I Saw 30 Concerts in 30 Days
From the most fledgling indie upstarts to the biggest pop stars, from the tiny Jazz Central to the gargantuan U.S. Bank Stadium, here's what I heard and where I heard it.
8:15 AM CDT on July 6, 2023
Sounds simple, right? Maybe even… fun? Every night in June, I would hit a different local venue and check out some music. Just a good old-fashioned piece of honest stunt journalism.
To some-a you youngsters, 30-in-30 might sound fairly routine, but even in my showgoingest twenties I never kept up that kind of streak. And I didn’t just want to duck in and out. Yes, I missed a few openers and a few encores, but the idea was, whenever possible, to make a night of it. The idea was to answer two questions, hopefully both in the affirmative. First, could I get my 53-year-old ass out of the house every night for a month? And second, does the Twin Cities offer enough live music seven days a week that you can always find something worth hearing?
My answer to both: More or less! As you’ll learn, there were some stumbles along the way. But I ventured ever forward, caught some great music, and visited some clubs I’d been meaning to visit for months or even years. I didn’t try to shoehorn my experience into an overarching narrative or strain to make any grand discovery about, you know, What Music Means. Instead, I just wrote down what I saw and heard, and now I offer you 30 snapshots of 30 nights of music. Apologies if I didn’t get to your club or see your band, or if I saw your band and didn’t have space to mention it. I am but one man. One rapidly aging man who is now going to settle in for the evening with a nice book, if you don’t mind.
June 1 - The White Squirrel Bar
We used to go out for pizza or ice cream after a game, but this uniformed little leaguer is watching Deep Fakes sing “about how AI is gonna ruin everything” on an early Friday evening. Two years into testing the proposition that a St. Paul neighborhood bar can be unsnootily hip, a place where anyone can wander in off the street and the bartender knows all the words to her favorite Loser Magnet songs, The White Squirrel celebrates its anniversary with a lineup that could drag the most provincial Minneapolitan to the other side of the river. The stylish Crush Scene evokes the ’60s with prickly guitar leads; resembling the crew of an interstellar cargo transport, the fellas in Unattractive Giant Monster sing about appropriate topics like C.H.U.D. And after weekly Squirrel mainstays Trevor McSpadden and Mary Cutrufello fire up the room with a rockin’ country set, Cutrufello tells us, “We do this every Tuesday,” bragging whether she means to or not.
June 2 - Cedar Cultural Center
The space in front of The Cedar stage is as vacant as a high school dancefloor before someone spikes the punch. Accompanied by a pal in a dashing red sportcoat whose onstage purpose is unclear, opener Bashir Jaawi strives to coax the Somali girls out of their seats. And as each song starts, one brave kid or another does try to yank her friends away from the safety of their folding chairs, at best succeeding for a song at a time—when the music stops, they all slink shyly back. Then headliner Nimcaan Hilaac arrives, in just his second U.S. show, and that’s a whole ‘nother story—the girls, their self-consciousness lost in numbers, crowd at the front of the stage. A few boys linger not far behind, and even the few adults along the periphery are enjoying the music rather than chaperoning.
June 3 - The Armory
It’s charming how Mike Hadras sings with such elaborately stylized grandeur, then speaks in a small, boyish voice between songs. Still, consensus in my group regarding Perfume Genius’s set (mixed between fans, neutrals, and non-fans), is that Hadras hasn’t quite won over the thousands in The Armory here to see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. (I covered the main event pretty thoroughly here) We are also unanimous in being freaked out by how ostentatiously bottle service is delivered in the upper VIP areas here: A crew bedecked in garish neon parades out an oversized also-neon display as the very important personages receive their pricey intoxicant. I believe I have had actual nightmares like this, and personally I would pay extra not to have this happen to me.
June 4 - Bunker’s Music Bar & Grill
There’s maybe no other place like Bunker’s in Minneapolis: a working-class bar on the edge of the hoity North Loop with a clientele that isn’t “diverse” but truly integrated. And every Sunday night, for $10 (cash only) you can watch a band of R&B pros, anchored by Prince’s childhood friend Sonny Thompson on bass, nail an impeccable setlist spiked with artists you call by one name: Aretha’s “Daydreaming,” Michael’s “Remember the Time,” Stevie’s “All I Do.” That’s Dr. Mambo’s Combo, and they also play plenty of music by the guy who’s androgynous icon adorns several patrons’ clothes; tonight that includes “Standing at the Altar” (from the 1994 1-800 New Funk compilation, and, yes, I sure as hell did have to look that up). There’s so much going on I almost forgot to mention that tonight, Ray Brown Jr., Ella Fitzgerald’s adopted son, has stopped by after a Crooners gig to belt “In the Midnight Hour.”
