Category: Mankato Music

Nato Coles is Coming On Saturday and You Should Go

nato

[photo:kendra sheetz]

Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band are playing at NaKato on Saturday. You should go.

There’s been a lot of effusive wordage spilled about this band in redjacket pages past, so interest of avoiding redundancy: Just go to the damn show. Especially if you have an affinity for Springsteen, Lynott, or whoever the hell that guy from the Gaslight Anthem was. Listen:

Music starts at 10. Disclaimer: If your ideal evening of live music involves some quaintly-Minnesotan combination of beards, mandolins, and unnecessary scarves, bring earplugs.

Speaking of earplugs, it’s New Metallica Day, and old kids like me were mildly excited to hear the band’s first new record since 2008’s dull-ass goodwill gesture Death Magnetic. For the most part, Hardwired…To Self-Destruct continues that album’s core mission: turning Metallica from a band that attempted to flirt with artistic relevance and crossover appeal into one that just plays the fuckin’ hits, maaaaaaan.

The Classic Rock Act transformation is completed here, as they rely on familiar, self-aware riffs to tick as many fanservice boxes as they can. Sometimes it works, and it doesso at a higher rate than Death Magnetic. But sometimes it feels contrived, and like everything this band has done since 1988, it’s WAY too long, which makes the Load meets Sabbath Bloody Sabbath vibe of the mid-paced tracks an absolute chore.

But there are some true bangers here in the form of “Atlas, Rise!” and “Spit Out the Bone,” proving that Dad Thrash is alive and well:

Anyway, yeah. Play some air guitar tonight and get hype.

See you Saturday, Mankato.

 

 

Love, Riffs, and Videotape: An Interview with Fury Things

photo: Darin K

photo: Darin K

[This interview also appears in issue zero of our sister publication, RJKT. Pick up a hard copy at any of downtown Mankato’s finer alcohol, coffee, and tattoo distributors.]

Minneapolis trio Fury Things have spent the past few years whipping up a storm of DIY activity, bashing out colossal riffs (and bigger hooks) at a pace that teeters between blue collar and breakneck. Their prolificacy has paid dividends. In 2015, City Pages named them Best Rock Band, and they’re riding into 2016 with the rare momentum of a young band that’s constantly rewarding their fans. With their latest release, VHS, Fury Things doubled down on melodies without losing an ounce of fuzz-fueled fire, and the result is their most fully-realized statement to date.

In the run-up to the band’s appearance in Mankato at PHE 9, we reached out to guitarist/vocalist Kyle Werstein to talk about the new record, nostalgia, CASH MONEY, and other things that kick ass.

 

2015 seemed like quite the year for you guys. An EP, a high-profile First Avenue set in support of Bob Mould, and a full-length that dropped in December. Is 2016 just going to be about hitting the road and flexing some muscles on the strength of last year’s momentum? Or do you have any fresh tricks up your sleeve?

I think we’ll be doing a bit of both. Success for us as a band involves maintaining momentum. So, yeah, I want us to get out there and play more shows outside the Twin Cities. We’re definitely looking to do some touring around the album and play out more regionally. At the same time, we’ve got some other songs recorded, I’m working on new material and we’re going to be releasing another video before spring. It’s tough to juggle everything, but we’re just trying to stay as productive as we can.

 

Most music scribblers, when pressed to find descriptors for the Fury Things sound, reach back in time for obvious touchstones, such as Dinosaur Jr. and Husker Du. In titling your new record VHS, is there any fear that you’ll be perceived as a throwback act? Or is that the intention? Or doesn’t it matter?

The whole VHS concept was kind of a joke that stuck. It’s kinda hilarious to us to see a record with the art of a blank cassette tape. I never particularly intended for us to sound like any band or consciously seem like we’re of a certain era. We got together and the songs sound the way they sound. I’m always trying to write songs I’m proud of and that I hope others enjoy. The same extends to the artwork and design concept of the record. I want people to form their own opinions about our music. If one person thinks we’re trying to be a throwback, that’s cool. It’s totally not my intention, but I can’t control the experience of others. I would hope that for every one person like that, there’s another that simply enjoys the tunes.

