Imp Music for Happy Elves
|Photo by Guru Khalsa
Is rock-and-roll fanfare a genre, or maybe fanfare rock — something along the lines of Aaron Copeland twisted with The Clash, with a little Charles Ives and Tiny Hat Orchestra strung in to knot the tangle? If so, the men of Tornado Rider might be the category’s foremost practitioners. Led by Grammy-nominated cellist Rushad Eggleston — alternately referred to in the band’s itch-inducing bio as the Cello Panther, the Ambassador of Sneth and President of the Eternal Rabbit Society — this trio of undeniably talented musicians create a schizophrenic blend of always poppy music that sounds, by turns, like The Shins, the Ramones, the Buggles and Joe Strummer on Zoloft. This three-piece is nothing if not upbeat and dance happy. Despite some crunchy chords and a self-proclaimed affinity for punk, Van Halen and AC/DC, Tornado Rider’s music is as light and fluffy as a cotton ball. Couple this with a penchant for bunny suits and a broad love for all things elfin and extraterrestrial, and what you get is a kind of comic come-on that is as unserious as it is manically over-the-top. Their live shows, during which Eggleston dons a headset so he can “do baseball slides on dance floors and personally seduce the pretty ladies,” are theatrical, goofy and high energy. If getting dressed up like Frodo and hopping around to rave ups like “Friendly Bunny” and “Back in the Nork” are your cup of chamomile, by all means zip up your pointy-toed pumps and get your geek on. Tornado Rider plays with Gooferman at 10 pm Friday, Feb. 12, at the Downtown Lounge. 21+. Free. — Rick Levin, Ambassador of Absolutely Nothing
The Celtic revival of the 1980s and 1990s brought a parade of Irish music, dance and literature to the world’s attention, with plenty of by-the-numbers traditional stuff (enjoyable but, after a while, often unexciting), some egregious Celtic kitsch that diluted the culture’s glorious traditional sounds in treacly pop — and a few exhilarating fusions of old and new. Solas — “light” in Gaelic — fits that last category, illuminating past and present Irish music with their modern sensibility. While the spirit of their ancestors always haunts their songs, the Philly-based, Irish-American band faces firmly toward the future, embracing contemporary folk, world music and even jazz influences and mixing them into an easy-on-the-ears sound that can enchant both purists and popsters. Along with jigs, reels and waltzes, Solas’s splendid new disk, The Turning Tide, includes their affecting interpretations of songs by Richard Thompson, Bruce Springsteen and other modern balladeers. They’ve even been accorded the honor of being sampled by Timbaland. Singer Mairead Phelan, who capably replaced the scintillating Karan Casey, seizes the spotlight, but it’s the great Seamus Egan — who’s likely to wield flute, banjo, mandolin, whistles, guitars and bodhran in a given show — who’s made the band sizzle throughout its evolving lineups. With other members expertly playing keyboards, fiddle, accordion and more, Solas can deploy a broad palette of musical instrumental colors to accompany its wide-ranging musical reach. Solas performs at 7:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 17, at The Shedd. $22-$32. — Brett Campbell
Friend of Fame
If you’ve heard Gillian Welch, you’ve heard Dave Rawlings. The Nashville-based producer-guitarist’s fretboard artistry and co-songwriting are as much a part of Welch’s sound as her plaintive voice. Now, on his new album A Friend of a Friend and its resulting tour, which alights at the Shedd Friday, Rawlings emerges from Welch’s shadow. Although Welch also appears in the quintet on disk and onstage (and how often does that happen, a front(wo)man playing second fiddle in another band?), the Dave Rawlings Machine has its own distinct approach — looser, earthier — than the sparer, more ethereal music they’ve released under her moniker. Rawlings proves a genial, engaging frontman, and the band (members of Old Crow Medicine Show and Bright Eyes and Benmont Tench from the Heartbreakers) comfortably covers territory from boisterous bluegrass to Neil Young (“Cortez the Killer”) to melancholy country blues to wistful folk. Dave Rawlings Machine performs at 7:30 pm Friday, February 12, at The Shedd. $28. — Brett Campbell
Danny Malone is kind of like a Ben Kweller cousin with a Bright Eyes streak, except even if you’re one of those people who would rather pop Conor Oberst in the kisser than listen to one of his confessional early tunes, Malone might stand a chance with you. His 2009 release, Cuddlebug, begins exuberantly: “Tell me all the secrets that you know / and I’ll tell you all about my broken heart,” the young singer-songwriter demands, his reedy voice paired with a pretty female harmony. On “My Affection,” Malone suggests he might not be the charmer his tunes imply; two songs later, he’s singing to a woman who tells him he’s different when he drinks; a few more tracks pass, and Malone’s claiming he “only ever kissed a couple sips of wine.” Sure you did, kid.
If that sounds angsty, hold up a minute: Malone’s self-awareness is self-deprecating but sly, with a certain down-South charm. His bio is absurd; what can you learn from “Danny is not made of the same things as you and yours. Danny is made of marshmallow and razor blades wrapped in tiger skin,” other than that this skinny Texan probably doesn’t take himself too seriously? His boyish voice is pitched to perfection against the smart arrangements — harmonies are carefully doled out, as nifty and cheerful as those on a Rentals record; some songs take on a ’70s tinge without sounding like unearthed covers; bar-room pianos and horns make guest appearances. On One Longy Long Day, and the Bubblegum Coffin Club, a collection of mostly covers Malone recorded over Christmas, “Tiny Dancer” gets a solemn treatment and Malone demonstrates that he can do a drifty Joanna Newsom song as well as anyone. But the covers are just the frosting; Malone’s slightly skewed, smart, sweet songs are plenty appealing on their own. Danny Malone and Chesapeake Blue play at 9 pm Thursday, Feb. 11, at Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+. $3-$5. — Molly Templeton
Doomtree’s Brain Fruit
Most folks tend to associate Twin Cities hip hop with Rhymesayers, but the Doomtree collective is just as instrumental in the scene, if not quite as accessible as Rhymesayers artists like Atmosphere or Brother Ali. Doomtree artists tend to trade in cerebral rhymes and moody beats that don’t always lend themselves well to all-night dance parties in the way that albums like, say, The Undisputed Truth do. There is crossover, though: P.O.S. got his start on Doomtree before signing to Rhymesayers (he still bills himself as a member of both crews), but stylistically, he’s got more in common with his longtime Doomtree comrades. He’s touring now with Dessa, a Doomtree MC who finally released her debut full-length, A Badly Broken Code, last month.
While the two artists’ music doesn’t sound much alike, they’ve got a lot in common in the sense that their unusual stylistic choices are acquired tastes that demand a sophisticated palate. Both employ adventurous production: P.O.S. employs rapid-fire beats reminiscent of punk drumming, while A Badly Broken Code is made up of slow, heavy instrumentals thick with piano, strings and mournful soul vocals. And like P.O.S., Dessa’s rhymes are raw and intimately personal, exposing vulnerabilities and closet skeletons without reserve. That, too, takes some getting used to. In conjunction with the decidedly unorthodox instrumentals, her music can be polarizing — in general, there’s no such thing as a casual Doomtree fan — but the people who can learn to appreciate and relate to Dessa’s unabashed candor will never see hip hop the same way again. P.O.S., Dessa, Grieves and Budo perform at 7 pm, Sunday, Feb. 14, at the WOW Hall. $13 adv., $15 door. — Sara Brickner