Rock the Garden Concert Review

Last Friday night found the Carlsons planning on how best to make our way to the Walker Art Center for The Current’s Rock the Garden event. The event organizers had advised attendees not to drive, but to find alternative transportation. We opted to bus our way there. Unfortunately, any bus trip from our corner would be an hour long. Instead, we drove (shame on us) to Bryant and 38th and hopped on the 4 bus headed down Lyndale. We arrived at the Walker at about 3:45 and noticed that the line to get in was about 2 city blocks long and getting longer. Crestfallen, we were resigned to join the queue when I noticed that another gate was available and the line was significantly shorter. Victory!

When we were about to enter the gate, I turned around and saw our good friends Eric and Leah a little ways back in the same line. Seeing as how there were 7500 people at the show, it’s a wonder we found each other so quickly! Once inside, we also happened to find Darren and Rachel (who had arrived early enough to stake out a sweet, shady spot to sit).

From there, we grabbed some glasses of lemonade to take the edge off the scorching sun. We decided to sit on the grass slope to the west of the Walker building and south of the stage during the first act. Sunscreen was definitely a must and I’m glad we had put some on – the sun was relentless all afternoon!

Bon Iver took the stage promptly at 4:30pm. Justin Vernon was accompanied by two bandmates – one on drums and one on backup guitar. It was apparent from the first song of his set that the crowd were fans. I could hear people all around me singing along to the strains of each tune. The songs from Bon Iver’s stellar debut For Emma, Forever Ago were transplanted to the stage quite well, each acquiring new life through prolonged instrumental sections. It made the set feel that much more cathartic. I think cathartic is probably a word that’s used to describe Bon Iver’s music quite often. As the set finished to much applause, I again wondered where Bon Iver can go from this debut album. When an artist hits on such a winning record right away, the crushing weight of expectation can often take its toll on a sophomore effort. Hopefully Vernon has what it takes to write another set of “cathartic” songs in the future.

After Bon Iver concluded, the crowd took to milling again. Well, as much milling as can be accomplished in such a small space. The lines for the three concession stands began snaking uncontrollably and the two lemonade stands were mobbed. Becky and I decided to forgo dinner in favor of making a push towards the stage. Leah graciously offered to wait in line to get us lemonade refills while we did that. Having seen the second act once before, Becky and I knew the value of being able to see the stage well.

Cloud Cult emerged on stage and the crowd greeted the hometown heroes emphatically. Lead singer Craig Minowa was sporting a childish mask pushed up into his hair and the band was backed by two painters with canvases. The painters are part of the band and as the music played they created beautiful pictures that were auctioned off later with the proceeds going to charity. The bouncing opener of “No One Said It Would Be Easy” quickly set the precedent for the rest of the set as the band utilized electronic loops, strings, guitars and ensemble vocals. Cloud Cult’s stage show was definitely better than the other three bands. It’s great watching a band that truely has fun playing on stage. I hope I get to see them again soon. Minowa recently dropped some hints that this CC album may be the last. Let’s hope that his love of performing pushes him to keep going in some capacity.

After Cloud Cult, Becky and I decided that it was time to attempt to get some dinner at the Chipotle tent. Unfortunately, once we made it back to the line, we were informed that the line snaked circuitously through the crowd and it would probably be an hour before we were served. That news plus the crushing, sweaty crowd around us made us decide that now was actually a good time to get some air. So we stepped out of the concert area into the sculpture garden proper to sit down in the shade. After a few minutes of gathering ourselves and steeling our resolve, we again jumped into the bedlam and got in line at the hot dog stand instead of the Chipotle stand. It was still a 30 minute wait.

While in line, the third band began their set: The New Pornographers. I’m a fan of this band, but my favorite contributions come from Neko Case who, unfortunately, broke her leg on tour a couple weeks ago and was unable to join them for this show. Ringleader A.C. Newman ran the show and did a bang up job. The set list was dominated by songs from their newest album Challengers and could have used more from Twin Cinema in my opinion. After getting our dogs, we cut through the crowd and settled on the stage’s north side. From there we could hear quite well, but couldn’t see much except for the drummer. That was fine with me because The NP stage show was nothing compared to Cloud Cult’s. Incidentally, we watched Craig Minowa do his own roadie work during the set. He was crawling around under the stage and gear semi-trailer with his guitars and gear. I wanted to offer to help him carry stuff, but I thought he’d assume I wanted to steal it. The NP finished their set with a rocking cover of ELO‘s “Don’t Bring Me Down” that had the casual crowd singing along joyously.

After The NP’s set, we started feeling some sprinkles of rain. Undeterred, we decided to push back to our land marked spot in the crowd in front of the stage. Once there, we reconnected with Eric and Leah and were ready for the night’s final act.

Andrew Bird was introduced by Mary Lucia from The Current and described as “a snappy dresser” (to which many in the crowd responded “He’s hot!”). The gear that Bird had on stage included a lovely custom horn speaker and a spinning double horn speaker. Very cool! He opened the set with a lushly layered, looped violin piece. Bird’s knack for looping himself is incredible. He would loop his violin, then loop his guitar over that and top it off with loops of his signature whistling. Seriously, I cannot overstate how impressive Andrew Bird’s whistling is live. It just looks so effortless. Each song he played was ornamented with extras, spur of the moment riffs, solos and pauses that sent the fans in the audience into a tizzy. One fan near me was trying so hard to sing along to “A Nervous Tick Motion of the Head to the Left”, but was being thwarted repeatedly by Bird’s pauses and codas until he shouted out “C’mon! He’s messing with us!”

Minneapolis-based musician Martin Dosh was on hand to provide the drums and keys for the set. Unfortunately, it was apparent from the start that his monitors were not working properly and he was getting frustrated with the staff’s inability to fix it. It was about 3 songs into the set when his opportunity was provided from above. Dangerous cloud to ground lightening was seen nearby and the event staff was forced to clear the stage until it blew over. The sound guys remained and worked furiously on the monitors until they were satisfied. When the band reappeared and started playing, Dosh was much happier and the rest of the set seemed a lot more cohesive.

Together with Eric and Leah, we decided that we’d make our way to the back of the crowd for the last couple of songs to make exiting easier. Bird finished the night as he started it, with a lovely, layered violin instrumental and then gracefully left the stage.

Becky and I greatfully sat and waited for the bus (which was 20 minutes late). We arrived back home a little after 11pm. If I hadn’t been so tired, I would have plugged in my little looper pedal and clumsily tried to mimic the greatness of Craig Minowa or Andrew Bird. It’s probably better that I just went to bed.


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