They can be the sleeper picks, the guys who go unnoticed in weekly venue billings hyping the hottest indie hunks or the latest from the trap.
Some of them rage, some of them groove and some merely hang in the background, the pleasing ambiance for a quiet dinner or coffee with your beau.
These are the residents, the artists with recurring gigs about town.
Bands to make ’em dance
The New Primitives regularly garner props as one of the sickest Minnesota reggae bands, playing Thursday nights at the “old side” of Nye’s Bar and Polonaise Room for the past five years.
“It gives us the chance to stay new and fresh — we’ve made mistakes and had train wrecks, but we can make it what we want,” lead singer Stan Kipper said. “Nye’s has made the Primitives fearless: It helps us build.”
Jam band Soap has similarly honed their craft at the Cabooze for the past two years.
Previous house bands The Big Wu and God Johnson established the versatile jam rock vibe over the course of a decade, making Soap’s installation two years ago a logical business move. Plus, they’d already spent the previous two years holding court at the now defunct Downtime Bar & Grill.
However, with this much exposure, bands can oversaturate the market. Residencies affect rehearsals, too — devoting time to a regular engagement can take precedence over working on albums.
In Soap’s case, it also means there isn’t the opportunity to collaborate on original material, with songs coming in mostly complete from one of the members.
But one of the bright sides of carrying out a residency is making smart connections. Soap’s manager is Brad Solheim, who also works at the Cabooze and books Wednesday’s openers.
“It allows us to trade favors,” Solheim said.
Say a Denver band opens for Soap; maybe Soap gets to open for that band at their local club.
The upscale Loring Pasta Bar is a far cry from both the Cabooze, where Wu-Tang’s Redman is just as likely to have a show as Umphrey’s McGee, and Nye’s, the bar that time forgot. Loring’s recurring acts reflect this dinner crowd difference.
Friday nights at Loring see Minnesota blues treasure James “Cornbread” Harris (still tickling the ivories at 86 years old) calmly play like no one’s there, only to have salsa music take over later in the night.
The Calhoun Square Famous Dave’s BBQ & Blues has experienced a regular Sunday night takeover for 13 years, except instead of salsa, it’s entirely the audience’s doing.
Blues axeman Moses Oakland hosts an open jam session there.
“There’s one requirement — if you can write your name, I’ll call it,” Oakland said.
For Oakland, a guy who got back into playing after a hiatus via an open jam session, it’s a democratic chance to give back and educate younger folk about the blues.
“There’s an equation with three things, and only two of them have to be there [to play the gig]: the money, the people and the music,” Oakland said. “I’m enviable in that I have all three of those.”
With all of these local residents’ talent, success and apparent chemistry, there looks to be a lot of enviable musicians.
The view from above
House bands like the New Primitives allow for venues to transform their image from night to night, drawing different demographics. It’s a convenient alternative to booking a different group every night.
Bunker’s Music Bar & Grill epitomizes this practice. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the Warehouse District joint witnesses R&B funkiness from Dr. Mambo’s Combo, followed by reggae and then the Classic Rock All-Star Project (or C.R.A.P.)
“The [Warehouse District] has become so residential, I kind of thought we could go with covers [on Wednesday] to get some people in after dinner, people walking by to pop in and hang out,” said James Klein, the talent buyer for Bunker’s. “It’s not rocket science.”
But it isn’t a game of Go Fish either.
“The downside of so many residencies: It’s hard to bring up-and-comers in and try to develop them when you don’t have an off night,” Klein said.
Klein has been managing artists for the past 30 years while booking Bunker’s for over 20. It probably doesn’t hurt that his wife owns the place or that he took the helm a year after Dr. Mambo’s Combo started cranking up the heat. Still, there will always be a few issues with the residency set-up, in spite of its fundamental convenience.
The view from the bar
All of these groups and all of these venues mean one thing: community and the ongoing chance to build it further.
“It’s not Nye’s when we play, it’s the ‘Voodoo Lounge,’” Stan Kipper of the New Primitives said. “It’s a great clubhouse.”
People are busy, and their lives are hectic; recurring gigs allow for fans to leisurely meet up at the hang, knowing they’ll see the other regulars. It’s a time to mingle and bond — and maybe get to know the musicians during one of their breaks.
Soap’s previous Pink Floyd cover nights illustrate this potential. Soap has a regular cohort of 20-something fans, but when the chords of “The Dark Side of the Moon” waft onto the patio shared with the Joint Bar, faded-tat bikers drift in to listen.
To top it off, it’s all so accessible — you aren’t going to break the bank with these shows. And if you miss one night, you’ll have countless other nights to soak up the funky milieu.
People know these things walking in on a given evening, probably exchanging nods with a familiar bartender as they do so.
That’s what makes these venerable talents such an important part of the musical landscape — there’s no question that residents are here to stay.