Little Man (Friday, January 14th, 2005, Turf Club, St. Paul)
The Turf Club was brightly lit with Christmas lights creating a kaleidoscopic glow that offered its usual solace from the brutal cold. But the vibrant electricity that filled the air was far more than the effect of the pretty lights –in spite of the cruel cold and numerous shows going on around town Friday night, the line-up of Little Man and the Mighty Mofos filled the Turf with hardy music lovin’ Minnesotans.
This was the third time I’ve seen Little Man . . . the last time having been a mere 10 days earlier, also at the Turf, a phenomenal performance with rarely-seen taut energy. That time, I realized I already had favorite songs. So it was with great anticipation that I came to see them play again before heading for the Triple Rock Ashtray Hearts and Kid Dakota show.
This third Little Man experience was even more charged than the second. Little Man is so tight, full of verve and boundless energy, the crowd of 150+ was immediately enrapt by the band’s signature pulsing feedback. You could tell the first time listeners from the surprise on their faces, and hear whispers and mumbles of “These guys are really good!” “He’s a GREAT guitar player!” People were dancing in their seats and bobbing their heads to the frenzied Brit-pop like rhythms, riffs and harmonies reminiscent of T. Rex or Bowie, yet uniquely Little Man. Every song drew vigorous applause, cheers, and wild whooping.
With only 3 members, Chris Perricelli (lead guitar, lead vocals), Heath Henjum (bass) and Ken DeVoe (drums), there was plenty of room for each musician to show their talent. Perricelli utilizes his singing range with versatility, moving through emotions like water in its various forms, cascading and falling, warm like rising steam, icy cold. He writes lyrics that seem to vocally express the joy of the moment and hope for a better tomorrow, yet darkly tinged with the pain and sorrow of yesterday. Bringing life’s experiences to the fore via his lyrics, the songs are an interplay of darkness and light -- Little Man is adept at transitioning to the darkness of the minor keys and creating a build-up of tension. Not only am I impressed by his skilled voice (partially trained at DePaul University in Chicago) but also by his extraordinary guitar playing.
Heath Henjum, who many may recognize from his other bands, Vicious Vicious, Olympic Hopefuls, and the Beatifics is from South Dakota (which exports not only the grains we all love, but a great crop of Twin Cities musicians as well). Henjum really shines in Little Man, where his funky, driving and creative bass-playing has more opportunity to fill in the spaces. His beautiful ’72 Fender bass that looks like “caramel candy” is his treasure, and you can feel the love when he plays it. This band is a great way to hear Henjum at his best and see him take the stage in a playful light.
Drummer, Ken DeVoe, who has played with Little Man since the band’s inception 2 and 1/2 years ago, says Little Man is the best band he’s ever been in. In terms of rhythm, tightness and harmonies, his musicianship, like Henjum’s, is at the forefront; and he’s given plenty of room to play loudly and be heard. Sheer aural pleasure. His experience as a solo acoustic guitar player and singer for the past 10 years as well (one highlight was singing the National Anthem for a Saint’s game last summer) allows him to provide the great second parts that are key to Little Man’s fun T-Rex and Beatles’ inspired harmonizing.
Many of the songs I liked can be heard on Little Man’s recently released CD, Big Rock. The CD is great, though it’s quite different than the experience of their live show. It comes off as more contemplative, a disk that asks listeners to dig into the songs more deeply.
They played a favorite of mine “Company Time”, a great example of their skilled ‘60’ish hard glam-pop harmonizing. “High Strung”, done in a minor key, harkens back to Bowie’s darker, earlier stuff, with nice falling vocals. “Calling Out”, an instrumental and another fave, begins with the Cure-like guitar – tragic, into hard rock wailing, sliding rockets and pierces and blurring of sound, exemplary guitar work, comparable to the best of British glam. Another instrumental a few songs later featured beautiful transitions from slow to heavy metal – a wall of sound with a “slow” steady rhythm that reminded me of an instruction to the Joy Division drummer in the film 24-Hour Party People, “play fast, but slow” which you realize is not a contradiction when you hear it. “Ride” featured Perricelli’s characteristic philosophical lyrics, a metaphor for the journey. While this sounds like a cliché on paper, it really works as a song, with great transitions to minor keys and lower depths, changing pace, building to a climax, then leveling off in a heavily layered stratosphere of repeated lyrics “take a ride” and remarkable guitar. While not one for long guitar solos or jam bands, in this case I really wanted this section of the song and the guitar solo to last “for months” (a phrase I borrow from a British music critic formerly meant as a criticism for jam bands in general).
But, alas, it ended too soon, and barely pausing to take a breath between songs, they ended with their signature cover, T-Rex’s 20th Century Boy, heavy-hitting, great vocals and super-high energy. Henjum really took the stage on this one. The audience went wild, and were left, as usual, wanting more.
You can catch Little Man at the January 26th Cover Band contest at First Avenue. For more info: http://www.littlemanmusic.net