Moving to Freedom, .Org(on)

Ryan Montbleau Band plays to ‘Zombie Pub Crawl’ in Minneapolis

Ryan Montbleau Band at 400 Bar during Zombie Pub Crawl

As mentioned in previous episodes, I’ve become a fan of the Ryan Montbleau Band over the past year, so I was excited to learn only a couple of weeks ago that they were returning to Minneapolis, just six months after their last visit.

Mixed Expectations

I didn’t hear great things about the venue, 400 Bar, but that didn’t matter. I’d get to hear RMB play and that was the important part. But then I was dismayed to discover they happened to be playing on Zombie Pub Crawl night. This was the 5th annual ZPC, an event that has been doubling in size each year, so that this year 4,000 people were expected to participate. 400 Bar is located in the Cedar/Riverside area, which is ground zero for the lurching drunken madness. I’d never heard of the event before. My wife and I lead a sheltered life. We’re most definitely not zombie crawling types.

But I resolved that as a writer, I should be open to the experience. It was unlikely that our brains would actually get eaten by zombies. (Although I did imagine a CSI episode opening with Nick Stokes and Jim Brass standing over the bodies of a dead suburban couple while hundreds of people in zombie makeup stumble around in the background…)

An appropriate RMB song came to mind, “Variety”:

Drive me into the city where the crazies come out at night
And I’ll be one of them, I’ll be one of them this time.
I should be willing,
I should be down for the adventure…

Still, to paraphrase Indiana Jones: “Zombies. Why did it have to be zombies?”

But I had enjoyed the show so much the last time that I knew I would go. Fortunately, my patient, long-suffering wife was still willing and down for the adventure, so off we went to the show last night.

Before the Show

I was hoping that the event organizers were off in their hyping of another doubling, but the sidewalks overflowed with putrid flesh. I had thought my route would get us into a nearby U of M parking ramp without having to navigate Cedar Avenue and Zombie Town Central. I just followed the same route from my last trip down there to see RMB, but this time Kathy was along to point out I’d be going the wrong way on a one-way street. So we went around, and then I missed the turn on the other side, so now we’re going right down Cedar, and there are hordes of zombies. In the movies, people just drive right into zombies, but that didn’t seem like a good idea here. There were too many of them; we’d just get stuck. So we waited patiently with the other cars to get around them, until finally we made it back to the ramp.

Walking to the bar, the zombies seemed friendly enough. 400 Bar was pretty much the dive I expected. The few tables and seats were taken, so we took up position by the corner of the stage, near some other non-zombie refugees. (Apparently there was no wait staff, since those few tables became filled with empty glasses and bottles over the course of the evening. This was noted after we commandeered a table partway into the show.) There was a decent pre-existing fan turnout, judging by the number of us non-zombies. We talked to a few of these, plus a couple of nice zombies. The zombies had no clue about who these guys were. I later saw that Ryan had twittered earlier in the evening:

‘Zombie Crawl’ where we’re playing in Minneapolis. 5,000 people dressed like zombies. ‘Are we gonna hear some Snoop?’ one asks. Um, no.”

From that, I could have guessed at some apprehension over the gig. They had no idea this was going on the same night. RMB plays a lot of rocking tunes, but they also play thoughtful, mellow stuff that I had been afraid wouldn’t go over very well with the zombie infestation. I could imagine them playing a moving song like “This,” accompanied by shouts of “braaaaaaaaiinz!!!” It was going to be interesting, even if not the ideal playing and viewing conditions.

They seemed to just be getting to their sound check at 9pm when the show was supposed to start, and it didn’t look like Ryan was very happy. I don’t know if it was because of the crowd, or something to do with the sound, or if it was anything. After some “check, check, checking,” the band disappeared backstage again. (I took the opportunity to visit the bathroom, where in keeping with the evening’s theme, there was the most foul smell imaginable. A guy walked in there in front of me, took a step to the stall, and I thought he was going to be ill from the smell and whatever he saw there. I didn’t look. The smell was bad enough. I don’t think there was a dead — or undead — body in there.)

The Show!

Finally, they started playing at 9:30. The sound was not great. My ears aren’t the most discerning, but I thought it was a mess. In particular, the keyboards sounded much too loud over the other instruments at times, and Ryan’s vocals didn’t come across very cleanly. It was too loud. But it also sounded all right. They were jamming and playing well. It was just the sound system that stank, along with the decaying undead. I could get past that and enjoy the show, and it was fun to watch the night unfold.

As expected, they did adjust their set to accommodate battlefield conditions. They didn’t play as many slower songs. They played more covers. (I’m assuming these were adjustments.) Here they are playing Dusty Springfield’s “Spooky”:

Ryan came up with some zombie-related banter, talking about the dead and the undead and the living coming together and getting along (or something like that). There was an enthusiastic crowd gathered up front. There had been some dispersal earlier in the night with the starting delay, but a crowd of dancing zombies gathered as the show went on. They responded well to the music. It seemed to satiate some need they had to continue with the rituals of the living.

