Rockability at the Balajo

There is really nothing like going to see live music. I love getting dressed up and heading out, not knowing what exactly expect beyond a good show. So when I woke up Tuesday morning feeling sick as a dog, I panicked. I REALLY could not be sick…J.D. McPherson was playing TOMORROW NIGHT at the Balajo…I’d been planning this for months. I REFUSED to be sick. So I stayed home, took the maximum dose allowed of some flu-symptom relief meds, watched YouTube, and slept. And you know what? I woke up the next morning JUST FINE. Okay, so my throat was still a little sore (and still is…oops) but really that’s not that bad…I could teach! I could go see live music!

So at 7:30 I threw on my cutest dress and a red lip (to distract from my very tired eyes) and headed to the Balajo for their weekly soirée Rock. The venue is great…my kind of place. Old, a little run down, with nice charismatic staff and a lot of character. I heard that the designer of the Moulin Rouge did the interior, and that tons of French icons used to hang here. It felt very hip.

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And the people! Man! Parisians know how to dress up. I remember some thematic clothing the last time I saw J.D. McPherson, but this time I really felt like I’d walked into a film set in the fifties…bright lipstick, denim, mom jeans, jean jackets with slicked back hair, the whole shebang. And it was great. Best dressed? An early arriver (and one of the last to leave) wearing a full white suit with waist-coat and saddle shoes. Oh yeah. I think he had some red in there too for pop.

To my great surprise and pleasure J.D. McPherson brought The Cactus Blossoms all the way from my beloved Minnesota to open for him! Brothers Jack and Page climbed onto the TINY stage for a short (but sweet) set. I remember being impressed the last time I saw them, but I must confess, they really stole my heart this time. Maybe it was that we were in Paris and it all smelled so sweetly of home, maybe they’ve upped their game, but I was thoroughly enchanted with their performance. Their vocals are astounding—offering rich warm harmonies that truly soared through the tight space—and Jack was the perfectly charming front man, catching the eyes of the girls for just long enough that they would get the full impact of his romantic lyrics. And trust me, they swooned. Much later in the evening I played translator for them with several French ladies who were taken with the tall boys from Minnesota.

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And then J.D. hit the stage. I’ve raved before and imma do it again. This man is a king onstage. I generally go to excellent concerts, and McPherson’s are always some of my all time favorites. He brings an incredible energy and vitality to the stage which is raised by the incredible band behind him. Even in this unconventional* space he managed to give a thoroughly enjoyable and dynamic performance. And when you combine that with the fact that not only were they cramped but were also forced to play in two sets (with a DJ-ed dance break in the middle), had the audience literally being pushed up the steps into their faces, and could not hear each other well, you have an astounding performance.

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As if that weren’t enough, McPherson (and some of his bandmates) was suffering with the flu. I only know this because his bandmates told me later. You wouldn’t have known it from watching him. Because he’s really that good. And the French noticed…calling for encore after encore.

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I think what I love most about a J.D. McPherson show is that it has such amazing character. He manages to work a nostalgic sound into a truly thrilling show for all ages. I’m always struck by the diversity of his crowds and the enthusiasm. For some, he’s harkening back to a time when they were growing up, for others he’s transporting us to a time we never knew, but wish to experience. Either way it works. And in an age where many argue (myself included) that rock and roll is a thing of the past, it is thrilling to see a true rock and roll concert. We listen to him and we hear long nights of sneaking out of our bedroom windows, dancing** and drinking all night long. I never did that as a high schooler. But I think if his music had been around back then, I totally would have.

*read VERY TINY i.e. no elbow room

**real dancing mind you, not that humping business people do now

Exciting news

So, confession, I’ve been holding out on you guys.

I recently received some really excellent, wonderful news. News that has made me very happy and very busy lately. But I didn’t want to mention it until it was a thing. Two days ago, it became a thing. And I’d like to share it with you.

A while ago I conducted an informational interview with an employee at Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current — a great station based out of the Cities that broadcasts MPR/NPR and plays really spectacular music. I love this station so much and listen to it all the time, so it was really cool to talk with one of its employees about his experience working there (you can check out his website here).

I stayed in touch with him after, and he proved to be a great friend, recommending me as a contributor for The Current’s new Local Current blog. They have recruited a number of local college students to write for them, establishing a great mentorship program and giving us  a really exciting way to be involved with the local music scene. You cannot believe how happy I was to get this opportunity, and today I can say that I have finally published my first article on the website! You can read it here.

I really liked the way it turned out and I have LOVED writing for these guys. My editor/supervisor is great — we were totally on the same page and I had a great time working for him. I can’t wait to write some more pieces for their blog and will be sure to let you guys know if/when other posts are up.

