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Kid Dakota w/ The Ashtray Hearts & Rob Skoro (Friday, January 14th, 2005, Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis)

By Steve McPherson

Kid Dakoto publcity photo. Darren Jackson (left), Christopher Maguire, (right)

Sweet mother of God, it is cold. Cold enough that for lack of anything better to do I went to the Triple Rock last night at 8 pm just to guarantee a space in the lot. Well, that and their fantastic tater tots. Secure at the bar with a load of tots, I patiently awaited the rock.

First up are the Ashtray Hearts, who couldn’t be a more appropriately-named band. The first time I saw them they opened at Bellwether’s CD release show, and much like the headliners that night, the Ashtray Hearts rarely get above third gear, and mostly stay in second, as if just before their first song at their first show they said, “We’re going to slow it down a bit now,” and never changed their minds. Soundwise, they have something in common with Counting Crows’ finest moments, those being the ones where Adam Duritz doesn’t try to rock out. I’m not a big Counting Crows fan by any means, but I’ll stop and listen to ‘A Long December’ when it comes on at Rainbow, and the Hearts’ set is like a whole bag of this style of careworn ballad, minus that major-label sheen. On stage, they’re reserved, but the weight is carried by the songs and Aaron Schimdt, who gets props for mostly just standing there, singing harmony and gazing forlornly into a middle distance. The colors added by Brad Augustine’s accordion playing and Schmidt’s trumpet enhance the sound nicely in unexpected ways. They may never get out of the middle gears, but if you’re just driving around town crying late at night, who needs fourth or fifth?

Newly-minted Yep Roc recording artist Robert Skoro takes the stage next, with what quickly proves to be one of the most crack (crackest? Can I say that on the internet?) bands in the Twin Cities. I’ve known Skoro for a while, but this is my first time seeing him perform, and I can see why Yep Roc was interested. Like Dan Richmond from Ashtray Hearts, Skoro has an inviting voice with a particularly strong falsetto and his lyrics are thoughtful and often dagger sharp; when he sang “And I won’t to be the first to say that I am easily impressed/ but she’s the only reason that I get up and I get dressed,” in ‘2318,’ he became my new favorite guy. But enough about Rob; let’s talk about his kickass band. I’ve known that Bill Mike is an amazing anomaly of a guitarist, a techincally adept shredmeister who doesn’t really give a crap about shredding, for some time, but hearing his textural prowess behind Skoro gave me a new appreciation for his sensitivity. Plus, after his main amp blew a fuse, he switched the mic over to his secondary amp by his very own self mid-song. That’s macking. And he wasn’t the only pleasant surprise: J.T. Bates brings great feel to the songs and I particularly appreciated the slight funkiness which is so often lacking in rock bands. A lesser band could have easily butchered Skoro’s tunes, but these two along with Andy Thompson on keys and James Buckley on bass, made it not just a party, but an awesome party.

Headliner Kid Dakota took the stage last and definitely won Best Dressed Band of the night in their black formal wear. There can be no doubt that Darren Jackson writes some of the finest dark confessional rock I’ve heard, and the unabashed grandiosity of his songs is one of Kid Dakota’s best qualities. With the two-piece configuration, though, I felt like some of that got lost. The underlying quality of the songs was still there, particularly on the gorgeous and affecting ‘Ten Thousand Lakes,’ but I found myself waiting for second guitar parts and harmonies and bass parts to kick in on the more rocking numbers. To my ears, it didn’t sound so much like the songs had been rearranged for a duo as just played without those other parts. According to their bio, the duo is the classic version of Kid Dakota, but I’m not completely sold. Still, though, Jackson’s strong voice and the excellent drumming made it hard not to pay attention, and I look forward to the opportunity to hear a full-band Kid Dakota show sometime.

Towards the beginning of Kid Dakota’s set, I was again struck by how good we have it here in the Twin Cities. A lineup of three bands this strong is practically unheard of in New York City and here we have them all playing for $6. You know it’s not going to get warmer anytime soon, but I implore you to put on the long johns, and the sweater, and the sweatshirt over the sweater and go suck up some live music this winter.