Gear Daddies / Martin Zellar – Fine Line (Minneapolis, MN)
Minnesotans rarely say “when hell freezes over,” as freezing over is our way of life. When things start to thaw, that’s when we begin to worry. So perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise: While the Gear Daddies kicked off a five-night December reunion — more than a decade after calling it quits — ice was melting on the unseasonably warm Minneapolis streets.
When the band first made its way from the Hormel-plant town of Austin, Minnesota, to the Twin Cites in the mid-1980s, the local music scene still centered on the punk-charged rock of Husker Du and the Replacements. With Randy Broughten’s pedal steel, Martin Zellar’s Dylan-tinged vocals, and a bit of drunken charm, the Gear Daddies stole the hearts of many local music fans, helping to establish the burgeoning Minnesota roots-rock scene. When they signed a major-label deal in 1990, hopes rose with them; when they amicably parted two years later, tears were shed.
Most fans had given up hope of any extended reunions, though the band had played a benefit in ’94 and an outdoor show in 2002. But on the heels of a St. Paul show in early December, three Fine Line shows were announced, and they became the hottest tickets here in years. When a fourth was added, tickets seemed to evaporate. Hours before the first show, a fifth night was announced, and visits to other parts of the state were in the works.
As the band took the stage at 11:20 on this night, spirits were flying. From the opening “Goodbye Marie”, wall-to-wall bodies sang along to every word. The first half of the show was tight — perhaps a bit too tight, complete with Zellar and drummer Billy Dankert’s extensive dialogue on the power of “Hee Haw” (a holdover from their old live shows), the somber classic “Statue Of Jesus”, and a pair of instrumentals.
The Gear Daddies have always been at their best when things are just a little out of control, as they got midway through the set when they honored a request for B.W. Stevenson’s “My Maria,” a song they hadn’t rehearsed. As Zellar hit the near-yodel of the chorus and played a game of guitar call-and-response with Broughten, the band had only passion and chemistry to lean on. And they played with the loose, inspired energy that comes from knowing everything could fall a part at any moment.
From then on, anything went. A request for “2-18” required an audience member to write down the lyrics. “Zamboni”, a hidden track from the Billy’s Live Bait album that became a hockey-rink standard (and which Zellar once swore he’d never perform again), drew massive screams of delight. A cover of Rick Springfield’s “Jesse’s Girl” slammed in to a raucous take on the band’s lone thrash song, “Party Stomp” (the complete lyrics: “Girls/Beer/Cars/Right now/Party stomp”). The laid-back reggae of “Iguana Man” crashed headlong into the full-throttle rocker “Color Of Her Eyes”.
By the time the main set ended, the bar’s closing time allowed for only a two-song encore. Dankert and bassist Nick Ciola laid down the groove for a country-flavored take on “Little Red Corvette”, with Broughten’s pedal steel replacing Prince’s synths. The evening concluded with “Don’t Look At Me” from 1988’s Let’s Go Scare Al. Two-and-a-half hours and 33 songs after they took the stage, the Gear Daddies left a delirious audience to trudge home through the slushy city streets — and no one seemed to mind at all.