The Top Five Bands of Duluth
People love when things are ranked and when they are familiar with something on a list it gives a great sense of pride. Now that I am entering my ninth year of writing for the Reader I thought it might be interesting to look at trivial aspects of this area and give a ranking once in a while.
Since most of my expertise, or lack thereof, comes from the realm of music I thought I would begin with something that I have an opinion on. I compiled this list based on popularity, general musicianship, songwriting, venue attendance, and a few TPB growlers for added inspiration.
5. Pabst Blue Ribbon
This band is fun and never puts on a bad show. They have extremely professional musicians and frontman Bo Bandit (Chad Lyons) who is like a hillbilly version of the Big Bopper. Gomez on guitar gives this band an authentic sound and has allowed him to bask in guitar-god spirit.
The group sums up their essence on their myspace page writing, “The band is fronted by singer Bo Bandit, who first proposed assembling this kind of group after spending many, many long hours surrounded by psychopaths and firearms in his Duluth pawn shop. Backing up this rock and roll behemoth are (the infamous and amazing) Gomez on guitar, some mumbly schmuck named Neb on bass and this other incessant taco-slinger named Scott on the drums. From the s#!t-hole chicken shack bars up in the thick north woods to the Twin Cities, the Apostle Islands, the cornfields of Iowa, tourist traps, bar mitzvahs and keg parties, the Accelerattii have honed their show with the help of many thousands of beers and inspiration from their rock & roll idols which they try, however sloppily, to honor in their repertoire.”
Most of the band gained their local rock chops playing in the now retired Black Labels at the ol’ Red Lion. I miss that surf-rock style of the Duluth sound they played, and near their end surf-rock legend Link Wray even played the Nor Shor right before he passed away. It was an era of music that was rough and impenetrable. Who will ever forget the Labels with stringers of PBR at the old Nor Shor. Those were the days, my friend.
4. The Little Black Books
reside and own up as
Rawk & Roll.
My 1965 jukebox has two local 45s on it and both were created by LBBs’ Mark Lindquist. There is a 33 1/3 EP with some Giljunko hits and an LBB 7inch of “They’re Never Wrong” and b-side “Whiskey So Soft.” Both are amazing songs and yet only a sampling of a deep rooted Duluth sound. Lindquist takes you on a journey seeing various locales through a gritty musical view. It is personal music, but essential to understanding what it is like to really be from here. It has iron lust and a longing for escape grounded in a heavy heart that is loyal to a place. If you were not born in the area but want to understand it, there is nothing more real than Lindquist’s sound.
3. Toby Churchill of
Alrights and Crazy Betty fame.
As many people know I was a huge Alrights fan prior to them disbanding. After Mayor Ness made it Alrights’ Day during Homegrown to honor their last show they are officially a top local band. Churchill’s solo debut album “Death” is amazingly sophisticated yet charmingly simplistic. There is emotion and passion in that album that jumps right out of the speakers and grabs you. Churchill has a way to craft a song that is delicate and catchy at the same time.
2. The Black Eyed Snakes
Number Two would be my number one, but since we are all bowing to the magnificence of TBT I have to place my favorite sitting band, The Black Eyed Snakes, at two. Alan Sparhawk has had many bands, but BES is my favorite. The group has so much power that they have to sit down. TBT needed to stand up, but BES can’t stand up because they would set off a riot. Their music is just that popular and infectious…
Black Eyed Snakes have a séance on stage and you can feel them being possessed by the crossroad devils of rock & roll. Bob Olson kills on guitar and you have to look carefully to catch him belting out gritty solos. Sparhawk captivates, but Olson is the electricity being pumped into his soul while onstage. Olson also plays in my fourth ranked band, The Little Black Books, as well.
1. Trampled By Turtles
Number one has to be Trampled By Turtles as they have earned the spot. What makes one band succeed where so many other fail? Is it their perseverance, music choice, fans, or just sheer luck? I mean the Dukes of Hubbard were a great dance band with more of a jam sound, but they didn’t last like TBT has. There are a million folkies up here plucking away that couldn’t fill a corner of the Clyde building, let alone have a line several hours prior to doors opening.
So what makes
TBT so popular?
I feel sometimes like my time in Duluth has been running parallel to TBT. I remember first interviewing Dave Simonett when they were just beginning and he already seemed protective of his sound and image. Other members would go on at length about the band, but Simonett was hidden. That may be the hidden secret, except that all of the bands in this top five have singers/songwriters who are a bit hidden in what they reveal. Especially to me as they know I will probably misinterpret what they say and ramble on in some article where I put local bands into a top five list.
So back to TBT, they were on folkin’ Letterman for Pete’s sake, who could be bigger right now? They are so folking popular that they kicked their chairs out and now stand up while performing live. Sure that was the main annoyance of their fans from the first time they left their living room to take the stage, but finally TBT relented and stood up. I like it much better now that they stand, but with Black Eyed Snakes I don’t mind them sitting for some reason. If I looked at audience prowess alone it might be dangerous if Sparhawk stood up too much during BES’ shows, the audience might break something.
Black Eyed Snakes’ audience has a rabidity that differs from Trampled By Turtles. TBT fans tend to be kind of hipsterish, I know that won’t go over well, but they are. The more famous TBT get the more of a hipster magnet they become. They first found all the local hipsters, but then when they got too big a lot of the local ones moved on. Then they got the Minneapolis and larger Minnesota hipsters, but at this point they are approaching the level of where even grandma knows them.
Pretty soon (maybe already) you can go to a TBT show with your parents and show them off. Patchouli will be replaced by Liz Claiborne scents while PBR dies out to Miller Lite and cheap red wine.
So TBT isn’t quite taking the pop Billboard charts yet, but it is only time at this point with them dominating bluegrass charts. Their inevitable rise was there from the beginning and now every rock writer who ever interviewed them is falling over themselves to say it was all their doing.
If we went to number six I would throw in Jack Campbell and his new solo venture after stints in Completely Random and Excuse Me Princess. It is hard to have a band stay together under normal circumstances, but poor Campbell fights the inevitability of high school graduation each year. This year Sam Wattrus, his mainstay on bass in EMP, is off to Harvard. I wish him the best of luck and the entire graduating class from East High School this year!