It seems Minneapolis is better known for its' new buildings, fancy stadiums, big malls and clean downtown, but the more you get to know the Twin Cities the more you can find small special places that seem like they were pulled right out of a Tom Waits song or from under the tracks of the El in Chicago. Greasy spoons, private pawn and resale stores, insanely cool little guitar shops, and bars like Lee's Liquor Lounge. Lee's is located close to where the Minnesota Baseball Twins play and my visit happened to be on the day that the Twins clinched the AL Central title.
As much fun as it can be to watch a local win among townies this is certainly not what brought me out. I came to Lee's Liquor Lounge to catch The Deadstring Brothers for $5. $5. I still do not get how I can see a band this good for $5. I have played in a number of bands significantly worse (by all measures) than The Deadstring Brothers where we have collected $10 at the door. I have paid $10 and more to see buddies cover bands play at crappy bars. This price of $5 was so confusing to me I was a little worried there may be another band called Deadstring Brothers.
Yeah, I checked their website and this show was listed... right alongside all of the $15 and $20 shows. Second guessing aside, I was already in Minneapolis, a healthy pour of Jim Beam on the rocks was $3, and this was better than another night in a hotel room.
The Deadstring Brothers have always been an anomaly to me. Since my buddy Kyle told me to buy Winter Starving Report I have not understood why these guys are not being played on the radio. It is not that they play music that would easily fall into a current pop music category, but because their music sounds so much like lost Rolling Stones albums. With the recent re-release of Exile I enjoy playing DSB albums for friends and having them guess who the band is. Every time the guess is Stones, and more times than not they guess it is some of the tracks off the Exile re-release.
I do really love the Stones. When the gloves come off and British music discussions get to picking sides I tend to lean Stones more than Beatles. The problem for me in those discussions is having to defend all of the crap that came after Tattoo You. The convenient thing about the Beatles is that they broke up before any garbage was recorded. There are no Bridges to Babylon or Steel Wheels to account for. I can always point to McCarthy's solo work and some of the lows from Wings, but none of that is included in the Beatles body of work.
Where Emotional Rescue and Tattoo leave off these two DSB's albums kind of pick up. Incredible tight, yet somehow natural sounding harmonies, tasteful use of slide guitar, warm B3 organ sounds, and choruses that sound the first time as though you have been singing them since high school. Winter Starving Report is probably more full of hits, but the new album San Paulo is just brimming with nods to old blues music in a way only the Stones were able to do believably in the past.
This is not my first time seeing the Deadstring Brothers. I was at the Bloodshot 15th Anniversary party in Chicago and saw a load of great bands. That night the DSB were working in a brand new line up after losing a few members. The show was rough to say the least. It seemed band members were still learning parts and there was uncertainty about who was doing what. This show was vastly different. Unfortunately the pedal steel/lead guitarist who has appeared with the band in the past was not on hand, so the band was drums, bass, guitar/singer, and organist.
When the opening bands were playing and the Twins game was still going there may have been 50 people in the bar, maybe 65. By the time the Deadstring Brothers took the stage the Twins had won, Sox had lost and the division was clinched. Bar emptied out to about 25-30 people by the time they took the stage. The show was about 1:15 long and set list was heavy on Starving Winter Report songs with a few songs from San Paulo and the other albums thrown in too. I think the lack of a lead player may have had an effect which songs were played.
I have played rooms with 5-10 people. Not proud or energizing nights, but to this day I still run into people who saw one of those shows where we gave it all we had, playing like we were in a packed stadium even though we nearly outnumbered the audience. Invariably they speak of those shows with reverence. Every show is important, not just the packed houses. The Deadstring Brothers took this show seriously and I felt privileged to have been there.
And all for just $5.