Summer’s last sigh found its perfect soundtrack on a blustery late September night in Northeast Minneapolis this past weekend. Sociable Cider Werks threw the last in their series of Sociable Summer concerts, a show that also doubled as Haley Bonar’s local album release show. Bonar released her latest, Impossible Dream, back in August, and while she’s been touring behind it, she hadn’t quite made it back to Minnesota before the show Sunday. It’s only fitting that her victory lap continued at Sociable Cider Werks with food trucks, a DJ set from Jake Rudh, flowing cider (including the State-Fair-inspired Caramel Apple flavor), and a national-level opener — Cults.
Doors opened at Sociable Cider at 3 p.m., and many folks, including quite a few families, arrived early to soak in the block party atmosphere and some got lucky enough to score coveted picnic bench seating for the night. The term “summer” in the name of the event applied only in the loosest of terms — while some brave (or perhaps just misinformed) souls were spotted with exposed calves or shoulders, most of the crowd were dressed in the usual Minnesota fall regalia of red plaid, warm vests, and ski vests. The wind kept things pretty chilly all day, and while the navy sky did threaten rain on a few occasions, there was no follow-through.
Cults’s Madeline Follin was one of those aforementioned souls rocking exposed skin once she arrived on stage around 5:30 p.m., but if the cold fazed her at all, she either staved it off with her doo-wop dancing or the warm reception of the crowd helped her ignore it. Cults are widely regarded as one of those success stories of the internet propelling bands to new heights. Their first few releases were uploaded anonymously online, with core members Follin and Brian Oblivion securing their identities at first with promotional photos obscuring their faces with their hair. It felt almost peculiar seeing the band after they’ve transcended both the hype machine and their anonymity, but that doesn’t detract from their live performance at all. They perform as a more rounded-out five-piece now, able to fully integrate their ’50s-style sing-song vocals together with sound bordering on the beautiful side of distortion.
Cults’ last release was three years ago, and while their setlist had no new material, but the crowd didn’t mind at all. More than a few audience members could be spotted mouthing along almost the entire set, from early hits like “Go Outside” and “Abducted” to 2013’s Static bass-driven highlight, “High Road.” The band showed a flair for audience interaction: they bantered about the Vikings, gave a shout out to The Current (which they commended for playing “very weird, very cool” music and for being “a rarity in America”), made the claim that Minneapolis could potentially be the best music city in America (the competition named was Austin, Texas), and were able to rouse the audience into chanting the drummer’s name repeatedly until he ended their set with a drum solo at the end of closer “Oh My God.”
Haley Bonar and her band took the stage right after a gorgeous sunset to greet a packed parking lot with “Hometown,” the opening song to Impossible Dream. “Hello Hometown,” she said and smiled as the song ended. Though her current hometown is technically St. Paul (past homes include Duluth, Minn. and Rapid City, S.D.), the sentiment still rang true with the audience. Haley Bonar is both a golden girl and a resident weirdo in the Twin Cities music scene, continually evolving and expanding her sound to keep things interesting. The adoration is mutual, and Bonar was eager to gift us by performing all of the tracks off her new album, plus some extra thrown in for good measure.
Her performance included all the elements that make her unique: alt-country vocals dripping in honey, a few synth riffs, indie-rock drive, brief detours into white noise, poppy lyrics, and heart-wrenching emotionality. The hushed vulnerability of “I Can Change” stands strong next to the synthy cry of “Stupid Face,” and “Better Than Me” sounds like the best song Fleetwood Mac never got around to recording. Her studio sound translated seamlessly into her live performance. Material from 2014’s Last War held its own next to the newer stuff. “From a Cage,” a song that Bonar recorded in collaboration with Justin Vernon, managed to captivate and silent the crowd for a time.
Bonar’s stage banter was limited, but she let her performance speak for her and her band. When they returned to the stage to do an encore that included “Bad Reputation” and “Called You Queen,” she beamed and channelled Sally Field: “You like us, you really like us!” There’s a reason why the local scene really likes her so much, and it’s not just because she’s another pretty face. She embraces the messy underbelly of everyday life and the contradictions that come with it, occupying a space where she can be impossible and beautiful at the same time. She can be to be a punk, a mother, a country singer, a performer, and a pop star at the same time, and the she radiates obvious gratitude towards her hometown for allowing her to live her impossible dream.
Writer Hannah Marie Hron is a junior at Hamline University who hopes to continue a career in music journalim after graduation. Along with Iggy Pop, some of her other idols include Patti Smith, Ezra Koenig, Kendrick Lamar, and Kim Gordon. Photographer Bridget Bennett is a student at the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities.
You Know What I Mean
Never Heal Myself
I Can Never Make You Mine
Keep Your Head Up
Oh My God
Haley Bonar setlist
Your Mom Is Right
I Can Change
Better Than Me
From a Cage
Kill the Fun
No Sensitive Man
Heaven’s Made For Two
Blue Diamonds Fall
Called You Queen