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A Very Opinionated List of the Greatest Weekly Music Events in Twin Cities History, Mid ’90s–Now

Remember the Blue Nile? Headspin? Lotta good memories here.

12:58 PM CST on January 30, 2023

Courtesy of Sean McPherson|

Les Exodus performing at the writer’s wedding.

Sean McPherson plays many roles. Heiruspecs bassist. KBEM music director. Trivia Mafia co-honcho. Friend of Racket. He's also a diehard live music fan, even by the standards of the Twin Cities' diehard live music fans. So when we saw he'd rounded up his favorite local recurring live music events on his blog, we asked to reprint it.

Dr. Mambo’s Combo
Bunker’s 
Sundays and sometimes Mondays since 1987

To thrive, a weekly needs to combine the expected and the unexpected. If I know everything that happens every week, why would I come back? If it’s a completely clean slate, what’s going to get my ass out of the house on a cold Sunday? Sundays with Dr. Mambo’s Combo has both. Maybe a legendary touring band is coming through. Maybe it’s Michael Bland on drums, maybe it’s Petar Janjic, maybe it’s that shaved head dude, who knows? But there are also expectations: They’re probably going to play more Gap Band and less Prince than your friend from out of town expected. There’ll be a committed dance floor. And they’ll be fun. One time I was there and it was empty (probably first set in the middle of August). One of the singers in- between songs, seated, announced confidently: “We don’t play our originals at these shows … because I prefer to jerk off at home.” I still think about that line and laugh all the time. You never know quite what’s gonna happen at Bunker’s, but you know what you can count on. It’s a beautiful thing and whenever I have a musician friend visiting town I make sure they see it. 

Tuesday Open Mics with Kevin Washington and Desdamona 
Blue Nile
I’m gonna guess maybe 2000-2012?

Rest in peace to the Blue Nile, once located on Franklin right by the Taco Bell (which I’m told is also no longer there). The Ethiopian food was not good; the hang was spectacular. Amazing sound system, legendary recurring events, a musician-centric spot. This open mic was courageously curated with a real sense that you could see a legend next to a rank amateur within a ten-minute time span. Throughout the whole run, I thought that Desdamona and Kevin did an incredible job of pacing, swapping up familiar with brand new and the whole time creating this amazing experience. I saw a lot of now-greats step on stage for their humble start at this open mic. I recently reconnected with Pavielle, who started hosting a show at Jazz88, and half of our conversations are about these open mics. There’s a story Pavielle wants to tell about the poetry slam/open mic scene that developed in the Twin Cities from ’95 through maybe 2005 and wow, I want to read it.

Headspin
Bon Appetit in Dinkytown
Maybe one year around 2000

This one has personal significance for me. I wasn’t part of organizing these events but Zach, Serum, and many others put together a weekly that offered up a lot of great music, including plenty of Heiruspecs shows. I spent a long time thinking that you could have a great weekly if young people could get their hands on some beer from time to time. I’ve since seen many weeklies that don’t follow that rule, but wow, was it easy to buy a pitcher up front at Bon Appetit and share it with the whole team back in the back room. The energy of Headspin was compelling, crews came from all over the Cities, and there were even visiting artists. I wasn’t at the center of it, but I spent many Sundays thinking in real time, “This will be one of the most special chapters in my life.”  And I was right. 

The New Primitives
Mayslack’s 
Thursdays?

I’ve never had a physical reaction to music quite like when I waltzed into Mayslack’s and saw Stan, Chico, and company deliver the goods. I had the lowest of low expectations—not ’cause I didn’t expect them to be good. I just didn’t expect them to be cooking yet. I walked in at maybe 9:30 and figured if they were playing it was going to be very “first set” sounding: tentative, everyone fixing their amps, working on the details, not ready to really go yet. But what I walked into was an insane energy and if I’m not mistaken they were working with a DJ at the time who would do some things during the set and then take over during breaks. It was sweaty, it was funky, it was raw, and the stage presence was wild. People sharing mics, cymbals, drinks, probably joints. It was just this explosion on stage and I couldn’t believe I had missed it until then. Unbelievable. 

B3 Nights 
Artists Quarter 
1995-2011

I’ll keep it absolutely real: I went to this thing maximum . . .twice. But getting to see Billy Holloman work that organ and all sorts of folks guesting, with poetry or with instruments, was so exciting. This event was clearly the center of so many people’s weekly calendars—I felt like I had walked into a family meeting with booze. There was this spirit like the rest of the week was just preamble and postscript to these hours together at the Artists Quarter. Unbelievable. 

