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2013 Basilica Block Party

16 Jul

“Ladies and gentlemen, in the spirit of full disclosure we should tell you that as a band we are a bastion of sin and every night we try to wash it away with Jerree’s beautiful voice,” Southwire frontman Ben Larson announced about his bandmate Jerree Small, as the Duluth band opened up the 2013 Basilica Block Party. “We hope it works for you as it never does for us.”

That bit of confessional stage banter speaks to the engaging contradiction that is the Basilica Block Party. Yes, there’s a certain transgressive thrill in bringing rock and roll to the consecrated grounds, but how dangerous is it really when some of that rock and roll is Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox Twenty? That kind of nostalgic adult listening conservative orthodoxy did bring out the mostly white and middle-aged crowd in droves, though, so that the Basilica and Cities97 could call the event a success, and as there always tend to be, there were enough gnostics, skeptics and sinners peppered through the stages to keep the musical offering entertaining over the course of the two days.

On the all-local Vita.mn stage, Southwire on Friday was one of the highlights of the two-day festival, with their single “God” the most openly religious song of the event, but at the same time, filled with the bluesy, rough mystery that made 5 o’clock in the afternoon feel like midnight under the steeple. The Cactus Blossoms, who followed Southwire, brought their dead-on earnestness plucked straight out of 1950s Texarkana that fit the hot afternoon. When people say that “God loves country,” this is what they should mean.

Father John Misty

Father John Misty

 
Also on that first Friday, Family Of The Year opened with “The Stairs” and a wave of feedback, but had a younger portion of the crowd bouncing oat the Jefferson Lines Stage, right under the watchful eye of the Basilica, soon into their set. Frontman Joe Keefe started the inevitable parade of stage banter clichés with a round of “How you doing? Let’s rock and roll!” Which, in essence, is as rote as the Lord’s Prayer in a Catechism class. Mayer Hawthorne brought that banal to new level, fronting a band of yacht crewmen wearing a Don Johnson double-breasted blue blazer and occasionally yelling “Motown, Motown!” during “Back Seat Lover.” It was fitting, too, that when he asked, “Where my 80s babies?” he followed it up with “Finally Falling,” a song with a keyboard line that wouldn’t have been out of place in an episode of Charles in Charge. Father John Misty may have rubbed some folks the wrong way with stage banter snidely questioning the existence of a higher power, but just as his First Avenue set proved in May, Josh Tillman’s got teeth and wails.

Cloud Cult

Cloud Cult

 
On the Saturday round of the festival, Cloud Cult made one of their few appearances this summer, and in one of the classiest moves of the weekend, dedicated “Pretty Voice” to Sharon Jones, who had been slated to headline that evening but had to cancel due to her cancer diagnosis. The band sounded, as ever, up-beat and engaging, and the crowd for their set played well into the bouncy energy of Walk The Moon, who followed them on the Jefferson Lines stage.

Walk The Moon fans

Walk The Moon fans

 
Across the tarmac & concrete, that was right about the time that the Goo Goo Dolls were taking it to the audience at the Sun Country stage, the middle of a traveling package deal of them, Kate Earl and Matchbox Twenty. Let’s just get this out of the way – Johnny Rzeznick’s had a lot of plastic surgery, Goo Goo’s new songs sounded like calcified country with a click track, Rob Thomas still sings like he’s spitting up underwater, and the package is a bald play to try and get people to overpay for the mushiest pablum that’s been forced down American gullets by commercial radio. (As Matchbox Twenty’s Paul Doucette put it, “We share a lot of fans. We sort of do run in the same musical circle. If you’re a Goo Goo Dolls fan, you’re a Matchbox Twenty fan. And if you’re a Matchbox Twenty fan, you’re a Goo Goo Dolls fan.”) The most depressing part of the whole Goo Goo Dolls/Matchbox Twenty ordeal was when Goo Goo bassist Robby Takac very earnestly called out how much they had appreciated Minneapolis in the past, and how they had had great times at clubs like the Cabooze, and the Uptown. We miss the Uptown. We hadn’t missed these bands.

At least Walk the Moon were making a solid impression on the Jefferson Lines Stage. Their fans had come prepared in facepaint and their radio hits, “Tightrope” and “Anna Sun” fizzed live with a taut bounciness, as well as a capacity to build up to a sustained roar. They covered a very passable rendition of the Talking Heads‘ “This Must Be The Place” and Nicholas Petricca offered up some advice, “If some of you young folks don’t know the Talking Heads, allow me to encourage you to check them the bleep out. I was going to swear, but there’s a church right there.” Up the hill on the Vita.mn stage, recently confirmed locals On An On were making the most of their own zappy tunes, in a way reflecting Walk The Moon’s set at a more leisurely, purposeful pace, a sound that would make for great summer driving music.

If Cloud Cult’s dedication to Sharon Jones was sweet, the introduction to Raphael Saadiq was the only thing that could have possibly topped it, especially in the context of this particular music festival and community. Lily McLean, the 12-year old daughter of the recently passed Sue McLean, longtime organizer of the Block Party, came out to do the honors, ending up with her mother’s life motto, “Live music is good for the soul.”

“Good for the soul” music is exactly what Saadiq brought for the next 80 minutes – the funky, soulful, dancing grooves that make people want to praise and get nasty all at the same time. Tunes like “Heart Attack” and “Movin’ Down The Line” flowed together as Saadiq kept his incredibly tight band rolling, highlighting his New Orleans-based brass section with a call and response of “Who Dat!” In introducing “Stone Rolling,” a heavy blues jam that guitarist Josh Smith just tore up, Saadiq told the story of its origins, saying, “I wrote this song when I was eleven, watching this woman walk down the block. And we weren’t suppose to be looking but we were looking. And we watched this lady for ten blocks. The bass line bounces like she walked.” Even under the watchful eye of the Basilica, what’s good for the body is good for the soul.

Raphael Saadiq

Raphael Saadiq

Photos by Kyle Matteson

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