"Some bands got a record deal. Trailer Trash got a bar deal."
Nate Dungan made that statement -- with nary a hint of remorse -- before taking the stage at Lee's Liquor Lounge with his band Trailer Trash last Thursday night.
For those not privy to one of Minneapolis' greatest love affairs, Lee's is to Trailer Trash what Rick's American Cafe was to "Casablanca." The vintage bar on the edge of downtown Minneapolis and the classic-styled band on the outskirts of alt-country don't just complement each other -- they define each other. You can't think of one without immediately thinking of the other. And the thought generally produces some kind of crooked smile.
From now until Thanksgiving, Trailer Trash is redefining its role at Lee's with a gig every Thursday, just like the weekly slot that put both the band and the bar on the music scene map back in the '90s -- but a little different this time, too, the band reports.
"There's really no template now," Dungan's fellow singer/guitarist Dan Gaarder said. "The whole swing phenomenon hit the scene around the time we hit Lee's in the '90s, which was fun but also pretty formulaic. We kind of got stuck playing to the dancers instead of playing for ourselves."
This time, they're playing for themselves, which is how the band began. "We were all guys who had played the cool clubs with other bands and got tired of it, so we started this band to play VFW halls for fun," Dungan recalled. "If we were serious, we would've picked a better name or not played the VFWs. But then we wound up basically becoming a VFW band that moved downtown."
Dungan added, "We're that band again. We're only playing the music we want to play."
Not that the boys won't take requests. They just like to play less-obvious requests. When a guy in the crowd last week called for a Hank Williams song, Dungan asked, "How about 'Lost on the River,'" a little-known nugget that exemplified Trailer Trash's vast catalog (about 700 songs was Dungan's guess, and not all covers!).
Tellingly, the guy wasn't impressed. He asked back, "How 'bout 'Jambalaya'?"
"Jambalaya" it was, and thanks in large part to keyboardist Jon Duncan's accordion abilities, it was a doozy. But the band did slip in some other rarities, including Merle Haggard's "Honky Tonk Night Time Man" and LeRoy Van Dyke's "Walk on By," alongside such standards as "Looking for Love (In all the Wrong Places)," "Train of Love" and "Six Days on the Road."
The Trailer Trash guys know each other well and could play circles around any other country/alt-country/country-rock band in town. A lot of folks already know this thanks to Trailer Trash's famous "Trashy Little X-Mas" shows, which start up again the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The band hopes some of those X-Mas revelers come down on Thursday nights, too, but they're not counting on it.
"The X-Mas shows are still cool to people, but I don't think we as a band are," Dungan half-joked. "We're through being cool. We used to be cool. We liked being cool. But we're not trying to be cool anymore. We're just happy to be playing together."