June 5 - Icehouse
“This is the last song of the night” Sophia Kickhofel says before correcting herself and adding, “Our last song,” which she finds infectiously hilarious. After all, we’ve got a whole set to come from Atlantis Quartet, a local jazz supergroup of saxophonist Brandon Wozniak, guitarist Zacc Harris, bassist Chris Bates, and drummer Pete Hennig. Every month, the Whittier venue hands over Monday night booking duties (sorry, curating duties) to a local musical improviser who plans out their residency. I’ve been meaning to pop in one of these nights out for years, but, you know… Monday night. So this month I made it, and Kickhofel, a young local virtuoso who’s currently studying at Juilliard, is in charge. And her playing is astounding, whether she does a Wayne Shorter number in tribute to the recently deceased giant or a composition influenced by Charles Lloyd that she wrote two days ago. (It’s called “June 3.”)
June 6 - 331 Club
The members of Dilly Dally Alley are engaged in last-minute discussions about arrangements on the 331 patio—such is the life of a six-piece with two horns. The band’s been entrusted with this month’s Tuesday night residency at the 331, and inside, their chosen opener has a message for us: “We’re Amateur Hour and we suck.” (They don’t—that’s just part of their neo-alt-rock steez, and they’ve got riffs to match that self-deprecation.) When DDA perform, the arrangements have worked out great, but that doesn’t mean I’m not pleased when Sophia Spiegel plays a solo guitar and vocal showcase, complete with fingerpicking. “There are many love languages,” she muses afterward. “One of which is legal tender.” And so the tip jar makes the rounds.
June 7 - 7th St Entry
“The next one is about staying alive!” SYM1 announces in an unnaturally chipper voice. Even chipper-er: “And how hard it is!” The clump of admirers on the floor is treated to a full pop extravaganza as the singer, adorably decadent in her dommy black leather and fishnets, dances and vogues as though compelled by a demonic operating system. The rest of the night belongs to two moody, new-wavey duos: CD Ghost enshroud themselves with fog, and headliners Korine add occasional bass to their synths. The beats from unidentifiable Prince songs emanate through the walls as the Mainroom celebrates his birthday, while the artists on stage here remind us that First Ave wouldn’t mean near as much as it does without this dumpy little appendix.
June 8 - Dakota
Whenever MMYYKK issues the instruction “Somebody say ‘love,’” every somebody in the room says it, including one little girl who always chimes in enthusiastically just a fraction after the rest of us. MMYYKK (pronounced Mike—how else would you say it?) settles in behind the keys to provide a sensual evening accompanied by a bit of a political kick, introducing Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” with a James Baldwin quote. There’s dancing between the tables; two women near me are commiserating over one’s recent breakup. Powerhouse drummer Arthur “LA” Buckner’s playing somehow bristles with energy even when he’s quietly scraping his cymbals. And when MMYYKK sings about “the softness of your skin against my… ooh-ooh-ooh,” or Omar Abdulkarim coaxes something sweet from his flugelhorn—well, sometimes you don’t need words.
Also June 8 - Uptown Theater
This private party doesn’t exactly count as a show, or even a “night out” really, but I’m banking it against any unfortunate scheduling problems later in the month. (Foreshadowing!) Outside, I see Minneapolis City Council Member Michael Rainville, presumably waiting for the valet to bring his car. (I forwent such fanciness and parked the Civic a block away.) Inside, I see sofas that will presumably be placed in storage before Prof plays in a few weeks. The crowd is a mix of local music elders, Live Nation employees, and media advertising reps who pay suitable attention to the indie quietude of Miloe. When the Mood Swings play, someone says “that’s She’s Burgers’ mother” of Ashley Ackerson. The remodel does feel a bit sterile, lacking architectural or decorative nods to the building’s past. Maybe after someone spills a cheap beer or two in this joint it’ll feel more inviting.
