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Tsunami Relief Benefit featuring The Olympic Hopefuls, Heiruspecs, Sims, and Passions (Sunday, February 13th, 2005, Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis)
Sims at the Triple Rock Sunday night. Photo by Steve McPherson (click for full size)

By Steve McPherson

It seems appropriate that on the night of the Tsunami Benefit Show at the Triple Rock we’d be afflicted with a little inclement weather, Minnesota-style. A fat, slushy snow was falling as I made my way over to the West Bank for what had to be one of the most diverse and best lineups I’ve seen assembled in a while.

Before I get to any bands, let me first sing the praises of DJ Jaybird. Most of the time, we get treated to whatever the soundman decides to provide, which can be pretty hit or miss, so it’s nice to have a DJ who mixes up lots of different kinds of quality music. Special recognition for dropping ‘Hoe Cakes’ by MF Doom and an ancient GZA track, in particular.

This was my second time seeing Passions and earplugs greatly enhanced the experience. The first time I was so overwhelmed by the volume that I couldn’t really enjoy the set, but with wads of toilet paper firmly in place, I gained a newfound appreciation for their developing sound. It’s something of a shock the first time you hear Grant Cutler’s wailing, wall-dropping yowl come out of his tiny little frame, and I’m not going to pretend I had any idea what he was singing most of the time, but that seemed to be beside the point, as Mike Gunnerson (guitar/vocals) and Luke Skansgaard (bass/vocals) beat their instruments into piles of wood and Joe Mabbot turned his kit into matchsticks. This was truly a night of great drummers; I remember when I had a band out East, and after we fired our drummer, we couldn’t find one single guy to replace him, but here tonight were three who would have been more than up to the task. So Passions is loud, but Passions is also melodic, which was something I heard more of this time. By most accounts there, they’ve only been getting better and are in the studio recording a new album. Fans of the Stooges, early At the Drive-in, and Braid would be well-advised to pay attention.

Accompanied by some type of electronic box, Sims (representing approximately .125 of Doomtree, by my math) took the stage and began with something a capella, followed by a false start, an intro, and finally, by his account, ‘Hip-Hop Song #1.’ So it was a little loose to begin with, but make no mistake, Sims is going places. Doomtree as a unit has been riding on potential for a long time, with only P.O.S.’s stellar ‘Ipecac Neat’ to back it up, but with albums by Cecil Otter, Dessa Darling, and Sims on the horizon, the future looks bright. Sims stalked the stage like a prizefighter, bobbing and weaving from side to side, making sure everybody got some love. The music was strong and promising, but as good as the set was, it only got better when Sims called P.O.S. up to join him on his last handful of tracks, including ‘Lifetime’ from the aforementioned ‘Ipecac Neat.’ Although rap gets a lot of attention as an egotistical and competitive genre, the flipside of this is that it’s never more fun than when two MCs get onstage together. That “us against the world” mentality comes out in spades among the Doomtree crew; one gets the sense that they’re really living through the music, in much the same vein as Passions before them, but in a much different fashion. Expect big things from the Tree. Or rather, continue to expect big things.

I’m going to give Heiruspecs the shortest shrift of any of the bands since my brother holds down the low end for them, but let me just say that even if my brother weren’t in the band, I would still love these guys, and no amount of nepotism can tarnish the fact that they are one of the hardest working and best bands doing it in the Twin Cities. Not to mention a better live band than the Roots, now, which is a hard thing for me to admit. A whole lot of touring has turned them into a crack unit, kind of like those guys in Predator, and if Stella’s groove were lost behind enemy lines, she’d want Heiruspecs to go get it. Just do yourself a favor and check ‘em out before they’re on Conan.

Speaking of Conan, isn’t it about time the Olympic Hopefuls were on there? The grumblings amongst the music scene would suggest imminent backlash against these guys for being catchy enough to get on The OC, but we should all be lucky enough to have backlash. Bottom line on these guys is they’re just super-good. Matt O’Laughlin beats the piss out of the drums in the finest tradition of guys like William Goldsmith and Pat Wilson from Weezer, and the rest of the band explodes with crunchy guitar/synth pop which combines the sweetness of, well, Matthew Sweet with the tart-arific tang of the Eels. As their pop bulldozer rolled out over the crowd (many of whom appeared to have only come to see their new favorite band (a shame) I was struck by the beauty of how taking the piss can make you famous. After all, this isn’t the main band of any of the three rotating frontmen (Darren Jackson, Erik Appelwick, and John Hermanson) and how do you react when after years of “serious” work on you musical vision, you end up on The OC for something that was just for fun? Well, apparently you kick ass all over your live shows and soak it up. Go ahead: take the frat kids’ money. It’s green just like the scenesters’.

Tonight, however, all the money was going for the relief effort in Southeast Asia, and while it will no doubt be just a drop in the bucket, it’s always nice to see altruism in the community, particularly if it results in a bill as good as this one.

Steve McPherson is

Related links:

Olympic Hopefuls: