Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Fresh Breeze from the Pacific Northwest

The Northwest has long been a source of good music, even before Nirvana made "Seattle" synonymous with "grunge rock." More recently, bands such as Fleet Foxes, Blitzen Trapper and The Decemberists have brought certain shared features to music from that region, such as an emphasis on melody and harmony (over rhythm), lush arrangements, and lots of lyric references to nature.

Those qualities can also be found in the Portland, Oregon-based artists that are coming to The Cedar this coming Thursday evening (6/4). Laura Gibson brings a haunting voice and delicate sensibility to darker topics on her latest recording, Beast of Seasons. She's a favorite with the good folks over at NPR Music, in fact she inspired a very cool new feature on their website called Tiny Desk Concerts. Here's Laura's:

Laura will be performing with members of the opening band, Musée Mécanique, whose debut CD Hold This Ghost was one of my favorite releases of 2008. Both of these CD's were produced by the talented Tucker Martine, who was also responsible for (producing, recording and mixing) the extraordinary new Decemberists release, The Hazards of Love. Martine is one of those rare producers that seems to work wonders on every project which he is involved.

Here's a fun video of a Musée Mécanique tune to a classic Max Fleischer cartoon:

The sky is aligned for a magical show...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Not Pear-Shaped at All

One of the many things I really love about the Cedar is that the room can rock with the loudest stuff Hoven Droven or Zebulon Pike can throw at it, or be as silent and respectful as an intimate country church. We had the church thing going Monday night at Rachael Unthank and the Winterset and it was SO WONDERFUL. Their music has lots of "white space" in it, and you really could've heard that proverbial pin drop in the silences between notes. No talking, no coughing, just less than a hundred lucky folks hanging onto every note. Racheal has a great lower vocal range, and sister Becky is possessed of an unusual, almost "fuzzy" voice, fuzzy in the sense that it sounds like she's singing two notes at once sometimes. And the harmonies, ah, the harmonies. Especially when their fiddler added her voice...I'm sure I wasn't the only one in minor key vocal harmony heaven Monday evening.

Becasuse their piano palyer messed up on her visa and their road manager was filling in, their set was not quite what was planned. We were lucky enough to hear several public debuts of material for their next album and lots of acappela stuff. Becky warned us before one the new tunes "It might come off all pear shaped." Then they had to translate that from Geordie-speak. It means messed up, wrong. The tune was so NOT pear-shaped.
Don't just go to Newcastle for the brown ale.
More Geordie-speak:
Yem = home
Hinny = loved one
Bairn = child
Geordie - someone from Newcastle

The Unthank sisters were quite funny and charming after the show when some of us asked them if there are any happy songs about mining. Racheal sang a bit of "My Lad's a Canny Lad" then decided it really wasn't happy either, so no, there are not. They also loved that Cedar green room. Quote: "You could go on holiday for a week in there."

Thanks Winterset for making my Monday and hope to get you a bigger (lucky, quiet) crowd next time!

* * * * * * *

Talking Tamil

You gotta just love M.I.A. Not only is she the queen of the multinational monosyllabic hook, not only does she sample the best ethnic percussion out there, not only is she respected by pretty much every artist whose work I admire, she's taking time from being with that new baby to send out information on the Tamil perspective of what's going on in Sri Lanka to about a million of her "friends" on MySpace.

Two days in the news of "Tamils are wading across a lagoon to reach the safe zone" and that's all we hear about the latest between the Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka. Here's what the daughter of a Tamil "rebel" has to say about it, as of last week.

And here's how some folks at home reacted.

Who decided the Tamils are the terrorists? I think that was the Sinhalese.

There are two sides to every conflict.

The girl has always spoken truth to power. Keep it up.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


1. charmingly or exquisitely beautiful: a lovely flower.
2. having a beauty that appeals to the heart or mind as well as to the eye, as a person or a face.
3. delightful; highly pleasing: to have a lovely time.
4. of a great moral or spiritual beauty: a lovely character.

(from my weekend):
1. The weather
Yesterday...Mostly sunny. Highs 65 to 70. East winds 10 mph.
Today...Mostly sunny. Highs 70 to 75. East winds 10 mph.
Memorial Day...Partly cloudy. Highs 75 to 80. Southeast winds 10 to 15 mph.

2. The view from here:

3. LeBron, Friday night:

4. How it will end (Monday night, 5/25, at The Cedar):

...followed by Rachel Unthank & The Winterset
( sure to check out their cover of Sexy Sadie).

Friday, May 22, 2009

Amazing/Amusing discovery

In the spirit of Cedar Twitter excitement, here is less than 160 characters:

The most-played song on the Cedar computer is Tight Tee Shirt by Benji Hughes.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Crossed Over into Summer

In just a few short days this past week, my entire external reality has changed. No more fast internet, no more long commutes to listen intently to the latest downloads and podcasts ...yep, I've moved to the farm for the summer. My IPod is getting dusty and my hands are getting callused. No more life in the south Minneapolis fast lane; it's all about the lush green world of western Wisconsin. It's time to rusticate.

This move, by necessity, means that some of my blogging for the next little while will be a bit less based on the latest online updates and bit more based on ....hmm... imagination? Wishful thinking? We'll see.

So in the Hey, Don't We Know These Guys Department, dj Blanche from KFAI's Fubar Omniverse tipped me off that some folks familiar to Nordic Roots Fest fans are coming over next month to play at the Nisswa Stammen, up north there in Nisswa, which is somewhere past Brainerd. Do these faces look familiar?
It's Esko and Tuomas from Frigg, along with their pal Sara Puljula, who actually plays on most of the Frigg albums as well as about a million other projects, but played at the Cedar with Gjallarhorn way back about five or six festivals ago. Their group for Nisswa is called Esko, Tuomas & Sara. Who thought of that catchy name, Esko??? Anyway, it's to be a fiddle/guitar/bass thing up there in Nisswa.

Front Porch Listening

Several months ago, I picked up Terakaft's ("The Caravan") album Akh Issudar ("Milk is Survival"), just because of the cover photo. Anything with Tuareg-looking guys standing in the desert with Stratocasters, I'm there. On first listen, I thought, "Not as rocking as Tinariwen, hooks aren't good as Toumast," and set it aside for a while. Picking it up again, I'm really appreciating the understated charm of this disc. While it does share some writing credits with some members of Tinariwen, the sound is more spare. The male vocal harmonies are sure and confident, and the guitars rock when they need to, then hold back to show off intricate fingerwork. Tunes like the closer "Tahra a Issasnanane" are just elegant in their simplicity. Cranking it in the earbuds while watering plants outside in the wind today, I decided this would make some really nice front porch listening. Sounds like summer, and you should be relaxing somewhere cool and comfy to enjoy the subtleness.

Pitchfork gave it a 7.8 and you can listen to some samples there. Rootsworld says it will hypnotize you. The Independent gave it 4 out of 5 stars. Glad I came back for a listen. Just goes to show, you should never really review a disc until you've listened to it carefully at least three times. Hey hey, and look, they have a live recording available for download next week! (Details on their MySpace at the link above.)

See you at Rachael Unthank on Monday! (Talk about subtle and there such a thing as minimalist North of England folk music?)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Cedar Outdoors

Longtime Cedar patrons are used to us going 'dark' in the summer months - largely in part to the over abundance of live outdoor music and the 'not so good' air conditioning unit in the Cedar. This year we are taking to the patio with our programming and present the first annual, Cedar Outdoors concert series. Every Thursday from July 2nd to August 27th you can enjoy a local/regional artist perform two sets on our patio. We will pair the tunes with a different beer special each week from our fantastic local beer makers. The concerts are free to the public and patrons of all ages are welcome.
6pm-10pm, Thursdays this summer.
Band/beer specials can be found posted on this blog,, and
We'll be posting/annoucing the line-up in the coming weeks.

see you this summer...on the patio!


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Mid-Week Music Jones

Some of you may have heard me on the radio this past Thursday, on MPR's Art Hounds, where local arts folks talk about upcoming events that they are excited about but not directly related to their own work. This is a great feature that arts reporter Chris Roberts does weekly. So if you are not interested in one of the two mid-week offerings at The Cedar this coming Wednesday and Thursday night... Wednesday with the indy/ambient duo Windy & Carl

...and Thursday with the Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua Blue Canvas Orchestra, there's a pretty special show going on just a few blocks north of us at The Southern Theater, featuring two incredible and exciting young composers.

The first is the better known, having collaborated with Björk and an upcoming Cedar band, Grizzly Bear on their brand new CD, Veckatimest. His name is Nico Muhly. Oh, and he's had commissions by American Ballet Theatre, Metropolitan Opera, Paris Opera Ballet, and English National Opera, just to do a little name-dropping. He'll be world premiering two new pieces with violist Nadia Sirota.

And if that wasn't high enough on the hip factor, the second artist is Son Lux, which is musician composer Ryan Lott, who was voted Best New Artist of 2008 by the folks at NPR Music for his extraordinary debut recording, At War with Walls and Mazes, which he will be performing pieces from, with dancers and a "3-D visual instrumentalist." Ryan says on his own blog, "I sort of wish I could be in the audience to watch this one."

This is fully cross-pollinated music, living between contemporary classical, indy rock, and electronica. In other words, file under: who cares, it's really cool stuff.

Friday, May 15, 2009

So much music, only so much Saturday

Making plans for this weekend? Think you might want to go see some music? You are in luck. In fact, it might be hard not to see music this weekend. The West Bank will be hopping as usual, and Northeast's Art-a-Whirl will be in full tilt with art and music galore.  Here is just a brief list of possibilities. I will let you do the choosing. 




Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Map Quiz

Map quiz time! We're going to check out a few of the countries shown here in green. Not England or Italy or Slovakia, though.)

Let's pick a site in Sweden famous for its fiddling history. How about Bingsjö, site of a midsummer fiddlers festival for forty years and of a tradition going back centuries. Nowadays, it's famous for jams going all night through the midnight sun until morning. OK, I am trying to find a nice photo from the festival or at least of picturesque Dalarna, the state in which it is located, but you know what I get when I Google "Swedish traditional fiddler image?" A photo of the Carolina Chocolate Drops!! Wow, they do get around, but I don't think any of those guys are Swedish...

So here's some real old time fiddling.

Now, think of a place in Bulgaria where the traditional womens' harmony singing comes from. Maybe the Rhodope Mountains near the border with Greece and Turkey, where ruins of old fortresses dot the mountaintops.

Draw a line between those two historical music wonder sites, and you'll end up somewhere in Poland, a place where mind bending dark fiddling butts against spine-tingling womens' vocal harmonies in the amazing Warsaw Village band. Guess what? They're coming back to see us at the Cedar! Put Thursday, October 29 on your calendar and plan to come check out WVB with the Cedar's better than ever sound system. To those who missed their appearance a few years ago, I would recommend this band to lovers of Scandinavian fiddling and of women's close harmony singing. Since we can't go out in Warsaw's Old Town tonight, read more about the band in the big fat review I wrote of their most recent album on the 12/31/08 version of this very blog.

* * * * * * *

Don't you hate it get all excited about a band that is new to you and rush to their website or MySpace only to discover that they played in our very town the day before!!! There I was last week rocking out to a mix thoughtfully provided by our own Angel of Rock as I drove around making deliveries in a big, big truck. I was extremely captivated by the tune "Three Shades" by the band Nomo from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Their spot-on Afro-beat-ish horns atop the loops of groovy chiming percussion (created on homemade junk gamelons, I found out) held down by driving real percussion had me hitting that repeat button. But really, when I got home and looked them up, they had played a show at the U of M the day before and done some radio in-studios at Radio K and the Current. The Angel of Rock said "It was fun. I have mentioned to Rob that they should be at the Cedar next time...and a few people mentioned it to me too."

Yeah! Let's get these guys into our house next time around. Here's a Pitchfork review of their new disc Invisible Cities.

