Summer solstice. 81 degrees and sunny. Walker Sculpture Garden. Four bands.
Given those stats, does it even matter which bands played and how each one performed? Every Walker After Hours event in the last year has been completely overrun, whether it featured Frida Kahlo or suburban landscapes. And Minneapolis clearly missed this event, which had featured the Jayhawks and Wilco in the past. Rock the Garden brings together the city's favorite brand in institutionalized art, and its favorite brand in independent rock, in its favorite season. Yes, the lineup (Bon Iver, Cloud Cult, New Pornographers, and Andrew Bird) seemed as sexy as the Walker's decision to put up a Paul Bunyan statue in the middle of their temporary mini-golf course (hey, it's all recycled!), but as the Strib's Chris Riemenschneider pointed out in his incisive column on the lineup Saturday, the Walker and its cosponsor, The Current, obviously know their crowd.
For most of the event (that is, until Andrew Bird took the stage at 8:30), deciding on which line to stand in (corn dog/beer ticket/beer) was much more important than which indie-rock singer was crooning in which delicate falsetto in the background. Anticipating supply and demand became everything: Your ability to actually pay attention to a band, let alone enjoy it, hinged on when you decided
to stand in the beer-ticket line and when you decided to stand in the actual beer line. And your biorhythm better be a little more angular than the typical Current fans if you had any chance at getting a bite to eat during the six-hour extravaganza. When Bon Iver was finishing around 5:30, the corn dog line was ten minutes long. When New Pornographers were playing around 7:30, I watched a red head stand in line for a hamburger for at least forty-five minutes. The poor food service employees manning the small grill were overwhelmed by a thick, suppurating queue that reached from the garden to the steps of the Walker in the middle of a blocked off Vineland Place.
Cloud Cult was too hippy-dippy even for a summer solstice concert, and other than the ELO cover they closed with, the
New Pornographers bored me, especially with the only two stars in this so-called Canadian Supergroup, Neko Case and Destroyer's Daniel Bejar, absent. The bookends, Eau Claire's Bon Iver and Minneapolis's avant-indie adoptee Andrew Bird, were the two acts worth moving to the front and leaving the concessionaire's tangletown behind. Bon Iver's story cycle is still haunting even under perfect summer skies, but First Ave., where he's playing on August 15, is probably a better venue for seeing him. And Andrew Bird, with his crew of Minneapolis savants, Dosh and Jeremy Ylivsaker, is doing things onstage—simultaneously plunking strange chords on his guitar, whistling, and looping his violin live—that I've only seen attempted by Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood. Ridiculous.
Unfortunately, even Bird chose to forgo the only opportunity for real risk in his set, when he apologized before dutifully leaving the stage for a ten-minute break during a short lightning storm.
Photographs by Sara Montour.