I could tell the guys were really having fun when they broke into “Thriller.” This was something I would have never expected from RMB, but of course the crowd loved it, and it was perfect for the night. (I remembered that after Michael Jackson died, Ryan wrote about his sadness over the news, and how much he loved Jackson’s music when he was growing up. That post was the best thing I read about MJ after his death.)

Other surprising but good choices for the evening included “She Blinded Me With Science” and “Electric Avenue.” Silly stuff, and my first choice would have been more originals, but it was a lot of fun. The most important part was that they were putting on a great show for the crowd that was there. I was impressed with their showmenship.

Inspired By No One

Last time they were here, one of my favorite performances of the night was “Inspired By No One.” They really jammed on that one and it made me appreciate the song on a whole new level. I had previously liked it, but it hadn’t stood out for me. I wanted to hear more live versions, but I came up empty on YouTube. So I thought I’d be on the alert for it this time with the camera. I missed the lead in, but here is the Zombie Edition of “Inspired By No One”:

They played an extended jam version again, and Ryan “zombiefied” the lyrics, with snippets like “good things and sunshine and zombies all the time,” and “she got a heart of gold and I ate it for breakfast today,” and “sweet tasting brains all the time,” and “she got a heart of darkness and she don’t have a lot to say.” The production values with my little Canon camera are dismal at best, but it gives a feel for the night.

Starting at 4m:20s (420!), there is some fun “call and response” stuff and then some of the zombie lyrics. The crowd’s getting into it. This was in the first half of the evening and I think is an example of how they won over the crowd. (And you can hear someone shouting out “brains!” during the song, so there is that.)

(Searching YouTube again for other live versions, look what I found: a video from the show I was at in April! The Cedar “Inspired By No One” sounds much better, although with the camera focused so tightly on Ryan, I don’t get the feel of the jam so much.)

Encore

We got a good chant going of One. More. Song! after the show, and the band came back out to play a couple more songs. Ryan said first there’d be a slower song and then they’d get people dancing again. (Something to that effect.) First was, “How Many Times,” with just the stringed instruments.

I told Kathy that this was about a friend of the band’s that had died, so she knew it was going to be a somber song. And you can tell that from the song itself, but people were goofing off during it. This was that disconnect in action, but people were also digging it. Kathy said she heard some of the zombies behind us commenting after the song that they really liked it.

And then they finished with “Electric Avenue,” which was just silly. But it did get the crowd dancing again, and it was a good finale, including several zombies clambering up onto the stage at the end.

So it was quite a night. I hope they picked up some new fans. I think if you’re in a band and you’re working as hard as these guys are working, you really want people that are there for your music. You don’t want to be just any band that can stand in and keep a rowdy crowd entertained. But I suppose rowdy crowds can be fun also, and I imagine having a bunch of people carrying on and dancing to your music has its own rewards. I think there was something there for everyone last night. I’m glad we went. (Even though at 11:30, it was very late for me and the missus!)

The Songs

Here’s the incomplete and not in order set list. It’s what I can remember:

(Updated: Received inside information to fill me in on names of a couple of songs…)

The Rest of the Band

Ryan gets a lot of the attention as the front man, but the whole band is awesome. It’s not just a one man operation; they really are a band. They’ve been playing together a long time and they all contribute to a unique sound. It’s fun to watch how they jam so well together. These five guys can perform, and I know they’re going to get big as an act if they keep it up.

For a perfunctory roll call: Jason Cohen plays keyboards. I had been undecided about the keyboard sound on some of their songs from the studio albums, but after seeing them live the first time I realized how great the keyboards are for the band’s sound. James Cohen is the drummer. I met him briefly after the show last night and he seemed like a really nice guy. Matt Gianarros plays bass (including an upright, acoustic bass), and Laurence Scudder plays the viola. (Yes — the viola!) I love the sound they get from the three stringed instruments. I have a live CD of a performance at Club Passim by Ryan, Matt, and Larry, and it’s super.

(Missing on tour but a nice enhancement on their studio albums: horns. Maybe they could benefit from another guy on that stage, but I doubt they could afford it at 400 Bar rates.)

More to Come?

Ryan later twittered:

Tonight’s ‘Zombie’ gig in Minneapolis was one I’ll never forget. Thought it would be a disaster, I was way wrong. I’ll blog about it…

I know how these shows all blend together on the road, so I’m glad they had a memorable experience on their Minneapolis stop. Here’s Ryan’s post: The Zombie Bar Crawl. (With a kind mention of this post! Thanks, Ryan.)

These guys will be headlining much nicer venues in the future, but it will always be fun to remember this one. It was an experience, and makes for a good story.

(But please, guys, no more Zombie Crawls.)