Rock the Garden 2009

rock the garden

At 4:30, just as the steamy afternoon heat began to set in, local act Solid Gold opened the show at Minneapolis’ second annual Rock the Garden–the four band mini-festival held in the Walker Arts Center’s sculpture garden.  Unfortunately their performance was a bit lackluster. For starters, whoever was in charge of sound had some issues.  Throughout the set, the band’s techno under-beats blasted over everything else, causing the sponsor banner covering the speakers to pulse violently and making it very difficult to hear lead singer, Zachary Coulter’s, voice.  And even when Coulter did come through, it was less than astonishing.  He’s by no means a bad vocalist, but there are about a thousand others alt. rock singers who have the exact same mid-pitched croon.

Chris Keating, Yeasayer’s (the next act’s) man-at-the-mic proved to be a lot more interesting. His bluesy wail, with its sense of emphatic insistence, is strongly reminiscent of Talking Head’s front man David Byrne (though Keating doesn’t quite have Byrne’s rich tone). These authentic vocals were nicely supported by the band’s thumpy low-toned percussion (also echoing the Heads), and its more subtle, in comparison to Solid Gold’s use of techno lines.  I think I’ll buy their album.

Next came Calexico-Yawn!  The band definitely has a unique sound; one does not often find Mariachi horns in alt-rock, but their music lacked passion.  With the exception of “Jesus and Tequila”- held together by a particularly groovy bass line, I found myself bored throughout their time on stage.  It seems they forgot that this was a live concert and not a recording session.

But this didn’t matter much; 15 minutes after Calexico finished, the real show started when The Decemberists, led by singer/ guitarist Colin Meloy, strolled onto stage and launched into a live performance of their Hazards Of Love rock opera.  Just a few bars in, the band established that, musically, they are miles ahead of any of the other groups who played earlier.  Their sound, which alternates between having a rockabilly tinge on slower pieces, to a more metallic feel when things speed up, has obviously been polished by hours of dedicated practice.  This technical prowess gives the band room to experiment. Hazards Of Love really is a rock opera; Meloy and Co. played for about an hour straight, no breaks, and their show, adding to its theatrical design, was strictly choreographed.  Hazards should not be mistaken for a great piece of theater, but it was still pretty damn good for a rock and roll band.  It was worth the 40 dollar ticket just to see them.

Nathan Walker


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