Minneapolis, September 27th 2014
We cross the Mississippi four times, once in, once out and twice in the course of going out. It astonishes me that the river still has the power to carve a city in two so far from the sea. One end might sit in the icy chill of frozen Minnesota while the delta sweats and oozes into the Gulf of Mexico more than a thousand miles south. Minneapolis has a strange personality. She is twins so perhaps that’s to be expected. As we roll in from Chicago we see streets thronged with sandal and shorted mobs. It’s Saturday and unseasonably warm. Everyone is out making hay. Any day now a front could come in from the north and there won’t be a soul to be seen on the street. It always strikes me as a very clean place, as if the hellish winters scour the city in a glacial abrasion leaving every surface immaculate for the rest of the year. Today it’s beautiful. Everyone is out in their summer finery lapping up the rays like recently released prisoners.
The gig is a chi-chi jazz joint, all smoked glass and candle lit tables. The owner, Lowell, pops in to say hello as I’m warming up to go on. He’s dapper and has seamless command. The stage sits in the centre of a long room so that most of the audience are on either side of me while I face fifteen people and a wall. It’s tough because the most responsive contingent are almost behind me and I can’t play to them without going off mic. The punters in my eyeline seem mainly concerned with their dinners and mobile phones. To be fair, the food is pretty good. I sing for a whole minute at one woman who is so obsessed with her pudding that I begin to think she presumes I am just background music. This is grist to the mill.
I decide to have a beer and the three of us in the touring party retire to Nye’s Polinaise Rooms on the other side of old muddy accompanied by old friend Jodi, the floral artist who has always been so gracious in showing us the sights over the decades, and are later joined by The Mastersons. Nye’s is a remarkable survivor of which there are distressingly few left in the West. Faux veneer linoleum walls, banquettes upholstered in studded leatherette and waitresses who remember the war. The civil war. It’s like a David Lynch wet dream. The first room is centred around the piano which naturally has its own fitted bar built around it. The aged tinkler has a huge tattered book listing all the songs in his repertoire (although he manages to make everything sound like Les Dawson Plays Thelonoius Monk) and various tone-deaf enthusiasts belt out show-stopping performances to his eternal chagrin. The second room features The World’s Most Dangerous Polka Band – a trio featuring drums, accordion and trumpet who perform in a line crammed onto a little raised balcony. It is intoxicatingly weird and somehow effortlessly authentic, if by authentic you mean unique, absurd and full of humour. Mr. Niz and I have a celebratory dance to his request of In Heaven There Is No Beer (That’s Why We Drink It Here). All too quickly the evening ends but Mr. Fudge comes up trumps by hailing an idling stretch limo so that our return trip across the great Mississippi to the hotel is in keeping with the night’s atmosphere: joy and ridiculousness, truth and fabrication, sunning ourselves in the soon-to-be-frozen north in an American Indian summer.