June 9 - Jazz Central Studios
About 30 of us—some retirement age, some collegiate—are sitting on folding chairs in a Central Avenue basement as unflashy in its way as any punk house. (A few styrofoam cups of bad coffee and you could call this a Jazz Anonymous meeting.) Dreadlocked and casually dressed, Dayna Stephens (not the Slate critic) leads three backing musicians through an engaging set, rotating between alto and soprano and even an electronic wind instrument (aka EWI), which achieves peculiar, phased textures as he runs it through an array of guitar pedals. When the night ends with a tribute to Wayne Shorter that features some of Stephens’s most expansive playing, we’re told there’s a second set if we’d like to stick around. Not a bad idea. But if you choose to tromp up the stairs there’s a whole gorgeous Friday summer night ahead of you.
June 10 - Uptown VFW
“We’re Code 13 from the 20th century!” After a long, jazz-filled week, isn’t it nice to relax with a frantic Sunday afternoon of hardcore? The reunited elders of Code 13, who knew cops were worth hating before most other white people caught on, still thrash plenty, and they’re as true as ever to their beliefs. When Felix Havoc preaches “It’s about hardcore for the kids and not the fucking system” there’s something about the unflagging earnestness of these ’90s veterans that contrasts tellings with a current band like Giallo, who’d preceded them onstage. Singer Jake VanKempen had hobbled out with crutches and a knee brace and thanked the other bands in a reasonable voice. Then the frenzy kicked in behind him, he flung one crutch halfway across the room, dropped the other, and stalked the stage hunched over. When their 15-minute set ended, VanKempen grabbed his remaining crutch and was hobbling once more. I may never know if the guy was injured or not.
June 11 - Crooners Supper Club
The idea of Randy Newman as dinner music for suburban couples enjoying a Sunday night out gave me such an exquisite case of anticipatory indigestion that I perversely had to experience it. And when singer Prudence Johnson and pianist Dan Chouinard lead with “Dayton, Ohio-1903,” a song whose sentimentality you could take so straight Newman adapted it for a 1987 NutraSweet commercial, the reflux is real. But with sharp arrangements utilizing Michelle Kinney on cello and Joe Savage on pedal steel, the duo navigates the treacherous shoals of Newman’s unpindownable irony while indulging in very little cabaret cutesiness, even straying into his later material. It doesn’t always work, but it works better than you’d expect. Better than I would anyway.
June 12 - The Fillmore
Bebe Rexha has some big fans. They blow her feathered fair back as she stalks around onstage. But seriously, folks... When Rexha announces “This song is for the gals and gays,” someone shouts back, “That’s all of us.” When she pulls a few songs out for her “old school Rexhars,” the energy level drops noticeably. But when she kicks into “Meant to Be,” she extracts karaoke dramatics from even the meekest showgoers. And when she follows that with “I'm Good (Blue),” her revamp of Eiffel 65’s goofy pop-dance hit, I can almost believe that everyone around me is having the best fuckin’ night of their lives, just like they’re singing. (At least no phones were flung this night.)
June 13 - Turf Club
James McMurtry’s eyes are as dry and unyielding as his voice, eerily focusing on you alone as he sings, no friend to a guilty conscience. I can’t guarantee that the guy doesn’t blink—when I watched long enough to see if he did, I gave up as his lids closed to underline an evocative lyrical moment. The (mostly) fellas here seem (mostly) more settled than the (mostly) fellas McMurtry sings about, and among his songs of sympathetic and peripheral Americana, the highlight turns out to be the long verse-verse-verse-verse-verse “Choctaw Bingo,” which rides the tune of “You Can’t Catch Me” (careful there, bud) for what must’ve been close to 10 minutes. There’s a shouted request, and the singer shuts down future overenthusiastic outbursts with practiced wit: “Some of you know what you wanna hear, and none of you know what you’re gonna hear.”
