Private Dancer – Alive in High Five
(Learning Curve)
Words: James Passarelli

Conflicts of interests are inevitable.  When it comes to journalism, however, the matter is especially delicate.  It’s easy to speak your mind about Jay-Z and Hanson, but how do you handle criticism of people to whom you actually have to answer?  It’s precisely this kind of dilemma that causes New York Mets play-by-play announcer Gary Cohen to deliberately avoid personal relationships with players.  It’s not a bad approach, but I guess I just don’t take myself seriously enough as a music critic to go to such lengths to ensure my own credibility.  So, I was more than a little nervous when Private Dancer’s Jesse Kwakenat sent me the band’s second album, Alive in High Five, for review.  But sometime between mysecond and third listen to the ten-song, twenty-five minute, forty-five second album, I breathed a sigh of relief.  I liked the record, and it wasn’t a fluke.

Private Dancer features current and former members of three different Minneapolis bands (STNNNG, Vampire Hands, and Hockey Night), and both of their albums do sound like side projects – not because they’re thrown together, but because they’re so laid back.  The band is right at home on the grassroots Minneapolis label Learning Curve Records, the same label that brought you albums by noise bands The Blind Shake and Gay Witch Abortion, and, most notably The Hold Steady’s 2004 debut LP Almost Killed Me.  Like their label predecessors and colleagues, Private Dancer are pros at causing a ruckus, but their spacey, introspective guitar melodies give them brief moments of refuge from the bar band tag.

Alive in High Five is framed by the spectacularly airy, post-rock instrumental tracks “2000 Year Wave” and “2000 Year Wave Reprise” (a continuation of sorts from “1000 Year Wave” from their debut LP Trouble Eyes).  For the rest of the album, the freakishly similar-sounding Alex Achen and (STNNNG guitarist) Nate Nelson trade vocal duties with their best Craig Finn impressions.  The country-tinged “Diane” and “The Riders” see the band at its most relaxed, while the party anthem “Weekend” sounds almost carefree enough to be an early Red Hot Chili Peppers creation.  “Mississippi, take her with me,” sings Achen in “River Please”, an ode to the big muddy stream that winds its way through Private Dancer’s beloved Twin Cities.  Backup “Ooh”s and “ah”s find themselves onto almost every track, sometimes even when they’re unwelcome (namely, “Community Gardens”), but that’s the album’s only major flaw.  The trophy track appears towards the end of the record, and it’s well worth the wait.  The nostalgic “All Souls Eaters Day” hits the mark, expertly blending Private Dancer’s trademark feel-good rhythm with their uncanny knack for an unforgettable riff.  Keep that one in storage for your Best of the Year list.

The album’s tight tracks, all clocking in at less than three minutes, leave little room for fluff.  And it’s obvious these day-jobbers pour a little bit of their fun-loving selves into everything they record.  With only five hundred vinyl copies being pressed, Alive in High Five won’t reach nearly as many people as it should.  That only make the listen even more special for you and me.

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