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Kid Dakota, Friends Like These, The Dirty Things and The Deaths (Saturday, February 5th, 2005, Turf Club, Minneapolis)
The Deaths were one of four great bands on Saturday night's Turf Club bill - Photo by David de Young (Click for full size)

By Cyn Collins

The Dirty Things (Chicago)

I got in on the last two songs of The Dirty Things, much to my chagrin as I was really looking forward to them. But what I did hear was fantastic. They immediately reminded me of Joe Strummer, and Nick Cave. Also a bit like the Cure, Duran Duran, and a lot like Gang of Four. They had fun fast pop rock songs that got many people on the floor. Featuring rich vocals and jangly guitars, the wild-eyed pretty boys really sizzled. Afterward, to learn more about what I missed, I asked a couple musicians (from Revolver Modele and Faux Jean). A resounding cry of "FUCKING KILLER." was followed by the comment, "my pants got tight watching them." [David de Young has more on the The Dirty Things here.]

The Deaths

The Deaths, formerly from Fargo, North Dakota—there must be something in the water there besides toxins from agricultural runoff "nutrients"—have survived not only that desolation, but a van accident, and a breakup, to move to the Twin Cities and bring us their vivid '60's Brit-pop inspired melodies. They are Jeff Esterby, keys/vocals, Karl Qualey, guitar/vocals, Mark Schumacher, guitar, Tom Stromsodt, drums, and new member Chris Danforth, bass/vocals. Their first song, “Birmingham” harkened to the Byrds. These guys in casual sweaters and flannels, a farm-cap and shaggy hair were fun to watch, not as dark as their name, but melancholy and lyrical enough to be interesting to me. I longed to be able to hear the lyrics better than I could, as it seemed they'd be really good if their styling, and attentiveness to the harmonies shaping and melodies were any indication. By the second song, "The Sisters", the front of the stage was packed. "Turn for the Worst" was a slower ballad with really nice melodies, rhythms and melodies clearly from Scottish origins. There were also tinges of spaghetti western style twang guitar which made it a perfect song. My favorite of the set, "A Sea is a Sea" was a beautiful melancholy ballad sung by keyboard/vocalist Jeff Esterby, sounding like a modernized ancient Scottish sea ballad as well. "Go Slow" was a new one, in a more dirge-like minor key also sung by Esterby.

Many of the songs played which are on their newly released CD, Choir Invisible, besides often being in minor keys which often equates to "love at first listen" for me if done well, also featured thrilling '70's spy film riffs. This provided a great connect to the next band, Friends Like These who frequently sneaks those in. The Deaths used dark, moody vocals and instrumental breaks heavy on the synthesizers, blurs, and drumming reminiscent of Pink Floyd, who Kid Dakota also referenced later.

Friends Like These

Friends Like These (John Solomon, guitar/vocals, Adam Switlick, guitar/vocals, Steve Murray, bass, and Matt O'Laughlin, drummer) came on hard, strong, fast, LOUD, with brand new song, "Destroyer", once again shattering my last delicious memories of them by their managing to outdo themselves, no easy feat. I thought they were already fantastic when I first heard them 2 winters ago at The 400 Bar, they somehow keep getting better, even though that doesn't seem possible! They are destined to go places with their wild spirit, hard work as they creatively push their own boundaries. Over half of the set were new songs. They were: Disco Day, Jonathan in New York City, Bombs Away, and Cracks in the Sidewalk. Hopefully, what this means is that soon we'll be treated to a new CD, welcome since there isn’t enough Friends Like These available for at home consumption with just the one full-length CD I Love You, and an EP. (The band confirmed later they’ve mixed a new CD and are hoping to release it in the Spring.)

