by Dwight Hobbes
Mint Condition's “Live From The 9:30 Club” (DVD) is a stone cold sucker-punch. And you don’t have to be a fan to feel it. If it’s your first exposure, you’re hit hard as Stokley and company brandish cast-iron chops. As backdrop, between one strong cut after another, you’re engaged by offstage goings-on. Now, the really good news. They’re kicking off the release of “Live From The 9:30 Club” at The Fine Line, performing in the Twin Cities for the first time in a long time.
in Chocolate City, USA, aka Washington, D.C., the 80-minute video features some
of Mint Condition’s biggest hits, joints like “Is This Pain Our
Pleasure,” “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)” and
“What Kind of Man Would I Be.” It showcases the band away from their
Minneapolis home, but nonetheless steeped in their element, the town that put
George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and the rest of that Parliament-Funkadelic conglomeration
on the map. In fact, Mint Condition’s smooth R&B groove rests on a
bedrock of fatback funk. With front man Stokley in complete, signifying command,
and the band pumping, “Live From The 9:30 Club” starts off on the
good foot and stays there for the rest of the night. And the crowd is all the
way with them. Small wonder. The guys don’t strike a false note all night.
There’s no hit-’em-with-the-hits-and-coast-on-filler-tunes. What
we have here is a bunch of musicians with monster chops who also know how to
write the hell out of a song. With choice influences—in the sound there
is some of ‘80s R&B group Guy, a little Earth-Wind. For sure, though,
it’s all Mint Condition—distinctly original, soulful to the bone.
And, unlike today’s glut of corporate-cloned, formula-derived, computer-dependent
pretenders to legitimacy, these fellas do it all from scratch—selling
steak and letting the sizzle take care of itself. For good measure, they don’t
need pyrotechnics and five changes of clothes to make a good impression. True
measuring stick: they could’ve sung doo-wop on a corner, shoulder to shoulder
with such originators as The Coasters, Don and Juan and Little Anthony and The
Imperials. Bottom line, they ‘bout as bad they wanna be.
in the set, Mint Condition establishes the tone for the evening, strutting through
“Swole” to rapturous reception. Stokley, who, trust me, ain’t
scared to clown, puts full effect to this rambunctious hip-thruster about how
big your eyes swell up at spotting someone scrumptious of the opposite sex.
The rest of gang fall in tough, driving the jam straight through a wall. “You
Don’t Have To Hurt Anymore” absolutely compels, ballad R&B at
its best, complete with sweet, dramatic chord changes and serious, baby-let’s-get-close
crooning. Other standouts include, but are by no means limited to “Whoaa”
and “I’m Ready” off their latest album Livin’ the
Luxury Brown. The roster: Stokley (vocals, drums), Ricky Kinchen (bass,
guitar), Lawrence El (keys), O’Dell (guitar) and Jeffrey (sax, keys).
Blended with the concert footage are interviews with the band as they do the
road. None of that we’re-so-profound-we-don’t-breathe-the-same-air-as-you
bullshit. It’s all down-to-earth conversatin’. And, in a priceless
segment, one of his homeboys gets up to some devilment, messing with Stokley
while Stokley gives an interview. Ever watch someone studiously ignore an incessantly
buzzing fly? You’ve got the idea.
past April, Livin’ the Luxury Brown ended the band’s six-year
recording hiatus. After Life’s Aquarium (Elektra, 1999), says Stokley,
“We were getting off a record label, trying to sort that thing out. And
trying to re-strategize with one member, Keri [Lewis], leaving the group. We
had to restructure, re-energize.” And widen the scheme of things. Jeffrey,
Stokley and Lawrence El have spun-off into a side band they call JOTO, playing
Latin jazz. “We wanted to stretch as artists. And a guy named Wallace
Hill, kind of like one of my mentors, he had a drum center and cultural center
in Minneapolis. We would go over there and play. Myself, Wallace, a brother
from the Ivory Coast [bass player] Serge Akou, Jeff and Lawrence. We kept doin’
it ‘til we just figured, we’ll go ahead and do this thing for real.”
They got hold of veteran promoter Terrence Large and had their debut before
upscale urbanites at Large’s First Friday event. Now, they’re entertaining
the prospect of having JOTO follow Mint Condition’s Livin’ the
Luxury Brown on the band’s label, CagedBird Records. “It’s
been a lot of fun developing it. So, quite possibly.” As to what’s
up with Mint Condition, “We’re keepin’ our ear to the street.
Keeping our integrity, trying to remain creative.” ||
Mint Condition play the release party for “Live From The 9:30 Club”
on Fri., Feb. 10 at The Fine Line Music Cafe. Upstart phenoms The New Congress
and area favorite Nathan Miller open. 8 p.m. $16/$21. 21+. 318 First Ave. N.,
For more info on Mint Condition, visit the band’s official website