So many of you are fellow bloggers/writers, so I know that you understand how exciting this moment has been for me. Even though it is a small article on a blog, it’s really great to even have the opportunity to write about something I love for people I love. I feel very lucky.

Wishing you all a very happy New Years wherever you may be! And thanks for all the support you’ve given me over the last year. I hope you know how much it has meant to me (more than a baluga whale).



Minnesota beats

Let’s talk about something cool. And when I say cool I mean totally awesome. As in, cannot-handle-the-excitement. Also something Minnesotan — which already makes it awesome. Have I told you all how much I love that state? I love that state…it’s actually the best. Lovely people, great healthcare, all that money for the arts, all the pretty architecture and the beautiful landscapes — prairies stretching as far as the eye can see, deep blue lakes and rolling green hills. Yep. Pretty wonderful.

But let’s not get too into Minnesota — that’s another post waiting to be written. Let’s talk about something that happens in Minnesota — Minneapolis to be specific. Let’s talk about hip hop.

Did you know that Minneapolis has a great underground hip hop scene? Because I totally didn’t. Surprise! Surprise number 2: I actually like hip hop. I really do. It started with a love of Black Eyed Peas — not the “Boom Boom Pow” B.E.P.s of today, but the great, Elephunk and Monkey Business B.E.P.s. Before everyone wanted to have was starring in super hero movies. I think what I loved most about them was their beats — really fun, fantastic beats that can keep me dancing from dawn till dusk. It was just so much fun. And impossible not to move to. But I didn’t like a lot of the misogyny I heard from other popular artists, so I stuck to the B.E.P.s and kept grooving to my other jams.

Minneapolis has rekindled my love of hip hop. Somewhere I missed the memos pointing me to the really great stuff, but then I discovered Rhymesayers — an independent hip hop label that produces the work of contemporary artists. Great, innovative musicians with interesting sounds and really extraordinary lyrics. This was when I realized that I truly loved hip hop, and here I found not only interesting sounds but powerful words. The work of most of these artists isn’t just acoustically exceptional — they are poets writing about love, justice, contemporary culture, social rights issues, everything under the sun. I couldn’t stop listening to their words, drinking up everything they spoke, and eventually learning to recite it with them. (It has been all I can do to keep myself from rapping as I walk down the street. Because we all know that that would look weird.)

At the pinnacle of the Minneapolis hip hop family is a collective called Doomtree.


Looking like badasses.

They are awesome. I say this with the full force of “awesome”, as in “they are awe-inspiring”. I love their sound and their writing is brilliant — thought provoking and evocative.

Maybe somewhat silly badasses...

Maybe somewhat silly badasses…

Okay...totally silly. But still badasses.

Okay…totally silly. But still badasses.

Doomtree is a collective and an independent record label made up of 7 gifted artists who teamed up together after high school to make collaborative albums and promote/produce each others’ works. The result? Really amazing and innovative music. What’s exceptional about Doomtree is that each member can stand alone as a great artist. Together, they are a force of nature.

Last year, I was lucky enough to see them at our spring concert. This was where I learned that they not only sound great, but the are also amazing performers. It was an awesome show and sparked a huge obsession with them. I literally listened to them all summer long and I still revisit their albums every few weeks. I don’t even want to think about how many hours I’ve devoted to them. Suffice to say I know a lot of their songs by heart.


Awesomeness at the spring concert. SiMs in front (if you’re curious).

I have also explored a lot of their solo works and I have to say — they’re all pretty incredible. Each artist has a really different sound, each worth checking out. I definitely have different moods which dictate the ones I prefer listening to, but I’m always game for producer Paper Tiger’s tracks and Cecil Otter totally has my heart on a string. And Dessa…oh Dessa…she’s just irresistably and irrevocably cool. Oh hell, they’re all great!IMG_4651

Dessa and Cecil Otter being cool at spring concert.

Anyway, Doomtree happens to do this really amazing thing every year they call a “Blowout” — a weekend (or sometimes a full week) of their shows at First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. These shows are supposed to be remarkable, not only because the crew is so good, but also because they are always packed with excited Minnesotan fans.

blowoutxiSadly, I am in Indiana, and I will not be able to attend the blowout this year, but I will certainly be there in spirit, and I have vowed to do my best to go in the not-too-distant future. If you are in the area, you should definitely check this event out. It’s sure to be a knockout. If not, however, be sure to check out their website for information on future shows, merch, blogs, AND access to the (somewhat) recently-filmed documentary about them — Team the Best Team. All great stuff. You won’t regret any of it.

P.S. if you want to watch the documentary with others (like me!) you should totally check THIS out:

1386088396TTBT_MOVIENIGHT_FEATUREHappy listening!

