50 Grit Bores into the Midwestern Consciousness
By Jay Kelly
Special PopCircles Minneapolis Correspondent
ęPopCircles Magazine January 2004
I wish my brain had been ready to listen to 50 Grit when I went to their surprise concert
at First Avenue in Minneapolis January 30. Now I have a hole in my head that no other music can
fill until the damn thing heals. I'm a frozen bloody mess.
It was noon on a Friday, during one of those ridiculously-cold stretches that comes around
in Minnesota about every five years. It's the kind of week where you don't expose the piercings
man, or something's going to break off. Slug from Atmosphere called me from his office on Hennepin
and told me that his contacts at SubPop tell him 50 Grit is jetting in for a special show at the
Ave that night. He says their performing under the name "Cheesegrater." Atmosphere likes 50 Grit
because they're cool about riff stealing for Slug's newest beats. I told him he's an idiot cause the
bassist is a buddy of mine (I half-ruined his wedding), and Theron could pick me out of a lineup,
and they woulda called if they were playing here. He threw some really creative gangsta pimp-ass
expletives my way and hung up, and just after I get off the cell with Dominoes telling them to send
50 pizzas and 1 order of bread sticks the RhymeSayers way, Mr. Scott calls from the plane.
"Hey, I'm coming into town on the 50 Grit jet! We're playing a show at First Avenue as a
favor to Gary Louris because nobody else lets him 'surprisingly' sit in (Oh my gosh! I think
that's Gary Louris up there! Doesn't he play for Soul Asylum?) and jam for a few songs anymore.
At his last Minneapolis gig, Ryan Adams had told him 'maybe' and then got really drunk and didn't
recognize Gary trying to get on stage to play some Strokes covers. Adams then kicks Gary in the nuts,
thinking he was Paul Westerberg. Needless to say, Gary is now more carefully planning his surprise gigs."
"That's a wonderful story," I said, but "I already heard it, and I already heard you were coming into town.
You need to call me sooner because I can't be getting my info about surprise concerts from some hip-hop dude.
I'm supposed to be Mr. No Depression in this town, yo!" I was only berating him because I hadn't seen 50 Grit
live since 1998, back when they were a West Coast phenomenon, and I wanted to see for myself what had changed.
I had also been trapped in my house by the subzero temps, and had been listening to Jimmy Buffett and salsa
music under a heat lamp with a Slurpee-sized margarita in my hand, trying to pretend I was in Mexico. It wasn't working.
"Just be at home at 7," Chris said. "You're the last stop on the limo pick-up list."
The last time I had been at First Ave with Mr. Scott had been for a Steve Earle show before 50 Grit's
tour schedule got too busy for him to be a normal person. Now that He was Chris Scott - Rock Star
(not Chris Rock - Scott Star), he would tell stories about shows he'd seen, and then add fictitious
'then-I-hung-out-with-the-band' endings to his anecdotes. The groupies that night were amazed that Chris
knew Steve Earle, and that the pair had gotten drunk after Steve's show at this very venue 4 years ago.
"That was me you got drunk with," I said, after security had herded the women out of the green room.
"You're not that interesting though," Chris said. "Well, just don't tell that story around me anymore then,"
I whined. "Tell the one about Theron, Sinead O'Connor and The Edge in Ireland instead. That one is freaky."
"Can't tell that one anymore," Chris said. "US Weekly and People Magazine won't stop asking Theron about
Druid witchcraft and its no-so-secret connection to the Catholic Church."
Once the show got started, I saw first hand why everyone was flocking to the shows. The songwriting had
developed into its own unique style, instead of seeming to draw from other influences. The band was tighter,
and they had a lot more material now. I even realized that I had heard one of their B-sides in an elevator as
Muzak. Sneaky capitalists! Theron could now thunder away like Springsteen or croon like Tony Bennett, and the
rhythm section anticipated every chameleon-like move. On a whim, they sounded like your uncle around the
campfire or the Stones at Wembley. They truly had gotten under the skin of the true music lovers nationwide,
and they certainly burrowed into the consciousness of Minneapolis that night. Nobody wanted to leave.
It was like coming home to hot cider after the sledding trips of our youth, and we didn't want to go to
sleep because we were too hyped.
After the concert, the band asked me if they could come to my place for a beer and bathroom break before
they got back on the jet. I told them they could have a margarita, but not to touch my Guinness because that
was to cure my seasonal-affective disorder. I also told them that if they were going to have a jet, I needed a
Bat Signal to summon them when danger approached. I fell asleep before they left, and woke up in the morning
feeling like I was still at the concert. I turned on the heat lamp, made a margarita, and turned up the
Jimmy Buffett, but I couldn't hear the music. I couldn't listen to the Jayhawks, or to Ryan Adams,
or even to Steve Earle. The concert kept replaying in my head, drowning everything else out. I stepped
outside into the -20 degree morning to clear my head and saw that the band had intricately urinated the
"Fifty Grit" logo in the snow in my yard, big as a crop circle, and had drunk my Guinness and used the
empty cans to dot the two i's.
50 Grit had made its mark.