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Doors 10pm / Music 11pm
Porcupine was ready to call it quits when singer/guitarist Casey Virock and drummer Ian Prince got off the phone one morning in June 2016. The band’s bass player had left earlier in the year, and Virock and Prince were having trouble finding a suitable replacement. Then, without thinking to tell Prince, Virock made what he calls a “hail-Mary” phone call to see if a friend might be interested in joining the Wisconsin/Twin Cities indie band.
On the other end of that call was Greg Norton, best known for having been part of seminal Minneapolis punk trio Hüsker Dü. Though Virock figured it was a long shot, Norton was delighted with the invitation to join Porcupine. “I said, ‘I thought you’d never ask,’” he says. All that remained was for Virock to call Prince back with the news. “He said, ‘You’re never going to believe it,’” the drummer says with a laugh.
Just like that, Porcupine had a new bassist, and Norton had his first steady music gig in 25 years. The rejuvenated trio has been performing around the midwest, including shows with the Meat Puppets and Mike Watt. Porcupine has also been writing new songs, and has plans to record an EP in January 2018.
“He gets what we’re about and I thought he would fit in perfectly,” Virock says of Norton. “It’s been great. It’s been a really simple transition.”
When Virock called, though, he had no idea whether Norton would want the job. After Hüsker Dü split in 1987, and Norton’s subsequent group Grey Area disbanded in 1991, the bassist left music behind and opened a restaurant. “That’s more than a full-time job,” he says. “I probably went about 14 years without playing any music with anyone, without even having time to look at my bass.”
By 2010, Norton had left the restaurant business and was playing again sporadically with the Twin Cities group Gang Font and his own improvisational rock band Con Queso. He met Virock the same year when Norton went to see his old pals the Meat Puppets perform in Virock’s hometown, La Crosse, Wisconsin. Porcupine opened the show, and Norton liked the group and chatted afterward with Virock, who became a friend.
“I remember seeing Porcupine and thinking, ‘I’ve got to find someone like Casey, who can sing like that, and play the hell out of his guitar,’” Norton says. “When Casey asked me to join, I said, ‘Besides liking the band and being a fan, one of the reasons I wanted to be in this band was that I believe in you, you’re the real deal: you write awesome tunes.’”
Indeed, the band’s most recent release, 2015’s Carrier Waves — recorded and mixed by Steve Albini — is a collection of sharp-edged, hooky songs full of bristling guitars, propulsive drums and kinetic basslines. It was also the last album to feature bassist Dave Reinders, who was part of Porcupine when Virock started the band in 2006. After two full-length albums, a pair of EPs and some singles, Reinders left the band early in 2016, but encouraged Virock to keep things going.
Adding Norton has injected a new element into the band’s sound. “He’s a fingerstyle player, primarily, and Dave was more of a pick player, so it’s brought a different swagger to it,” Virock says.
The bassist also brings a different energy, and not just to the stage show. “If you’ve seen him play live, he’s kind of the same way in the rehearsal space,” Prince says. “We weren’t used to that kind of energy at all. Before that, it was always very serious, like, the practice space is for work. He’s really brought in an element of fun, and having Greg jump around loosens Casey up, which is good.”
Along with playing shows, the trio has been writing new material, and having a new bassist with a distinctive style has had an effect on Porcupine’s sound. “This EP will definitely be different,” Virock says. “There’s a lot more of a pop element going on, not so abrasive. It’s a bit lighter.”
For Norton, the camaraderie and creative partnership he’s found with Porcupine recall his early days in music. “It reminds me of early Hüsker, when there was more of that collaborative effort going into what we were doing,” he says. “The music is great, and I’m having a lot of fun.”
Poster Children was formed in Champaign, Illinois in 1987 by Rick Valentin (guitar, vocals) and Rose Marshack (bass, vocals). Jim Valentin joined on guitar in 1991 and Matt Friscia (drummer #7) joined in 2001. They have released eleven studio albums, on various independent and major labels, and one feature-length film, “Zero Stars.” Known for their strong DIY ethic, the band members toured incessantly in the 1990s, driving their own van around the US and Europe, creating their own artwork and T-shirt designs, and operating their own record label. Poster Children were also pioneers in several forms of electronic technology relating to performance art, including enhanced CDs, webcasts, and blogs. The band released their 12th album, Grand Bargain!, on May 18, 2018.
Chris Maddock is a stand up comedian from the Land of Sun Kissed Beer Guts, Stillwater, MN, living in Minneapolis. Known affectionately by his friends as "The Ol' Mad Dogger", "Chris" has performed in every state that's invited him, Alaska and Mexico included, and has an album on the Grammy Award winning "Stand Up! Records" label. Atta boy, Mad Dogger! He is a member of the sketch group The Turkeys and host of the long running Death Comedy Jam at Grumpy's Bar in Downtown MPLS.His last namesounds like "God Damn" backwards, and his full name sounds like the word "charismatic". You can call him "Madoo".