"Some bands got a record deal. Trailer Trash got a bar deal."

Nate Dungan made that statement -- with absolute pride and 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 Minnesota was to "Fargo," or Rick's Cafe to "Casablanca." The vintage bar on the outskirts 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 after wrapping up last week's show right at midnight. "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 in the early '90s.

"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 exemplifies Trailer Trash's vast catalog (about 700 songs is 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."

Duncan, Dungan, Gaarder and steel player Randy Broughton (also of Gear Daddies fame) are all original Trailer Trash members. And come to think of it, the band's new drummer, Noah Levy -- the Honeydogs alum who's been playing with the BoDeans and Five for Fighting of late -- was also a member in the '90s, while new bassist Dave Weeks-Wynne was even in a band with Gaarder pre-Trailer Trash.

In short, these guys know each other well and can 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."

Rocked by the feds Two local music figures who were known, in part, for having deep pockets (a rare thing in the music scene) became the subjects of federal investigations recently. Steve (Stevie) Renner, the Stevie Ray Vaughan-like guitar ace who used to take out expensive ads in City Pages to plug his shows with the Rennegades, faces four charges of tax evasion (allegedly $300,000 worth) from his cash card company.

Liquid 8 Records founder Michael Catain was tied up in last week's much-publicized investigation at Petters Group. In affidavits, Catain is accused of creating false purchase orders for Petters Group via a sham company. Catain's Minnetonka-based label issued mid-'00s albums by Vanilla Ice, Fear Factory and our own G.B. Leighton.

Stints with Stinson A phone conversation with Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson this week revealed two noteworthy tidbits (but nothing Guns N' Roses-related). First, he called from New Orleans, where he was writing songs with Dave Pirner. Then he happened to mention he was back in Minneapolis last week to "mess around" with Paul Westerberg and Michael Bland. Just jamming, no recording, he said.

"Nah, that's getting to first base," he said. "We're sort of still in the dugout chewing gum." Stinson also went in-depth on the latest four Replacements reissues for an article running in Sunday's Variety A+E section.

Meanwhile, the lone Replacement out, drummer Chris Mars, just opened a new art show at the Billy Shire Fine Arts gallery near Los Angeles. The show coincides with a new and bulky hardcover book, "Tolerance," featuring artwork and essays.

Random mix Radio K's 15th anniversary bash Wednesday at First Ave with Low, Dosh, Sims and Vampire Hands (8 p.m., $12) coincides with its fall fund drive. Tune in to 770 AM or Radiok.org for on-air sets by Solid Gold and Daughters of the Sun today (1 and 4 p.m., respectively) and more all next week. ...

One of the best songs I heard at the River Rocks Fest in St. Paul two weekends ago was Heiruspecs' "Get Up," a freakish and hard-rocking gem from the young hip-hop vets' long-awaited eponymous CD. It's really on its way: Release party is Dec. 13 at First Ave. ... Soul Asylum has confirmed its pre-holidays First Ave show for Dec. 19. Tickets go on sale today. ...

An obvious conflict of interest here, but I've plugged any other local music writer's book: Jon Bream, who's covered music for the Star Tribune almost as long as Robert Plant's been the Golden God, is the author behind "Whole Lotta Led Zeppelin," a 288-page illustrated history book from local publisher Voyageur Press. He will host a signing party at the Barnes & Noble in Roseville's Har-Mar Mall on Tuesday, 7 p.m. It will include a Q&A and a raffle for some memorabilia. ...

As the election enters its final month, several more musical fundraisers for Barack Obama are taking shape. Adam Levy, Prudence Johnson, Dan Chouinard, John Munson, Matt Wilson and more perform at an invite-only rally Oct. 12 at the Lab Theater, 700 1st Av. N., Mpls. (7 p.m., voluntary donations).
Then there's the Baracktoberfest at Lee's on Oct. 18 with the Pines, Ditchlilies, Molly Maher, John Rodine and members of the Liquor Pigs and Trailer Trash (8 p.m., $10). I'd report shows for the other side, if I knew of any.

chrisr@startribune.com • 612-673-4658