Mystery Palace and Ghost in the Water at Hexagon Bar

Mystery Palace - Photo by Sasha Z. Bates

After nearly a decade of professional focus in the worlds of food, wine and public policy, I am finally returning to the deep roots I put down in art and music twenty years ago, with the aim of bringing a different perspective to that most vital of questions, “How Was the Show?”  Hope you enjoy….

Although Twin Cities drummer Steve Yasgar told me before this show that he would like to have this band playing all the time in his kitchen (not a recording, mind you, but the actual band), I am not exactly sure why Mystery Palace does not always get their just desserts when people talk local music. The name, maybe? That moniker makes some of us older folks remember plopping our allowances into Crystal Castles at the arcade, and how we lived for sweet tarts and caramel and dreams of level-nine mastery. The thing is, sweet simplicity and nostalgia have nothing to do with this band, so forget any thoughts of easy compartmentalization that might strike you upon hearing the name – Mystery Palace. If you enjoy a lucid interval to take in the surroundings and get serene, and you do not possess the band’s outstanding Flags Forward LP from 2007, you are doing yourself harm. Trust me.

I hadn’t seen this entrancing trio since about the same time that LP appeared, although I have been longing for an encounter recently, kicking myself repeatedly every time conflicts arose (doing the calendar dance can be difficult, right?) But, finally, my girlfriend Em and I wandered into the Hexagon last Thursday night and got a prim and proper reminder of how this amazing music moves, and how the guys who have been churning out these gems live for years now deserve the highest accolades.

I only maintained control of that aforementioned disc for a few minutes back in ’07, and only heard it a couple of times, but I recall being completely enthralled by the originality of the vibe it imparted. In fact, the reason I only got to enjoy “Flags Forward” for such a short period initially was because someone ganked the CD at a party within a week of its purchase, a sure sign of a timeless classic in the making.

Weird thing is, two and a half years later, the live versions still jumped right out at me, fresh as ever – defying the din and dirt of the Hex – and I remembered multiple tracks even though I hadn’t perused the material since those first few days after I had returned to Minneapolis. As the hypnosis-inducing set progressed, I kept thinking, “How have I not been listening to this for the last few years?” It was a hard palm shot of recognition to the forehead, and I am grateful for the wake-up call. Before Thursday night’s show, I had forgotten that Mystery Palace deserves a spot in any rotation that includes major players like Thievery Corporation, to rococo rot and the best parts of Kraftwerk and Stereolab. Ryan Olcott, James Buckley and Joey Van Phillips, you’ve got my gratitude and thanks for keeping at it long enough for me to catch up.

Joey, by the way, keeps time like an atom in Einstein’s mind, hearing his percussion drive the smooth vocals, sultry bass and soothing electronic chirps and gurgles made me forget that I was sipping Don Julio number three at a spot where I had once witnessed a bartender beat up the doorman, and that the last time I was at the Hexagon someone had smashed me hard from behind into the stage (hand damaged, nose bloodied). Such positive, ethereal and healing music in this location jolted any sordid feelings I had been carrying about the place.

Ghost in the Water was also on board with the spatial transformation, and I became an immediate fan without any previous experience of the brother and sister duo. In 2010, combining ‘80s dance grooves with heart-on-your-sleeve, sentimental overtures risks a serious descent into the saccharine or silly, but these siblings bring some unique and compelling perspectives to comfortable soft pop structures, every time I thought it was beginning to sound dated or forced, some new and interesting component would elevate the mix. If you ever liked Lullaby for the Working Class, Helium, Broadcast or certain elements of Bjork, check out the Ghost in the Water disc Tooth, but be prepared to wish for a few more band members live. Incorporating a drummer, for example, would dramatically raise the venue intensity. And the tease of guitar noise Nathan offered us at the end of the set could have been fleshed out a bit more for the sonic enthusiasts in the crowd. That being said, I will definitely be recommending memorable songs like “Cardinal Red” to anyone who wants to listen.

How Was the Show for You?

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