Ides of March @ Pizza Luce

Et tu, Ness? At Pizza Luce On The Ides Of March

Andrew Olson

Reader Weekly

It was cover tunes and tribute bands at Pizza Luce this past Friday and Saturday inDuluth for the Ides of March show.

Friday evening opened with Mr. Kickass performing hits from a little known New England punk band called The Queers. Although they formed in the 1980s, it wasn’t until about ten years later that the band became known outside the area. Most casual or perhaps even experienced listeners wouldn’t recognize the band, but Mr. Kickass did a great job of recreating the vibe to a growing audience.

The next band that took the stage was Brad Fernholz’s Bradical Boombox. He played a pastel version of “brother and sister” duo The White Stripes. He called it the White Stripes with Orange.

“My sister played drums and sang backing vocals,” Fernholz said. “She also did lead vocal and keys on “In The Cold Cold Night.” She is the youngest of five siblings and I'm the oldest.”

Fernholz admitted at the show that his sister had been playing drums for a mere 3 weeks to prepare for their performance. This wasn’t a rip on Meg White’s skills, but Diane did a great job considering.

“Diane had really only been putting her mind to the drums for the three weeks before the show in order to learn the songs we played. She worked hard on it. The thing is, my sister and I come from a musical family, and our dad is a drummer. All five of us have been around a drum set all our lives. I love encouraging people to play music so they can get the same satisfaction that I get from it. My sister deserves the compliment of people knowing that she is that good after only three weeks. Imagine the potential there. You can be musical and have rhythm if you really want to. We all have a heartbeat.”

So how did Fernholz feel the show went?

“Overall, it went pretty well. My sister was awesome all the way through, and we were both really nervous. It was new and challenging territory musically for both of us and then even more so to do it in front of a crowd that we both have tremendous respect for. You always want it to be perfect, right? So I was not happy with my performance of the first song, but it was rather fitting, because it offended me in every way. I just had to go with that offensiveness for a bit to beat the nervous fingers syndrome. From there on out, we got to rockin’.”

While Fernholz’s nerves were real, the artist he was emulating, Jack White, often describes the “struggle” he creates for himself while onstage. White creates extra hardships like using damaged guitars, never using a set list, and making his drummer follow as a way to keep the performance interesting and challenging.

Fernholz has many music projects going on with his Bradical Boombox (of which he plays everything), Taste The Feeling (where he is joined by his two kids Gavin and Anika), Hotel Coral Essex, Field Of Medicine, and a few more side projects. During the show Fernholz talked about how excited he was to be back in Duluth.

“My wife, Kristi, and I both have our Bachelors degrees from UMD,” Fernholz said. We are both artists and we love the art community in Duluth. I have played in Giljunko, Two Sleepy People and The Hotel Coral Essex. I think there is great music and art coming out of this community. And I really do appreciate the support that so many people in Duluth have given me, even after moving away. Kristi and I missDuluth so much. If I ever decide to quit my organic vegetable farming, who knows, but until then I think of Duluth as it's great mayor Donny Ness always tells me to think of second home.”

Don Ness, our Google celebrity mayor, was in the fray at the show as well. He came in wearing a suit coat, un-tucked dress shirt, and blue jeans. It seemed like he had tried to dress down, while still looking slightly mayorlike. After the Fontenelles were finished covering Velvet Underground tunes I spotted Ness grabbing a set list to keep as a memento.

I asked Dave Mehling of The Fontenelles what he thought of Ness’s actions.

“I was looking for that set list for my Fontenelles scrapbook,” Mehling joked. “Perhaps he could photocopy it for us?”

The Fontenelles, featuring Mehling on vocals, where characterized by him as Jordan Taylor (Bass, filling in for Gabriel Douglas), Darin Rieland (Guitar) and Brad Nelson (nailing it for Woody Stulberg and/or Dano Sauter).

Their performance was an unexpected take on Velvet Underground. Mehling seemed more like Dylan than Reed on stage, which is cool as they are very similar artists in many ways, yet they are polar opposites in other ways. The band itself had a kind of honky-tonk take on VU, which Brad Nelson said was partly because many of the band’s members had been performing countryish music lately. They did an excellent job on the songs, but it was very different from Lou Reed’s New York alternative artsy creation that Andy Warhol introduced to the world.

“The VU have a very diverse sound from album to album,” Mehling said. “I feel Lou Reed has always strived to be a songwriter’s songwriter - akin to Tin Pan Alley and Nashville greats. The twang really comes across in some of the outtakes from 'Loaded'. Plus, Darin is the best hot licks country player I know and we are pretty much an alt-country band with some punk influences, so the country is gonna stick to whatever we do.”

Brad Nelson of Black Eyed Snakes replaced the Minneapolis-based Fontenelles’ drummer at the last minute.

“I was pulled in at the last second to fill in for their normal drummer,” Nelson said. “We didn't have time to pull together a rehearsal so it was a skin-of-the-teeth kind of set.”

Mehling commented that he was happy with the band that they chose to cover and he explained the songs on what is now Donny Ness’ set list.

”The Velvet Underground is the greatest American rock band of all time. We tried to pick songs from all their studio albums, but I also picked songs that were easy - on account we didn't practice.”

The last band of the evening, Bryon Maiden, took the night to the next level doing Iron Maiden’s hits. Mat Milinkovich played drums, Brett Molitor (from the Surfactants) and Allen Cragin (from Circa A.M.) played guitar, Bryon Gaynor (from batteries) played bass and "hotrod" Cory Alhm (from Bone Appetit) sang. Throwing together Iron Maiden takes very skilled musicians, and Bryon Maiden was dead on.

“I think the show went as well as could be expected considering we only had three real practices,” Milinkovich said. “When you consider we learned nine pretty difficult songs in a total of about four and a half hours, I think we all passed. In nearly every aspect, Maiden songs are a challenge. That band is comprised of some of the best musicians in the heavy metal genre.”

Recently Milinkovich hurt his foot, but luckily it didn’t slow him down for the show.

“I rolled my ankle on St. Patrick's Day about 10 minutes before I was supposed to leave for Cars & Trucks' show at RT Quinlin's. To make a long story short – I missed that gig. I wasn't supposed to play the Maiden show either, but it wasn't like we could reschedule, so I sucked it up. It didn't really affect my playing, but all that walking around probably set my recovery back by a few days.”

Did Donny Ness throw him off his game at all?

“I think it's great that Donny... er... Mayor Ness still goes out to shows,” .Milinkovich said. “I've been acquaintances with him since before he was elected, so when he shows up to a show it's not one of those "omg! the mayor's here" sort of things.”

In the end it was a great night of some of the area’s greatest musicians covering bands that they and the audience love. During the White Stripes’ and Velvet Underground’s songs the place was packed and everyone was singing along. As the night progressed and music got harder the crowd thinned, but the heavy fans remained.

Milinkovich’s band Cars and Trucks will be featured on The PlayList, Karen Sunderman’s new art and entertainment television show. It will air at 9pm on April 8th on WDSE/WRPT.