St. Paul Travelers

At this year’s 20th anniversary SXSW Music Conference in Austin last month, Pierre and I pass our down-time travel day in good lazy fashion, as one will, down along South Congress. We’re hanging with career musician Bill Popp, as one might, which can be hazardous to one’s health and not least to Bill’s own health, since he’s just a couple of weeks out of quadruple-bypass surgery. This doesn’t stop him from wandering all over town, drinking copiously, chasing any girl who looks old enough to drive — “wanna see my scar?” — but that’s rock and roll for you.

After lunch and bevages at Curra’s Grill, we walk down the hill and stop at Jo’s for coffee, as one should. This visit is notable for a couple of things.

One is the murder of crows, or corvids, or blackbirds, or whatevertheywere, that loiters around waiting for unseasoned customers to leave the wooden lids on the coffee-fixin’s shelves open. When this happens they swoop down, snatch up sugar packets, clamp them to the counter, peck them open, and eat the sugar as it showers out. We rubes from New York haven’t ever seen such crafty birdworks before, and find it quite the show. “Yes,” opines one of the regulars, “that’s why we close those covers.” Chastened, we do.

The other notable is a little band poster stapled to the wall, an unassuming ragtag scrap with four figures photocopied so fuzzily that they might be teddy bears, or Teletubbies, or ancient roadworn blues singers, or four delicious young women from Minnesota. For argument’s sake. The only bit of clarity on the sign is the band’s name, Coach Said Not To, which is the funniest and most wonderful thing I’ve heard all day.

“Now that,” I announce, “is a band I would see.”

A couple of nights later, Coach Said Not To performs at The Hideout, the coffee house venue where I made my SXSW debut a couple of years ago backing up Jeff Lightning Lewis on the stately chords of C and G on guitar. But that’s another story. Coach Said Not To turns out to be a rambling, rangy, oddball, iconoclastic, curious, kitschy, and fetching outfit, with ropy songs that sometime lope and sometimes clatter about and generally get twisty in interesting ways. They emerge with spangly tops and a determined air; the ether churns for a minute or two, sizzling with text messages, and photographers start trickling in.

On May 5th, Coach Said Not To is releasing their first full-length with a big show at the 400 Bar in St. Paul. We’re flying out to see them and to have a quick photo session the next day. There are tunes for the downloading on their web site — don’t pass them up.

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