 

VHS, at least in terms of title and cover art, taps into an 80s/90s vibe that’s hypercool right now, as evidenced in retrowave (Makeup and Vanity Set, Perturbator), synthpop (M83, Carly Rae Jepsen), and even animated comedies. Are we a doomed generation of suckers that are just as susceptible to the pangs of nostalgia that befell our lame-ass parents and grandparents? Or did that era of pop culture truly, honestly kick that much ass?

Who knows? I don’t think you can make a blanket statement about the rise of the 80s/90s vibe. Personally, I just like what I like. I’ve always been fascinated with infomercials and consumer culture and media in general. I love Tim and Eric and the Found Footage Festival and I think there’s something warm and tactile and otherworldly about blank cassette tapes. As a graphic designer, the aesthetic has always been influential to me. And vaporwave, as a genre, piqued my interest, too. But what I get out of it may be different than what you or Carly Rae Jepsen gets out of it. Obviously for some, the use of the aesthetic stems from borrowing nostalgia because they want to be a certain way. I guess I’m reluctant to say we’re all doomed suckers, but I feel like the tiny details are what separates those who really found something in all that pop culture that resonated with them, from someone just doing it to be ‘cool’. Like, I love Com Truise from a musical and visual perspective because his vision of this neon 80s/90s synth wave world feels so real. There’s a difference between someone like him and someone casually applying filters to their videos in an app. The same goes for Tim and Eric or anyone trying to speak that visual language.

 

But then there’s also an equally big part of me that wants everyone to create things. Like, who am I to judge? I feel like we’re all doing our thing and it’s important to have taste, but not be overly judgmental of others at the same time. So.   ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

This is your fifth release, but first LP. How important is the EP format in this interconnected Age of Too Much Goddamn Information?

The EP is important, for sure, but more important than that is just releasing stuff consistently. Our LP came together naturally. It actually started as our third EP, but material just kept coming together. We release just about everything we write and that consistency is important for progressing as a band. I think our releases will continue to be a mix of longer and shorter collections, but it really doesn’t matter what it is as long as we keep at it.

 

The final song on Saskatchewan is called “Money’s Dumb.” How dumb is it, and why will it expedite the eventual unraveling of humanity?

The full-line is “money’s dumb when you have none,” and I think that’s true as a creative and a twentysomething and as a passive observer to this strange-ass existence in 2016. I think one of the toughest things you face as an independent musician is the feeling that so much is just out of reach for financial reasons. But we’re a DIY band and we make the most out of every opportunity. We hand-make a lot of our merch and we travel light and make the most of the time we can take off work. But still, people scoff at you when you say you want to be a musician. It’s tough out there.

I imagine money’s pretty sweet when you have enough of it. Or if you live in a country where people see the value in musicians and artists. I have friends in other countries who can’t understand why we don’t tour more because they have things like publicly funded higher education and single-payer healthcare. The song is pretty tongue-in-cheek, but it stemmed from some bitterness toward the system.

 

Final shout to the Mankato masses: Five Minnesota bands that are killing it right now and why:

It’s really, REALLY tough to narrow down a list to five, since there are a lot of cool bands doing cool stuff. But here are a few acts we’ve been thinking about lately:

Strange Relations: I saw these wonderful humans open for The Thermals at the Entry and had zero idea they were a local act. Instant band crush for me. I was mesmerized by the depressingly beautiful melodies they were kicking out and incredibly impressed by drummer/singer Casey’s ability to hold such complex rhythms while totally belting these awesome vocals.

 

Kitten Forever: They consistently kill it and deserve every bit of praise they receive. For me, their ability to energize a room is extremely inspirational. Also, they throw down harder than almost any other band I can think of. Super important messaging and songs. Also, it’s just fun. They played our record release show and it was kind of a dream come true. Recently they opened for Babes in Toyland in the Mainroom at First Avenue after like a decade as a band and I’m sitting here thinking, “Why the hell did it take this long to get them on that stage?”

 

Ego Death: These are some of the hardest working musicians in the Twin Cities right now. They totally beat us in the sheer number of shows they play per month. The songs are beautiful. Jeremy’s a great guitarist. They tour a bunch and you can feel their heart in the music. That’s super important to me. Also, they’re some of the nicest people you could ever meet.

 

Waveless: The first time I saw Waveless, I could have thought I was floating. Plus, I saw Lou Barlow mention their record and it made me incredibly happy. The way the harmonies sit atop this crazy pile of noise…the way it translates live. Their new album, Spirit Island, is definitely worth a listen.

