I’ve begun countless reviews over the years by celebrating the fact that the Twin Cities music scene can support multiple rock shows on the same night and still pack all the venues. Even on the coldest nights of the year. Minnesota rocks. Even in January.
One of Friday’s most sought after tickets was 89.3 The Current’s five year birthday bash at First Avenue. P.O.S, The Twilight Hours, Mason Jennings and other staples of the Twin Cities music scene graced the stage of the downtown club in a show which sold out soon after tickets became available. Adam Svec made note of this in an email reminders about his own CD release show. “If you didn’t get tickets to The Current B-Day party, come on down to the Kitty Cat Klub.”
Also sold out Friday night was the Glitter Ball at the Music Box Theater which included, among other things, White Light Riot performing as the band Spinal Tap. One moment in that show gets my vote for one of the funniest things to happen in Twin Cities rock in January as a miniature Styrofoam Stonehenge being lowered onto the stage to mimic a visual joke in the original film slipped and actually hit lead singer Mike Schwandt in the head, knocking off his wig. (Check out the video here.) Could there possibly me a more Spinal Tap moment in a rock show?
But back to the show I’m here to tell you about, Adam Svec’s CD Release Party at the Kitty Cat Klub. With all that was going on elsewhere, what do you think might happen at there? Well, we were treated to a world-class evening of fabulous music that didn’t leave anyone feeling jealous even as we read tweets about Prince briefly showing up at First Avenue, and it wasn’t long before the Kitty Cat joined the ranks of Friday’s sold out venues as well.
The club was busy even before openers Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps took the stage. Tonight’s incarnation of Smith’s band was just the duo of her and stand up bass player, Jesse “Juice” Schuster. It was my first time seeing them play in this stripped-down format, and I was impressed with how well the songs came through, clear, confident, engaging. Smith held the crowd rapt for the duration of her set. Though she’s been a critics darling for some time already, I expect even more great things from her in 2010, not withstanding her recent release of a live CD recorded at the Cedar and her selection as one of the five acts playing Voltage Fashion Amplified in April.
Following Caroline Smith was the man of the evening, Adam Svec, on hand with an abbreviated version of his own band to celebrate the release of his sophomore disc Rarefaction, out this month on Draw Fire Records. The disc is a follow-up to 2008’s Enemy Swimmer, and tonight’s set would draw almost exclusively from the new disc, even if Svec would include a couple songs from the first release.
I’ve been following Adam Svec’s career since 2002 when he moved up to the Twin Cities from Iowa with his band Boy with Stick, who shortly thereafter rebranded themselves as The Glad Version. In early reviews of these two bands, I often spoke of their tremendous potential, noting how young they were at the time (just out of college). I am happy these days to talk about Svec coming into himself as an artist. I’ll tell you exactly what I told him Friday at the show, that where I used to listen to his music aware (and respectful) of what he was trying to do, with his recent work the music has begun to speak to me directly on an emotional level.” I think Svec has gotten out of his own way, and that’s a big artistic jump.
The subdued quality of many of the songs on the new album led to an informal, seated stage set-up tonight, Svec on a stool with Chris Salter to his left on second guitar and Salter’s wife Karen on background vocals and occasional tambourine on his right. It should be noted that the artists who play on Rarefaction are basically the same lineup as the Glad Version. Even Svec admitted himself, “To say it was a solo effort is not very accurate, considering Tor Johnson, Chris Salter, Karen Salter, Ben Rengstorf, and Travis Welk all made pretty substantial contributions.”
Svec opened with a brand new song listed on the set list as “Is California” that to my knowledge has yet to appear on any of his recordings. He followed it with “Only a Spirit” from Enemy Swimmer, and he didn’t get to “Resolution,” the opening track of Rarefaction until the 3rd song. The disc’s opener starts with a simple rhythmic electric guitar riff over which Svec sings “Couldn’t keep my resolution, so I guess I’ll start a new one.” The song seems to ask questions (and provide answers) about whether there’s a point to creating art if no one will ever hear it. Less than a minute into the song Svec sings, “Maybe I’m only here as long as you notice when I’m gone,” and with that heartbreaking line, careful listeners should find themselves emotionally hooked. (The song’s answer to the theoretically posed art question might be, “Maybe these falling trees have been making noises all along.”)
Though the disc includes drums (by the aforementioned Tor Johnson) the drum-free Kitty Cat Klub laid these songs bare in all their moody glory. Their moodiness, however, retains the somewhat uplifting spirit of Kid Dakota’s slowest songs. The crowd chatted away during the quiet “Crocodiles,” but this neither fazed Svec nor took much away from the enjoyment of the music. “Calmer Man” references South Minneapolis in January, making it a nice song to have in one’s iPod in South Minneapolis in January, but it was the ballad “Minnesota Pride” which rose to the top of the heap for me from this record, and was the track I selected for the January HWTS podcast. This song’s sweeping chorus was subtly interpreted live with Karen Salter singing the lyrical riffs that Svec sings himself on the record. The references in this song (about being in New York but thinking about Minneapolis) make me wonder if some of this song was conceived whilst the band was in New York City for a Draw Fire Records showcase back in October of 2008.
Svec’s set was rounded out by “Wolves in Milwaukee” which saw him joined by Ben Rengstorf on accordion and “Breaking Strings,” in which he metaphorically laments a relationship that went awry.
As No Bird Sing took the stage to bring things home, there was finally enough room for rapper Joe Horton to leave the stage and engage the audience from the floor of the Kitty Cat which had been wall to wall people for the entire night. More than a consolation prize for those without tickets to the Current show or the Glitter Ball, the Kitty Cat Friday was a great place to be, a diverse bill that demonstrated once again not just what great music the Twin Cities has to offer, but that the fans themselves aren’t too shabby either.