Local Current Blog

Review: PEOPLE sing and listen at the Turf Club

The Turf Club schedule upon leaving Andrew Broder & PEOPLE night one on Jan. 9, 2018 (Cecilia Johnson | MPR)

It’s not often you hear a sold-out Turf Club go dead silent. But that’s what happened before a special “audio presentation” early in the first night of Andrew Broder & PEOPLE’s January 2019 residency, a series that’s become a Turf Club tradition in its third year running. Except for the odd chug of a soda gun, decibel levels remained flat. “If you need to chat or don’t want to listen,” signs tacked up around the room read, “please go downstairs to the Clown Lounge.”

So why would 350 people sound like they were in a library, not a bar? Broder had just introduced the night’s special presentation: a half-hour of interview audio Broder recorded with writer Steve Marsh, Native drummer Reuben Crowfeather, and people living in the Franklin-Hiawatha Encampment, also known as the Wall of Forgotten Natives. Since they completed these interviews in November, the encampment has been shut down and the people moved, but that doesn’t mean Minnesota’s homelessness problem has been solved. All of the proceeds from the January residency will benefit Minnesota communities affected by homelessness, starting with the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center.

Before the tape started rolling, five members of Prior Lake drum group Iron Boy performed a traditional song, throwing their voices into the air as they beat drums. Then, we heard from Todd; Nancy; Dustin; Annabelle; Glen; O; Carol; and Lt. Frank Killsright, all people living in tents along the wall. “They call it Tent City; I call it Teepee City,” Todd, a 48-year-old member of the Shakopee Mdewakanton (a Dakota sub-tribe) told Marsh. “Because it’s all my people.” In October, Red Lake Nation found that around 80 percent of encampment residents were Native American.

Over and over in the tapes, interviewees stressed the importance of affordable housing and real community. “We take care of each other,” Carol from Little Earth says about encampment residents. She moved to Franklin and Hiawatha after losing her Section 8 voucher because she couldn’t find a home fast enough. “[We need people to] help find landlords that will rent to Native Americans,” she says. After this staggering collection of stories, Iron Boy performed one more song.

Without pausing, Naeem began his set with DJ Espada. Naeem is the artist once known as Spank Rock, about whom I once wrote:

The Baltimore artist sounded fervent as he chanted, “Ass is for freaking.” It should have been fun, but thanks to borderline lyrical priapism, I felt like he’d taken Big Freedia’s booty jams and flipped them from celebration to violation.

I much preferred this new project, which felt sexy instead of just sexual; Naeem performed unreleased rap music that thrummed with color and piano intervals. Several songs mentioned technology: “Life is full of big machines/ And there just ain’t room for the little things,” Naeem sang in his first song. He’d later repeat the word “simulation” in a song that sounded like it might sample Big Red Machine. The encore, a song with the phrase “Hollywood is one big mortuary,” seemed to use similar textures as Lizzo’s Big Grrrl Small World song “Jang a Lang” (which was recorded at Justin Vernon’s studio April Base).

In the past couple of years, Naeem has spent more and more time in Minneapolis and become a core PEOPLE artist. Five members of St. Paul group TU Dance joined him onstage at the Turf, much like Holly Blakey’s troupe (as described by Steve Marsh) at the 2018 PEOPLE Festival in Berlin. TU Dance previously collaborated with Bon Iver on music/dance project Come Through.

“All right, we can go now,” one crowd member joked to his partner after Naeem’s set. Of course, most people had bought tickets with the intent of seeing Big Red Machine, the project Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Aaron Dessner (The National) took public in 2018. After recording at April Base in Wis. and Dessner’s studio in NY, they dropped a fairly well-received self-titled LP of folky bleeps and blips. Vernon fans tend to follow him through any project and showed up in droves last night.

Befitting “The End of the World,” the Broder residency’s theme, I found the main vibe of Big Red Machine’s music to be “impending.” Certain loops lulled, and Vernon’s voice was often beautiful, but skulking synths lingered just outside arm’s reach. Guitar spiked through the messy, often feedback-filled music, but the beats never quite landed where you’d expect. It’s hard to relax into this music.

All this considered, drummer JT Bates was the perfect third point of the Big Red Machine triangle. I imagine that only a jazz musician could appropriately work with these polyrhythms and freaky time signatures. During set-closer “Melt,” Bates half-leapt off his throne on every hit, descending on the cymbals with fever.

That last song was powerful, but the highlight of the night occurred four songs in; Iron Boy member Joe Rainey, Sr. joined Big Red Machine during the wandering second half of “Lyla.” “I’m already off your reservation,” Vernon sang, the song’s lyrics cryptic on the whole, and Rainey belted in response. After the song, the audience warmly thanked him, and Vernon said, “It’s moments like this that change everything.”

The beginning of the night was particularly heavy, Broder noted, so he booked DJ Keezy and Naeem to spread some light in the Clown Lounge post-Big Red Machine. DJ Keezy spun in and out of electronic, dance, and rap tracks downstairs (TNGHT; Princess Nokia; Rihanna). And Two Drummers – the duo comprising Drew Christopherson and Ben Ivascu of Poliça – served up more eclectic, percussion-centric fare upstairs. Naeem will share the post-headline slot with other DJs – more Keezy next week, then DJ Babyghost, then FEEL FREE Hi Fi – every night of the residency.

Note: As of Jan. 10, 5:28 p.m., this article has been updated to include Joe Rainey, Sr.’s name.

Big Red Machine set list

Deep Green
Air Stryp
Lyla (feat. member of Iron Boy)
Easy To Sabotage (new song)
People Lullaby
Forest Green
I Won’t Run From It
I Can’t Be All You Got

More Andrew Broder & PEOPLE dates

Jan. 16: Marijuana Deathsquads, Gully Boys, Sophia Eris, and Naeem & DJ Keezy (DJ set)
Jan. 23: Hymie’s Basement, Yoni Wolf, Lady Midnight, Dave King/Andrew Broder, Margret, and DJ Babyghost & Naeem (DJ set)
Jan. 30: The Cloak Ox, Serengeti, Angel Davanport, Naeem & FEEL FREE Hi Fi (DJ set)