What: The Suburbs
When: 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday
Where: The Cabooze, 917 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis
In a non-descript warehouse in Northeast Minneapolis, a band conceived in 1977 practices their inventive brand of rock that helped define the Minneapolis sound in the ’‘80s. The room the four members occupy is littered with amps and monitors. Peeled wallpaper accompanies outdated studio equipment while the band steps over cords to take a break. With a grin, Blaine John “Beej” Chaney compares the space to a dog’s house.
“We’ve got this little kennel here,” Chaney said. “We try not to pee on the area we’re in.”
“That’s why they put this new carpet in,” musician Pete Fleming added.
The Suburbs, one of the prominent acts during Minneapolis’ rising music scene in the early 1980s, indefinitely shaped the sound of rock with energetic rhythms and optimistic lyrics. Humor like Chaney’s pee-related quip always found its way into their material. One early song called “Chemistry Set” consisted of members Bruce Allen and Chaney singing, “I’m into chemistry and that’s about it.”
Along with Hüsker Dü, The Replacements and The Suicide Commandos, The Suburbs achieved limited national popularity with songs like “Rattle My Bones” but left a lasting influence with their combination of punk and new wave.
Known for bouncy hooks combining funk, disco and new wave, The Suburbs signed to Mercury Records in 1984 to make the classic “Love is the Law.” Produced by the “Funkytown“ composer Steven Greenberg, the album remains a blueprint for contemporary bands like The Drums or The Ting Tings seeking the lively pop-oriented immediacy inherent in The Suburbs’ sound.
“It was a long time ago so we were almost inventing it — that kind of insanity. And then it spread to all these other bands,” Chaney said.
After the death of founding member Bruce Allen in 2009 due to complications from surgery, the band played a tribute concert at First Avenue for the guitarist and vocalist. As a visual artist, Allen designed the band’s iconic logo of five men — resembling symbols to a restroom — surrounded by a circle. Allen also helped design the album cover for The Replacements’ seminal album “Let it Be.”
It’s been almost two years since Allen passed, but Chaney admits he still finds it strange to play without his deceased friend.
“I get these little lumps in my throat when we go into these choruses,” Chaney said.
Embracing the new music scene may not come easy for a band so entrenched in the distinct sounds of their time, but original member and drummer Hugo Klaers appreciates the new crop of talent.
“It seems like there’s more camaraderie in the sense that guys are playing with each other, whereas in the ’80s it was everyone got their own band and just wanted to be super successful,” Klaers said, “And now everyone just wants to play.”
That energy Klaers describes translates to the new iteration of The Suburbs. Fleming and guitarist/vocalist Steve Brantseg add fresh energy into a veteran band that could have very well have suffered from stagnancy after the death of Allen.
“I think we became more serious when they joined about continuing and keeping playing, whereas before we were just getting together and doing shows,” Klaers said.
The continued support behind The Suburbs speaks to the music’s timelessness. Devoted followers attend each show. Sustaining the vitality of The Suburbs’ days at the Longhorn Bar in the ’80s, the band’s characteristic sound continues to inspire audiences.
“The fans of this band are just unbelievable,” Brantseg said. “The energy that comes out of the crowd literally hoists the band up to another level.”
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