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Dallas Orbiter, Umbrella Sequence, James Diers, Bridge Club (Friday, January 14th, 2004, Uptown Bar, Minneapolis)
Dallas Orbiter plays the Uptown Bar on Friday in their CD Release Party for Magnesium Fireflies. Photo by David de Young (click for larger version.)

By David de Young

What is it about Minnesotans? When the temperature drops to 20 below zero, we all pile into our automobiles and hit the bars as if drinking too much might help us forget the weather. (Well, actually it does.) When I arrived at the Uptown Bar Friday night the club was already so packed there was a traffic jam in the entryway. The occasion? The Tinderbox Music Showcase, an event which I understand sold out in 2004. And it didn’t look like tonight’s weather was going to dampen this year’s event in the slightest.

I only got to hear opening band The Bridge Club’s final couple songs, but I can report that this trio, which got quite a reputation last year as being one of the new “it” bands in the Twin Cities, is forging their way on into 2005, still deserving their spot as stalwart rockers and scenester favorites. Quite a few fans were obviously on hand to see this always seemingly tighter garage rock band open up the night’s music.

Second on the bill was James Diers of Halloween, Alaska and Love-Cars fame. Diers’ set was nothing short of ethereal. Sometimes nothing can beat watching a lone and unassuming individual sonically captivating an audience. Diers played solo electric, at times accompanied by prerecorded drum and keyboard tracks (ostensibly the drum samples were of one Dave King, Halloween, Alaska//Happy Apple drummer, who was tied up over at the Cedar Cultural Center where Happy Apple was doing a CD release party. The Happy Apple show, incidentally, was also packed according to a report from one mobile music fan who had just returned from the West Bank.) [Diers emailed me later to let me know that the drum track from the Halloween Alaska song "Des Moines" was indeed a King creation lifted from the album, but that he had created the others on his own.]

Diers selections Friday night featured Love-Cars as well as Halloween, Alaska tracks, including “Des Moines,” (you know, the one that ends with that repeated “20 times around the block” bit) which had a certain added intensity to it and drew much applause. It dawned on me while taking another listen to their debut disk today that Halloween, Alaska reminds me of Prefab Sprout because of a combination of Diers’ voice and Ev Olcott’s production. (Paddy McAloon’s vocals with Thomas Dolby’s production have a similar comforting immediacy.) Rumor has it there will be a new offering from Halloween, Alaska coming out on Princess Records sometime in March, 2005.

Umbrella Sequence was up next after a short break. I’ve seen this band maybe 3 or 4 times, and each show is different. Tonight’s seemed to stay pretty much right on course; it was tight and enjoyable, and I can see why this band continues to do well. Live, the Radiohead influence is almost more apparent than on their CD’s, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Grins of enjoyment from seemingly immer-backpacked keyboardist and vocalist Ryan Rupprecht always seem to give Umbrella sequence shows an extra ounce of added charm.

For some reason, towards the end of the Umbrella Sequence set the audience dropped off—a lot. My theory that people were leaving the Uptown to get to the Triple Rock to see Kid Dakota was disproved the following morning when I learned that the same sort of exodus was occurring at the Triple Rock as well at about the same time. So unless people were heading to some private party no one told me about, maybe they were actually going home to get under their blankets.

It’s too bad so many people left because Dallas Orbiter, the unabashedly geeky 5 piece Twin Cities space-rock band, put on a solid show to about a 60 percent full music room. Lead singer Mark Miller had this professorial Mork and Mindy era Robin Williams look going for him tonight in a blue and red striped shirt and spectacles hanging on the end of his nose---not your normal rock star getup to say the least. (The horizontal stripes got me thinking think this band might have oddly fit in at a band shell in “The Village” if the surreal British TV series The Prisoner had been filmed last year instead of the late sixties.) Dallas Orbiter played many songs from their new CD Magnesium Fireflies (Princess Records, November, 2004) and even a damn fine cover of “Palmcorder Yajna” by The Mountain Goats (You know the song, the one about the vedic ritual of self-sacrifice from “We Shall All Be Healed” with the twisted repeating line “And the headstones climbed up the hills.”) Miller has the perfectly thin and intense voice necessary to pull this song off well, though a friend also noted their version sounded a little like Roxy Music. Something weird about the mix made it almost un-listenable without earplugs (it sounded just fine with them in) that might have explained why many people moved to the bar-side of the club during the DO set. The set took a bit of a downward slide during its final third—the energy drifted a bit with a slow ballad (it might have the shimmering and slow “Akron”) and another song I did not recognize—but they pulled it out in the end with the spooky and grooving “Bed of Stars,” the opening track off the new CD, with its half step rising and falling chord progressions.