June 14 - Mortimer’s
I am nobody’s #rememberthe90s nostalgic, but any visit to the northwest edge of Whittier involuntarily takes me back to when I moved into my first Minneapolis apartment at 22nd & Pleasant in 1997. The area’s unrecognizable now (when housing replaces businesses and cultural spaces, what’s the end goal of density?) and though I haven’t been to the Red Dragon in years, if it shuts down I’m moving to St. Paul. But live music at Mort’s is an improvement to the area, and my ’90s reverie resumes as I step into the back bar. Anyone sentient during the Clinton Administration would feel comfortable with Surly Grrly, with the Sabbathy sludge of their opening song or with covers like the White Stripes’ “I Smell a Rat” and Nirvana’s “Breed.” But today’s rockers have to deal with shit we never had to in those simpler times, so Medbh McNamara has something to clear up before she takes off her shoes. “Some dude posted about my feet on Reddit,” the singer complains. “So please don’t. Or at least pay me.”
June 15 - Aster Cafe
“Tell us!” a table of friends and fans shouts at Alicia Thao, who has introduced her new song “Curious” by saying “There’s a certain person who inspired it but it’s not really about them.” There are intimate venues, and then there’s the Aster, the St. Anthony Main joint where the balance of power between performer and audience is always up for grabs; though diners can hardly ignore the mic’d and amped folks on stage, they can talk louder. But with a dozen or so attendees and a modicum of stage presence an artist can hold the room, and Thao sure has that many and that much. She’s a fine lyricist, with some songs adapted from childhood and others “finished an hour or two ago,” as well as a very pretty composition that she sings in Hmong, after apologizing that she’s not fluent. But no, additional details are not forthcoming about who inspired “Curious,” no matter how insistent Thao’s fans are.
June 16 - The Loft
Nobody on this elevator knows which floor in the Skyway Theatre complex we’re headed to (I’m not even convinced this rickety thing will get us wherever that is) but a little uncertainty doesn’t faze the guy next to me, who has an X on his hand because the person working the door saw that his driver’s license was marked with an interlock requirement. “Go with the flow!” he declares as that flow leads us out into The Loft, which is like someone’s built a basement on the fifth floor of a downtown Minneapolis building, with fine views of First Ave and a billboard advertising North Dakota getaways. The rooftop is the sort of scrungy spot that your lease explicitly forbids you to access; the party inside bounds boisterously from DJ to DJ in anticipation of electronic duo Bonnie X Clyde. I saw Forrest Gump in this building when it was still a movie theater.
June 17 - The Treasury/Caydence Records
Payne Ave Fest isn’t quite a street fair. There are two concentrated performance spots about a block from each other on the East Side thoroughfare, and you can hear the heavier rock spilling out of Caydence Records, while the indie acts are tucked away down in The Treasury, the all-ages space in the basement of the Old Swedish Bank. In the latter space, Dad Bod introduce Coldplay’s “Yellow” by saying “We made this song our bitch.” Soon after, Lydia Liza, who hasn’t been performing much lately, takes the stage with a pent up need to be seen and heard—her set will close with what’s essentially a bravura karaoke version of “My Way.” A friend’s young son joins her onstage, sometimes dancing a little, mostly just vibing, as Lydia provides introductions like, “This song is about constantly finding myself in abusive relationships and wondering, ‘Hmm, what exactly is the common denominator here?’”
June 18 - Palmer’s Bar
The Muslim call to prayer fills Cedar-Riverside on an early Sunday evening, and inside a nearby dive another sort of ritual unfolds, dubbed the Church of Cornbread by its officiant. “Can you hear this fellow blow?” Cornbread Harris asks after his trombonist lets loose on a coda. “He threw me off-kilter there.” It seems insufficient to call Harris an institution—at 96, who isn’t an institution?—and more fitting to call him an indefatigable working musician. Each week at this hour you can stroll for free off Cedar Avenue into this neighborhood bar, where he and his accomplices, tucked back near the dart boards in the narrow joint, romp through standards that even your uncultured ass will recognize: “Pennies From Heaven,” “Night Train,” or “Enjoy Yourself,” which today has its chorus changed to “Happy Father’s Day to you” in honor of the holiday.
June 19 - Fine Line
Twenty-three years later, Roni Size’s “Ghetto Celebrity” still goes hard, with Method Man declaring “Back like Erin Brockovich/You know that means apocalypse” over the British producer’s aggressive breakbeats and somehow making it signify. A cig between his lips, jungle fan Julian Green, aka ech0astral, is working the crowd from the stage, looking as proud as he should about Carbon Sound celebrating its second anniversary. I’ve already caught a set of vibrant positivity from Fanaka Nation, the night’s sole MC, and nodded, impressed, at DJ McShellen, whose set proceeded from “Knuck if You Buck” to “My Humps” with no noticeable crowd resistance.
