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:
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.
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.
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.)
Disclaimer: This post is about professional wrestling.
Well, because. Last Friday, I returned to the repainted n’ rebooted What’s Up Lounge to catch WarRooster–who’ve been highlighted here before–and Nebraska’s Universe Contest, who sounded like a bunch of squathouse anarcho-punks that adopted a violent strain of post-rock instead banging on buckets and ukuleles. And they tore the house down.
Following that, my attorney yanked me away from the SAMCRO-clad Charlie Daniels fans barfing on the Oleander’s patio and threw me headlong into the ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT, where I drank way too much in an effort to compensate for the overall grossness of the late-night / early-morning endeavor and eventually washed up on Saturday’s hungover shores feeling like a withered, soulless, 32-year-old manchild.
Naturally, the best course of action here was to curl up in my bunker and watch a shitload of pro wrestling, because there was a shitload of pro wrestling on television.
WWE hyped their three-day stint at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to near-Wrestlemania proportions, putting on an NXT Takeover show Saturday night and extending Sunday’s SummerSlam card to a full four hours. While that’s an enormous amount of wrestling for any sane human to digest, especially this long-retired indy fan turned newly-minted casual, it largely delivered. The NXT show featured Jushin “Thunder” Liger’s surreal WWE debut, the best women’s title match ever exposed to a national audience, and a superb ladder match between Finn Balor and Kevin Owens.
But Sunday. Whew.
In the aftermath, most of the Internet chatter has directed negativity towards SummerSlam’s glut of screwy finishes. Dolph Ziggler vs. Rusev ending in a double count out? Bad. The epic Seth Rollins / John Cena title confrontation ending with a Jon Stewart heel turn? Hilariously awesome.
But the false finish / restart that capped the main event bout between The Undertaker, a mystical, undead entity that can somehow teleport, control lightning, AND survive an early-aughts flirtation with Limp Bizkit theme music, and Brock Lesnar, former NCAA wrestling champion and UFC heavyweight titleholder, was the most well-written piece of pro wrestling storytelling in recent memory.
And people hated it.
Here’s why they shouldn’t.
From the outset, Lesnar / Taker matchup had a robust MMA influence running through it, far deeper the mere presence of Lesnar and the character he currently portrays, and unlike anything heretofore seen on WWE programming. Taker has been using an omoplata (known as “Hell’s Gate” in WWE jargon) as a finishing maneuver for years; Lesnar, since his return from his UFC stint, been using a modified kimura to “break” opponents’ arms.
Furthermore, the announcers have been making strides to sell the Undertaker as “the best striker in the WWE,” while Lesnar consistently works double leg takedowns and delivers short shots and hammerfists from side control. While not as blatant as the MMA-style bouts that Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe experimented with nearly a decade ago, the WWE has gone to not-so-subtle lengths to make this particular feud lean more on the “sports” side of sports-entertainment.
Rolling with this “sporting” aspect to the storytelling, The Fed needed a semi-plausible way to end this bout with a non-finish, because only a fool would’ve suspected a clean pin here.
Could they go with a double count-out? Hell no; that was a horrible option even in ’89, and when they pulled it on a meaningless undercard bout on Sunday, the crowd took four dumps on it.
Could they go with a ref bump + interference combo? Well, they already did that earlier in the evening with Rollins-Cena-Stewart, and there wasn’t really a logical third party to do the deed and still keep the storyline centered on the duo.
But most importantly, ref bumps don’t happen in actual sports. Shitty officiating, though? It happens all. the. time.
