Rock and roll rumble

Jill Fisher

Mark Joseph & The American Soul at West Theatre. Photos by Jill Fisher.

This past weekend was topped off with a fabulous show by Rich Mattson and the Northstars at Bent Paddle Brewery on Saturday, Feb 3. It was two-plus hours of fast and furious rock and roll that was impossible to sit still for.

I’ve seen this impressive group several times in the past two years so it’s no wonder I decided to see it again despite having to bypass several other tempting gigs.  

This time there was a surprise; it turns out that bassist Calvin “Calzone” Lund, best known as a member of the band New Salty Dog (now Saltydog), has been playing with them for the past couple months, filling in regularly for Kyle Westrick. No wonder he looked so comfortable and a natural fit with the Northstars.

Drummer Chris Petrack was in great form hammering out irresistible rhythms as was Dan Anderson on keyboards. Of course Mattson’s partner, Germaine Gemberling, who co-writes and records with him, contributed to the fulsome sound with her vocals and acoustic guitar backing.  

The free evening concert began at 7 pm with Rich and Germaine harmonizing on their original numbers. Nine of these are on RM&NS’s 2022 album Out There: “Trepidation,” “Echo Chamber,” “Apex,” “All Hallow’s Eve,” “Wild Hutch’s Crutch,” “In My Cave,” “No More Fighting,” “Tired Yet” and ending with the fantastic “Island of Guitars” (an ode to being trapped by COVID). Seven of these songs were performed during the first 15-song set. The second 14-song set included more solos and jams and included Gemberling’s “Kiss the Sky.”

Rich Mattson & The Northstars

If anyone was totally sympatico with his instrument, Mattson displayed it playing Link Wray’s “Rumble” and shredding on his Rickenbacker guitar, as he ventured out into the audience before returning to end the evening with his signature kick.  

What was surprising to me was the small turnout for the well-known and accomplished Northstars, which begs the question of whether there is sufficient audience for the surfeit of contemporary bands playing in the Twin Ports. All I can say is it was a loss for those who skipped the show. Box Car’s band leader, Blake Shippee, was amongst those who enthusiastically appreciated them, contributing his shrill whistles!  

The Thursday evening before, Feb 1, saw me in the audience for Mark Joseph and the American Soul at West Theatre. I first saw this group back in 2022 at the Minnesota State Fair (and wrote about it briefly in the Sept. 1 issue of the Reader that year). Reportedly Joseph played around these parts years ago (evidently when I was living in New York).

However, the real draw for me was Duluth’s own Saltydog which was the opening act for this show. For those unfamiliar with this top local band, it members are Jacob Mahon (electric guitar, keyboards, vocals), Owen Mahon (drums, vocals), Calvin “Calzone” Lund (electric bass), Sam Deters (electric guitar), Gavin St. Clair (keyboards) and Byron “Lefty” Johnson (congas, vocals).

What a thrill to see this favorite local group up on the big stage playing their original songs that we have come to know by heart and love, such as “Bar Fly.” They also entertained us with “Dear, Do You Love Me”, “Pecan Pie” (with the wonderful line “so easy to preach and so hard not to fight”) and “Farmer Norm.” They also debuted a brand new song which will be dear to my heart always but shall remain unnamed in this column. (We’ll see if they play it again anytime soon!)

Many of the “Doggies” fans were in attendance, finally getting up to dance to the last couple songs.   Saltydog and its individual members definitely get around. On Friday, the whole band played at Sandrocks in Sandstone. Sam Detters has filled in for absent guitarist Jimi Cooper with Landscapes. Last fall drummer Owen Mahon joined Alan Sparhawk on a two-week tour of Europe, then Saturday he traveled to St. Paul to sit in on a gig with Born Too Late.

For those who have missed the band’s Monday evening gigs at Bent Paddle, it was announced that they will be back on Mondays this February. Also, note that Saltydog will be among the groups performing at next June’s Blue Ox Festival in Eau Claire, Wisc. 

