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*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘concert review

Doin’ Lowertown

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Last weekend was all about the Lowertown district on the edge of downtown St. Paul for us. We attended a concert at the Palace Theatre for a Valentine’s date on Friday night and met our friends, Barb and Mike on Saturday for dinner at the Handsome Hog restaurant that overlooks Mears Park. The drive from home feels quicker than the 35-40 minutes it takes when we exit directly onto 6th street and instantly find ourselves at our destinations, with no other turns required.

The highlight was by far the food and company on Saturday night. The contemporary Southern pig-centric menu is incredibly well-executed, based on the variety of delicious selections we all shared family-style. The location worked as an exact half-way point between our two homes, with the Wilkuses coming from the west and us from the east/southeast. They are the bestest of friends!

The concert on Friday was a meld of Calexico (Joey Burns and John Convertino) and the endearing Sam Beam who performs under the moniker Iron & Wine. They are a good match and clearly enjoy each other and performing together for an audience. I am a fan of Sam Beam’s songwriting and performance and generally can appreciate the Americana Tex-Mex indie rock of Calexico.

Unfortunately, I’ve reached an age where I too easily let the peripheral aspects of going out to see live performances tarnish the ultimate impression of events. The music was good, and the performers wonderfully engaging, so I was happily entertained in that regard.

We were impressed that the opening entertainer, 22-year-old Madison Cunningham, started exactly at the time the show was billed to begin, regardless the many unfilled seats. The first thing I noticed when I sat down in the balcony was that the rows were so tight I would be breathing into the hair of the person sitting in front of me. Luckily, there was no one there for the opening set.

Cyndie and I were unfamiliar with Madison and were pleasantly surprised. It would be fair to compare her singing and guitar skills to Joni Mitchell. No wonder we both liked her.

When the headliners took the stage, the seats in front of us filled and the fog machine pumped a mist to better show off the lights. I’m not sure where the director of the light show was sitting, but it’s a good guess it wasn’t in the balcony. They kept turning the fog machine on so often it was getting difficult to see the performers through the constantly thickening haze.

To make matters worse, they too frequently turned bright lights on behind the musicians, shining the beam up into our line of sight.

While I was fighting to see through all that, my eyes started to water from the essential oil or exotic shampoo aroma the woman in front of me (right beneath my nose) was radiating into the atmosphere. Maybe she had just pulled her coat out of moth-ball storage. It was hard to tell. It evoked a blend of rancid spices rubbed into an old dirty rug.

Much as I appreciate Lowertown, and as fun as it was to hear Iron & Wine music live again, I’m afraid the return to comforts of home with tunes playing through my speakers seems just as good, or even better.

Definitely a sign of aging.

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Leo Live

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Wow. Really wow. Last night, Cyndie and I met her parents downtown in Minneapolis for a wonderful dinner at Sanctuary restaurant across the street from the Guthrie Theater, followed by a fantastic night of live music on the Wurtele Thrust Stage.

I knew we were going to see headliner Leo Kottke, but the special guest warmup duo of music legends Peter Asher and Albert Lee was a fabulous unexpected bonus.

The Guthrie asked that no pictures be taken during the performance, so I snapped a shot of the setup for Peter and Albert in front of the Scrooge-ly scenery for “A Christmas Carol” before they came out.

Both Peter and Albert did a pleasing job of sharing tales from their storied past in the music biz to supplant their warm acoustic versions of classic songs from The Everly Brothers and Elvis, as well as several of their own. They offered a fair amount of name dropping from their musical past, not the least of which included Paul McCartney, whom Peter shared living space with for a couple of years.

Then it was Leo’s turn. Stagehands had removed all the gear except for one chair and a couple of microphones. Leo doesn’t even use guitar stands. He came on stage with a guitar in each hand, laid one on its side on the floor by his chair and started right into “Pamela Brown.”

His quirky humor and somewhat convoluted stories were thoroughly entertaining and helped to convey a feeling that we were just hanging out with him in a far less public social setting. His complicated fretwork was as intimidating and inspiring as ever.

I caught myself grinning all evening long.

It really was “Wow.”

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Written by johnwhays

November 26, 2019 at 7:00 am

Downtown Again

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Once again, we made the easy dash from our beautiful countryside into the metropolitan energy buzzing just 45-minutes away. Last night, it was the precious Palace Theatre in downtown St. Paul for the Iron & Wine concert.

It was another fabulously successful adventure for Cyndie and me. As a soaking rain settled over the land, Cyndie was able to escort the chickens into the coop early, allowing us to venture through fading daylight and blurring road spray to compete for parking with NHL’s Minnesota Wild hockey fans.

My first parking ramp option just happened to be closed for construction, so it was a single trip around the block, barely squeaking through an intersection on the brink of gridlock, to reach an easy and convenient second choice.

We arrived at the theatre early and took some time to explore the layout, as this was our first event at the renovated historic venue. It is a wonderful mashup of new and old. The almost scary looking ceiling made an early impression, but every other sense was extremely positive for a place to enjoy music performance.

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I had chosen to buy reserved seats in the balcony over the main floor standing general admission. Even though I purchased the tickets as early as possible, the best available was half-way up from the front of the balcony. Cyndie captured a shot while I was checking out the view from the first row. Really nice seats, if you can get them.

We aren’t overly familiar with the full career of Sam Beam as Iron & Wine, but being repeatedly struck by the sound every time I hear a cut played on the radio, I wanted to see where it comes from in person. We weren’t disappointed.

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The giant hanging cotton balls were a little funky, but they captured the colored lights nicely. The dancing light on the back curtain was perfect, every song.

Sam Beam was wonderfully social and totally obliterates any concept of a fourth wall separating the performer from the audience. At one point, he graciously interacted with a fan who shouted a knock-knock joke.

Almost every time, just as the interactive banter approached a point of being too much, the imaginary veil would fall and a song would swiftly transport the ambiance to a far away place of Sam’s creation. He does well with plying a craft of sparse quiet guitar work with delicate instrumentation from his supporting musicians, bolstered by moments of full momentum and volume.

Even though the show started around the time we often head for bed, we hung around for the full show, including the perfect encore song, for which the female members of the band returned wearing beards that looked mysteriously similar to Sam’s.

What?

A wonderful time was had by all. We chalk it up as one more good experience heading downtown from the countryside, again.

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Written by johnwhays

October 15, 2017 at 10:37 am