So here’s how the main event ended, after some back-and-forth action that easily eclipsed their concussion-marred outing at WrestleMania:
- Lesnar locked in his kimura (seen in the header image)
- Seconds later, the timekeeper rang the bell, signaling the end to the match, however…
- …referee Charles Robinson hadn’t called for the bell, leading him to chew the timekeeper a new asshole
- While assholes were being chewed, Lesnar stood in the ring with his back to the Undertaker
- Seizing the opportunity, Taker kicked Lesnar in the dick and locked in his omoplata, restarting the match that Robinson never actually ended in the first place
- Failing to escape the chokehold, Lesnar chose to flip Taker the bird and pass out rather than tap, surrendering victory to the old dead guy
The live crowd didn’t know what to think, until INSTANT REPLAY–something used in the WWE Universe solely for the benefit of home audiences, not for determining actual match outcomes–showed that the Undertaker did in fact tap out to Lesnar’s kimura, yet outside of the ref’s view. The timekeeper, however, saw the tap on the Titantron, and thusly rang the bell to “end” the match.
It was a botched call.
This happens all the time in the NFL. It happens even more often in the UFC, where athletic commissions often don’t know what the hell they’re doing. Split decisions can go to the losing fighter. Refs can had out iffy DQs (see the records of Silva, Erick and Jones, Jon). But the UFC bout that runs the clearest parallel to SummerSlam’s main event? Yoel Romero vs. Tim Kennedy at UFC 178.
At the end of that fight’s second round, Kennedy rocked Romero with a flurry of punches; the “Soldier of God” was clearly saved by the bell. Between rounds, however, he was gifted extra time on the stool to recover–possibly giving Joe Rogan an aneurysm in the process–and came back to KO Kennedy in the third. Now, he faces Jacare Souza in a middleweight title eliminator at UFC 194.
It was a miscarriage of justice, assuredly. Timekeepers, cornermen, cageside doctors, and referees all dropped the ball. But when humans are involved, errors occur. And that’s the angle WWE was gunning for here: The humanity of sport. Leaps of logic and suspension of disbelief can occur in entertainment, because there are no rules; but to draw lines of logic in an arena that often blatantly defies it is ballsier than fans and critics are giving it credit for.
Want decisive finishes? Stick to baseball.
I’ll be hanging out here in the gray area.
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.
Let’s be real: February sucks.
Even the hardiest Minnesotans grow weary of winter. After three-ish months of steely resolve, defenses break down, and a -37 degree wind chill crosses the threshold from “well, this is kinda bullshit” into “I’d rather dine on hot garbage with Dinesh D’Souza than step outside for thirteen goddamn seconds because I feel like my skin is going to die.”
You’re sick. You’re tired. You’re cold.
Fear not. This weekend, Mankato is burning.
Friday will generate its fair share of late-winter warmth, as the 410 Project hosts its Annual Juried Exhibition at 7 p.m, featuring music from Des Moines’ Noremac McCarthy.
Meanwhile, less-cerebral legions will be partying across the river, where an earlybird 21+ show is going down at Benderz, AKA The Only Bar on the Planet That Still Thinks Hosting A “Ladies Night” With The Tagline “ALL YOU CAN HANDLE!” Isn’t Totally Sexist And/Or Predatory.
Thankfully, the bands have gifted the venue with the Futurama-themed flyer we’ve all been screaming for:
These might seem like conflicting events at first blush, but it’s wholly possible to hit both, even if you might miss out on Bring The Sun‘s shimmering nu-isms and the acoustic-driven, post-grunge dirge of Angry Waters. The most magnetic draw at Benderzzzz is the headlining act, WarRooster.
Recently, the band pushed fresh wares upon the greater public, releasing a new LP, Bilderberg Workshop, on the 45th anniversary of Black Sabbath‘s genre-spawning debut.
Anyway, once you shake off your hangover (and the sideways glances from the Benderz regulars), gear up for Saturday night, where Buster’s takes a break from REO Speedwagon cover bands and amateur “boxing” to host the STACKED-est lineup we’ve had in months:
But Fury Things, people. Fury Things is the business. Especially if you throw down on fuzzy, dreamy garage rock that swings hooks like hammers:
They recently opened for freaking Bob Mould at First Avenue, so when you’re presented with the opportunity to see them in a strip-mall sports bar, the best course of action is to capitalize.
See, it works like this: Cool bands come to Mankato. We go see the cool bands. And the cool bands come back. That’s how you build something…and have fun doing it.
See you this weekend, Mankato.