* * * * * * *
Last but not least, remember how I was so into the Greek remixes of old 50's vocal artists by Imam Baldi? Turns out I'm not the only one who fell under that spell. The Iman Baldi big band is playing at the huge Roskilde Fest in Denmark in July, and dj Charlie Gillett on BBC's World Service has been mixing sets around some of their tracks on "The Sound of the World" Show. A listener on their forum thought "O Pasatempos" tune's background as follows:
The original 'Pasatempos' is by Yorgos Yannakopoulos and Manolis Chiotis (pronounced Jiotis, if you have started the Spanish course), sung in its most popular version by Yota Lydia, I think.
Well, I tried to find a photo of her, but all the links seem to want to show me Yoda instead. Let's imagine her looking something like this and call it a night, OK?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Little Known Secrets

Long time patrons and the exceptionally observant, may have noticed that The Cedar’s calendar is often empty on Mondays and Tuesdays. But that doesn’t mean the hall is dark and quiet. Far from it, in fact. On Monday mornings, while the neighborhood sleeps, preparations begin for a weekly pancake breakfast and bingo tournament for local group Swingin’ Senior Singles. Not only do people fall in love with Cedar performers, romances flourishes over maple syrup and bingo cards. That piano on stage comes in handy for the impromptu serenades of those falling head-over-heels.

After a major clean up, the hall floor is cleared to make way for the weekly face-off between Cedar staff and staff members at the Nomad World Pub.

“Those guys over at the Nomad have way too much time to practice Bocce ball, so we play badminton instead,” said former Cedar Intern Sam Johnson “Over here at The Cedar, we know our way around a racquet.”

Losers buy the winners dinner at nearby Chai’s Thai while the hapless MVP mops up the sweat and tears on The Cedar’s floor. After packed weekends, staff members at both venues are ready to blow off a little steam. Behind the closed doors, both teams holler along to “Eye of the Tiger” and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

Following the sporting event, the building slumbers until Tuesday afternoon when things really get interesting. A double booking results in Soccer Mom Cocktail Hour being forced to share the space with Advanced Motorcycle Maintenance, a rough looking class that has spilled over from The Joint and Psycho Suzie’s. It was uncomfortable for everyone at first, but has now resulted in unexpected kinship.

“Both groups have a lot we can share with each other,” said Rocky, local motorcycle maniac. “They taught us time management and what roads to avoid during rush hour and we taught them to toughen up and take no prisoners.”

They also bond over their confusion and disapproval of kids on tall bikes.

Now that you know what goes on at The Cedar on Mondays and Tuesdays, you can find out what goes on during the rest of the week at

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Cedar on Twitter.

Usually I post on Tuesdays, but this is an important announcement from the internal workings department of The Cedar. We are now on Twitter. If you want daily updates, if not hourly updates, real time updates or just friendly updates, please visit us at:

Zuppa di banjo

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Hammerhead Insect Collection plus

I've news and a free download from long lost Cornershop, the tale of insect-collection-inpired concept album from Alamaailman Vasarat, musings about metal shows I wonder if I can stay up late enough for and much, much more this week.

First off, IT'S PINK! For all you non-local readers, we did get our sassy revamped marquee lit up a couple of weeks back, and isn't it pretty?

Of course, the neighbors across Cedar Avenue called the next day and wanted to make sure we didn't leave it on all night shining in their windows, and all the fire trucks arriving for the fire in the tower apartments next door were rubbernecking at the fire dancers performing at our little celebration, but it's all good now.

And in the "How'd She DO That Department, how about that Dobet Gnahore? In case you missed this one, HOLY COW can she do impossible things with her hips and legs and whew. The girl can DANCE ...and sing and play percussion. Here's a quick little vid of her from a couple years ago in Amsterdam. She's even better now...she was doing all these moves in jeans and cowboy boots here the other night!

You know how it goes, you're just going to look up one thing on one band's website, and six links later, you're pondering the black metal options playing at the Roskilde Festival this summer ...and it's way past bedtime on a work night. And how much would those tickets to Denmark really cost?

