“We all see a reflection of ourselves in at least one of Grant’s songs,” said Mary Jane Mansfield — a friend of Grant Hart and a fellow musician — as she introduced an evening full of music and friends gathered to pay tribute to Hart at the Hook and Ladder Theater & Lounge on Saturday night.
The night was a revolving door of legends that only had one agenda: to share their love for Hart. Rank Strangers opened, and they were done before they had even warmed up the crowd, but were quickly joined by Tim Piotrowski of Duck Kicking Vulture — the “Tim” of the Replacements’ Tim — for a six-song set, decked out in a wig and fake goatee. They performed under the moniker Mommy Log Balls, driving out pieces like “Green Eyes” and “Terms of Psychic Warfare” at a frenetic pace.
Gathering friends for the evening was no small feat, and it was something that only Lori Barbero could have pulled off. Two weeks ago, the Babes in Toyland drummer — who did double duty performing and pouring drinks — put out a “Grant Signal” to anyone able to perform. The speed with which friends responded was immediate, and there was little rehearsal time.
The only acts officially on the bill were Hart and Rank Strangers, but word got around that the night was going to be something special, and a packed crowd spilled out into the parking lot. Attendees included the likes of Kat Bjelland (Babes in Toyland), Paul D. Dickinson (Frances Gumm), and Dale T. Nelson (Otto’s Chemical Lounge), as well as longtime behind-the-scenes standbys like recording engineer Terry Katzman and author Cyn Collins.
“No rules were given, so a few songs are heard a couple of times tonight. It’s so exciting to hear the different iterations. That’s what’s great about these songs, and why this night worked,” Dylan Ritchie of Rank Strangers said. “To hear them off-the-cuff is so Grant-like. He changes his songs up so often, so you’d sit there and try it figure it out as he himself is doing the same thing.”
This was evident when bassist Greg Norton, Hart’s former Hüsker Dü bandmate who had just performed with the rest of his Porcupine bandmates, was joined onstage by Barbero on drums and Dave Pirner on vocals. Missing his cue, the planned guitarist never found his way to the stage, so Pirner grabbed an acoustic guitar and muscled his way through another adaptation of “Terms of Psychic Warfare.”
Lori Barbero, Grant Hart, Greg Norton.#punkrock #babesintoyland #hüskerdü
A patched-together version of Run Westy Run found Pirner and Kraig Johnson trading vocals between songs, and amidst cheers, Hart walked onstage to join the band for “All of My Senses.” Noting the lyric sheets set in front of him, Hart joked, “I’ll do one more. I got the lyrics sheet in front of me. That’s an indication of the song we’re doing,” before leading into “The Main.” As the band hit their last notes, Hart quietly ruminated, “The sweet sound of music. They’ll never take that away from us.”
Rank Strangers migrated back to the stage for another quick set to give Hart a break before he closed the night with a solo performance. “They managed, by some Olympian feat, to keep this [tribute] unknown to me until I arrived at 8:00 tonight. I was truly flabbergasted,” said Hart.
With just Hart and an electric guitar onstage, emotions ran close to the surface and many tears were shed. Pirner joined Hart on “Green Eyes,” and the love in the house was palpable as Hart sang, “Time moves on and people move on.” Hart would falter at times for lyrics and chords, and there were often shouts of reassurance, prompting him to respond with, “Your encouragement is welcome, but unnecessary.”
Whether he was joking or serious, Hart put to rest a lot of speculation about the title of his song “2541,” admitting, “I don’t want to bust any bubbles or myths, but it was just a f—pad.” He took requests for pieces, promising two more songs, but pushing through even more until his fingers and voice decided he was done. Reluctant to leave, Hart blessed the crowd with these last words, “We’ll see you a bit further down the trail.”