Is/Is, Red Pens, Strange Lights and Camden at Kitty Cat Klub

Red Pens – Photo by Pamela Goetzke Diedrich

Whoever publicized Saturday night’s show at the Kitty Cat Klub did their best to confuse me about the line up. There were at least four different combinations of bands floating around online and in the local rags, so I headed to Dinkytown knowing only that I’d see  Is/Is and Red Pens with some combination of openers. Despite the fact that the order seemed to change right up to the last minute,  it proved a fun night of music.

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The eventual opener was a band called Camden, who are apparently an electronic act. I wouldn’t know because, responsible journalist that I am, I missed their set. (Lazy journalist that I am, I blame the confusion over the bill.) The doorman said they “sounded like a David Lynch soundtrack,” which bodes well for their music. Of course, he also told me my name sounded like I should be a metal guitarist, which I found dubious.

StrangeLights were the first band I saw and, for his part, Joe Werner’s guitar playing was straight-up metal. He laid down lots of wah over the trio’s droning, psychedelic proto-punk which, with Werner snarling things like “leave me alone” and “I’m losing control,” made my thoughts jump to the Stooges. Their music was really too organized for such comparisons, though; another Detroit band, Awesome Color, would probably be more on-target – still quite a compliment. It was a good set, one of the highlights of which was drummer Kieran Holcomb’s immaculate mustache.

Red Pens went on next, playing their last show before a two-week tour out East, and they sounded incredible. Someone in the audience walked through saying, “This is the best band in Minneapolis,” and you really had to believe it. The acoustics in the Kitty Cat Klub worked well with their music, the mix was good, and Howard Hamilton and Laura Bennett never missed a beat. With Hamilton playing surf guitar licks and Bennett drumming like a jackhammer, there isn’t anything particularly complicated about their music, but they do it as convincingly as anyone around.

Hamilton, chewing gum and referring to his songs as “little pieces of shit,” announced the “last two songs” about three times, always proceeding to go beyond that number (to the crowd’s pleasure), until the pair finally rounded things off with a new song, “I Want More.”  Introduced dryly as being about how “people come to see their favorite local bands and just stand there,” “I Want More” had a tough, even more-streamlined-than-usual sound with traces of the Sex Pistols. These two were clearly excited about their trip, and with good reason.

Is/Is – Photo by Diedrich

The last band of the night to go on was would-be local supergroup Is/Is. Boasting an all-female lineup that includes Sarah Rose on guitar and vocals and Sarah Nienaber on bass, there was reason to be excited by the potential for sprawling, dreamy reverb washes and furious jams such a pairing promises. The first song certainly delivered, and the drummer was a powerhouse, but things started to unravel soon after. From the beginning, Rose’s voice was too shallow in the mix, which was a shame considering the band has two great vocalists. Then when Nienaber started having technical problems it seemed to throw everyone’s rhythm off and the playing got messy.

All of which really was unfortunate. Is/Is haven’t been together very long and they’ve stayed mostly under the radar. It was clear Saturday night that they’re still working out the bugs in their music, but there’s no doubt they have enough talent to work with and, even with the problems they encountered, all the evidence pointed to some very promising ideas in the works.

Once they iron out the glitches, we’ll probably be hearing a lot more from these three ladies in the year ahead.

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