Review: Private Dancer, Alive In High Five

Private Dancer has one simple mission: to rock out. And that hasn’t changed now that the band is on album number two. The Minneapolis quintet knocked out a charmingly ragged, boisterous mix of garage-rock and psychedelia on its 2008 debut, Trouble Eyes, and its new follow-up, Alive In High Five, follows the template so closely it may as well have been titled Trouble Eyes Part II. Party anthems, monster riffs, and belt-’em-out choruses are still the order of the day, and there’s even a literal sequel in space-rocker “2,000 Year Wave,” following Trouble’s surf-inflected instrumental “1,000 Year Wave.”

But who needs change? Private Dancer’s appeal—particularly live, where it can be electrifying—is all about angst-free, uncomplicated enthusiasm for music, and it doesn’t need fixing. All five Dancers have extensive experience in other Twin Cities bands—three members of STNNNG, ex-Hockey Night drummer Alex Achen, and Vampire Hands’ Chris Rose—and the band benefits not only from their veteran chops, but the fact that as something of a side project, there’s no pressure to do anything but have fun.

That’s not to say the musical interplay here isn’t rich and complex; Alive is bursting with catchy nuggets of sound, and stands up well to repeat listens. Sometimes the rough edges could use a little more smoothing: Love song “Diane,” which shares a title with one of Grant Hart’s HüDüclassics, could also have benefited from a more sweetly sung, Hart-like vocal than the rough yelp Achen gives it. But that’s a minor quibble. Private Dancer’s best on the straight-up anthems like “Bajama Beach,” which sounds like some forgotten gem by The Fall’s Mark E. Smith, and the raucous “Weekend,” which boils down the band’s ethic of jubilant celebration over how great it is to play in bars on a Saturday night: “My friends, we work all weekend!” It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.

Originally published on July 16, 2010. Read the complete article.

Can Nicolas Cage control his craziness in ‘Apprentice’?

Nicolas Cage loves nothing better than to attack a role like he’s wrestling a rabid polar bear. It’s both his greatest asset and his worst liability. And with Cage returning to movie screens July 14 as heroic wizard Balthazar Blake in Disney’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” the same question that’s dogged his career for years pops up again: Just how far over the top will he go this time? Will Cage’s brand of crazy raise the whole movie up to a new level, or crash and burn?

Originally published on July 11, 2010. Read the complete article.

London: How to see the queen’s city without paying a king’s ransom

On this day 234 years ago, America declared its independence from England. And sure, at the time, we had our reasons. But thankfully the hostilities didn’t last; Britain and its former colonies share too much in common.

London was the cultural capital of the English-speaking world for centuries, and remains an unmatchable destination for any lover of history, literature and art. Samuel Johnson’s happy declaration is still true: “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

It’s the “afford” part that poses a hurdle: For all its other charms, London is expensive — one of Europe’s priciest cities, in fact. And although U.S. travelers to Britain have benefitted from the global recession, the pound can still give the unwary traveler a pounding.

But with a little advance planning, it’s easy enough to immerse yourself in London’s sights — from the sophisticated to the downright strange — without feeling like you need to tap Queen Elizabeth for a loan. Here’s a rundown of some sights…

Originally published on (St. Paul Pioneer Press) July 4, 2010. Read the complete article.

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