Thursday, July 16, 2009

Our Mini-Minnesota Trip

Last weekend, we packed up the car and headed up to the almost Great White North for a quick mini-weekend in Minneapolis. It was a dual purpose visit, first to visit our friend Molly, who we haven't seen in quite a while, and second, to see the Basilica Block Party, which featured a few bands we were big fans of.

It was a pretty good drive, no complaints, Bella handled it like a pro. Of course she didn't take a nap til the last half hour or so, but that's life. After arriving at Molly's and settling in, we got right back in the car and headed to downtown Minneapolis for the Block Party.

We were there on Friday for one reason, to see the reunion of one of our favorite bands ever, the Jayhawks. They're pretty important in this family's history, since Michele and I had our very first date at a Jayhawks show on October 4, 1997, at the Metro in Chicago. It was the second version of the band, after one of the two main members, Marc Olson, had left the band to go solo.

The Jayhawks were also extremely important to us, since we used their classic song "Blue" as our first dance at our wedding. I would say that anyone who attended our reception would remember this, but from all reports, everyone there was so obliterated by the end of the night, most people couldn't remember much at all. Ahhh, open bars...

Anyways, this was the first US show that the original version of the band had played since around 1995 or so, so this was definitely worth the trip. They sounded like they hadn't missed a week together, and were spot on with their beautiful harmonies as always. They of course stuck to almost only playing songs from their masterpiece, 1995's "Tomorrow the Green Grass," and their previous great effort, 1992's "Hollywood Town Hall."

It was fantastic to hear the original band playing such great songs as "Two Hearts," "I'd Run Away," "Sister Cry" and "Walking on Down the Road," but I was crossing my fingers in the hopes that they would play anything off of their post-split albums "Smile" and "Sound of Lies," just to hear how they would sound with Olson's vocal harmonies added in. Sadly, that didn't happen as I guessed.

Despite a brief rainshower, the show was still a joy to witness, especially of course "Blue," performed with the Basilica's choir providing backing vocal harmonies as well. And with barely an encore, it was over before we knew it, and the band was back in the vaults of our memories.

Bella was a trooper, she made it through the whole night way past her normal bed time, dancing and jumping around and having a good time the whole way through. After a night's rest and a tour of the city, we headed back to the Block Party for night two on Saturday night.

Saturday ended up being more of a mess, since there were 4 bands we were interested in seeing. Since this is only really a block party, the stages were not staggered in their set times, as they are at Pitchfork and Lollapalooza. Instead, basically the two large stages operate at the exact same times, and you are forced to choose between which bands you want to see.

It was a gorgeous day, so on top of it being Saturday, that drew out many more people to attend day 2. We first stopped at the same stage we watched the Jayhawks on to watch some of the set by Minneapolis natives Tapes 'N' Tapes. Their herky-jerky sound comes off very well live, but we weren't able to stick around very long, since we had to hike to the other stage for our next band.

We then went to the bigger stage to try to see one of our favorite live musicians, Matt Nathanson. Sadly, ALOT of other people had the same idea. We stood in a spot barely halfway up the parking lot the stage was on, and by the time Nathanson hit the stage, we were completely surrounded, to the point where most of those walking by barely cared that we had a small child in a stroller. So after about one song, we bailed out and headed to the back for some room and air.

Nathanson is a great performer live, with great catchy songs and hillarious stage banter in between. I'm not sure how many times I've seen him in the past 5 years, but it's probably at least once a year. The sad thing is that I can pretty much predict the exact set Nathanson plays every time, right down to the covers that he throws in mid-song. Since I've seen him do that all before, we decided to head back to the other stage to get a good spot for the closer for the night, who we were anxiously looking forward to as well.

The closer for us, while the Counting Crows were closing the big stage, was another Minneapolis based band, The Hold Steady. The band has been on the road for almost a year supporting their fantastic album "Stay Positive," and this was the third chance I had to see them this year. The first chance was on what turned out to be the coldest night in the past decade at least in January, which I had to pass on because of that. They also played last month at the Taste of Randolph on Father's Day, but we passed on that as well since we knew we'd see them in Minneapolis.

The band did not disappoint, they were once again spot on and proudly took the title of the Greatest Bar Band in the World for 2009. They stormed through great tracks like "Constructive Summer," "Yeah Sapphire," "Sequestered in Memphis" and "Stay Positive," while working in some of their older songs like "Chips Ahoy!" and "Southtown Girls." It was a pretty nice touch to get to hear these songs of bar denizens probably blocks from the very bars that inspired them.

It was a very fun weekend, we all had a great time and hope the lineup is nearly as good next year so we can head up there once again. Hopefully I'll post some of our pics to follow.

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