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Dan Israel, The Rakes, The Sirachas (Saturday, January 22nd, 2005, Mayslack's, Minneapolis)

Reviewed by Nancy Jane Meyer

A few weeks back, as many of you may have read on howwastheshow, the illustrious Dan Israel “reviewed” his own show (at my facetious suggestion, I might add) because I was unable to make it myself due to certain troubles with the Huns in my neighborhood, an aggressive border dispute transcending centuries and all sense of decency. Anyway, Israel’s “review” was “commented” on by the music columnist for Star Tribune, who stated that howwastheshow had “thrown journalistic ethics out the window” in publishing an obviously subjective though highly entertaining performance review. I realized that despite the number of reviews that I have written on these pages, toiling into the wee hours squinting drunkenly by candlelight to meet the editor’s stringent press deadlines, the one that I failed to actually write has received more mainstream press attention, and that irony is a cold, icy shot in the arm, my friends.

It was a slow Saturday night at Mayslack’s in northeast, and when I showed up to finally review Israel, he upon seeing me looked aghast, since tonight was not full-on Cultivators show, and lamented, “Nancy—you’re reviewing us tonight?!” Despite Cultivators keyboardist Pete Sands’ presence in the bar, to my dismay he was headed off somewhere else. And diva drummer Dave Russ was in Boca Raton with Martin Zeller playing Neil Diamond covers, presumably at some assisted living community to the geriatric delight of the old biddies and gents, leaving only Kris Bowring on bass and the ubiquitous Craig Grossman filling in on drums to play for two full hours at the end of the night, which means one thing and one thing only: Who covers.

And cover the Who they did: and Springsteen, and Johnny Cash, and the Beatles, and the Band (for which Michael Quinn of the Virgin Suicides jumped onstage to add harmony vocals to “The Weight”) and the Stones, Elvis Costello and Dylan. And one of these songs was dedicated by Israel to a roast beef sandwich, though no one from the show that night can recall which one. (Which song, not which roast beef sandwich.) So let’s consider this more of an anti-review, or perhaps, rather, the prelude to a more notable Cultivators event in the future. I am not the first critic to insist that Dan Israel is highly deserving of much grander commercial success and critical acclaim than he has received, nor will I be the last. However, I will hold off on my usual artistic analysis and postmodern commentary for another time that is more representative of his talent and efforts.

Needless to say, the best cover of the night was most certainly “Dead Set on Destruction,” as so few folks in this town can convincingly pull off Husker Du like Israel. (Although, he may want to avoid Madonna tributes in the future, as the attempt at “Material Girl” was eschewed even by drummer Craig Grossman, in addition to the despairing moans and groans from the crowd.) And not to say that the finest of the Dan Israel canon were discluded from the set —midway through the night was “Some Time,” possibly his most well-crafted and lyrical from the album Love Ain’t a Cliché while the poignant “Come to Me” from the new release Time I Get Home will undoubtedly get picked up by the new 89.3 MPR station or I will launch a formal protest in the form of an indignant e-mail campaign. (Note: at press time, the station kicked off its debut with Atmosphere.)

In this reviewers opinion, Minneapolis’ next rising stars of the stage are the Sirachas, fronted by Johnny Bitenc, who is known for his work with Dana Thompson and the lost but not forgotten ensemble Tangletown, among others. The Sriachas seamlessly blend rockabilly rhythms with country undertones, accented by the brilliant guitar stylings of Robert Russel (which may or may not be his real name); an anonymous source confided to me that "Russel" might soon be kickin’ it back with Kid Dakota, but as yet the deal remains unconfirmed. Saturday night was only their second show, and despite battling colds and new band jitters they played an engaging and eclectic set.

The Rakes. I really want to enjoy them more than I do because they have a great energy and seem like nice boys. They obviously rehearse diligently, and have the chops musically, but I am always left with the sense that I just heard the same relentless loud wall of song repeated over and over at the same mid to fast tempo, but I have no idea what it’s about because the vocals are drowned out like a shrieking cat fallen into a well. Their sound so typifies the average Minneapolis rock band, which is a shame, because they are better than the average Minneapolis rock band. They might be benefited, in my view, by turning down their amps and experimenting with more diverse musical styles and instrumentation beyond the all-too-familiar power chordathon.

Nancy Jane Meyer is njmeyer@howwastheshow.com