Summit Backyard Bash with Secret Stash Revue and Haley Bonar, 9/7/13
There's a hell of a lot of good beer to drink in this state. Minnesotans love beer almost as much as we love our underachieving sports teams and musical heroes. As the number-two brewery in this land of sky blue waters, Summit looms large in the recent craft-beer boom our cities have been experiencing, cranking out 120,000 barrels a year and recently finishing an expansion that will double that amount.
Despite all that growth, Summit has retained a thoroughly populist sensibility. Mostly staying out of the high-gravity arms race present in the microbrewery scene, Summit has focused on accessible and reliable flavors with a broad appeal, and that's reflected in the brewery's annual music festival. Featuring a wide sampling of local musical talent, this year's Backyard Bash contained a few bold choices in beer and music, but mostly kept things professional and palatable.
With a rootsy, down-home kickoff from Charlie Parr and a bit of logistical shuffling, the 2013 Backyard Bash had a much more outdoors-y feel, compared to last year's massive tent enclosure. Taking full advantage of the brewery's picturesque prairie location near the St. Paul side of the Mississippi, the festival had a wide, sprawling feel with comfortable amounts of elbow room for sipping. Setting up the stage at the far end of a field, directly in the face of the blazing sunlight, might have cooked some of the talent, but it did allow more fair-weather patrons to bask in the lengthening shade of Summit's massive brew-tank building.
Night Moves was on next, and they marked the first of the festival's stabs at a younger audience, relegated to an earlier slot. Despite my personal fondness for the band's swooning, country-tinged psychedelia, the three serious young men had a bit of a struggle to win over the early crowd. Some of the issues stemmed from a personnel shortage, as Night Moves preformed over canned drum tracks in a three-piece style that they occasionally revert to. The quantized beats aren't a flattering look for a band that normally does a great job of wringing engaging drama from swirling, dynamic builds and restrained breakdowns.
More than any personal shortcomings though, Night Moves suffered from a problem of setting. Watching this particular band at 1 in the afternoon under the glaring midwest sun is equivalent to trying to enjoy candles and chilled champagne at a picnic. Micky Alfano's sultry croon and come-hither eyes had lost none of their charm, but merely seemed out of place.
Lizzo and Lazerbeak marked an even more adventurous choice from the festival's talent buyers, allowing the Houston transplant a chance to showcase the entirety of her new LIZZOBANGERS project, produced by Doomtree's resident beatsmith. While she's been in town just a little over a year now, Lizzo is hungry and hustles harder than the average diva around these parts, earning her a well-deserved buzz from Backyard Bash sponsors the Current. LIZZOBANGERS is her chance to cement her status as TC's new Queen Bee, drawing from the increased gravitas and musical skill of a more experienced producer, and damned if the results weren't impressive.
Her playful flow mixed some of Missy Elliot's unique cadences with a toughness bred from the trill rap Houston is famous for, losing none of that sound's danceability in the process. There's no doubt that 'Beak laced her up some quality beats as well, showing his range and versatility by updating his signature, punky "lavabanger" style with a bit of contemporary Southern flair.
The best by far were the tracks she jokingly refered to as "deep cuts," where she got down to some real and confrontational lyrical content. "I'm not your hook singer, I'm your feature" and other incisive lines seemed aimed squarely at her detractors and doubters within the local scene, and the fiery sentiments made for a nice contrast with the party-oriented material she's popularized in the Chalice. The MC also featured a few of her fellow crew members in the newly minted GRRRL PRTY group for a couple of songs near the end of the set. Sort of like a refreshingly tougher, more rhyme-focused update of the Chalice's standard themes of female badassery, the trio works because of the fantastic chemistry between Lizzo and her smoother-flowed bff Sophia Eris, but La Manchita's loopy fierceness adds a welcome element.
After the melting temperatures in front of the stage for Lizzobangers, most of the crowd retired to the shade for the jazzy stylings of the New Standards. Formed on something of a lark by local musicians with a strong pedigree in groups like Semisonic and the Suburbs, the New Standards reinterpret modern pop with a '50s-and-'60s lounge-jazz flavor. The results were a mixed bag, with songs like Britney Spears's "Toxic" proving completely unsalvageable, even through layers of irony, while a surprisingly earnest cover of the 'Mats "Androgynous" rang true. Perhaps it's because singer/pianist Chan Poling was around for those '80s glory days, but the cover felt like a welcome shot at capturing some of the Replacements mania of this summer.
A few short days before this show, Haley Bonar posted a cryptic announcement on her website that 2014 would contain not one, but two new releases from the local roots rocker, and entreating her fans to "stand by." After a career-altering bout of motherhood, Bonar has mostly been taking things slow since her return to the Twin Cities in 2010, releasing a lone 7-inch last year and otherwise sticking to side projects. The single from that recording, "Bad Reputation," made for a great early-set jam, with Bonar confidently leading her band to the climax of the song's slow burn and utilizing keyboardist Kate Murray's plaintive background vocals with a great sense of timing.