 

The Blind Shake:  Everyone should know about The Blind Shake by now. If I had to pick a singular band in the Twin Cities that I idolized from sheerly their performance, it would be The Blind Shake. It’s incredibly humbling that we get to play with them in April, because every time I get to watch them, I think, “Damn, how can I do that?”

This Friday in Kato: Past, Present, and…Future?

Nato Coles & the Blue Diamond Band

Nato Coles & the Blue Diamond Band

It’s Thursday already, so let’s get down to business. While most of this weekend’s festivities are going to be quite familiar to locals (more on that later), if you’re into the whole “live music” thing, Kato’s going to be on fire this Friday.

2nd Annual NYDM 5SRC Toys for Tots Drive (Busters, 9 p.m.; $8 cover, $3 with toy donation)

Scheduled well in advance at Busters after the What’s Up Lounge reopened with a “no hip-hop or extreme metal” policy (which has since been rescinded because money), this benefit is headlined by Mankato death metal heavyweights Face of Oblivion. This will be their second (?) show featuring new vocalist Jesse Watson, who replaced ex-Origin vocalist James Lee earlier this year.

It’s rare for a Midwestern town of Mankato’s size to boast a DM act of this caliber, so it’s cool to see the five-piece ramping up their activity.

Rounding out the bill are local-ish metalcore upstarts HeirAfire, Anoka ReverbNationals Beauty of Decay, and MPLS melodeath manipulators Echoes of the Fallen.

The Last Revel & Charlie Parr (Mankato Brewery, 7 p.m.; $7 advance, $10 door)

Sneakily, Mankato Brewery has become one of our city’s hottest spots for live music. (An ample stage, quality sound, and a steady flow of fresh beer seem to be working in their favor.) Bluegrass / folk shredders The Last Revel have been absolutely buzzing over the course of the last eighteen months, peerlessly triggering shoeless sashaying and mirthful pogo-ing amongst artsy Caucasians.

While The Last Revel have styled themselves as a semi-regular attraction, Charlie Parr’s trips down from Duluth are rare, so this is your best opportunity to catch the crusty folk legend without having to endure the Solstice marathon.

[It’s been awhile since I’ve set foot in the Brewery, but if the Mad Butcher IPA is still on tap, CAPITALIZE. While MB may have stumbled out of the gate, the release of this Haymaker killer, along with last summer’s delightful, surprising Kato Lager, means that our hometown beermongers are officially on a roll. Extra bonus: Lola‘s totally righteous food truck is lumbering in from New Ulm, so y’all are SET.]

Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band (NaKato, 10 p.m.; no cover)

This is almost a last-minute booking at the NaKato, with the event page surfacing on FaceDUMBRACISTYELLINGbook just yesterday. At first glance, it looked like this might’ve been another tough Lower North gig for Nato & Co. (their last NaKato appearance was during Boogie on Belgrade and attendance was lackluster), but hey: That Brewery show starts at 7. Nato throws down at 10. If you’re on the right side of the bridge, a doubleheader is mandatory, because this is the best rock n’ roll band that travels to our southern wasteland on the reg. Those that caught their set opening for Cheap Trick at RibFest this summer already know what’s up.

Let’s do this shit…

…again.

Yeah, this entire post looks really familiar, doesn’t it?

It’s not a copy-and-paste job. Our scene is just getting that stagnant.

After a little over a year of writing (sporadically) about Mankato nightlife, this blog has been losing steam. Frankly, it’s not that exciting to write about local and regional music when there hasn’t been anything new or fresh that has blown our doors off in ages.

Mankato’s music scene has been in a transitional period for the past year-plus, but the reaction of bookers and promoters hasn’t been one of injecting newfound adventure and excitement. Instead, they’ve displayed trepidation and restraint. While there have been a couple of highlights in 2015, the last time this town was blessed with truly buzzworthy Minnesota music was the Fury Things / Hardcore Crayons show last winter.

