Mall of America

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It’s fairly easy for the imagination to take over about people who fly around on business trips... varied climates, exciting restaurant choices, visiting touristy “hot spots,” and some sense of immersion into local culture.   I don’t fly much, but my experience is that it’s airport to airport, to office, to hotel, to dinner, to office, to airport to airport.   The dinner is the best part.  Otherwise, it may as well be Anywhere, USA.

I happened to make my second business trip to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, one that I expect to be my last.  Well, if I fly up early and take a half day vacation, what could I see and do?  Hello Tripadvisor.com. 

No insult to the hundreds of thousands who live in that area, but... nothing jumped off the page.  Little parks, some fairly artsy explorations, a cool used CD store... but nothing that said “Get Thou a Rental Car and Make Haste for Destination x.”

So, I took the transit train to the Mall of America, technically in Bloomington, MN.  With minimal effort (namely another 15,000 sq.ft.), MOA would surpass King of Prussia Mall as the nation’s largest.  Aim higher, Minnesotans. 

What follows is simply the visual evidence of “Been There, Done That.”  Hover over pictures for additional comments.

 

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In the era of Sandusky, it’s a bit awkward to be a male taking photos of kids at play.  Below is a parachute that a group was having fun playing with in an atrium area.

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Let’s see, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Sears, Best Buy, Old Navy, Barnes & Noble... same ol’ stores in Anywhere, USA.   Distinctive stores included several featuring Minnesota sports teams apparel, a “old time saloon” photography store, and not much else.  As expected.  But, if I were in need of sneakers, baseball hats, or chocolate, I could certainly find what I wanted here.  In this economy, I was surprised that there were not more vacancies.

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Like car dealerships, the Apple and Windows store are located across from each other.  It wasn’t surprising that the Apple store had numerous customers.  It was surprising that Windows managed to scrape together a few of their own.

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Three levels of Macy’s is appealing to some, I’m certain.  I liked the balloon.

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The scale of this mall is fairly amazing, with many angles formed by the walkways, escalators and support members. 

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The Lego store tends to dominate the area.

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The mall is rectangular shaped, with a Nickelodeon theme park in the middle, and a theme park in the mall is something we don’t have around these parts.

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Great destination with kids, great destination for exercise for the mall-walkers, great destination to spend money, and I’d guess it’s a mall that’s a great place to hang out for teenagers on weekend nights.  Otherwise, it’s just an insanely large mall.

Oh, and I bought a yo-yo for my 18 year old son.

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Jason Isbell – Live at Red Clay Theatre

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When I first saw Jason Isbell (Nov. 27th, 2004), he stepped onto the stage to join the North Mississippi AllStars who were opening for his then-band, Drive-by Truckers.  Whatever I expected, he wasn’t it, certainly not the (southern) rock star stereotype.  He may have been wearing a John Deere baseball hat, skipped any guitar hero poses, and traded solo licks with NMA’s Luther Dickinson.  Good stuff, with plenty more to come later that night.

Skipping forward six years, I caught him with his band, The 400 Unit, at Smith’s Olde Bar, performing an acoustic set.  A rocking acoustic set.  Mighty fin stuff, with musical variety without blowing away all the subtleties that happens when amps are cranked.   Last summer, I heard him at Bele Chere, electric this time... amps cranked, and that’s fine for rock and roll.

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And now, solo acoustic, at a sold-out show at the Red Clay Theatre in Duluth, GA.  The local irony is that having played the previous night at Eddie’s Attic, Eddie Owen, who is no longer associated with the almost legendary venue, is promoting shows at this location.  And here’s Eddie, greeting the audience warmly, building his latest project.

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The Red Clay Theatre, my friends attending would agree, was an awesome venue.  Without about 250 seats, vocals and guitar were astonishingly clear.  Drinks are sold at reasonable prices, but those attending understand that it’s a listening experience rather than a venue for raising hell or, worse, chit chat.

That was reserved for Isbell, who introduced many of the songs, often with humor.  A rough quote: “The next is off an album I did about a year ago.  It’s nice to not have pressure to put out an album every year.  I have the time to make sure that I like every song, rather than release an album that lots of skip-worthy songs.”  Maybe you have to know the context, but that’s funny stuff, no less than his great-uncle’s successful murder defense of “He needed killing” to introduce “Decoration Day.”  Or, there were the frequent comments regarding how dark his songs were, but that he was really a very happy guy.  But “when you’re happy, you want to go play on a trampoline.  Or ride a Sea-doo.  You don’t want to sit around on a piano and write songs.”

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And this particular evening, he played plenty of songs. No guitar changes.  No effects pedals.  No jug of whiskey.  Not even a cigarette. 

Those songs included quite a bit from his more recent CD, Here We Rest.  “Alabama Pines,” “Go It Alone,” “We’ve Met,” “Codeine,” “Daisy Mae” and, I think, “Tour of Duty.”  It should be noted that after hearing these songs, each sounds significantly better than they do on the CD, where his vocals are swamped in the mix and a bit lower. 

DBT fans were very happy with “Danko/Manuel,” “Goddamn Lonely Love,” “Decoration Day” and the sterling “Outfit.”  Other songs included “TVA,” “Cigarettes and Wine,” “Dress Blues,” “In a Razor Town,” The Magician” and covers of James McMurtry’s “Rachael’s Song,” and Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty.”

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Unsurprisingly, Isbell’s talents as both a lyricist and guitar player were highlighted.  While perhaps he will never escape comparisons with his prior band, it’s clear that Isbell writes to a more honest reflection of himself, life, relationships and the South than his former band mates, who tend to push towards zinger clichés and iconic anythings to deconstruct.  Both have their place, but Isbell is grounded.

His guitar playing was superb, taking the available moments to add character and flourishes far beyond easier paths of chords and strums.  This was a fine performance and displayed Isbell at his best.   Now, if he can only figure out how to record with his band...

4 of 5 STARS

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Roger Waters – The Wall (2012)

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Roger Waters’ touring of Pink Floyd’s classic “The Wall” returned to Atlanta.  It’s music I really like, the production values are peerless, and the experience is immersive, beyond the ability of any souvenir video to capture.   In other words, it’s quite the performance and worthy of paying to see it... yet again.

There have been a few tweaks since the previous visit in 2010, most notably the ability to project Waters’ image onto the Wall amongst the other projections.  The last time around, there wasn’t much of a connection to the artist, as he was a fairly tiny dot on the stage.  It helps.

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