Squeezing into a packed Icehouse, it was easy to see the adoration for local music veteran Dan Wilson. As a member of Semisonic and Minneapolis psychedelic rock band Trip Shakespeare, Wilson has garnered many accolades in his long career. From a Grammy nomination for “Closing Time” to receiving one for Song of the Year (“Not Ready to Make Nice” in 2007) and Album of the Year (Adele’s 21), his fingerprint is seen throughout the music industry. His visual arts career as a painter, illustrator, and calligrapher is often intersected with his music career. All told, his tentacles reach far beyond our Minnesota backyard.
The lightly sprinkled stage, featuring a mailbox and two large 3-ring binders, was all part of his “Three-Ring Binder All Requests” show. Gathering requests from online, the mailbox, and audience shout-outs, songs from his 25-year career (all alphabetically organized) were game for being played. The first request, “Breathless,” helped ease everyone into the room. Wilson’s superb tenor voice drifted across the silent audience. Each person had their own request, their fingers crossed that it would get played. He followed with “Falling,” “Disappearing,” and “Treacherous” on the acoustic guitar. He then moved to the piano to re-frame “The Slacks,” a song with a Joni Mitchell vibe. The song brought out some laughs as the lyrics took center stage.
Then I moved into the picture
I was wearing these magic pants
I said “Let the blind bottom of my body do the talking”
She fell into a magic trance
At seven songs in, “Free Life” emerged and the crowd erupted. A song later, two audience members’ requests were pitted off in a game of ‘paper, rock scissors’ (scissors winning). Wilson invited Brad Gordon onstage for “Singing In My Sleep,” which drew the crowd into its first singalong. Looking around the packed venue, it was clear that no one wanted the evening to end. Two songs later, “Baby Doll” was requested. Dan smartly joked that when he wrote it he “didn’t expect it ever getting requested.” This turned into a spontaneous mashup into the Semisonic tune “Completely Pleased.” The ease of each transition between songs, moving from piano to guitar throughout the evening, was a reflection on Dan’s expertise and experience in performing. The audience stayed engaged and always had another quick request when asked.
“Gone To The Movies” included a sweet story about growing up. Wilson’s mother would always have “mad money” in her purse in case she needed to escape. The idea terrified Dan and his brother. His mother finally used that money to go to a movie, which lead to this song. As he shared, loose lips sink ships. Years later his Dad heard it and inquired about its meaning.
With the end of the evening coming closer, there was an audience vote for either “Closing Time” or “Secret Smile.” Surprisingly, the 1998 #1 single was not chosen. It didn’t matter much to the crowd, who sang along as Wilson played through “Secret Smile.”
It’s easy to see the pride and respect that Dan Wilson has earned in Minneapolis. His music and stories are easily relatable, his voice identifiable, and his talent shareable.
You can catch Semisonic’s hometown reunion at the Basilica Block Party this coming July.
Wilson’s fourth solo album, ‘Re-Covered’ – a collection of his reinterpretations of songs he wrote for and with other artists – is available now everywhere you find music.