June 22, 2008

Walker Rocks to the Beat of the Sun

By Tony Gonzalez, Star Tribune, Minneapolis

Jun. 22--It was 7:11 p.m. Saturday when a rare cloud floated between the sun and the estimated 8,000 Rock the Garden concertgoers at the Walker Art Center. It was a 2-minute respite from the sun that shone from behind the bannered stage and forced fans to shield their eyes as they stood tiptoe to see.

Those near the stage had the only shade, but the crowd wrapped up the Walker's back lawn, leaving some watching the acts, amiably and glare-free, from behind the bands.

Rock the Garden, reignited after a four-year hiatus by 89.3 the Current and the Walker, featured four bands that played to a crowd that was tepid at times, but occasionally was moved to head bobbing and even hopping.

Opening act Bon Iver induced shivers in Adriana Fitzgerald, 22, of Minneapolis.

"The singers made some incredible harmonies and gave me goosebumps," she said after the set.

Although many awaited the New Pornographers and Andrew Bird, local act Cloud Cult generated buzz for their stage confidence and diversity of sound. After a hopping, spinning and clapping pre-show get-together backstage (visible to those on the lawn), the ensemble grabbed calls of recognition from their first notes. They played a set that included eclectic instrumentation, including sampling and strings, but which often returned to somewhat-caustic cymbal-crashing thumps.

Martha Williams, 39, of Minneapolis, called the band's storytelling lyrics "passionate and beautiful," but said the crowd may have missed something. "They weren't even tapping their feet," she said.

Meanwhile, the Chipotle line left the hungry waiting 30 minutes for a burrito that was bound to taste even better after such a wait.

The New Pornographers tended toward material from before 2007's "Challengers," and threw back even further for their set-ending cover of "Don't Bring Me Down" by Electric Light Orchestra.

Band leader Carl Newman was jovial, riffing on his guitar's design before he described Minneapolis as the city that launched many of the bands that influenced the Pornographers, including the Replacements.

An under-mixed keyboard detracted from otherwise upbeat songs such as "Use It," but the group's ensemble singing made for a peppy effort, especially on the sing-along "Sing Me Spanish Techno."

By the time Andrew Bird took the stage at 8:30 the sun had disappeared, leaving ominous gray-yellow clouds. Despite a mid-set pause for threatening weather, the promise of more improvisational whistling by Bird and the wonder-inducing sky held most listeners.

After the show, Bird said the set break actually allowed the band to correct technical difficulties. They returned with gusto on "Plasticities," showcasing Bird's in-the-moment ideas with guitar, violin, glockenspiel, whistling and even some sharp claps.

"What they can put out on the radio is not what he performs. He topples it," said Jillian Markus, 27, of Minneapolis.

On "Imitosis" Bird played his most dynamic violin of the night, adding sharp shrieks amid hiccuping rhythms. It was surprising how much sound the three-piece lineup (bolstered by looping) could present, but Bird finished the set as he started, alone on stage, allowing his final violin and whistle loops to fade.

Tony Gonzalez --612-673-7415


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