal moment: Remembering his last time at grandstand with his dad to see “A Prairie Home Companion,” Cloud Cult frontman Craig Minowa brought the show to a hush by adding that his father just entered a care facility suffering from ALS. He said he wanted to do the virally popular ALS Ice Bucket Challenge on stage Saturday, but he realized “there’s a lot electricity up here.”
Beyond that tender segment, Cloud Cult played its set surprisingly fierce and freaky, to great effect. The strings- and paintings-enhanced octet kicked off "You'll Be Bright" with all its members pounding on a drum to set the heavier tone, and "Good Friend" was another one that hit especially hard.
Most powerful moment: After starting out relatively light and fun — “Fresh Air” sounded especially warm amid the fresh air — Brother Ali turned the stage lights dark and flashed photos of Ferguson, Mo.’s Michael Brown and other black shooting victims across the video screens before kicking into “The Travelers.” Another silent moment.
Keyboardist DeVon Gray and guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker added an almost psychedelic yet organic instrumental flair to Ali's other highlights, including "Good Lord" and "Babygirl," without getting in the way of the thought-provoking lyricism. At least one of the night's rappers had no trouble being heard.
Worst missed chance to gloat: Allegedly banned from the fairgrounds a decade ago for singing in his underwear, soulful groove man Har Mar Superstar returned in grand grandstand fashion but only expressed love for the fair. His pants stayed on, too, but that’s more a sign of his slightly less showy and serious, more-pipes-than-buns approach these days, which hit its high point in the Motown-style dance-along “Restless Leg.” Booming young rapper Lizzo also classed things up for Har Mar as his back-up vocalist.