Many were clinging to the hope that the What’s Up would jumpstart the scenery once it reopened under new management, but quality bookings have been sparse. The Kult of the Wizard / Highgraves show was a gem, sure, but we’ve either been subjected to scenester stuff that doesn’t appeal to the 21+ crowd or outdated mallrock for the painfully uncool. Their big “get” to close 2015 is “National Recording Artist” Saliva, whose sole hit, 2001’s “Click Click Boom,” likely only triggers excitement among people that watched Sons of Anarchy for the chase sequences. At this stage, it feels less like a hotspot and more like a reanimated corpse.

Meanwhile, most bars seem to be treating live music as an afterthought. Chopps has been doing well with hip hop, and Moonshiner seems to finally be stretching its wings a bit, but as a city, we’re stuck in a rut. The formulas that are working right now are only going to work for a finite period of time, and if bars and venues don’t take risks, the cautious, cyclical booking they’ve been riding for the past 12 months may wear dangerously thin on an increasingly-jaded populace.

Let’s get out there and light some fires, Mankato.

This Weekend in Kato: Let’s Get Doomed

kultofthewizard

Kult of the Wizard

Yeah, things have been quiet around these parts. But it’s about to get LOUD.

This Friday, the What’s Up Lounge hosts a show that I’ve been anticipating since Let It Breathe started kicking up smoke, an event that we should hope is the first brick in a bridge between the Mankato and Minneapolis stoner / doom scenes:

what's up lounge

Before we dissect the lineup and give it the hard sell, let’s make a brief digression.

One of the things I’ve noticed since breaking free from the comforts of Internet music fandom is that, in the real world, loudrock still has a trash-ass reputation. In the last month, the River Valley endured Five Finger Death Punch and Papa Roach–pastiched, corporate rock whores that generate cash by covering classic rock songs that are still embedded in Clear Channel playlists–holding a much-ballyhooed bro-down in our hockey arena; meanwhile, the What’s Up opened their doors to a bunch of grown-ass men that are combining Tool tropes with chugcore nearly 15 years too late.

saul2

Because nothing screams “progressive metal” like tough-guy posturing and guyliner. But, I guess if Geoff Tate’s still doing it…

Nu-metal still lives in the Midwest. The JNCO nuclear apocalypse happened, but there are still Corey Taylor-worshiping cockroaches scurrying everywhere.

Proof? I was having a beer on Monday night in an empty bar, minding my own business, while two thirtysomething white males (in matching camo caps) assaulted the TouchTunes with Metallica‘s asstastic cover of “Overkill,” a whole lot of Korn, and something from Machine Head‘s ultra-maligned rapcore cashgrab Supercharger.

theburningredera

If your favorite band had a shiny tracksuit phase, they probably suck.

Whether it’s fair or not–and it’s not–these are the ambassadors of heaviness to the greater public. Despite the great lengths my friends and former colleagues have gone to promote forward-thinking, intelligent heavy metal via NPR, Pitchfork, PopMatters, and other outlets that have broader, crossover appeal, aggressive music is still standardized by dimwits that stopped challenging themselves in high school.

Don’t let that perception deter you from REVELING IN YOUR DOOM this Friday.

For the uninitiated, the best way to describe doom metal is this: Imagine that the lineage of heavy metal is a straight line from Black Sabbath, and the branches that sprouted from Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Slayer, Bathory, and Death never took root. All doom and stoner metal bands basically use Master of Reality as a touchstone, retracing the lines and filling in their own colors along the way.

Friday’s Mankato doomcrew consists of WarRooster and Let it Breathe, both of whom have been covered here ad nauseam. (Hey, gimme a break; I like riffs.) The two bands highlight the disparities within the subgenre; WarRooster’s take is peppy and uptempo, loaded with time changes and rollicking riffery, whereas Let It Breathe stretches things out, slow-boiling their strings in smoke while hammering away underneath.

The Twin Cities are exporting a pair of bands on the upswing. St. Paul’s Highgraves are practically infants, with only a single demo on Bandcamp (not ReverbNation; take note, strugglers). But they’ve already played with MN elite like Vulgaari and Wolf Blood, and landed an October gig opening for savage duo Black Cobra and critical doomlings Yob. Their demo is rough around the edges (it’s a freaking demo, people), but the heft is there, and intentionally or not, it’s scuzzy as hell.

