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REVIEW: Dead Man Winter @ First Avenue

Photo by David McClister.

First Ave is packed, but it’s noticeably not annoying. I am chesting through what is undeniably the salt of the earth: Minnesotans buzzing with anticipation, familial-like recognition, whiskey. It’s cozy like a homecoming dipped in flannel, and I have the sense that if the world were to burn down around us (which it is) and only this room of people survived, we’d be pretty okay.

We’re here to see Dave Simonett and band perform/release their sophomore album as Dead Man Winter: the highly-anticipated Furnace—a deeply introspective 10-track album, recorded with longtime friends from the Minneapolis rock scene — drummer JT Bates, guitarist Erik Koskinen, bassist Tim Saxhaug, and keyboardist Bryan Nichols.

First up to open is Erik Koskinen, whose set I could hear but not see due to the TSA-rivaling line for the ladies’ toilet. Even from a distance, it was nonetheless sonically and narratively captivating. Author’s Note: Pay undivided attention to him as he both opens and supports Dead Man Winter on guitar as they tour February-April. Potty first, concert second.

Next up are The Pines (David Huckfelt, Benson Ramsey, and Alex Ramsey; tonight, the group has swollen to a 6-piece band) who brought my heart close to shattering in my throat with their deeply resonant, ghost ship soundscape. Grounded in chairs, they delivered hushed yet biting instrumentals, churning beneath a fucking current of Cormac McCarthy-like poetic lyricism. Guess who’s been monopolizing my Spotify all week?

“You can have my breath / You can have my darkness / You can have my blood if it gets you high” will off-catchingly murder you.

Then comes Dead Man Winter: Simonett, drummer JT Bates, guitarist Erik Koskinen, bassist Tim Saxhaug, and pianist Bryan Nicholos take the stage to play a sold out show to a room full of people who adore them, despite the sometimes venomous painting Dave does of himself throughout this album. They open with  “Red Wing Blue Wing”, an uptempo track with lyrics like “You can have my breath / You can have my darkness / You can have my blood if it gets you high” that will off-catchingly murder you. The set feels incredibly grounded and earnest, with nothing to distract from the music or message, like we were in an expansive living room tethering our stranger hearts together like a bunch of smitten teenagers.

The real treats included the weaving-in of soul-stabbing beauties.

Photo by David McClister.

Aside from seeing some of my album favorites performed live like “Weight of the World” and “Out Of Control’ (I tend to favor elongated, downtempo songs), the real treats included the weaving-in of soul-stabbing beauties from Dead Man Winter’s 2011 EP Wolves.  I’m morose to a fault as of late, so the harmonica-playing during Wolves’ “A Long Cold Night in Minneapolis” drove me to text a friend. “Turns out,” I wrote. “The harmonica is the nail in the coffin I’ve chosen to die in.” In front of me, lovers are swaying in matching flannel as the whole expanse of human emotion is being felt, and for the first time in a long time I’m okay that it’s Winter.

At closing, Simonett returns to the stage to the beat of the audience chanting his one-syllable name. He says he’s going to “sing us off” [into the winter] [into the night] [into our undoubtedly complex relationships to people and places.] He does so with”‘Winners”‘ from Trampled by Turtles’ 2014 album Wild Animals. Stripped down, he sings of Duluth: “Pretty little city built on a hillside/ Music in the bars and fire in the sky / We went to the beach and it was covered in ice / and I used to call it home.”

Ali O'Reilly