Charlie Parr at Hell's Kitchen, 1/29/11
When Hell's Kitchen moved its location into the garden-level space formerly occupied by Rossi's a couple years ago, it not only gained more room for tables and booths as well as a new dinner menu, but also found itself with ample space to accommodate more live music on a generously-sized stage, with plenty of room for fans to stand (or dance, as Charlie Parr fans are wont to do) amidst the seated diners. On Saturday night, we checked out the (no longer very new) digs, and took in a performance by Parr.
Jeff Mitchell opened the night's performance with his unique brand of one-man, plucky electro-folk music. At his feet a whole mess of pedals, one moment his music seemed the kind happy-go-lucky enough to be featured on a hybrid car commercial, an attractive late-20-something couple, brown-haired both, smiling as their cute little 50 m.p.g. vehicle smooths up and down gently rolling hills.
But the next moment, Mitchell's a little more introspective, though not too deeply so. More of a "...huh!" sort of introspection, just introspective enough to be featured not just in a Prius commercial but in the first third of a Zach Braff movie, the part where his character just starts to explore his really benign inner demons, and sits around and goes "...huh!" a lot. The commercial possibilities seem to me so great.
Just then, Mitchell ventures into far more intense, screamy waters, bordering on Wreckless Eric's one-man punk territory. Whoa, Zach Braff don't play like that, homey (that seems like something Zach Braff would say, don'it?). By the end of his set, he's as trippy as the Ralph Steadman prints adorning Hell's Kitchen's walls. Zach Braff would be way not into that, unless it was, you know, some scene wherein Zach and his way-outta-his-league leading lady tried hallucinogens for the first time.
Fresh back from a West Coast tour with Low and nearly a month of dates in Australia, it was almost an honor to see Charlie Parr in this intimate setting. Parr seems to me likely the best Minnesota original of the last decade, playing in what is often an underappreciated genre. Underappreciated? Don't tell that to the crew of hoop 'n hollerers dancing up front, seemingly plucked from his usual crowd at a venue like the 331 and following him here Saturday night in their flannels and more flannels and occasional dreadlocks - you know, that nu-bluegrass look. I think they call it roots music, as such.
Parr's music, it just rolls. It's got that rolling feeling, not the rhythmic train feel sometimes characteristic of the genre, but a gentle, yet consistently intentional roll. And that to me is what makes Parr's music so exceptional. It feels warm, like your face above a big bowl of hot potato soup or a big warm pillow you hug in close to your chest.
With a five dollar cover and a whole mess of food and drink specials, plus an ambience not seen in other local venues, Hell's Kitchen proved a hit Saturday night. Check out their live entertainment Tuesday-Sunday, including music during weekend brunch.
Critic's bias: Love the music, but can't help but make fun of the dancing. Sorry, dancers.
The crowd: As mentioned, nu-bluegrass hoop 'n hollerers, plus an abundance of more sedentary downtown types seated at booths and tables.
Random notebook dump: Best bathroom in town, hands down.