But the real treat is Minneapolis’ Kult of the Wizard, who, after churning out a pair of instrumental recordings, made a splash on the national scene last year with The White Wizard. Receiving favorable (if lazy) comparisons to acts like Witch Mountain and The Devil’s Blood from the likes of Cvlt Nation and Decibel–as well as being featured in my former outlet, Last Rites–the band has been getting hyped from ‘heads in the know.

Mankato’s been blessed with the opportunity to watch them grow.

Be there or be doomed. (Actually, you’re doomed either way, BUT WHATEVER.)

RibFest is a Goddamn Abomination

cheap_trick

We’re over a week removed from the 187th annual Mankato RibFest, and I’ve spent that entire interval in recovery. (Well, truthfully, I’ve just been binge-watching The Newsroom. Which, despite being little more than a self-righteous reboot of Sports Night with less-likable characters, is still pretty damned fantastic.)

Going into RibFest weekend, there was only one night that held much intrigue: Friday’s lineup of Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band, The Suburbs, and Cheap Trick. Thursday’s starched-shirt country lineup was mercifully rained out, Live‘s Saturday set was probably more forgettable than the singles from Secret Samadhi, and attending any outdoor event on a Sunday is purely for masochists and people without bicycles.

The intrigue was mostly predicated on the opening act, a band I’d seen a few times already. The plan was to watch the openers, crush a couple of six-dollar beers, and then make a graceful exist. But a few beers turned into several (as they do), and pretty soon, I was neck deep in aging rocker carnage.

The first clue that things were going to get sad popped up during Nato’s set. When the band busted out their trusty cover of “Can’t Hardly Wait,” a salt-and-pepper paunch wrapped in a Cheap Trick shirt peeled himself away from the merch tent and rushed the stage, crackling with “hey, I recognize that song!” hysterics. After engaging in some brief front-row banter with the band, duder stuck around for exactly half of the next song (an original) before bolting to do, presumably, absolutely nothing in a different location.

This kind of behavior–the blatant shunning of new experiences even when they’re unfolding right in front of your face–couldn’t be embodied any more wholeheartedly/halfassedly. Or so I thought. Yet with just a slight shift of my gaze, his histrionics were thoroughly out-boomered:

If you're not Cheap Trick then FUCK YOU #slayer

A post shared by jordan campbell (@lower.northcore) on

 

Here’s some fuel for those “worst generation ever” flames: Straight IGNORING a band while positioned front-and-center-stage is the Baby Boomer Dick Move equivalent of filming an entire song with your iPhone…except way more distracting, way more obnoxious, and way more self-centered. The combination of arrogance and oblivion displayed here is staggering.

But if you look a little closer at this photo, there’s a duality here, displaying the best and worst of RibFest. The jaded fan in the center is obviously the worst, but look to the left: Two teenage girls are leaning against the barrier, clad in Ramones and GNR shirts, giving the band their undivided attention…because this is the best thing they can get. They’ll absorb live music at any opportunity, eager to soak up new experiences and feel the electricity of live performance–any live performance. And that’s why this type of event is worthwhile, not because it’s fan service for a bunch of curmudgeons that want to relive their glory years of being oblivious to punk rock.

Thus, we have two types of fans that attend these shows: Grandparents hellbent on replicating snapshots from their heyday, and kids that haven’t had the chance to take theirs yet.

And then there are the people that show up just to get shitfaced in public.

THOUSANDS OF THEM.

Sure, it’s a bit presumptive to assume that the majority of attendees weren’t there to see The Suburbs, who survived the saddest radio-guy emcee intro ever–complete with “back in my day” and “that social media stuff” jokes–before running out of vocal hooks and adrenaline 30 seconds into their set. Or to see Cheap Trick, who still indulged in full rockstar posturing–Rick Nielsen had a roadie serve him different guitar for nearly every song–yet totally didn’t come off as shopworn, haggard, and obsolete.

But there was ample evidence to back up the speculation that the majority of RibFesters were just there to flaunt their Confederate flag regalia, facilitate awkward run-ins with former co-workers, and chug canned domestics in portable toilets:

#ribfest #cheaptrick #getoutofmytown

A post shared by jordan campbell (@lower.northcore) on

 

Until last weekend, I’d made it a full seven years in Kato without attending a RibFest.

See you in seven more. Stay classy.