Molly Maher and her Disbelievers
Nye’s Polonaise Room 
Wednesdays, 2000-2010?

This was such a fun hang. Martin Devaney brought me down a couple times and it was one of those nights that had its own chemistry. Nobody was a stranger after song one. There was just a forced intimacy in that room, plus the martinis were strong (and, as I recall, sort of uncomfortably expensive). The one guitar player, he was just unnecessarily good. Distractingly good. I didn’t know most of the songs, but now I realize they were playing the great shit. Sometimes some famous people would roll out, but mainly it was Molly just holding court and making the vibe right. She’s a great frontperson because I think she could give two shits about being a frontperson and that’s a huge part of the magic. (I also have a theory that the secret to someone being good on the radio is them not thinking they would be good on the radio). Magic. 

Les Exodus 
Blue Nile 
Late ’90s to maybe 2015

There are differences between Les Exodus and the International Reggae All-Stars but I can’t tell you every one of them. What I can tell you is that Thursdays belonged to Exodus. (I haven’t heard many people call them Les Exodus to be 100% percent honest with you. I definitely say Exodus.) No band—NO BAND at all— sounds as good as Exodus did at the Blue Nile before the kind of jerky sound guy quit. I believe he built the soundboard. He was part of the band. He cooked all this extra bass into the system but it was never overbearing. No, it was something else. This band has two incredibly charismatic vocalists without either of them being “star-powered.” They are just incredible to listen to, to spend a couple sets with. This was the band that played our wedding, no bullshit.

That keyboard player, Chili, he’s out of control. He’s running three, four things at the same time, but he exudes this massive calm—when he’s playing he looks like he’s watching a show, not playing one. When I went and saw’ em a lot it was Jordan Carlson on drums and Andy Mark on bass. When I was really working with Dessa, Andy was the sub for Heiruspecs gigs—he’s just such a great bass player, an absolute natural. That’s not to say the man didn’t work on his craft, but at this point he just exudes this straight-up fucking mastery. Him playing with that group at Exodus, with the huge bass amp that stayed there? It was just massive. 

And this was the first place I really saw what could be done with a drum pad next to the drummer. Sure, I’d seen drum pads next to a kit, but I hadn’t seen them stuffed with amazing low tones, and claps, and washed out effects. Unbelievable. And this weekly was where suddenly this reggae fan found a little bit of that dancehall. I hadn’t gone hard for dancehall, but here I was falling in love with it. What a treat. This weekly had another magical thing: Every set served a different crew. If I recall the opening set caught late diners and folks who were just catching one drink. The middle set kind of split the difference: Everyone is there, taking it in, enjoying the scene and maybe moving. The final set: All dancehall,, lots of dancing, lots of energy. Legendary.

Joto (Mint Condition playing Latin-tinged jazz with Wallace Hill) 
Babalu 
2006?-2008? Wednesdays?

Mint Condition (RIP) and their individual members are an underappreciated part of the Minnesota music scene. Is a big part of this racism? Absolutely! We have a gold-selling R&B band that hails from St. Paul and is revered the world over for their live performances and songcraft. And besides a cover story (legit work from Peter Scholtes) I bet they were mentioned in City Pages 1/2 to 2/3 as often as many bands with vastly smaller fanbases and national profiles. Even to this day Stokley shows up on records with the likes of Robert Glasper, Nate Smith, and other rising stars in the world of forward-thinking Black music without getting the love he should be from local media. 

And there are plenty of opportunities to celebrate, because the players of Mint Condition have stayed quite involved in the local scene beyond their primary projects. DeVon from Heiruspecs brought me down to see Joto sometime in the 2000s and what I witnessed was just inspired. These weren’t R&B guys dabbling in jazz with a conga thrown in for some Latin flavor. No, these were bona fide masters of Latin jazz stretching out and going for broke. These sessions were so powerful. This band was a powerhouse and the scene was beautiful. Mint Condition and surrounding scenes: perhaps the most attractive fans in the Twin Cities. Nicely tailored suits, folks dressed like it’s a Friday on a Wednesday, some just beautiful human beings taking in this music. Also, people would dance to these jazz performances. Even when the songs would rhumba right into the ten-minute mark, committed dancers would still be moving it. Unbelievable. 

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