Rosie Flores at Lee's Liquor Lounge, 11/17/11

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Photos by Nikki Miller
Rosie Flores
November 17, 2011
Lee's Liquor Lounge

Ever since Wanda Jackson swung through town last summer and made mention of her once home away from honky tonk home, the old Flame Supper Club on Nicollet in Minneapolis, I've thought on that long-gone place, on what it must've been like in that time and that place to see a little black-haired lady rippin' it up onstage in a skin-tight somethin'-or-another, a-growlin' and a-wailin' on her guitar in a time when birth control was not even legal for all women at all times. A time when women made even less on the dollar than a man, a time when women who were assaulted in public or in private were either marryin' the guy as punishment for them both - or she was simply askin' for it, a time when a woman's natural place was in the home and in the kitchen, not on the streets or on the stage.

I imagine this time and it's horrifying, which is why the idea of going back to that place and that time to see someone like Wanda Jackson play in her heyday and in her own "natural home" is just a little uncool when it comes down to it.

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And that's why it's so very cool to see someone like country and rockabilly icon Rosie Flores, who's adeptly adopted this old style, can play the hell out of a guitar, and can sing like every greasy-haired, pot-bellied Bill Haley character would have had full license to do once upon a time, without the weight of her gender, of a sexualization of her image or any scandal I imagine Wanda might have garnered from an audience in a place like Minnesota back in the 1950s, to follow.

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This word is already getting overused, but that's just it - it's just really cool. As I saw her perform at Lee's Thursday night, the little girl in me who always loved old rock and roll but only ever saw little rock and roll girls singing about boys and boys and lost innocence and boys, from the Chiffons to Debbie Gibson and beyond, thinks this is so cool.

So I think that deserves strong mention. I'd apologize for chalking this all up to such simple feminist sentiment, but fuck an apology for that. I see this performer and I feel real good and much relieved about women's often problematic, often troubled spot in musical history. Her songwriting, her self-assured style, her strong performing in a genre so long dominated by men, feels good. I want to line up a row of little schoolgirls in front of the stage and say, "See this? Find a role model like this."

Rosie Flores speaks to me. But I know I'm not the only one who feels good about this woman, and I'm sure that of all the people who've packed the swinging dance floor by her second song, everyone's got their own special reason for appreciating her so much.

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As for her Thursday night performance with local drummer Noah Levy on drums (and apologies to the bassist, who appeared to be having a rockin' good time, for not remembering his name; I used to work with Noah's wife so I recognized him right off, and holy crap can he play drums), Minneapolis's adopted son Brian Setzer deserves mention, as well. When the Stray Cats front man picked up a guitar and joined Rosie and company onstage, the performance went into fun overdrive. It was like if you've ever in all your time in Minnesota caught Prince joining a friend onstage unannounced, but way less weird. Just fun.

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Opening the show were locals the Reckless Ones. So I'd heard this band is real big outside the Twin Cities, but not in them. My first thought was that they're probably real, real rockabilly, and bring in a real, real rockabilly crowd, and maybe deter those who are (perhaps not justifiably so) rockabilly averse, and that justifies this alleged relative lack of interest locally. Word to the rockabilly averse (and those just not in-the-know): check these guys out. They won't scare you so bad that your hair begins to stand on end 'til it gradually adopts the form of a big beehive or a pomade pompadour (sounds like a John Waters plot-line). They play clean, driving rock and roll that digs down to the roots of the very form, nothing more, nothing less, and they do it very well and without the overt overabundance of throwback style I had anticipated.

The second band, Kansas City's Adam Lee & the Dead Horse Sound Co., was delightfully almost-sloppy, not the tight band you'd see folks trotting around to in an old style country club, but a band you'd see these old timers' drunker divorcee neighbors half dance, half fall down to at the cheaper bar across town. Singer Adam Lee has a slurry half-drunk sounding baritone that hearkens back to Wisconsin's own Dave Dudley, if only the band was playing songs about truck drivin' and not about drinkin', love lost, and more drinkin'.

Critic's bias: Someone left pomade grease on my pillow once, and ever since I've been a little rockabilly averse myself. I should remember my dear old grandpa used to use pomade, and just get over it.
The crowd: Spent a lot of time on their hair. But they looked good for it.
Overheard in the crowd: "That guy looks an awful lot like Brian Setzer out there in the audience. I dunno, it could be him." - Flores

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