Extended Weekend: Drag the River, RibFest Replacements, and High on 169

dragtheriver

Now that dewpoints have dropped, things are starting to heat up. It’s shaping up to be a great weekend for music in Kato (and north from here, for that matter), so let’s crack the lid and dive in:

THURSDAY

Drag the River with Pocket Genius [NaKato, 8 p.m., no cover]

While many were mourning the supposed death of Mankato’s music scene during the What’s Up’s hibernation, the NaKato quietly became the spot to see relevant, original music, and it isn’t even a music venue. (And let’s be real: If the What’s Up continues to book plastic/poseur nu-retreads in the vein of 3 Pill Morning, a return to prominence probably isn’t in the cards.) This Thursday, NaKato keeps the streak alive, booking Colorado punks-gone-alt-country-troubadours Drag the River for an off-date before they play First Avenue with Social Distortion on Friday.

Get your shit together and catch a national act at your corner bar.

Oh, hey. Pocket Genius, too. (Seriously. Get your shit together and do this.)

FRIDAY

Cheap Trick with The Suburbs and Nato Coles & the Blue Diamond Band [Vetter Stone Amphitheater, 6 p.m., $5 or $10 depending on whether you have a job]

We outlined the RibFest lineup a few weeks ago, but Cheap Trick hadn’t been formally announced as the headliner, so Minneapolis mini-legends The Suburbs were forced to lay the rails for the hype train. And that’s probably for the better; interested parties were able to to do their homework without being distracted by the looming apocalypse of “I Want You to Want Me,” which is arguably the most obnoxious classic rock zombie this side of “Rock and Roll All Nite.”

But there’s a lot more to Rick Nielsen’s crew than that lowbrow, cash-generating hit, as a cursory listen to …at Budokan‘s “deep” cuts will reveal.

This isn't tough mining people. There are only ten tracks on the damn thing. Turn off your radio and GET THE NET

This isn’t tough mining, people. There are only ten tracks on the album. Turn off your radio and GET THE NET

While the opportunity to see a couple of legends–on decidedly different scales–is appealing, the non-throwback draw of the evening is MPLS’ Nato Coles & the Blue Diamond Band, who have developed a deserved following in the Kato area for their blue-collar, Lynott-and-Springsteen-infused punk.

 

Get there early. Like, quit-your-job early. $5 cans of Schell’s await.

SATURDAY

Live with Fastball [Vetter Stone Ampitheater, who:cares, $ribs]

Earlier this week, Smash Mouth announced that they would be pulling out of their RibFest appearance due to illness. (Hey, maybe Guy Fieri’s bestie contracted a YEAST INFECTION after he was PELTED WITH BREAD.) While this will likely disappoint my friend in the VW convertible that was blasting “All-Star” at the intersection of Victory and Glenwood last weekend, I can’t imagine a situation where Live is a downgrade. Their 1994 sophomore album, Throwing Copper, shot the band into MTV rotation on the strength of Ed Kowalczyk’s vocals…

*checks Wikipedia*

Live’s original lead singer Ed Kowalczyk left the band in November 2009.

Oh. Now it makes sense.

Live without Kowalczyk seems like it’d be similar to Bush touring without Gavin Rossdale. Who would want to witness a band that was shallow and opportunistically-marketed the first time around rendered even sadder and more impotent?

I guess fans of one-record-wonders from the mid-90s have finally found their version of the Sebastian-Bach-less Skid Row.

(And I still don’t know what Fastball sounds like.)


MONDAY

High on Fire with Pallbearer [Mill City Nights, 7 p.m., $20]

Remember when I told you (a few grafs ago) to quit your job to go see Nato Coles? ULTERIOR MOTIVE: You’re better off jobless for the trek up 169 on Monday to see the mightiest power trio in metal at Mill City.

High on Fire just released their seventh album, Luminiferous, which sounds like a High on Fire record. Meaning, it’s AWESOME.

Have they been basically writing two songs (the fast one and the slow one) since Blessed Black Wings? Yep. Does it matter? Nope. They’re basically locked in Slayer / Motorhead mode, yet still at their peak, playing to-eleven rock driven by Des Kensel’s increasingly iconic hitting and Matt Pike’s increasingly increasing waistline. They’re the baddest dudes on the planet, and have been for some time now.

