Even though he left the Twin Cities two years ago, before "Electric Arc Radio" was unplugged, Sam Osterhout wants to make it clear he did not move to New York City specifically aiming to re-create his locally adored music-and-skits program there.
"No, I didn't come here with the goal of doing another radio show that's not actually on the radio," he said last week from New York, his Midwestern self-deprecation still intact.
Osterhout and three other former Twin Citians who were involved in "Electric Arc" return to town Saturday with their new show in tow, a wry, profane and murderous webcast/podcast series called "Radio Happy Hour." Think of it as sort of "A Prairie Home Companion" with sexual innuendo and Wes Anderson-like quips.
Just like the New York installments of the program -- whose guests have already included Norah Jones, TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe, Andrew W.K. and the Hold Steady's Craig Finn and Tad Kubler -- Saturday's episode at the Cedar Cultural Center will feature local musicians in a familiar setting (a music venue) but in wholly unfamiliar scenarios. At least we hope the situations are new to them.
"I am pretty sure I will have to K.O. someone," quipped Chris Koza, Saturday's guest along with Tapes 'N Tapes.
In addition to playing a couple of songs and answering serious questions (or non-fantastical queries, anyway), the musicians on "Radio Happy Hour" are always hoodwinked into the show's scripted narrative segments -- where they always wind up portraying "weirdo versions of themselves," as Osterhout described it.
Jones, for instance, was still Norah Jones on the show, but in addition to her music career she owned sleazy motels where people wound up dead. Finn and Kubler were still Hold Steady bandmates, but they were also brothers from small-town Manhattan, Minn., where rock scribe (and fellow guest) Chuck Klosterman became their stepdad. Someone was murdered in that one, too.
Osterhout believes both the musicians and their fans appreciate these twists on the usual on-air music sessions, as bizarre as they might be.
"How many times can we hear one musician get asked who their influences are, and hear them go on and on about Tom Waits?" he said, noting the pluses and minuses of recruiting rock stars as actors.
"I try hard to get them the scripts at least a week ahead of time, but I know for a fact that none of them wind up reading it until the day of the show, if at all. That adds to the fun of it, because it's more like they just show up and are immediately thrown into the deep end."
A 33-year-old native of Hutchinson, Kan., Osterhout came to Minnesota to attend grad school at Hamline University, where he met author and fellow "Happy Hour" co-creator Geoff Herbach. The two started attending literary events together, with somewhat miserable results. They brainstormed "Electric Arc Radio" as sort of an enlivened literary event with rock 'n' roll overtones. And booze.
"We would go to readings at coffee shops or wherever, and nobody would be there except the usual handful of people who would complain about how nobody showed up," Osterhout recalled.
Local audiences certainly turned out for "Electric Arc Radio," which enjoyed a run of 30-plus shows and was picked up by the Current near the end (the Finn/Kubler/Klosterman "Happy Hour" show also recently aired on 89.3 FM).
"Electric Arc" also made one successful jaunt to New York for one show. It was a big enough hit that the operators of the hip Greenwich Village music/arts lounge Le Poisson Rouge -- where the NYC-adored New Standards performed last month -- approached Osterhout about doing something similar there last year. He had actually moved to New York primarily to see about a girl (now his wife, Massoumeh, also a "Happy Hour" co-producer).
New York audiences have reportedly taken to "Radio Happy Hour" as happily as Twin Citians did "Electric Arc."
"We weren't sure if they would get it as much out here, because it's essentially still just a hokey radio show by heart -- something Minnesotans know more about," Osterhout said, referencing "Prairie Home's" home crowd. "But they also get 'hokey' out here."
That he had to throw murders into every show for the New Yorkers to appreciate it speaks volumes, though.Hey, José!
Meet the latest Minneapolis expatriate kicking up a strong U.K. and NYC buzz. Neo-jazz crooner José James, 31, whose dad of the same name played in Willie & the Bees and Ipso Facto, just landed a deal with the John Coltrane-affiliated Verve subsidiary Impulse! Records and is lining up gigs with the Roots and European festivals. The South High grad and onetime Carei Thomas protégé now lives in London. His first disc for Impulse! (and third overall) is a collaboration with Belgian pianist Jef Neve called "For All We Know," due out May 11.
Calling from New York on Monday a couple days after headlining the Hiro Ballroom, James said, "Being on Impulse! is pretty close to perfect for me, because Coltrane was and is my biggest inspiration." Look for a hometown gig to promote the album by the fall.Pain in the ash
The volcanic ash that grounded transatlantic flights all this past week left two Minnesota bands stalled on opposite sides of the ocean. "Surfin' Bird" legends the Trashmen, who started trekking to Europe a couple years ago, were stuck in Belgium a few extra days after finishing a 2 1/2-week tour. Meanwhile, new Fat Wreck Chords signees Banner Pilot didn't know if they would make it to Paris via a London flight Tuesday night to begin a three-week outing Thursday. At press time, the band was still dead set on getting to a big festival gig Friday in Belgium with Bad Religion.Random mix
The Hold Steady will return home over Independence Day weekend for a July 3 show at the Cabooze's great outdoor plaza area, followed by a July 4 return to First Avenue. Tickets to both shows go on sale through First Ave outlets Friday at 11 a.m., and are sure to sell out. ... It took this year's Rock the Garden lineup with MGMT and Sharon Jones less than a week to sell out, compared with the month that last year's show took. ...
A band that plays the keytar without any irony, the Future Antiques offer up a stylish if still formative debut album, "Another Twisted Ending," full of synth-tinged moody electronic pop/rock that's part Mutemath and part Motion City. The quartet was formed while brothers Jason and Joel Herd were students at McNally Smith College of Music. Release party is Friday at the Fine Line, with White Light Riot headlining (9 p.m., $5-$8). ...
Jonny Lang's "Live at the Ryman" came out Tuesday on Concord Records, recorded in Nashville's legendary cathedral in 2008 with Twin Cities bandmates Jim Anton, Sonny Thompson and Tommy Barbarella. ... One of the exclusive items that went on sale for Record Store Day was Mason Jennings' "Live at Fingerprints," taken from an in-store set at Long Beach, Calif. Some of the limited-edition copies are still available at the Electric Fetus and other stores. ...
Justin (Bon Iver) Vernon's version of "Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)" opens a new John Prine tribute album, "Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows," due June 22, that also features My Morning Jacket, Conor Oberst and Drive-by Truckers. There was also a local tribute to Prine on his "half-birthday" two weekends ago at the 331 Club; the highlight was Eliza Blue playing "Angel From Montgomery" on banjo (ironically, she said it was the first song she learned to play on guitar). Prine himself has a Duluth gig at the DECC Sept. 23. ...
Maybe the hardest-edged rapper of note in town, Queens, N.Y.-reared rising star Träma will prove he's not such a toughie Tuesday at Fifth Element record store. He'll give away free copies and discuss his new mix tape, "Unaträma," from 6 to 8 p.m. ... Off With Their Heads will kick off the tour behind its Epitaph Records debut, "In Desolation," with an Eclipse Records in-store and a Triple Rock gig June 11. Epitaph has set a June 8 release date for the record, produced by Jacques Wait with 12 songs in 34 minutes. Sounds like punk rock to me.
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