Peter Wolf Crier and Retribution Gospel Choir at the Cedar, 02/03/11

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Photos by Stacy Schwartz
Peter Wolf Crier and Retribution Gospel Choir
February 2, 2011
Cedar Cultural Center

Things were so comfortable on stage for both Peter Wolf Crier and Retribution Gospel Choir on Thursday night at the Cedar that at one point Alan Sparhawk was giving Peter Pisano a neck message during PWC's set, and all of us fans in the audience were more than entertained by the affectionate display.

The whole  evening was the most wonderful of confluences, as two beloved Minnesota bands returned back home after an exhilarating tour together, road-tested but also weary; but more than anything they were delighted to be back in familiar territory playing to family and friends once again. And both groups brought the absolute best out of the other, as everyone felt challenged (as they surely did each and every night on tour) to be more bold, daring and experimental with their sound simply because they didn't want to be left in the dust by their cohorts, repeatedly pushing the sonic parameters of the Cedar's new sound system until something truly memorable happened.

Retribution Gospel Choir have never been a band that lets anyone get a rest, whether you're a fan or a hard-working member of the trio, steamrolling from one song to the next without a care if anyone is managing to keep up with you or not. Alan Sparhawk sets the frenetic, fiery pace that band and fan alike simply must follow, and on this night at the Cedar, the show started like an experimental sonic whirlwind, with Sparhawk's voice at first seeming a bit ragged from the road, causing him to simply focus more on his incendiary guitar work. The show started with an a cappella intro that featured Sparhawk only on vocals, before bassist Steve Garrington and drummer Eric Pollard kicked in behind him, effortlessly bridging that new track into a  lengthy intro to "Your Bird," which absolutely soared. Without missing a beat, RGC rolled right into a volatile version of "Breaker" that simply slayed, representing the loudest I've ever heard anyone play in the Cedar's intimate confines.

After such a radically reworked and exploratory start to the show, the band retreated a bit to their more "accessible" material, with a solid, galvanizing rendition of "Hide It Away" that only seemed to provide a forum for Sparhawk to solo away some more towards the end. As if any of us truly minded that. The dub-influence that has continually creeped into RGC's music of late (so much so that Sparhawk says the band has plans to record a bit together in that style) was ever-present on a long dubbed out intro to "Poor Man's Daughter" that the band revisited a bit as the song played out. They also spiraled off to play "White Wolf" before returning back to a "Daughter" reprise that brought the original number full circle. And while the intro clearly worked and brought new life into the song, the protracted coda which led into "White Wolf" was a bit wayward, with everyone soloing but not taking the song anywhere new.

And for the rest of their dynamic 40-minute set, RGC seemed to waver between a tendency to really explore and push the boundaries of their sound, and their more refined, focused early numbers like "They Knew You Well," "For Her Blood," and a lovely rendition of "Take Your Time," that lead seamlessly into the unhinged set closer "Electric Guitar." Sparhawk typically goes deep on this number, but it seemed that he and the rest of the band were a bit spent at this point due to the true explosiveness of the early part of their set, so the song labored a bit towards the end. But I can't imagine any RGC fan coming away from that breakneck set disappointed in any way.

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Photos by Stacy Schwartz
Peter Wolf Crier certainly must have felt that RGC really threw down the gauntlet during their set, because they came out on fire right from the start, not wanting the intense atmosphere of the evening to waver at all. Peter Pisano started the set with an impassioned new song (with a working title of "Calling") that he really lost himself in. It was a stunning start, and the band never really slowed down once. There was a lengthy intro that led into a spirited "Hard As Nails," that found Pisano getting up out of his chair occasionally, totally in step with Brian Moen's inventive drumming. Pisano introduced "Down Down Down" by telling us that the song takes place in a house in St. Paul where three people are trying to live together, and one didn't stick around and another  smoked a lot of cigarettes. It added some weight to an already heavy song.

Moen joked about how difficult it has been to follow a band as talented as RGC every night on tour, so Pisano claimed "If you can't beat 'em, start a fuckin' band with 'em" as both Garrington and Pollard joined them on a percussion-driven (obviously) rendition of "Untitled 101." It was a broader sound for the band, and after their guests left, Pisano and Moen seemed intent on replicating the sound of a quartet, as Pisano repeated looped his vocals and guitar (more so than usual, even) and Moen vigorously drove the songs forward. So "You're So High," "Demo 01," and "Crutch & Cane" all took on a rougher, fervent edge that added plenty of potency to the stirring songs.

"Lion" was exceptional, with Pisano introducing the song a bit confusingly, "If I was older than I was I would've been married a long time ago." It would have the highlight of my night if it wasn't for what happened at the end of the set. All three members of Retribution joined their tourmates (with Alan loosening Peter up with the aforementioned massage) for an absolutely stunning version of Nick Drake's "Place To Be" that simply floored everyone in the room. As Peter and Brian started to regrouped for the encore, (which Moen claimed "maybe more for us than for you. Thanks for sticking around), they both were laughing at the audacity of even trying to follow something so sensational. So while "In Response" could never match what came before, it was a nice, tranquil sendoff (and thank you) to a crowd that couldn't help but come away impressed by both bands.

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Photos by Stacy Schwartz
Critic's Bias: I have seen both of these groups a number of times over the last few years, but this was perhaps the best I've heard them sound.
The Crowd: A full room filled with fans of both bands. I can only hope that fans of only one of these bands coming in came away fans of the other as well after great sets by both.
Overheard In The Crowd: A girl telling Pollard, during RGC's only brief interaction with the crowd during their set, "Can you lay off your cymbal a little bit, it's all I can hear." Wow, the selfishness involved in that statement still makes me laugh.
Random Notebook Dump: If there was ever any doubt about how the relatively new sound system at the Cedar can hold up to high-voltage rock 'n' roll, it handled the overwhelming sound of RGC perfectly.

Retribution Gospel Choir's Setlist:
New Song (?)
Your Bird
Breaker
'68 Comeback
Hide It Away
Poor Man's Daughter/White Wolf/Poor Man's Daughter Reprise
They Knew You Well
Workin Hard
For Her Blood
Take Your Time
Electric Guitar

Peter Wolf Crier's Setlist:
Calling (New)
Hard As Nails
Down Down Down
Untitled 101 (with Steve Garrington and Eric Pollard of RGC)
For Now
You're So High
Demo 01
Crutch & Cane
Lion
Saturday Nights
Place To Be (Nick Drake) (With Retribution Gospel Choir)
In Response (Encore)

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1 comments
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gregseitz
gregseitz

Excellent review! You can count me in the camp of "fans of only one of these bands [RGC, in my case] coming in came away fans of the other as well after great sets by both."

I thought RGC killed it, though I wish they would have played a full set, and I enjoyed Peter Wolf Crier much more than when I saw them open for Dawes back in November.

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