June 20 - Palace Theatre
I hate to make sweeping generalizations about a band’s audience, but if you had any pressing lawn care queries I bet someone at this My Morning Jacket show would be glad to chime in with some advice. One nice thing about this challenge is that it’s led me to see bands whose albums I’ve never really had any serious issues with but who are far enough outside my interests that I’ve never seen them live. Still, southern rock minus the blues isn’t exactly my spoonful of jam, no matter how adequately honed a band’s twin-guitar attack, though that seems too violent a word for these overall mellow fellows.
June 21 - Green Room
A funny thing happened on my way to the Green Room. I heard rapping. Out on the street. Amplified. With a slight detour I located a mobile karaoke/open mic popup where a small crowd had gathered, including a little girl sitting right up front in an only slightly damaged lawn chair. Meanwhile, inside the spacious, newish club, once the much-mourned (by someone, I’m sure?) Pourhouse, Time Room is making small talk (“How about that submarine?”) between bouts of over gnarled, grungy riffs and taut rhythms. When I leave, the line of cars for the McDonald’s drive-thru is snaking past the popup. Uptown is back? It might be, if whoever’s living in these prefab apartments got outside more.
June 22 - Underground Music Cafe
Somewhere beneath the tangle of I-394 overpasses, a short hike from Washington Avenue or the Metro Transit garages, is a spot I could absolutely not locate on a map. But once I’m informed that this building used to be Tropix, famously advertised on KDWB as the spot where it was “18 TO PARTY, 21 TO DRINK,” I know exactly where I am. On stage, Anita Velveeta introduces “TERFs Will Not Get Into Heaven” by noting a certain Twitter owner’s belief that cis is a slur and adding, “I wish there was a slur for cis people.” Her clamorous reinvention of alt-rock inspires some enthusiastic but respectful moshing; then she goes on to discuss a formative experience in a psych ward as a teen with White Chicks as the only entertainment option
June 23 - Amsterdam Bar & Hall
CupcakKe tells us that she did not have high hopes for a St. Paul crowd. “I was so scared, you guys,” the Chicago rapper says, recalling the moment when her plane landed at MSP International. “I was like, this is in the middle of nowhere.” The set, though on the short side, is every bit as filthy as I’d hoped for, beginning with personal fave “Squidward Nose,” ending with “CPR” (“I got three holes for it like a pretzel”), and firing up an already Pride-amped (and gloriously attired) crowd. CupcakKe tells us that her mother is backstage, that this is her first CupcakKe show, and that she was worried it would be too raw. Said mom in response, according to CupcakKe: “Elizabeth, where the fuck do you think you came from?”
June 24 - U.S. Bank Stadium
Yes, this is the big one. The pavilion in front of our imposing glass monolith isn’t nearly as overrun with unticketed Swifites as the venue’s masters feared beforehand. Still the mood is unlike anything I’ve encountered at a stadium show. (The full review, in case you missed it, is here.) You can’t walk ten feet without stumbling into someone’s photo, and the shirts! My two favorites had Jake Gyllenhaal’s face X’d out and “99 Problems” with a champagne bottle in between. Most true fans opt for the official merch, but several “unofficial” vendors nearby are offering pink cowboy hats. One tells he gets them for $10 and sells them for $20, and he’s already sold 70 by 5:30. “But I got travel expenses and all that,” he explains, as though I would dare knock his hustle. Hell, a few dozen more hat sales and he’d have enough for a Taylor Swift ticket.
June 25 - KJ’s Hideaway
What’s there to do on a Sunday night in St. Paul? I suppose I could ask the half-dozen people I pass on the street on my way to KJ’s Hideaway, which once was the Vieux Carré, which was before that the Artists’ Quarter. That’s where Dante Leyva and Ruby Blu host the freewheeling Crosstown Jam, which isn’t quite live-band karaoke because instrumentalists are welcome to guest as well as vocalists, but it sure is loose. You can sign up on a white dry erase board, and by “you” I mean anyone: There’s a long, open-ended blues that gives a guitarist space to sprawl, and at one point what appears to be a wedding party gets up to sing. “Chaotic and delicious, just how we like it,” says Leyva after one jam. “Now we're gonna land this plane in the Hudson River.”
