Sofar Sounds Minneapolis: August 27, 2014
Minneapolis is a city in love with its local music, especially its live local music, and its eclectic range of outdoor festivals throughout the summer reflect this infatuation quite clearly. From city block parties to backyard brewery exclusives, it’s hard not to at least overhear a few live bands performing around town every weekend. So then, at Sofar Minneapolis we’ve been itching for a while to host an outdoor gig of our own. We finally decided on one this August - but Minnesota is also known for the ability of its weather to turn on a dime, so we picked the date and crossed our fingers.
We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect evening to host our first outdoor Sofar Minneapolis show. This Wednesday evening was clear and cloudless, but cool in the way that summer hesitates, yet gives way to fall - still warm enough to stay out all night without a jacket, but with no humidity, and not a mosquito in sight.
Speaking of mosquitoes… this was a special night for a second reason: Sofar Sounds had the honor of hosting the worldwide preview of Karen O.’s Crush Songs! All around the globe on this same night, Sofar audiences listened to this solo album of hers, connecting over a specific music in this one night and not just the love of it in general. So between live sets, we aired Karen O.’s whispered admissions on vinyl.
Laura Lou was not only our gracious host for the evening, but our first act. Self described as “ukulele folk pop,” she performed several tracks off of her recent release, Seduction Lullaby, with a backing band of good (and talented) friends, on guitar, drums, mandolin, and upright bass. Although only recently - as of a few weeks prior to the show - they came together to play her tunes, they sounded as polished as a veteran touring group.
The jazzy musical backdrop her band provided was the perfect match for this singer’s well-tuned and powerful, yet sweet and syrupy vocals. Laura Lou’s melodic wanderings are simple and straightforward, like her lyrics, but agile and entrancing, wrapping you around her finger with her words. With tunes like “Tell Me How,” asking “what’s a girl to do when he brings me down?” and “If I Lay Here” pondering “if I lay here, would you stay here all night?,” her music is easy to relate to - letting the mind wander in the gray area of modern romanticism. Yet these are not somber songs, more often than not in major keys and with an upbeat feel, leaning into the positive, the optimistic. And by her last tune, she and the whole band were in full swing during a faster song, “Seriously,” and it was obvious they were all just having fun.
Laura Lou played at the Grand Marais Art Festival this summer - the highlight of her performing history to this point - and will be having a release show for her new album on October 19th at Aster Cafe over on St. Anthony Main in Northeast. This historic venue is known for hosting some of the best singer-songwriter talent in Minneapolis… so before word gets out, mark this show on your calendar and go hear her in person.
Sofar alum Bad Bad Hats took the stage next. Yes - we even had a stage at our outdoor show! plus the multi-talented Tommy Jacobs from Laura Lou’s band running sound for the evening. (We were quite spoiled at this show.)
But as I was saying, Kerry and Chris of Bad Bad Hats played for us last year and we were thrilled to have them back for such a charming evening. With just two guitars and their voices, this pair caught the crowd unaware, able to command an entire backyard with songs of quiet pleas and proclamations. They opened with “Say Nothing,” and I did not recognize the tune, realizing they were playing something quite new. So I asked after the set, and turns out they hope to include it on their first full-length album, currently in the works. After releasing their It Hurts EP in early 2013 and getting featured in an add by local news station KARE 11 as well as local movie “Death to Prom,” I have been rooting for these guys to record more material.
What’s so wonderful to me about Bad Bad Hats are the constant musical contradictions that are so pleasing to the ear. Whether it’s the syncopated inflections of the beats, or Kerry’s strong and confident secrets, these two can carry out the most intimate and lovely messages, or rock out with the pep of old style rock ‘n roll. It’s like she’s always got some cute secret that she’s bashful to admit, and does it so sneakily - and then it maybe wasn’t as cute as you’d thought! These two Macalester grads are definitely darlings of the Twin Cities, and I think they have much more than just an LP ahead of them.
Besides the magical string lights and the dimming of daylight, what made the atmosphere of this evening better than most was the generous donation of beer by local business Lucid Brewing. Personally, I have quite the love for the Lucid Air, and Minneapolis is all but married to hops, so this was a delight to be able to feature a beloved local brewery and treat our of-age guests to a refreshing drink. (That’s me on the right, furiously writing notes to my future self, who is currently typing this post.)
And finally, there was Har-di-Har, who is composed of Andrew and Julie and their drumset - who was missing for the evening. Relatively new on the Minneapolis music scene, these two are originally from Iowa (like me!), and a powerful pair of ambassadors from the state. I first saw Har-di-Har when they opened for Hundred Waters in July, and I asked them straightaway if they would come play for us because I was so impressed and excited. The way they write and perform music “is like an opera, it’s so complex and inter-related,” as my friend Paul said to me after hearing them live. I couldn’t agree more, as this couple creates compositions more than tunes, and watching them perform is truly a performance: Julie and Andrew are of one mind, sharing a thought at all times while hitting exact and even unions, and then rocking out with joy - all while never missing a beat.
My favorite song, “We’ve Been Missing,” started out their set, followed by “Parade,” which begins like a morning light that slowly wakes you up, but abruptly switches time signatures in the middle (like when your alarm goes off). They are able to command either a full or small sound when desired, and “Through Trees” demonstrated this well, playing on where the intimate and the violent collide. They finished off the set with a new tune they were still working on, which appears to be “Reunited.” Andrew picked up the trombone for this one, and Julie sang along in harmony with it later on, creating a gorgeous moment of mind-bending musicality. Then without warning, it all ended on an intimate and syncopated note.
Har-di-Har played the very next week at the Southern Theater Sessions, which I had the pleasure of attending. They also have a full fall touring schedule in the Midwest and there is nothing - nothing - like hearing them live, so get rid of your excuses and plan your road trip now!
So if I didn’t make it clear, this was really fun. Let’s do this again, okay?
Words by Kelsey Simpkins
Photos by Joel Menk