They’re getting direct support from Pallbearer, the most critically-acclaimed doom act since…

…actually, a doom band garnering critical acclaim is relatively new phenomenon. They made waves with a stunning debut that proved to be a robust variation on Warning‘s Watching From a Distance, and they pushed that sound through a Disintegration filter on last year’s Foundations of Burden.

This spot doesn’t often advocate 169-ing, but if you feel like extending your hangover into next week, take the trip up the highway this Monday.

See you out there, Mankato.

This Weekend In Kato: The What’s Up Lounge Lives Again

Let it Breathe

Let it Breathe

As recently as this winter, the sky was falling.

Amid a swell of controversy, Mankato’s longest-running dedicated(ish) music venue, The What’s Up Lounge, closed its doors in January. The Free Press, suddenly concerned with local culture, wrote an obituary of sorts–complete with the token Kato antecdote about how great things were back in the  ’90s–and essentially went on to speculate on the death of the city’s music scene. (Nevermind the fact that , after the closing, original acts continued to play regularly at the Wine Cafe, Midtown Tavern, Busters, NaKato, and other establishments, while the paper’s “Currents” page preferred to publish features on Christian rock acts gigging in church basements.)

Meanwhile, scene veterans mourned the spot where they saw some of their favorite shows and / or muscled their own band into something stage-worthy. And this blog right here–written by some jackass with the audacity to spend previous portions of his life in slightly-larger cities with more robust music scenes–bid adieu to a venue that had obviously devolved into a pocket-change generator stapled atop the dive bar entrenched downstairs.

Six months later, the sky has been restored…well, the Mankato music venue positioned closest to the stratosphere has, anyway.

Yes, the Oleander Saloon and What’s Up Lounge are under new ownership, and the What’s Up has its grand reopening event scheduled for this Saturday. In preparation, this new team has put forth some positive changes, such as concluding shows by midnight (which makes sense on about every conceivable level) and employing an extra security staffer during shows, rather than leaving the doorperson and bartender to fend themselves.

[Self-Editor’s Note: I don’t want to make it seem like the What’s Up needed additional security due to safety issues. Yes, there were well-publicized incidents, but nothing that couldn’t have–or hasn’t–happened in the revenue-generating ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT that the city so treasures. The difference between those downtown establishments and the previous incarnation of this Old Town stalwart is that the former are adequately staffed. The What’s Up didn’t need security that eclipsed the norm, it just needed an ownership group that cared enough to step up to the industry standard.]

These are positive changes that will hopefully make the venue feel less like a glorified basement and more like something approaching a professional establishment. They’re certainly presenting themselves as such…

whatsup2

…because I’ll be damned if that ain’t a sharp flyer. And snagging a sponsorship from the local Five Finger Death Punch station isn’t a bad coup, either.

More importantly, though: That is a killer lineup right there, featuring three of the most engaging, riff-worshipping acts in Minnesota. I’ve waxed rhetorical about ’em on these pages previously, so we’ll keep this preview brief and packed with Bandcamp embeds.

WarRooster‘s full-blast, un-stoned stoner rock is part Goatsnake, part Clutch, and part Scandinavian-style desert rock (which is actually a thing, I swear). They’re hungry, wily, and tight as hell.

Let It Breathe will be coming off a Friday show with Lungs and freaking ZEBULON PIKE at the Triple Rock, revealing their status as the hardest-hitting Sabbath worshippers in the state to a new audience. Their River Wizard EP from late 2014 made some serious waves in slow n’ low / doom n’ gloom circles, and their first full-length should surface on STB Records…soon-ish.

And Crash Cuddle‘s off-kilter post-rock unpredictability will keep everyone on their toes. Rather than fall into the lull / crescendo heartstring trap that bands like Pelican, Mono, and Explosions in the Sky made so popular a decade ago, Crash Cuddle keeps you on your toes, sucking you into a false sense of security before hitting you with Beehoover-esque bombs.

If you’re keeping score, this basically means that the What’s Up is once again the place to be this Saturday. Yeah, Blues on Belgrade is going down, Hank and Rita are playing the first of two “final”, nearly sold-out shows at Studio Six, and the Purple and Gold will be perched upon the hill, waiting to charge you $42 for parking and the opportunity to buy overpriced merchandise. But if you want to get dirty and feel some soul, get your ass to Old Town this weekend.