Sea Wolf and his spring Miracle Cure tour

As you all know, I love live music, and I got really lucky last spring when it came to live music. (I’m hoping to recreate the experience somewhat this term, but we’ll see what happens…)

Undeniably one of the most enjoyable experiences I had last spring was with Alex Brown Church and his band, Sea Wolf. I met Alex for the first time in April. He was touring with Josh Ritter and I chatted with him for a while before darting backstage to chat with Ritter and his crew. I was impressed with ABC’s set, and enjoyed talking to him (though I worried that he wasn’t so thrilled about talking to me), so I hurried home and started spotifying all of his albums. When I found out he’d be coming back to the Cities for his own tour, celebrating the release of his most recent album, Old World Romance, c’mon…you know exactly what I did.


Seeing Sea Wolf lived proved to be much more challenging than I had anticipated. My friend and I were all set to borrow a car, when its owner sort of…flaked on me. Granted, it wasn’t really his fault. The car needed to go into the shop and he had no control over when he got it back by, but it was still frustrating. Commence desperate head-scratching, trying to figure out how to get to Minneapolis on a school night.

Luckily a friend of a friend was going up to see a different concert that night, so we managed to tag along. We were, unfortunately, a few minutes late to the venue, but we still managed to grab a great spot by the stage and see most of ABC’s performance.


I can say with absolute certainty that after seeing him perform a solo acoustic set, watching him play with a full band was incredible. Sea Wolf’s music incorporates many interesting melodic layers and has a rich sound that skillfully balances acoustic (and unusual) instruments with more standard electric equipment. The solo acoustic set was good. The full band version was amazing. The sonic tapestry he wove was lovely and I was soon dancing and singing along to all the songs I knew. Great live show.

Afterwards we hung around for a while…as I do. This time it was a little more justified, however, as our ride wasn’t scheduled to pick us up for another couple of hours. You guys, I saw Alex and he remembered me! He smiled and looked genuinely pleased that I came! And then he let me pick his brain about his songwriting technique and how he got into the music industry.

Some snippets from our conversation:

ABC typically works up the melodies and frameworks for his songs, but then collaborates and allows the musicians he works with to do some of their own stuff in the pieces, giving them a more organic and collaborative nature. He wrote this way for both his first, and his most recent album.

ABC loves Jack London. Hence the name, Sea Wolf.

ABC was a film major at NYU before he got into music. He was also in another band, but left them because his songs didn’t quite mesh with their sound as well. The dude is crazy creative though.

What a chill dude. He was so laid-back that he even let us hang out and wait for our friends with the band.

Here is a shot of people tearing things down as Julia and I watched over their luggage.


And here’s a bunch of their stuff waiting to be loaded into the trailer…


You wish you were Sea Wolf’s luggage-watcher.

I chatted for a long time with Joey (his drummer) and Scott (his guitarist). Both very nice guys. Poor dears had to wake up at 6am to get to Chicago on time, but they still shared their red wine and interesting conversation. Both are very witty, and I laughed a lot that night.

Sea Wolf is not currently touring, but you should definitely go check out his website and keep an eye out for updates. Something tells me he might hit the road sometime next year.

In the meantime, enjoy your weeks. I wish you sunny, blissful days of wandering under the autumn leaves!

Rockability – J.D. McPherson Live

If you can’t tell from previous posts, I have gotten the live music bug. This spring I saw 5 different concerts, 3 of which were in the Cities and all of which were amazing. The atmosphere at these shows, the process of leaving campus to go and bask in someone else’s musical talent makes me extremely happy. It’s like traveling, but cheaper.

One of my favorite shows this spring was J.D. McPherson. For those of you who don’t know his stuff, he is definitely worth checking out. He reminds me a lot of Brian Seltzer orchestra and his music captures a retro, rockabilly quality that you don’t often hear in today’s artists. His guitar playing is wonderful, and his singing is soulful, moving from gentle crooning to punchy and powerful lines throughout the record. His band is equally impressive and features keyboard, sax, hopping drums and a killer bass. What’s more, the entire record was recorded on vintage equipment, giving a truly authentic feel. In other words, he’s totally bringing back the ’50s and it sounds so good. Here’s a taste…

McPherson played live at First Avenue, one of Minneapolis’ most popular venues. I ADORE First Ave, it’s a great place to see a show. The venue is actually a converted Grey Hound bus depot and has a lot of character as a result, not to mention a good bar and a great staff. I’m getting to know several of the them, including the stage manager, and they make the concerts so enjoyable. I got to the show super early, and after chatting with them I snagged a spot front and center — the best spot in the house.

A local country group, called The Cactus Blossoms opened up the show. Led by brothers, Page Burkum and Jack Torrey, their music set the mood perfectly, following in the footsteps of classic country duos. Their twangy sound was a great compliment to McPherson, feeling classic and easy before the rock and roll of the main act. Moreover, like J.D.’s music, they feature mostly original compositions with a few covers interspersed. For interested Minnesotans, this group plays every Monday at The Turf Club and are definitely worth checking out (Country Music Television’s blog listed them among the top overlooked albums last year).


