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Baby Dee, Minneapolis, 2.8.08

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One of the things making this long winter bearable has been the knowledge that Baby Dee was coming to town in support of her new album. Bryant Lake Bowl, a restaurant with both a bowling alley and an adjacent theater, normally hosts quirky plays or variety shows. I had never seen a music performance here before, and that it was someone so unique as Baby Dee promised to make it a memorable event.

 

Local group Dreamland Faces opened to a friendly crowd. Fronted by a musical saw and an accordion and backed by period instruments, they play popular music from around the turn of the 20th century, including tonight a pair of original scores from Buster Keaton movies. The band was fun without succumbing to kitsch, the perfect intro for the evening’s headliner.

Baby Dee took the stage and welcomed us to her sound check, joking that only sissies have those things anyway. Her traveling band was, on cello, John Contreras, who has played with Current 93 as well as Dee herself on European dates; Emmett Kelly and Paul Oldham on guitar and electric bass respectively; and Alex Neilson on drums. With Baby Dee on piano, they played mostly songs from the new album but started and ended with work from previous recordings. Her band brought to life both the new music and the old, each member adding distinction to the material.

She opened with a stirring rendition of "Three Women," then played the instrumental "Flowers on the Tracks," one of the few recent tracks that shares a delicate fragility with her previous songs. In contrast, there is an exuberant quality to much of the newer material, like the mysterious and sinister "The Earlie King" or the rousing, cabaret stylings of "The Only Bones That Show." There's also humor at play on "Big Titty Bee Girl (From Dino Town)," a music hall song about the benefits of finding an albino lover. The night ended with "So Bad" from Love's Small Song, a somber but beautiful song further enriched by the band's contributions.

Although many of the night's material covered serious topics, Baby Dee's charming banter between songs kept the evening endearingly playful. At less than an hour, the set was somewhat abbreviated because of the group's hasty arrival that even kept Baby Dee's harp in the truck. Still, she and her band's impassioned performance did plenty to make me forget about the winter chill beyond the theater's walls.

 


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