Grand Old Day, 6/1/14

Categories: Last Night

Then... disaster. Right at the end of the 30-second chewing period immediately after the overtime, Hendry lost his composure, so to speak. He spewed, which is a disqualification in competitive eating. Salem had won by default, but didn't savor his victory, at least not right away. He puked too, not long after. The crowd, a couple hundred people, was understandably grossed out, but still game -- a few even started chants of "USA!" after both incidents.

The strange spectacle of the hot dog eating contest would be hard to top in terms of entertainment value and novelty, but there was a still a full day of music ahead. Many of the bands I was able to catch were state fixtures who have been around for many years and played most of the area's summer festivals. Overall, it was a great demonstration of how great it can be to see a professional and experienced live band go to work.

The first band I caught was General B and the Wiz, at the Whole Foods Market Stage. The Minneapolis band describe themselves as indie blues, which seems to be apt. A lot of their guitar, along with their spare but driving rhythm section, wouldn't seem out of place in a smoke-filled dive, while their emotive and occasionally inscrutable lyrics ("Even Eagles die in the dirt") and falsetto-tinged creative vocal style called to mind Modest Mouse. The crowd was about 100 people and one frazzled but happy black lab. 

General B and the Wiz were greater than the sum of their parts. They were at their best when they cohered into something unified, creating a little bit of psychedelic ambience that added a lot to their otherwise sparse sound. Unfortunately, this didn't always happen, and occasionally the instrumentation was a little too bare-bones to be interesting, and not quite simple enough to be really immediate. Still, they formed a unique identity for themselves and gave the set a summery quality.

White Iron Band at the Wild Onion was next. The seven-piece band, originally formed in the Iron Range, plays the kind of country music that even people who avoid K102 and other country stations like the plague can't help but get down to. Tinged with hard electric blues and rock, with funked up keyboards and bass, the band put on a kick-ass live set. Their experience showed: Everything was completely in sync, they knew how to work a crowd, and the set as a whole had perfect pacing -- no midway slump to be had here.

A particular highlight was "Devil's Sweet Revenge," typical of their catalog in its tales of drinking, gambling, and various vices. Sam Weyandt on lead guitar was particularly excellent on this one, and Matt Pudas slayed the vocals. At one point in the set, Weyandt played one of the most shredding guitar solos of the day with his teeth. It was just a damn good time.

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Photos by Tony Nelson

I was able to catch another long-time act soon after, Heiruspecs. Headed up by Midway Felix, this hip-hop outfit based in St. Paul is one of the most versatile out there, and they put on a set perfectly suited to the atmosphere. "You see that guy out there?" Felix asked at one moment, pointing out a 30ish dude near the front of the stage. "That's my neighbor Dan -- give it up for him. It's St. Paul, you gotta know your neighbors." Heiruspecs gave their whole performance a community vibe, and they felt at home, leading the crowd in call and response and hitting all their spots.

Their style of rapping over beats built on rock music heightens their honesty, directness, and clarity -- as one of their lines said, smart not clever (or too-clever-by-half). Felix was more of a direct storyteller, while Muad'Dib -- also a virtuoso beat boxer -- was more staccato and metaphoric in his verses. Though there was a brief lull during a few of the less immediately engaging tracks, it was still easy to see that Heiruspecs were polished veterans. "Get Up" closed the set out strong, and though Felix has some choice words for the local music scene -- "Leave me the f--- out of it, I'm just tryna pay rent" -- it was clear at that point that he and Heiruspecs had nothing to prove.

Critic's Notebook

The crowd: Basically everybody in the Twin Cities metro area, it seemed. There were a lot more beer-related shirts than one would expect on a typical Sunday.

Random Notebook Dump: I chose what music to see largely the same way most folks at Grand Old Day would -- by wandering around the festival and dipping into any garden that sounded good from the street. As such, the selection is pretty haphazard, so apologies if I didn't cover a band you were hoping to hear about.

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