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Romantica, The Autumn Leaves, Mike Gunther & His Restless Souls, The Hang Ups (Friday, August 12th, 2005, Nomad World Pub, Minneapolis)
The cover of the new Minnesota Music compilation, Friends With Benefits. Sales from the CD benefit the Minnesota chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

By Katie Bratsch and Kristine Lambert

Friday, August 12th was the first of 2 nights of top-shelf Minneapolis music celebrating the release of the new CD "Friends With Benefits: A Compilation Fighting Cystic Fibrosis." (www.popforcharity.org/fwb/)

David Anderson, owner of Minor7 Studios (which produced the CD), organized the event at the Nomad World Pub (formerly the Five Corners Saloon.) Anderson was actually greeting people at the door when we arrived for this amazing line-up of bands.

First up was Romantica--a gorgeous sounding trio (not bad on the eyes, either.) We've heard the name around town and were expecting something ambient and affectionate from these smooth-talkers. Instead, we were treated to a delicious assemblage of sounds, stories and poetry that were all at once simple, deep, happy, bitter, sweet and sour. We really should know better than to assume romance is all flowers and champagne. There's nothing very William Blake about working in a field or a factory all day. But listen to Romantica’s "Factory Town" on the "Friends With Benefits" compilation, and don't say you don't feel a little warm and shivery both at the same time from the line: "Give that boy a Tanqueray, he's been driving south all day. Honey won't you cut the boy a slice of lime. Don't mind me, I'm going to bed, wake me up when the day is dead. I really don't mind, I do it all the time."

The Hangups at the Nomad (Friends with Benefits show) 
The Hangups perform at the Friends With Benefits CD release number 1 - Photo by David de Young

We had to order ourselves another drink and head out to the veranda to digest that Romantica set a bit more.

The Autumn Leaves were next, and the name was fitting for the fall-like evening, part of which we spent on the Nomad's pleasant side patio. All was good, but we found ourselves wishing they'd cut some big windows into the 2-story brick wall that separates the patio from the band action inside -- though, we'd hate to suggest altering the great old vintage West Bank building, with its tin ceilings and history. Maybe they could just give us some more volume while we carry on our patio banter. After all, half the crowd was out there. And, what a laid-back crowd it was. We can't quite put our finger on it, except to say that it felt like everyone had their hair down and their feet up. It was probably a combination of the music (the kind that rocks out in your heart), the band members (the kind who converse with their fans) the crowd, and the courteous staff members--the kind who serve you drinks quickly, with a smile and still somehow find the time to stay and chat for a minute.

We don't know a lot about The Autumn Leaves, but we should, because they've been around since the 90's and their members' local musical roots go back much farther than that (btw, doesn't it still seem weird to say "the 90s" and not be talking about the 1890s?) We haven't been around for that long, but long enough to know the likes of The Funseekers, The Spectors, and The Legendary Jim Ruiz Group. The Autumn Leaves' music feels like home to us, in the same way The Beatles, 1960s Haight-Asbury, and Woodstock feel like real memories to us, even though we were not yet existent then. This is not to say The Autumn Leaves belong on the oldies station; quite the contrary. Their music makes you feel like going out on a crisp Friday night, wearing your favorite sweater for the first time since last winter, with a brand new, unopened CD in your pocket, and some good friends waiting for you to listen to it with them.

  The Patio at the Nomad
The Nomad Patio - photo by David de Young

Mike Gunther was next with His Restless Souls. They are a trio of clean looking people playing some seriously surly music. Dressed in a dark suit and tie, Gunther stood front and center with bandmate Dave Meier on his right with a massive upright bass (which, as a friend commented, was the size of his Ford Escort); Suzanne Scholten stood a little to the rear on percussion, trumpet, whatnot and everything else. She's the busiest drummer we've ever seen. She adds a performance art element to the music, and we remember thinking the same thing when we saw Gunther at Voltage: Fashion Amplified at First Avenue in May -- it looks like she's back there doing the wash, while the men are beating out the Blues on a porch somewhere down in the thick South.

The mixture of the dark red stage lighting, the band's black-suited attire, the drummer's Wednesday Adams' braids, and Gunther's deep groans and howls (the easy reference for him would be Tom Waits, although his voice is not the least bit gritty) made it all seem very sinister, like a stormy night on a houseboat on Cape Fear. The band's clean-cut good looks made us feel safe, even though inevitably every time we've been at the former Five Corners Saloon, someone brings up a tale about somebody getting shot across the street at Palmer's or down the street at The Viking. Even so, we’re glad that Cedar/Riverside is still bad-ass, keeping the likes of The Gap and Urban Outfitters from setting up shop. Maybe it does a person good to be occasionally jarred from day-to-day placation, with a feeling of who knows what or whom is lurking in the shadows.

In order to bring a near perfect evening to perfection, The Hang Ups indulged us like Creme Broule after Prime Rib. They fittingly finished their set with "Dear Nora," the song they contributed to the "Friends With Benefits" compilation. We were all smiles as they serenaded us with familiar stories, melodies and harmonies, indicative of their influences: The Beatles, CSN, Big Star, The Zombies and The Kinks. What can we say about The Hang Ups that you don't already know from having seen and heard them so many times? They're wonderful, and if you can't personally attest to that, you better get your butt out to the music clubs and study up. The Hang Ups (or The Owls -- which are Hang Ups' Brian Tighe, Maria May and Stephen Ittner, with lead-vocalist and songwriter Allison LaBonne) are required curriculum.