What kind of music springs to mind when you hear the word “Minneapolis”? Your answers will, of course, reflect the era and region of your upbringing, but if you came of age west of the Mississippi in a time when alternative music really was an alternative, and not always a pretty one, chances are you will name at least one band your parents found weird and vaguely scary.
The subject of Minneapolis came up a few weeks ago when a couple of us were trying to ascribe an environmental basis to the big Amphetamine Reptile sound—big on pounding guitars and anguished yelling, that is, small on melody per se—that characterized upper-Midwest rock during the early ’90s. Melody was the very thing lacking from the Amphetamine Reptile catalogue, which is strange because the Twin Cities’ Big Three—Hüsker Dü, Soul Asylum and the Replacements—had taken some pretty big risks with the circle-pit crowd not eight years earlier by embracing shamelessly poppy hooks and conspicuously emotive songwriting. Not embarrassingly emotive, but enough so that the punks had to look elsewhere for their nihilist fix (add to this the apostasy of Hüsker Dü’s open disavowal of stage-diving) and the music press made winning underdogs early on of all three bands.
To further compound matters, there’s the fact that so many of Minneapolis’s best bands have long remained closely guarded secrets; mention the Wallets or the Suburbs to a Minneapolis transplant and watch their eyes light up with the glow of validation. So where does the Big Wu—a band that would seem to be more at home in Boulder than Minneapolis—fit into the Twin Cities’ opaque tradition of melody? Easy: They’ve currently cornered the market on it. Lest we forget, the region has also produced some very fun bands as well. The Blue Hippos? That was fun. Trip Shakespeare? It freezes my blood to utter that name, but they did play fun, jam-happy kind of stuff. They wore the pants. They said relax. The had the dance they called the Slacks. Don’t pretend you can’t remember.
Back to the original question. In months to come, more and more people will probably come to associate the Twin Cities with the Big Wu. The five-piece band have obviously decided to light a candle rather than curse the darkness of those long cold winters, and it shows. They just sound like they’re having a ton of fun picking up their instruments and breezing through the free and easy funk of “Silcanturnitova,” (the culinary theme of which, interestingly enough, recalls “In the Skillet,” by fellow Minneapolitans Morris Day and the Time), the bluegrass-speckled “Bloodhound,” and the ballad “Puerto Rico.” These songs can all be found on last year’s CD, Tracking Buffalo Through the Bathtub.
Speaking of Buffalo, it’s a shame the Big Wu find themselves booked rather suicidally opposite Ani DiFranco, as folks choosing to retire after the latter’s UM show will miss out on a great, eminently danceable band. Give a little love to Ani, but save a little you for the Big Wu, too.
The Big Wu play the Cowboy Bar on Monday, April 3. Cover TBA. Call the Cowboy Bar at 543-7436 for ticket information.