For true music junkies, there is no pleasure greater than “the living room listening session,” an evening digging through record collections, sharing old favorites with friends, and, hopefully, picking up some new “old favorites” from them. On a cold January night in Minneapolis, Semisonic bassist John Munson brought the living room to the bar with Meltaway, an evening of covers culled from such late-night listening sessions.
It’s hard to say whether it was the crew of old friends joining Munson onstage, the way the 400 is far too relaxed to be called a nightclub, or the way hometown fans got to meet Munson’s mom (arguably the evening’s show stealer) as she mingled amongst the crowd — but somehow the evening seemed less like a concert and more like, well, just a night of music fans sharing their favorite tracks.
Munson hit the stage alone for a rich, vibrato-filled, a cappella rendition of “Love Like A River”, highlighting the often overlooked power of his pipes. From the gospel opening, he moved through a series of quiet duos and trios. Honeydogs frontman Adam Levy joined him on Jack Logan’s “Town Crier”; local roots-rock stalwart Mason Jennings dueted on Ron Sexsmith’s “Secret Heart”; percussionist Edgar Oliveira added zabumba (a Brazilian drum) to Munson’s bass and Jennings’ guitar for a sultry rendition of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home”.
Elvis Costello’s “Pay It Back” introduced the “house band” that backed Munson for the majority of the set — Jennings, George Scot McKelvey (Rhythm Jones), and Semisonic mate Jake Slichter. The quartet quickly kicked up the energy with soulful, stripped-down takes on works by the Spinners, the Faces, and Semisonic’s Dan Wilson (the unrecorded “Never Been Hurt”).
On ace Australian songwriter Paul Kelly’s lost classic “Careless”, Munson knocked out a series of virtuoso bass leads. Wilson and his brother Matt joined in to re-create the magical harmonies of Brian Wilson’s overlooked “Melt Away”. And the stage was packed with all of the evening’s participants to close the set with appropriately trippy channeling of John Lennon on “#9 Dream”.
The gathering of old friends would have been incomplete without at least one song from long-defunct but still-beloved Twin Cities pop band Trip Shakespeare, whose lineup included Munson and the Wilson brothers. They obliged with tight three-part harmonies on the delicate “Honey Tree”, moving crowd to near silence.
The show came to a end an hour before closing time, allowing musicians, fans and old friends to mingle, but not before things came full-circle with all the musicians joining in on a set-closing, full-band rendition of “Love Like A River”.