For many, it’s been a wild week: Black(out) Wednesday, Engorgement Thursday, Black Friday. If this mini-marathon of relentless excess was an integral part of your version of “giving thanks,” you might be a little fried right now.
Plug in and recharge, citizens. You might be running low on vitality, but your city’s still humming this Saturday.
Mankato Brewery opens its doors to the Barefoot Winos at 5 p.m., while Pub 500’s Mustache Bash kicks of at 7:00–featuring a mustache contest, soft jams from The Porch Lights, and a special MB tapping of Black Beard Ale.
Yet folks that rock facial hair throughout the remaining eleven months of the year will be throwing down at…
Let It Breathe / Wicked Inquisition / WarRooster [The What’s Up Lounge, 9 p.m.]
Each of these acts, on their own, build a little bridge from the realm of rock into the depths of doom, but as a combined force, it’s basically a seminar on reclaiming the riff.
WarRooster, playing their first show with a new bassist, ply a driving, post-Kyuss brand of stoner rock known to take thrashback detours and tip the collective cap to Iron Maiden.
Minneapolis’ upstart Wicked Inquisition (not to be confused with plain ol’ Inquisition) have stepped their game up considerably over the past year. Their very existence encapsulates the timelessness of doom metal: In folding Sabbathian weight n’ swagger into Trouble‘s traditionalism and tying it off with a proto-metal cord, these dudes–barely of legal age–are taking classic sounds and injecting it with a rarified vitality. Expect them to make waves in 2015; they wrapped recording of their first LP earlier this month.
And Let It Breathe just dropped a new bomb in the form of the River Wizard EP. This 3-track Bandcamp release was meant to be covert, as the cuts are unmastered and yet to take their final forms, but the Internet had other ideas. Thirst for impossibly-thick stoner / doom metallics is arguably at an all-time high, and fanatics pounced on it posthaste.
And it’s easy to see why. Few bands can combine smoked-out, Electric Wiz-ness with the warlord hammering of early High On Fire, but LIB manages to find that elusive balance between comapulse lullabies and, well, punching you in the face with a truck.
Let’s get doomed, Mankato. See you there.
So, Friday night was a bit of a blur. Local Distortion and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Green Day–bands that play exactly what you’d think, Voltron’d from members of WarRooster, Beautiful Corpse, Face of Oblivion, Acanthostega, and Compulsive Mutilation–played the What’s Up Lounge to a solid crowd. However, there’s a problem with the What’s Up: you’ll eventually drift down to the Oleander. Which is basically the worst bar in the area. Which means you’ll get extra-shitcanned in an attempt to make up for it. Which never works, and then you’re just hammered and bored and significantly sketched-out.
Brutal case of the Too-Many-Jamesons aside, both acts were super fun, and if you’re a fan of Social D or Green Day (seventh-grade me would’ve been stoked), you should catch ’em next time.
Tonight, we’re headed to the dreaded downtown “entertainment district” for…
Davina and the Vagabonds [Pub 500, 9 p.m.]
Despite racking up an esteemed reputation in the Midwest (and recently, worldwide), Davina and the Vagabonds haven’t ignored Mankato in favor of lusher pastures. And that’s pretty cool. After packing the Wine Cafe to the point of reckless endangerment on multiple occasions, they’re upgrading to Pub 500, which allows for more robust attendance. (Also, actual sightlines.) Frankly, this quintet is too damn big for this town’s bar crowd, and likely one of the best kept secrets in a blues / jazz scene that may or may not exist beyond this hardscabble metalpunk’s purview, making this show essential.
Sure, you could make the quick drive up to Nicollet Mall and see ’em at the Dakota Jazz Club semi-regularly…after placing a reservation weeks in advance for the opportunity to sit on your hands with a crowd of stolid, aging yuppies that turn down their noses at the uptempo numbers. Or you could just drive / walk / bike a few blocks and keep it lower-middle-class.
Speaking of the Dakota, here’s some killer live footage from a 2010 set that wisely keeps the boring white people out of the shot:
That should sell itself. See you there.