If it ain't cold, it's the mosquitoes 

Fargo's 4fodder resurrect the angry sound of the upper midwest

So you’ve probably heard by now: Jay’s is closing. Since the news broke last week, I’ve been fielding e-mails from all over the place asking me, “Is it true? Is it true? Tell me it’s not true!”

’Fraid so, old bean (see Info in this issue). I think we all knew it was going to happen sooner or later—the place, as owner Jay LaFlesch admits, has “always been for sale—for the right price.” Still, I for one would have liked to swaddle myself in the fuzzy pink garments of denial for more than just a few weeks before they actually board up the doors.

Maybe it’s just as well, though—I hate those long, drawn-out “airport goodbyes.” And you know there’s going to be one final knock-down, drag-out party before the diaspora begins. Which is how it has to be, though at the same time I can’t imagine what kind of closing ceremony could ever do justice to 10 years of thrills, chills and hangovers, or even have a patch on some of the over-the-top rock insanity the place has seen. It’s not like I’m expecting a gold watch for 10 years of service, but it’s going to take something pretty special to make it feel like it’s really over, and that somehow it’s OK that it’s over.

Oh, well—there will be plenty of time for various outpourings (a good half of them vomit, I expect) in the coming weeks. In the meantime, there’s still a job to do. This might not be the right time or place to get all nostalgic about it, but in the roughly eight years that I’ve been writing about various Jay’s happenings (five of those at this paper), I’ve seen a pretty healthy cross-section of post-Nirvana alt-rock march across that stage. Entire rock epochs and stylistic revivals playing out right before my eyes, you might say—including the tail end of the Northwest grunge explosion, the last survivors of which were still wheezing well into the early ’90s.

But the sound I most readily associate with the earliest days of Jay’s Upstairs (by the way, this fall would have marked 10 years since the first regularly scheduled rock shows in the venue—before that the upstairs was open only sporadically, and then mostly for jungle-juice parties hosted by area metal bands) is the angry sound of the upper Midwest. Specifically, Minneapolis and Fargo, North Dakota, two cities separated by several hundred miles but joined by a shared affinity for big, loud, ugly, pounding, defiantly amelodic, mannish rock. Minneapolis was the prime locus for the sound, brokered by the Amphetamine Reptile label and supplied in abundance by noisy bands like the Cows, Guzzard, Janitor Joe and Halo of Flies.

Fargo, however, was like a farm team for future Amphetamine Reptile bands, and always seemed to have the angst advantage. Missile silos, howling cold winters, small-town desperation, the last lingering vestiges of the state’s legacy of agrarian radicalism...who knows why, but bands from Fargo always seemed wound five times tighter than their Minneapolis counterparts, and primed to explode. Bands like godheadSilo and Hammerhead, both seething with barely reigned-in aggression, and both early visitors to Jay’s Upstairs. Fargo also had—maybe still has, I don’t know—its own equivalent of Jay’s Upstairs, Ralph’s Corner Bar, where local (and touring) bands could find their stage feet and get their angst all over each other and, perhaps unconsciously, forge something like a regional sound. Show me an isolated geographic rock-pocket with a readily identifiable sound and a tight-knit scene, and I’ll show you a bar it all revolves around.

So it’s kind of fitting, now, at the Götterdämmerung of Jay’s Upstairs, that the Fargo sound would put in one last appearance in the form of 4fodder, a three-piece that evokes the younger days of Hammerhead and their ilk with no mean force—all crushing riffage, grinding basslines and creepy atmospherics. The press release accompanying the band’s seven-song debut, Trapeze, hints at a kind of Fargo continuum by name-checking many of the aforementioned bands and, much to my satisfaction, reinforces some of the existing stereotypes of Fargo bands as products-cum-victims of their environment:

“Think Hammerhead, godheadSilo, the Seawhores, Vaz, Fireballs of Freedom, kids rolling around town listening to KARP and the Melvins and having nothing better to do than play music all the time. The unrelenting climate of North Dakota [told ya!] gives us something to fight against all the time, trying to service the bitter and dangerous winters and the heat and humidity of summers.”

4fodder are true to their word when they call themselves “cold and sometimes scary,” and it’s refreshing to get a dose of unpretentious Midwestern noise-rock again. The bass player has got the Hammerhead tone down cold, and there are many moments on Trapeze where 4fodder teeters right on the chaotic/beautiful edge of what made that late, great trio so powerful.

I’ve missed Fargo, I don’t mind telling you. The place has kind of fallen off the Missoula rock map in recent years, and it seems appropriate that the town that also gave us the Fireballs of Freedom back in 1993 is sending one final envoy before Jay’s closes for good. First in, last out. Welcome back, Fargo. Just now, at the last, at the very last.

4fodder play Jay’s Upstairs (sniff...) on Friday, July 18 and again (hopefully) on August 7. 10 PM. Cover TBA.

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