Friends Like These drove me and the exhilarated crowd crazy with aural joy and the irresistible urge to dance. They feature some of the best harmonies you could hope for from a rock band, and are a huge crowd pleaser. The new song “Disco Day” began as oft their songs do, deceptively slow and melodic, hooking you in and then reeling you with their jangly guitars, urgent hammering rhythms and '70's funk bass ala Shaft, and early Cream style guitar expertly played by Switlick, easily one of my favorite guitarists. "Bombs Away" featured early Stones-inspired guitar and rhythms, driving Murray who playfully takes center stage with his charming smile and Jagger-swagger to play lying on the floor with Switlick. And then another new one, “Cracks in the Sidewalk,” which John introduces, "This one's sad and foreboding. So everyone start to forebode." “7th Street Queen,” another fave of mine, on their EP, Deliver Us from Evil, featured tambourines which Murray often enthusiastically plays in lieu of bass, has a really nice dark ominous middle section of instrumentals on this otherwise happy pop song, which reminded me of the Doors . . . when all of a sudden something that we and the band has come to expect at every electrifying supersonic show . . . an equipment breakdown usually fixed within a minute or two while we're treated to John's disarmingly charming banter. In this case though, a broken amp drew the show to a disappointing screeching halt. Big let-down, as they had at least 10 - 15 more minutes to go. What more new treats did we miss? We can find out on February 23rd as they're opening England Swings at First Avenue, then headlining the Turf that night for Melissa Maerz's going away party (Melissa will soon be leaving her job as City Pages Arts editor for a job as reviews editor for Spin Magazine), which will also feature: Revolver Modele, Melodious Owl, and Thunder in the Valley. For more info: http://www.friendslikethesemusic.com .

Kid Dakota

Kid Dakota has his sights on the future. And a bright one it is, as he'll be touring Europe for the first time ever within a few days. He'll be touring theatres and churches, (including London's Royal Festival Hall!) with his friends, the musicians of Low. For tonight, one of the last chances we'd have to hear Darren Jackson and wildman drummer, Christopher Maguire perform for a month and a half , they were in the moment, playing mostly songs from their most recent CD, The West is the Future, social and philosophical commentaries, musings, and literary references. They played a few I hadn't heard before (maybe on a future CD to be released hopefully this Fall) and only two from Kid Dakota's more introspective and autobiographical first CD, So Pretty.

Everyone at the show got up close to hear the astounding, crazy rhythms of McGuire, who used to play with 12 Rods and with John Vanderslice in Japan. He is one of the most amazing drummers in town. Really interesting and fun to watch. His outwardly impassioned drumming, contrasts visually well with Jackson's externally reserved, yet equally impassioned vocals, guitar and keyboards. In songs such as "Pilgrim" I heard many Pink Floyd style dark moody atmospheric landscapes from the Dark Side of the Moon span throughout. Later I learned that album is the most inspiring to Jackson, whose music also references the vast empty landscapes of South Dakota where he's from. While deeply listening to the slow, swaying dark storytelling of Kid Dakota, I was transfixed, mentally enjoying the complex philosophies and literary qualities of the lyrics. I was then transported to another mental landscape by the hypnotic qualities of the music. It's been awhile since music has swept me out of my head, transcending the physicality and noise of crowds, moving my heart, and stirring the solar plexus. Being from the vast prairies of South Dakota myself, I was stricken with immediate recognition of those places existing within Kid Dakota's music. I heard vast stark stretches of sky and plains in the music and thought the music comes not only from a place of loneliness and despair in the heart, but from the experience of dry empty dusty windy spaces that impose meditation upon you whether you like it or not. This experience also causes some to become more creative as often there is nothing to do but watch and listen to whatever exists in the space with infinite detail.

Jackson played Dostoevsky -- The Brothers Karamazov-inspired song "Ivan" incorporating Eastern Euro/Russian rhythms, Faulkner and Loretta Lynn- inspired "Coalminer" (from So Pretty), “Roaches,” “Starlight Motel,” “10,000 Lakes,” “M.I.C.D.,” “Long Odds,” “Winterkill,” and “Fiber-optic.” I loved the storytelling and literary and philosophical aspects of all of these, as well as the intensity with which they were played.

If you haven't seen a Kid Dakota show, I recommend it highly. The next Minneapolis show is 3/25 at the Triple Rock. In the meantime, to sate curiosity, indulge in one of their extraordinary CD's. You may be transformed by the stark gloomy, yet exhilarating music of Kid Dakota. Two fine examples of Jackson's storytelling skills from The West is the Future are: “Pine Ridge,” a far too common tale of impoverished despair leading to drink and death on a South Dakota reservation told truthfully with candor and honor, utilizing a heartbeat percussive rhythm that compliments the story, and “Homesteader,” which uses a tumbleweed as metaphor, for various tragedies experienced by homesteaders -- drought, still birth, grasshoppers, and more leading to fear of God. Mimi Parker beautifully accompanies Kid Dakota on this eloquent song. For more info on Kid Dakota, go tohttp://www.kiddakota.com.