I’m sure that the title alone stopped some of you in your tracks – what’s he doing hanging out in saloons? Listening to music and enjoying chicken wings. Going to church and music are not mutually exclusive. I review bands for the same reason I review restaurants – it’s out of my comfort zone and makes me a better writer…
I love the blues. I have loved the blues since my brother Patrick introduced me to them in the early 1980’s at a Minneapolis bar known as The Union. Great place for a college kid – bouncers that made me look like a wimp, cold pitchers of beer, lots of girls to look at (shy – no touch) and some of the best bands I’ve ever heard. The Union has been gone for a long time, but the blues live on in Minnesota.
I’ve seen lots of great live acts that run the gamut from Casting Crowns to AC/DC. Throw in some Elton John, Rolling Stones, Frankie Valli, Hall & Oats, Sam & Dave, – I’ve seen many of the big names in the last four decades.
Friday night I was witness to the best set I’ve had the honor to gawk at – Laurie Morvan and her band.
I knew she’d be great when I went to Wilebski’s web site earlier in the week to scope out the bands and saw her listed there as this week’s act. One click to her website and I was intrigued – this woman had the most amazing arms I’d seen outside of body building – nothing but steel. You don’t often see anyone in the entertainment industry with the guts to show arms like that to the public – Madonna is the exception, and she’s got other issues.
But, I digress. One pass through the videos on the site and I practically ran to wake up my wife and tell her we had a date for Friday at six. This was shaping up to be an event and a half.
Wilebski’s has been around a long time, and a few years ago they were located in a rather seedy neighborhood in Saint Paul – Frogtown. Yup, same place the fire engine art came from last week. Welebski’s had the misfortune to be upstairs from another bar and they had to operate somewhat jointly. The problem was that the bar downstairs had more gunfire and fights than a combination NRA pistol match and MMA training gym. The police just dispatched units there every fifteen minutes to make sure they didn’t miss any of the fun.
After more than a few years of that chaos the Saint Paul City Council shut down the location. Wilebski’s was out of a home. I didn’t know if I should feel sad or overjoyed – I never had the guts to go there due to the danger below, but if they had to move it would only be a move up on the safety scale.
The new location on Rice Street near Larpenteur in Saint Paul, is a gas. The cover charge was a paltry $8.00 per person. I’d pay triple that to see this band. Wilebski’s is graced with a huge dance floor, upper levels with excellent sight lines to the stage and a free taco bar if you get there early enough. Drinks are inexpensive from what I saw, and the bar tenders weren’t exactly skimping on the pours. I can only vouch for the Baptist Martini (Diet Coke with Lime twist) and the Sprite.
Bar food is bar food – until you get to the wings at Wilebski’s . We’ve sampled them on two different occasions and both times came away impressed. I know it’s probably a prepared product they just fry up, but they were perfectly cooked and had lots of flavor without making you wish for a merciful death. The seasoned French fries are pretty good as well. My wife had the burger and it was an 8. It would have been a ten but somehow when you order a California burger you don’t expect cheese – this had a monster load of the stuff. To me that would be a plus – I descend from cheese eating surrender monkeys. My wife, on the other hand, despises cheese and can barely stand living so close to Wisconsin.
So, at six sharp the band takes the stage. And for three of the next four hours they crank it hard. Lots of bands seem to specialize in annoying patter between the songs. The drummer and the keyboardist have their running jokes, the bass player can’t get any respect, etc. Not with Laurie Morvan. She kept the yip-yap to a minimum and played that guitar.
My wife and I were blown away. This band not only covers the classics, but they write their own material. They don’t just play, they play their own stuff. In addition, it’s good. It’s so good that I went to the table and bought every CD they’d dragged along to sell.
Three hours of kicking it hard out of four. I’ve never seen a band do that before. She plays a wireless guitar – and the video shows you why: she’s constantly in motion. Dancing, mugging, bopping, name it and she does it to move around the stage. The woman had to be exhausted at the end of the night.
On the Epic Band scale of 1-10 I’d have to give them a 10. The only person I’ve ever seen play as intimate and open a set is Al Stewart, and he’s about 180 our from Laurie for style on stage. Both are great performers – Al is low key and Laurie is totally in your face.
When I got home, I went to the website for her band and looked for the next time I’d be able to see them. Sadly, it’s going to be a while, she’s not back in the area for the foreseeable future. That’s a shame – she could become a habit real fast.
I’ll write more about Wilebski’s down the road, but I’d like to finish out with a plug for their Friday night stuff. It’s a usually a great blues act followed at 10:00 by old school R&B – three guys doing the DJ thing with the dance music you knew in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s. It’s an interesting social phenomenon – the mixed crowd of mostly white people troop out when the blues end and a mostly black crowd troops in for the dance music. Me? I love them both and stay as long as my tired eyes can stay open. I’m the bearded bald guy singing along to Rick James Superfreak in the upper balcony. Swing on up and say hello if you catch me there some night.