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The Owls, The Deaths, Heavy Sleeper and Deep Pool (Friday, August 19th, 2005, The Varsity Theater, Minneapolis)
Marcel Gelang of Heavy Sleeper - Photo by Tom Healy (click for full size)

By Kristine Lambert

Sexy Time: An Evening at The Varsity Theater

On the evening of August 19, 2005, The Varsity Theater was the place to be. The art band crowd of Minneapolis were out in full force to see a show of distinctive music. Todd, the greeter/ticket guy, met the arriving guests with something cute and sassy to say. I was all eyes scoping out the venue—it was my first time at The Varsity. The theater itself showed its old-school charm; but, it is also technologically up-to-date with strategically placed video monitors. Appropriately, School of Rock was showing on the enormous screen behind the gear in anticipation of the first band. The crowd quietly filtered in and sat themselves down upon the fantastic furniture. Fluffy chairs, couches and bistro tables surrounded the enormous Turkish rug in front of the stage. It was like being in your own living room.

By the time Deep Pool hit the stage, many were already cozily seated. Deep Pool is a trio that includes The Hang Ups’ Jeff Kearn on guitar, Aaron Lundholm on bass and Freddy Votel on drums. (Votel has a substantial Minneapolis musical history ranging from TVBC and the Cows.) The first song, “Kelly,” had a distorted and syncopated guitar with splashy drums and was warmly received by the crowd. There was great synthesis of the instruments, and theater-worthy balanced sound. Heavy guitar, consistent strumming and drumming provided further dynamics. Some songs started slow and busted out rockin’ with Lundholm holding down the bass like a champ. I was at times reminded of what could be syncopated indie (early) Black Sabbath. It was occasionally heavy, but malleable enough for the palates of sophisticated Minneapolitans.

Complimenting the rhythm of Deep Pool was a natural backdrop of video and still photography rapidly cut and projected behind the band. In slow motion, hummingbirds chose between flowers, a bear awoke from his slumber and raindrops splashed a leaf. A slanted side view of ocean shots contrasted a Malibu scenescape. A projected monkey provided a hint of lackadaisicalness that fit perfectly with the tunes as they flowed into one another.

The crowd grew as Heavy Sleeper took the stage. This band first rocked my world last week at the Triple Rock for part two of the Friends with Benefits CD release party. I am glad that Marcel Galang has launched himself into this quartet with Matt Alexander on drums, Drew Herder on guitar and Paul Jongeward on bass. Heavy Sleeper is super energetic. Their vibe is optimistic, and Galang is a vivacious multi-instrumentalist front man. You can tell how much he loves performing by the way his eyes roll in the back of his head while he’s playing or ending a song. Heavy Sleeper has kind of a Pixies sound and Marcel uses his pedals efficiently and with perfect timing. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the late great Uberscenester. By the time the band played “Everybody Sings,” I felt warm and fuzzy inside. The song reminds me of what my dear friend inevitably announces at parties: Dance like nobody’s looking. But, in this case, it’s sing like nobody’s listening.

The Deaths met during ninth grade art class in Fargo, North Dakota. The band formed in 2000, five years after drummer Thomas Stromsodt moved to Minneapolis. It didn’t take long for the rest of them, including bassist Mark Schumacher, guitar player Karl Qualey and keys player Jeff Esterby, to follow. When I asked Schumacher to cite the band’s main influences, he replied that “I could list off 50 bands from the last 40 years, but as far as narrowing anything down, I would have to say that’s for the listener to decide.” That’s why I don’t mind saying I felt a little splash of Ween in their music and an occasional Steppenwolf reverb on the keys.

I couldn’t do The Varsity justice without mentioning the smoking lounge. It’s in front and under the bright lights of the marquis. It announces: “Hey! We’re Smoking…Yeaaaa!” The crowd outside in the smoking lounge was amicable and unpretentious. There was also some pretty interesting conversation. My friend, Dan, told me a story of a fellow he knew when he was younger who committed suicide because Battlestar Galactica went off the air. No lie. Apparently he took a header off the high bridge in St. Paul. I was surprised he made it through the first Star Trek cancellation and was kind of glad he didn’t make it to Deep Space Nine. I guess the dude used to eat three square meals a day of Cheerios and instant coffee. A comic tragedy for sure, we were at a theater after all.

Allison LaBonne of The Owls - Photo by Tom Healy (click for full size)

When Todd (afforementioned greeter/door guy) announced that The Owls were taking the stage, the crowd headed for the door. This band is perfect for a theater-type venue: amazing and balanced harmonies, well practiced, and all talented multi-instrumentalists who exchanged instruments from time to time. The Owls play seemingly happy songs that usually end up on a dissonant chord. This gives them a type of melancholy that is supported by the mellow drumming of John Jerry. Brian Tighe remarked that the next song “is a little bit scary.” It’s called “Apocalypse” and announces “a fisherman caught a talking fish he said ‘get ready for the apocalypse.’”

At one point during the set, Brian admitted to the crowd that “we like sexy time.” Of course he does! He’s playing music with two gorgeous and talented women—including his wife Allison LaBonne. After the song, someone in the crowd yelled “sexy time!” Tighe and LaBonne reacted by exchanging an adorable glance. Maria May took center stage next and said “this song is about…” and someone yelled out: “sexy time!” She giggled cutely and then sang a song called “Peppermint Patty” which is about a big-haired lady. This band has amazing chemistry. LaBonne's keyboard playing beautifully compliments May’s vocals. As the band continued, the crowd thinned out from the lounge area to occupy the big rug. It seemed everyone wanted to get closer to The Owls. And, who wouldn’t with their poignant song writing and modern Byrds harmonies. This was definitely the sexiest show I’ve seen all summer.