Adam Levy and Pete Sands (Thursday, June 2nd, 2005, Mill City Ruin
By David Rachac
Live outdoor music, like outdoor baseball, is a tremendous concept as long as you can guarantee trouble-free weather -- which you can’t. While you bemoan the Metrodome on every day like last Thursday’s sunny and 85, you tend to forget every game this April and May would have been in the 40s and raining, and there is NO WAY you would have gotten off your couch and into your parka in order to attend the game. So when an opportunity presents itself to see singer/songwriter Adam Levy and keyboardist Pete Sands of the Honeydogs perform outside at the Mill City Ruin Courtyard on a picture-perfect day, you jump at it.
And jump I did, especially when I walked through the museum into the courtyard area. The whole museum is beautiful, and the Ruin Courtyard area is stunning, centered in the remnants of the eight-story Washburn A Mill. With exposed iron beams and crumbling brick walls, the Ruin Courtyard would be a dramatic backdrop to any event, but especially something in a cocktail setting, like Adam Levy’s show was. Waiters offered a wide range of appetizers to guests, and a well-stocked bar was manned by several gregarious hosts, making the whole experience a very intimate and charming one.
But here comes the only complaint I had of the entire evening. In the quarter of the courtyard where Adam Levy and Pete Sands played, the stage and several rows of tables and chairs were covered by a large clear plastic tent canopy, at least 30 feet long by 30 feet wide. While I certainly understand the need to guarantee the event will proceed in case of rain, the combination of the warm temperature and the direct sunlight under heavy plastic made it feel like we were watching the show in a greenhouse, something Levy himself mentioned. But like in the case of the Metrodome, if it had been 50 and drizzling, I would have gone overboard extolling the virtues of the canopy and how it made the experience much more enjoyable. Short of “opening the roof” when it is nice and only raising the canopy when there is a good threat of bad weather, there is little that Mill City could do to satisfy everyone.
It really isn’t fair to come to an Adam Levy/Pete Sands duo show and expect to experience a show with the power of the Honeydogs – and they are the first to admit it. “Welcome to what we call the Broadway portion of our show” said Levy, before Sands kicked into “The Rake’s Progress”, the second of nine songs they played from 2003’s 10,000 Years. Since 10,000 Years was so ambitious with regard to instrumentation (like strings, horns, sitar and harpsichord, in addition to layers of guitars and keys) and song structure (like Middle-Eastern, German cabaret and bossa nova), it is hard to cut down to acoustic guitar and keys and still retain the intensity of the originals. While some of the songs aren’t really affected by the difference in instrumentation (“Test Tube Kid”, “Poor Little Sugar”), others (“The Rake’s Progress”, “Were The Heavens Standing Blindly?”) come off slightly schmaltzy without the full strength of the Honeydogs behind them.
On the other hand, a stripped down sound gives new life to some of the older songs. While “Rosie Flores” and “Panacea” (from 2001’s Island of Misfits) stayed true to the originals, songs like “Rumor Has It” (1997’s Seen A Ghost) and “Losing Transmissions” (2000’s Here’s Luck) were reinvented, from straight-ahead rockers to somber, quiet reflections. I didn’t even recognize “Losing Transmissions” until Levy got to the chorus, even though I was singing the lyrics along in my head.
Levy and Sands played four new songs, three of which sound similar in complexity and substance to songs found on 10,000 Years, and one (“Olive’s Olives”) from his offshoot band Yikes!, a band dedicated to making music for kids of all ages (similar to They Might Be Giants recent foray). He dedicated the song to his niece (who, not surprisingly, is named Olive), which led to some inspired kid-dancing in front of the stage, losing themselves in the music and the evening air.
The Honeydogs will play at Grand Old Day and Taste of Minnesota this summer, as well opening up for Aimee Mann for three shows, including the July 31st show at the Minnesota Zoo.