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at Busters after the What’s Up Lounge reopened with a “no hip-hop or extreme metal” policy (which has since been rescinded because money), this benefit is headlined by Mankato death metal heavyweights Face of Oblivion.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…
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.
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…
…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.