Mark Joseph and Paul Metsa

When Mark Joseph & The American Soul took the stage at 8:45, the dancers in the audience were ready to boogie and the band provided the music we needed. Joseph let everyone know that Saltydog was his favorite band from around these parts, which the audience agreed with! Joseph, a native of Northfield, Minn., is also a member of The Big Wu, a Minnesota band that has earned national acclaim.

With The American Soul band he has paved his own way to regional renown by plumbing classic blues, rhythm and blues and soul for his original compositions, albums and performances, as expressed in his most recent album Palisade Peach.  

The American Soul band members include Stephanie Devine (vocals), Scott Muellenberg (bass guitar), Eddie “Hondo” Jutunen (keyboards) and Greg Schutte (drums). Side-kick Nick Long worked the merch table for them. “Back Water Blues” was the first number played followed by a cover of Robert Johnson’s classic blues tune “Come On In My Kitchen.”

Next was “Bound To Be Blessed” with lyrics that urged people to “let your light shine.” I especially liked his original tune “The Ghost of Dr. John”—with the flavor and funk of New Orleans.

Toward the end of the concert the legendary Paul Metsa was invited to join the group on stage, as was Jacob Mahon of Saltydog and the keyboardist, Al Oikari, with The Big Wu. If the music was hot up until this point, the addition of these guys brought things to a boiling point. “Deep Ellum Blues” was a well done cover with Metsa as was “Palisade Peach,” the title track of Joseph’s latest album.

As the concert wound up Metsa led the band in a fun rendition of “Iko Iko” with a reggae beat. Rounding out the evening was Joseph’s original “Walk To The Water” that everyone on stage grooved to.  

As with Rich Mattson and the Northstars’ gig at Bent Paddle, the audience turnout was again smaller than was warranted by the quality of  the music. Very sad, since the West Theatre is the one of the best venues in town to hear this kind of music.  

Breanne Marie & The Front Porch Sinners

And talk about turnout, Breanne Marie and the Front Porch Sinners attracted a good sized crowd at the Caddy Shack on Friday evening, Feb. 2. Although I’ve heard her solo several times, I hadn’t really had a chance to hear the entire band, which on this evening was comprised of Johnny Peterson (pedal steel guitar), Kailyn Pelerin (fiddle), Evan Tepler (guitar, usually bass), Taylor Sykes (bass guitar, filling in for Kyle Gondik-Anderson) and Matt Groom (drums) in addition to Breanne Marie’s acoustic guitar and lead vocals. Their music has been called Greal Lake Country music and sometimes alt-country.  

Breanne Marie began the show by playing a trumpet, which was similar to the high-powered vocal style she displayed on this evening. The first set was all originals by Breanne Marie, several of which are on her 2021 album Juniper. The second set, billed as “Chattahoochee,” consisted of that song and other 1990 country covers, such as “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and “She’s in Love with the Boy.”

It appeared that many of the Caddy Shack patrons came of age when these songs were hits, as they knew the words, danced and sang along. Breanne Marie and company will be back at Caddy Shack on two more Fridays in February, the 9th and the 23rd.  

Lastly, I must mention that Sunday evening I watched the broadcast of the Grammys award show on a large screen setup. It was only the second time ever. Whew, all I can say is that it will save me a lot of money, knowing that large arena concerts now seem to be as much about extravagant visual effects as the music.(Virtually none of the music played impressed me as being any better than what many of our local musicians produce.) Yes, it was good to see 80-year-old Joni Mitchell sing “Both Sides Now” (sans flashing lights, smoke and mirrors) and to hear Billy Joel’s latest composition (again without unnecessary visual displays).

I suppose it was also good to be exposed to the latest trends in popular music and to view clips of music videos that I never would otherwise. Stevie Wonder’s tribute to musicians who have died this past year was one of the best parts of the program (though there seemed to be some glitches with that). And my ears perked up when one of the award recipients asserted that determining what was “best” is simply a matter of opinion—my feeling exactly.

All in all, it increased my appreciation for the extensive live music scene we are blessed with in this city, the Twin Ports and region. Hope you all get out there and enjoy it!