I think that particular online journey started at the Alamaailman Vasarat ("Hammers of the Underworld") webpage, reading about their new release Huuro Kolkko. To those not familar with this Finnish cello-trombone-organ-grunge-with-lots-of-tempo-and-key-changes band, they describe themselves as "a Finnish group playing kebab-kosher-jazz-film-traffic-
punk-music with a unique Scandinavian acoustic touch." It's complex and fun listening, but one does have to be in the mood.

Anyway, their new disc was inspired by and named after the guy who made these insect collections, an intrepid Finnish exploreer from the early 1900s. We get the whole story of his travels, from tropical islands discovered to his mysterious demise, presumably in Morocco somewhere in the nine tunes on the disc. We also get the recording debut of their new brass toy, the Tubax, a very VERY low end sax. Contrabass is the word here. Read all about it at their website. Then notice the Tubax in this photo. Whoa!

So of course, I am hot on the trail of this recording, being a bit of a Hammerhead and a big fan of their earlier work like 2007's Mahaan and their 2000 debut Vasaraasia. (Vasaraasia being the name of the mythical continent ("Hammer Asia") where their music comes from.) I email them to ask about a download or U.S. source. No download yet and neither of the U.S. sources has it listed on their website yet. Sigh. Back in the day, I used to up and order stuff from Finland once in a while. You know, now with the credit card companies charging extra for every little overseas transaction and all, I was kinda hoping for something easier. You can give the tunes a listen at their Myspace, and I'll keep bugging that company that's supposed to have it over here.

While poking around the Roskilde site because Alamaailman Vasarat is playing there, I read up on the metal band Wolves in the Throne Room. ["Nature-embracing Black Metal"] Why is that name familiar? Is it just because Cedar Operations Manager Dave P. highly recommends that 18 minute long track on their first album? Wait! Aren't they coming to town soon? Why, yes. They are hitting the Triple Rock down the street in a couple a weeks, Friday May 15. In an inspired - and LOUD -pairing, support will be provided by the mighty Zebulon Pike, in which you can see Happy Apple bass monster Erik Fratzke stretch out on guitar. It's smart instrumental prog metal. Big BIG FAT power chords all around. Should be a fun night. Might want to have some earplugs along.

Final gossip tidbit. The Candyman is really back! No, not just the "Chalk" commercial from last fall, Cornershop is really back and they've got a new 7" coming out May 26. Yep, as in 7" vinyl. So throwback! Or if you hustle, you can download a remix of it for free from their website. Full length album coming hot on its heels. So polite, their email said "It would be double pleasing if you could help us get the word out too." OK, I will! But can you wrap your tongue around the name of the single? "The Roll Off Characteristics (of History in the Making)" Tjinder Singh can and he says it a lot. Sounds like classic Cornershop; sitar-enhanced, political, and groovy with some added bouncy brass. Alas, we cannot imbed the video here, but it's there at the media tab on their site.

Racheal Unthank countdown: 19 days. Memorial Day night at the Cedar. Yes, I am as psyched for this as I am for all that loud stuff.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Happy May Day!

I am very excited to tell you all that my favorite month of the year has arrived. To celebrate this wondrous occurrence, this weekend has lots in store for fans of music and the arts.

Tonight, Colin Hay will play to a packed house here at The Cedar. If you didn't manage to nab tickets to that one, I have quite the alternative for you.

Regulars to the Cedar Music Blog might recognize the name Nomo, as it graced my "best-of-2008" list, for both performances and for recordings. 

And Nomo is back in the Twin Cities, playing at The Whole Music Club in the basement of Coffman Union at the University of Minnesota. Opening, is local band Military Special featuring hot keyboard licks courtesy of Cedar House Manager Charlie Smith. 

Saturday night Military Special is back at it opening for Dance Band at The Cedar. More information about this show here.

While I am excited about all of these events, I am most excited for what happens on Sunday. I discovered on Wednesday night that not everyone in the Twin Cities knows about the annual May Day Parade put on by In The Heart of The Beast Puppet and Mask Theater. This is very upsetting. I hope all you readers know about the parade, but if not, please visit the links above and join in the festivities on Sunday. 

See you there.