Retribution Gospel Choir at Triple Rock Social Club

Alan Sparhawk of Retribution Gospel Choir - Photo by Meredith Westin. See Meredith's complete photo set for this show here.

I arrived at The Triple Rock too late to catch any of opener Andrew Broder’s material, so I could only imagine how one of our most unpredictable troubadours set the stage for the headliner Saturday night. When the clock struck 10:30, however, the pesky thoughts of how I had somehow misplaced four twenty dollar bills between the workplace and the rock club faded into the background as Retribution Gospel Choir began to tear apart the air and drop the jaws of those lucky enough to be in attendance. Their new album, simply entitled “2,” had everyone buzzing at the bar.

As the cash I had managed to retain began to dissolve into neat Red Breasts, the first sign of the extended sonic bloom we were about to behold came from the pulsating perfection flying off of Eric Pollard‘s kit. Setting down an onslaught of ferocious and precise patterns and fills for ebullient bass player Steve Garrington to effortlessly weave into and out of, this North Country drummer once again captured the essence of real rock in all of its timeless power and glory. And after witnessing some sub par efforts at other venues recently, special kudos go out to the sound guy for this one — that angelic voice we all know and love sounded especially clear and transcendent. The house was packed with content and captivated hometown faithful, all ages heads bobbing and even a few fists pumped as the boys lathered up and their songs started to sing

You know, it’s just plain fun to see this dynamite rhythm section connect like a current to the legend of somber reflection that is Alan Sparhawk. Every time I see the guy perform, I find myself getting a little misty for at least a moment or two, remembering all of the years spent following this tireless poet from Duluth, and feeling indebted to the man for opening my mind to the magnitude of restraint (I still vividly recall one of my best friends from hardcore punk land weeping the first time he experienced Low live, playing with Rachel‘s in some basement venue in one of the Quad Cities just off the Mississippi in 1996 — Rock Island, anyone?) Now, I continue to be in awe of how restraint is no longer the only point Sparhawk chooses to pursue, and his wild, throbbing, and at times convulsive gesticulations leave one wondering if this choir takes a chiropractor with them on the road. Indeed, I would not be entirely surprised to see this frontman levitate during one his most visceral explorations of the human body in motion.

You feel the unbridled crash of a thawing Superior lake shore when the squall erupts from Alan’s guitar, and glimpse the solace and beatitude of pine stands when the trio pauses momentarily for those aforementioned pockets on the slow and quiet side. Seldom does a listener encounter such a stripped-down outfit encapsulating the machinations of a metronome and a tsunami simultaneously, but Retribution Gospel Choir makes it look natural and easy, yet profound and calculated — a universe of possibility and execution where anything can happen, handed over to us for safekeeping.

Case in point: I am one of those people who tend to cringe at the onset of one of the biggest clichés in live music — the obligatory encore — but on Saturday, the screeching feedback and straightforward tribal pounding and improvised low end lines made me forget I had ever seen a band finish and then come back out. Far from annoyance or amusement, I instead felt the flood of satisfaction, gratitude and longing that had gripped everyone in the room. Not one of us wanted that magic to conclude, and when the crowd finally began to leave the premises, we were reeling in anticipation of the band’s next move.

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