McPherson’s performance was, as I anticipated, extraordinary. The energy and enthusiasm of this show was infectious and it was great to be so close to the performers. In addition to his classically vintage sound, his performance really sells the music. He brings an incredible dynamic to the stage, crooning and leaping about as he jammed with the other performers.


Moreover, his band is extraordinary — boasting a killer keyboardist, as well as a saxophonist who will melt your heart. But the real showstopper was Jimmy Sutton, McPherson’s producer and bassist. I have never been so captivated by a performer. Not only was Sutton a master bassist, but he had such a charming presence. He made the best facial expressions as he thrummed along to the beat and would swirl his feet charismatically at just the right moments. It was incredibly sexy and so much fun to watch. He was so mesmerizing that I had to actively remember to look at the other performers (who, let me say again, were fantastic).


I should add that the crowd for this show was phenomenal. Many of them dressed up (especially the girls), wearing bandanas in their hair, high waistlines, swingy skirts, big sunglasses, bold lipstick, lots of denim and rolled up jeans. We looked like we were a new cast for Grease. (J.D. and the band were similarly dressed all in denim button downs, playing up the rockabilly style of the music.) We all danced and laughed and sang along and managed to get the group out for an encore at the end.

I hung around after the show and managed to grab a few words with several members of the group. J.D. McPherson was very nice, answering all my questions about his music and volunteering to answer more should I think of them later. He told me that the group is doing well, that they’re getting a good following, and that he loves his fans — especially since it’s a really diverse group. His music manages to traverse all age gaps and is appealing to everyone, from kids to their grandparents. He also told me that he loves performing, and that he generally gets really enthusiastic crowds. “It’s like your classic rock concert,” he said. “People get really into it.” He was very gracious, stressing how much he loves performing and the music itself.

I also got to chat with Jimmy Sutton who is ever so charming. We discussed his bass — she doesn’t have a name, but he’s been playing this one for years. He told me his first base was one he bought from some kids when he was fifteen and she was covered in graffiti. “I shouldn’t have sold that one,” he mused, “It was kinda cool and the first base I ever played.” We also talked about the group’s rider, which First Avenue’s stage manager had shown me earlier. Here are a just few things they requested:

  • a newspaper
  • fruits and veggies (organic/local)
  • hummus
  • cutlery and plates for 6 people
  • red wine
  • a six-pack (cans) for their manager
  • 10 lottery tickets (most prized item)

Sutton told me that the group really enjoy asking for things that they thought the crew wouldn’t usually find on a rider. They also really like eating fresh, healthy food after their long days in the van. And the lottery tickets?

“Those are for me,” Sutton told me, grinning. “I just really love lottery tickets. The show is fun and exciting, but it’s great because afterwards you get to look forward to opening 10 lottery tickets!”

I love this man. Also, both he and McPherson are great huggers.

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I sincerely recommend checking out this group. Not only is J.D. McPherson’s album one of my favorites from last year — it really goes with any mood and always gets me dancing — but he is exquisite live. I felt transported to the fifties, and delighted in losing myself in time, jiving with the crowd to these soulful beats. You can too. Be sure to check out his website and see him live whenever he’s in your area (tickets are not inordinately expensive). You won’t regret it.

Harmonica + Marimba

Last term Carleton began inviting musicians to the campus to play during common time (noon-1pm) in Sayles, the campus center. They brought three musicians over the course of the term, all three of which had very different styles and musical backgrounds. Personally, I thought that this was an inspired decision, as it gives the students more entertainment in a quotidien way.

Continue reading

Brothers in Bamako come to Paris

As many of you know I got very into the music scene in Paris last fall. For the first time in my life I was living in a city and all these amazing artists were coming to me, and I went a little concert-crazy. But seriously, how could I not? Well, it’s time to recount the last (and possibly best) concert experience that I had during my stay in the City of Lights: Brothers in Bamako at the Café de la Danse. Continue reading

Let me hear you sing, hey ya hey ya! – First Aid Kit Concert

first_aid_kit_the_lions_roarSince coming to France, I have made a tight group of friends who have remarkably good taste in music. I think all of us have bonded over this taste, many seeking solace in folk and Americana music at our most homesick moments. Thus I was introduced to First Aid Kit by a very dear friend. The introduction came, as some of you may remember, right before my trip to Normandie and I listened to them and sang their songs the entire trip. To this day I think of the bluffs of Pointe du Hoc and the Norman countryside when I hear “The Lion’s Roar.” (I can’t say the same for “Emmylou” as I now associate it with Continue reading