Har Mar Superstar returns to the Turf Club, 5/4/13
Har Mar Superstar
Turf Club, St. Paul
Saturday, May 4, 2013
Sean Tillman may not live in Minnesota anymore, but he still knows it's important to dress in layers.
Tillman's sex-symbol-by-fiat alter ego Har Mar Superstar took the Turf Club stage after midnight draped in a black hood and some sort of matching African-print mumu deal, under which he wore a lightweight suit and, we later learned, a black sleeveless t-shirt. When he left more than an hour later, he was shirtless, his proud girth glistening in the stage lights.
And yet, in a defiant act of artistic maturity, he left his pants on.
"I'm a fucking grown-ass man," he announced to the sold-out crowd, explaining his shockingly non-shocking refusal to drop trou. If he really wanted to be outrageous, he continued, he would perform an act which seemed to involve a butterfly impregnating a woman. (I didn't quite catch the details over the crowd noise, but I'm fairly certain it didn't happen at the Turf Saturday night. At least not onstage.)
At 35, Tillman may have decided to downplay, ever so slightly, the shtickier side of Har Mar Superstar. His latest album, Bye Bye 17, is ideal for anyone who thinks Tillman is a smart guy with a great set of pipes but occasionally wishes the way he channels his affection for R&B's more absurdly freaky tendencies was less cartoonish. It's a retro-soul affair kind of in the mode that Daptone Records has popularized, and he relied heavily on this recent material Saturday night. Or as he put it with customary hyperbole, "We're going to destroy your mind with some new shit."
So yeah, Har Mar's comic self-aggrandizement is still in full effect, as are his wry pottymouth asides (of the bouncy new Motown-inspired "Restless Leg," he said, "It's about my dick") and ridiculous dance stylings -- he was upside down by the end of "We Don't Sleep," his final song before the encore. And in fact, though the new stuff is something of a departure, older Har Mar material like "Power Lunch" and "Tallboy" seemed to emerge from the same groove.
Still, could we expect "Don't Make Me Hit You," which expresses squeamish disinterest in "all that kinky stuff" from the old Har Mar? And the new single, "Lady, You Shot Me," was every bit the showstopper the recorded version suggests it'd be, with Tillman singing the hell out of it. My only complaint is that it came too early in the set (it really feels like something that should be built up to) and calls for some more physical drama -- something like a drop to the knees, or some similar old-time soul revue moves.
The idiosyncratic horn arrangements that go a long way toward making Bye Bye 17 a success, emerging from backing tracks, were a little drowned out by Har Mar's three-piece band. But the group, anchored by the Steve Cropper-type guitar of Jeff "Catfish" Quinn (whose band Baby Boys was among the openers), was sharp enough to pick up that slack.