318 Cafe

What follows is my first attempt at a musical review.  This is going to be a little awkward for me since, in my own mind, I have some real existential problems with critics in general.  But I think a critic is fulfilling a useful role if they adhere to the age old addage of “If you don’t have something nice to say, say nothing at all.”  Sounds simplistic, but since I thought about that comment for about 30 seconds prior to typing it in at this internet cafe terminal,  as a personal favor to me, please accept it as a universal truth. 

 Okay, I thought some more and need to qualify the comment above.  It only applies to criticism of the arts, not digital cameras, not machettes, and not clumping kitty litter.  I think that just about covers it.

Now that I’ve vanquished any lingering doubts you might have about my credibility, we’re ready to proceed.

So last night my wife an I drove to a little cafe in Excelsior, Minnesota to hear one of our favorite artists, Becky Schlegal, perform (with Brian Fessler.)  Turns out this was a particularly good deal because Kevin Bowe and Dan Israel were also part of the gig.  All three were, at one time or another, winners in the Minnesota Music Awards… a fact humbly conveyed to the audience at one point, eliciting the following thoughtful comment from Kevin:  “We envy us.”

The 318 Cafe creates an almost communal dining environment during showtime with several long tables perpendicular to the performance area.  My wife and I were pleasantly startled when we were seated at the end of the center table closest to the stage.   Kevin warned me that Becky had a tendency to spit when she sang, which brought me back to the last time I was sprayed by a performer – by Frank Black, in fact, in the middle of a Pixies mosh pit decades earlier in Omaha, Nebraska.   I remember when I used the restroom at that concert that the sink had about 3 pints of fresh blood in it.

I sensed I wasn’t in for the same thing here, though.  My fellow diners were quite a bit more senior than I’d expected, so a mosh pit would have resulted in at least 5 or 6 broken hips.  No, the setting was very low key, and both the service and food were great.  Given my proximity to the band, I had the pleasure of eavesdropping on their banter as they set up, munching on my turkey and brie sandwich.  Kevin was clearly the wise guy of the bunch, Dan the proud young father, Brian the grinning picker and Becky the radiant, approachable Dakotan we’d expected.

Things got started on an uneasy note when Kevin, sensing a level of comfort in the crowd he was uncomfortable with,  announced to the crowd:  “So, Dan and I are jews.  That’s what we do.”  Near as I could tell, I was the only one convulsing in response to that comment, save a few of the performers family and friends in the back.  The other performers seemed to be battle hardened to Kevin’s humor and bided their time until it was meat and potatoes time, in the musical sense.

Becky and Brian started on the far left, followed by Dan and then Kevin.  Beautiful guitars abounded – Becky and Brian on Martins, Dan on a Taylor cutaway, and Kevin on a big ol’ Alvarez 12 string.  Becky could have been lip syncing to her CDs, which is exactly what we’d hoped for.  Dan was full of upbeat, choppy energy and Kevin supplied the dark side in spades via black lyrics and deft sitar like 12 string playing.  Throughout, Brian Fessler was supplying surgical picking accompanyment that seemed a genetic match for whatever it was that he was picking up on.  His contribution, along with Kevin’s knack for the verbally absurd were perhaps my favorite elements of the show.

It was easily worth the drive for us.  It even made me forget about my hemhorroids, if only for a precious couple of hours.  I can deliver no better compliment than that.

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