June 26-27 - I tried, I swear
OK, here’s where I hit that lil snag I mentioned earlier. Monday night I showed up at Pilllar Forum Cafe in northeast Minneapolis with expectations of seeing a passel of hardcore bands. But the place was locked up tight, and from within no raging could be heard. When I looked at the Pilllar website the show listing I’d sworn I’d seen earlier was no more. Nor was it in Racket’s listings. Did I get the night wrong? Did I imagine the listing entirely? Is my brain melting from all these nights on the town? Good thing I went to that Uptown Theater opening, huh?
While that flub was maybe excusable, what happened the following night is on me. A friend was in town and I lingered too long at Legendary Spice in Dinkytown, missing my planned excursion for the night. After an incredible bout of guilt, I let myself off the hook. After all, it’s not my fault there wasn’t more going on Tuesday night. And I’ll have to add one more day. Fair enough, right?
June 28 - First Avenue
There’s a shout of amused approval when Karly Hartzman congratulates us on the once-a-week achievement of seeing her band, Wednesday, on a Wednesday. “That’s the most excitement I’ve seen all night,” she jokes. “I’m starting to think some of you showed up just for the coincidence.” Hartzman had earlier promised that her buzzy Asheville, North Carolina band was “gonna play some country music” before they hammered their way through Gary Stewart’s “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles).” Later, Hartzman played a solo song as “a special request from guitarist Jake Lenderman, who has to pee.” “Do you need to pee now, Karly?” Lenderman asked drily when he returned. There are few musical experiences quite like a well-attended but not sold-out First Ave show. That latter part is crucial—a little bit of elbow room goes a long way in that joint, and a few hundred bodies can make a difference between bliss and crankitude.
June 29 - Eagles #34
Atomic Lights are the odd men out on this metal bill, and they know it. Singer and guitarist Chris Watson acknowledges the trio’s unmetalitude: “We don’t have the blast beats. We don’t have enough gear. I can’t write a song longer than two minutes long.” He’s wearing a “HELP I’M A BUCKET” T-shirt and says he and his two fellow punks wanted to play “a real metal classic in honor of the occasion.” “Is it a sacrilege?” he wonders before they race through Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me” at a pace that would make Bret Michaels dizzy. Out in the bar area, it’s karaoke night, as it often is at The Eagles, and a drunken patron can barely slur his way through George Strait. Moments later, though, another singer’s Mexican-accented version of Adele’s “All I Ask” kinda breaks my heart for a moment, his incomplete yearning to make his voice as beautiful as the melody deserves matching the lyrics’ own aching toward unfulfilled desire.
June 30 - Pilllar Forum Cafe
The older I get, the more I suspect that one thing I like about every young indie rock band I see is that they exist. (Christ, this exercise must really be taking its toll if I’m getting this emo.) As I watch Lana Leone’s bassist (he’s one of two Brandons in the rhythm section) lug a bass amp to his car, I think yet again how there are much easier ways to express yourself, kill time, make friends, get laid, whatever your goal is. Good thing these kids playing at the skate-oriented coffee shop tonight aren’t old enough to know better. Lana Leone is a band not a person and Emma Jeanne is a person not a band; the first a smidge on the dreamy side, the latter on the clangy side. I dug ’em both.
July 1 - Hook & Ladder
Annie & the Bang Bang are presented to us “without further ado” by the evening’s host, but Annie Enneking interjects that due to some electrical issues “actually there will be a little bit of ado.” [Note to self: Good place for Oklahoma! joke?] The band overcomes these difficulties for a set of winning boogie-rock, then cedes the stage to the Flamin’ Oh's, who after close to a half-century of power pop are still at it, though they rock so brisk and supplely you wouldn’t even think to use a phrase like “they’re still at it” while they're playing. You know, maybe it’s just the long summer nights and the power of rock and roll talking, but as I bike home I start to think this exercise hasn’t worn me out at all. In fact, I’m more excited about going out to see live music than ever.
Haha, I’m lying, of course. I’m never leaving my house again.
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