Fitzgerald (Saturday, April 23rd, 2005, Turf Club, St. Paul)
The theme of the week was dynamic duos. Thursday, it was the Get Up Johns who shared the Cedar Cultural Center bill with the Handsome Family. (The Handsome Family said, “They sound like they’ve sung together 75 years.” They also joked the Get Up Johns had been such a good opening act they’d nearly run out the back door.)
Then the Handsome Family themselves took the stage with their old-timey, country murder ballads, tales of suicide, witchcraft, treachery and woe, causing the usually silent Cedar crowd to snigger and snort throughout each song, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
The following day (Friday) came the sparse and dramatic lyricism of Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam harmonizing with his sister Sarah at First Avenue.
This all led up to Saturday night at the Turf Club where the fourth duo in three days, Nathan and Mandy Tensen Woolery’s band Fitzgerald threw their Raised by Wolves CD release party. Fitzgerald’s new CD just released on 2024 Records, is one of the best CD’s I’ve heard in a long time, strengthened by cool sound effects and old-world instruments, unique cello by Nathan, the virtuoso drumming of Martin Dosh, and the bass of Erik Appelwick. The CD also features beautiful artwork by Caleb Coppock.
The concept of music spanning the ages takes on new meaning when you hear a banjo and a laptop sharing the stage. From the very first note Saturday, I was hooked by Fitzgerald’s contagious energy, their host of wild guest players and less common instruments like accordion, trombone and mandolin.
I was mesmerized by their dreamlike lyricism, eerie, ethereal harmonies and slow skeletal instrumentation, deceptively sweet vocals telling stories of pain and trauma, building tension and release as the finest storytelling should.
When I noted being mesmerized to a friend, he filled me in on the source of the word: Franz Mesmer, the 18th century psychiatrist, physician, and theosophist who coined the phrase “animal magnetism,” believed people could be compelled with just a voice and an ineffable essence. By using soft music building and varying in tempo, speaking suggestions and evoking dream imagery, Mesmer relaxed and healed his patients, earning him the title “the father of modern hypnotism” in some circles.
Mesmer’s invention of and use of the Glass Harmonica is mirrored in Fitzgerald’s choices of old world instruments like the melodica, the vibraphone, the bells, and the farfisa.
Which brings me to Fitzgerald’s suggestive lyrics—the repeated and sing-songy words that came to Mandy in a dream, “I want you to cut your hands off, wave your bloody stumps around,” and the remembrance of being able to breathe underwater. Add to that the poignancy of “The Folds in Her Dress,” a warning to keep a photograph, a memory of love, as that is often all that you’ll be left with.
Fitzgerald’s evocative music, wrought with stark imagery, seeps into the subconscious. Not only does Fitzgerald mesmerize, but they know the right timing with which to engage and move the audience.
Mandy’s voice is full, warm and pure, with non-contrived catches in the right places, pretty and strong, reminiscent of Natalie Merchant. She began the set a cappella on the slow ballad, “The Folds in Her Dress.” Mandy and Nathan, who have been a couple since high school, sang extraordinary harmonies, which can only come from years of singing together. When voices strike notes in perfect unison there’s an effect that many say is akin to wolves howling. There is a barely audible, third note harmonic from the coupled individual notes that sounds eerie and ethereal. Fitzgerald is capable of creating that harmonic in their compelling harmonies.
David Campbell, long time co-host of KQ Homegrown and recent 2024 Records “metrowide man of mystery” got on stage and played Nate’s Fender guitar on the next song, “The Alligator Wrestler,” which featured sound effect loops with banjo.
Fitzgerald shifted gears and played a rocking 80’s sounding, “These Missing Hands/Limbs,” (which seems to foreshadow the next song on the CD, “Bloody Stumps) that went into minor keys with long keystrokes and strumming. The song featured bittersweet harmonies and wild trombone wailing like an ambulance. The band incorporates awesome transitions throughout.
By the time “I Can Breathe Underwater,” was underway, I had already determined that I like Fitzgerald even better than Iron and Wine, a band to which they have been compared.
On “Bloody Stumps,” Nathan noted, “We got a lot of media on this song. We’re not sure why.” (This brought laughter from the audience.) With kind of a backwards sing-songy rhythm, and the rather grisly subject matter, the audience was enrapt, by the end clapping and singing along to the chanted chorus, “Bloody stumps.” It was funnier at the time than it sounds.
Fitzgerald deftly defied the “folk rock” or “folk pop” categorization with “How Far North,” a fast catchy 60’s Brit-pop sounding song with great keyboards by Mandy.
Fitzgerald, live in the Phillips neighborhood, and their band on this night featured musicians who work and play on the West Bank and the Seward neighborhood, areas splattered with folk and punk musicians. A musician friend has a saying, “if you dropped a bomb on 55406 and its periphery you’d wipe out most of the folk music in Minneapolis.”
I highly recommend Fitzgerald’s new CD and seeing them live. Their next show is May 6 at Quest. For more info, go to http://www.fitzgeraldmusic.com or http://www.2024records.com/fitzgerald/default.cfm
Cyn Collins is firstname.lastname@example.org
Show/CD: Nathan – vocals, guitars, banjo, cello, and laptop, melodica
Show: not laptop