Grand Rapids native Actual Wolf has been omnipresent in the Twin Cities these past few months, playing a well-received month-long residency at Amsterdam Bar & Hall last month amid a smattering of other area dates. On Friday night, at one of his biggest Twin Cities shows to date, Actual Wolf’s summer of hustle paid off as Icehouse filled with fans to celebrate the release of his full-band EP, Lightning and the Wolf, on vinyl.
Actual Wolf first caught my eye when I saw songwriter Eric Pollard, who has until now made a career playing drums with bands like Retribution Gospel Choir, play a solo set up in Duluth during the Homegrown festival. His voice is steady, deep, and pure, like Mason Jennings without the swoopy flourishes, or perhaps — as a friend suggested Friday night — a young Willie Nelson or Neil Diamond. His songwriting is solid, too, so much so that The Current has kept his solo song “Minneapolis” and all its lyrical twists and turns in rotation for the later half of the summer.
But seeing Pollard perform with a full band is a whole other story. For starters, he’s assembled a skilled set of musicians to perform alongside him in Actual Wolf: his Retribution Gospel Choir and Low bandmate Steve Garrington plays bass, while brothers Jeremy and Jake Hanson (who also play together Solid Gold and apart in many other groups) play drums and guitar. The backing band helps Pollard to flesh out his songs and create a more dynamic live show, with Jake Hanson’s high-range, ethereal backing vocals contributing a layer that’s downright chilling.
Opening the night was Ben Lubeck of Farewell Milwaukee, who had the additional challenge of holding the audience’s attention by playing a solo acoustic set. I was drawn into Lubeck’s songs despite the chatty room, and it served as a good reminder that I need to revisit Farewell Milwaukee’s live show sometime soon; they’re opening for Pert Near Sandstone in the Mainroom on November 9.
Friday night’s show was also the Twin Cities’ introduction to Duluth label Chaperone Records, who were on site selling copies of the Actual Wolf EP and talking up future releases they’ll be issuing from Lion or Gazelle and Southwire. Visit Chaperone Records’ website for more on the new label, as well as info about their Actual Wolf release.