Weird Contests Weekend

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Puzzlers puzzle at the Landmark Center, downtown Saint Paul

Sometimes, during the Minnesota winter, it can be difficult to find the motivation to drag yourself out of your house into the freezing temperatures and treacherous icy streets of the city. It doesn’t take much time to start feeling the claustrophobia of a self enforced hermeticism, though. For us, it’s important to get out.

Last weekend, there were a couple of interesting and challenging competitions, each featuring a very different theme, that popped up around town, and we had a lot of fun participating in them, staying warm and staving off that seasonal depression.

The first was Fair State Brewing Cooperative Giant Pasty Stout Mix Off last Friday evening. Fair State is one of my favorite breweries in the Twin Cities so I was intrigued by their competition, celebrating the imminent release of a variant of their Giantsbane American Double Stout, a pastry infusion they’re calling the Duke of Bakefordshire.   

My wife, Lindsay, was not really that into beer before I met her. While I myself enjoy drinking a pint now and then, she’s been perfecting her cocktail making skills. Over the years of being dragged to breweries, though, she has found that stouts and porters, especially those heady imperial varieties (double the malts, and alcohol, of a normal brew) appeal to her. So much so, we’ve made a point to check out the various infusions announced at various local breweries and when she saw this opportunity, she jumped on it with gusto.

Mixers would infuse their Giantsbane with a pastry theme of their choosing, and Lindsay wasted no time in concocting the perfect flavor combination. I, being true to myself, frittered away my time. Fair State provided a number of ingredients to choose from, but also allowed each contributor to bring their own home brewed secret ingredients. The resulting mixes were judged on taste, presentation, creativity, and of course, the name (every beer needs a good name, after all). It was a fun, social event as beers with all manner of interesting adjuncts were presented and shared. The results will be released on February 9th.   

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Arriving at Landmark Center on a frigid morning

 

On Saturday, we were invited by a friend to participate in the Winter Carnival Puzzle Contest held in the Landmark Center in downtown Saint Paul. We’d never participated in something like this, but after Lindsay introduced me to the cozy winter fun of working on a puzzle while watching comedy or under blankets on the couch, I was intrigued with what a contest would be like, and felt like it was a perfect match for a more relaxed Winter Carnival event, especially as the temperature plunged so much that other Carnival mainstays were being cancelled.

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completed!

Arriving at the Landmark Center as snow was falling, the cavernous main room was packed with tables ready for contestants to start obsessing over puzzle pieces. I have never before witnessed such devotion to the jigsaw puzzle as dozens of teams worked together to put together a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle in the two hour time limit, each with a twist in how the final product differed from the cover image. It was interesting to consider what events led to the banning of such useful puzzle solving cheats as spatulas and flashlights. It was quite serious, though also laid back and, while were weren’t exactly running with the top dogs (who completed their puzzle within a half hour), we did finish ours before the first hour was done.

All in all, a successful weekend and the feeling of accomplishment will help us through some more frigid weather.

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MSP Reading Time: Pioneer Endicott Building

 

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view of First National Bank Building from Pioneer building apartment (courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

My wife and I changed our addresses two times last year, which was a bit of an adventure by itself. Among the places we inhabited was the Pioneer Endicott building in downtown Saint Paul, which was fun place to live for a bit. It’s a great base to experience the other downtown, or as my wife calls it, the “real” downtown!30227599

As I was moving out of the building, I discovered this recently published book, Heart of Saint Paul by Larry Millett, discussing the history of the place, and I really enjoyed reading it!

 

A concise but informative work, Heart of Saint Paul is packed full of interesting factoids and lush period and contemporary photos of the Pioneer and Endicott buildings, one of the historic landmarks that have been revitalized in recent years in downtown Saint Paul. Now housing the newly renovated Minnesota Museum of American Art and a brewery, we may perhaps being seeing life in downtown Saint Paul after so many jokes of being “dead” after 4:30. As a former tenant, I appreciated the detailed research and background info provided by Millett on this historic dwelling. Taking the glass fronted elevators up through the atrium as I arrived home each day, for instance, it was interesting to learn how rare this once common feature of 19th century office buildings is to have survived.

2244347709253925315From the architectural history and designs of both the Pioneer Building (built in 1889 to house the Pioneer Press newspaper and the tallest building west of Chicago for a few years), and the connected Endicott Building (designed as an indoor shopping arcade by a young Cass Gilbert), to some of the tenants who also called it home, like Northwest Airlines and Ecolab, there was a lot of fun info here. The most interesting to me were the personal perspectives of the elevator operators, office workers, and shop owners who worked there during its century long history (especially the story of the young women who hid from the rather disturbing actions of rampaging Vulcans during a 1940s era Winter Carnival). While perhaps most interesting to tenants (current or former) of the Pioneer Endicott, Heart of Saint Paul definitely has something to offer anyone interested in the architectural history of the Twin Cities.

Now that we have finally gotten to visit the new Minnesota Museum of American Art after months of seeing its construction, we’ll look back on our time downtown with nostalgia. I’d recommend checking out MMAA (aka The M), too, as they are going to be displaying some of the museum’s interesting, and long unseen, collections, and it’s always free! After the tour, you could even stop by 12welve Eyes Brewing in the Endicott. for a pint commemorating one of local sculptor Paul Manship’s works, Group of Bears. 

 

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elevator atrium, Pioneer Endicott building (courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

Keg and Case (and the Final Entries of MSP Adventure Time)

 

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We’re going on an indefinite hiatus here at Minneapolis-Saint Paul Adventure Time, so there will be a few last entries to go out on in the next week or two. 2018 was a busy year with a lot of changes, as can be seen by the sparse updates during the last few months.

It has been a fun four years exploring some of the many things that you can experience in these vibrant and changing cities, whether you are just visiting or spending a lifetime here. During those busy times in life, when time or budget keep you home, it is nice to know how many experiences you can have without leaving your city. And there’s always something new happening, as well.

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Living in Saint Paul, this seems to be particularly the case as the capital city begins to challenge its reputation as the boring twin, where the streets are dead after 4:30. There was quite a bit of fanfare, for instance, regarding the Keg and Case Market, finding a home in the old Schmidt’s Brewery Complex on West 7th Street, and when we heard that it was doing a soft open, my wife and I managed to make it over.

 

I’ve loved visiting and eating at the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis for years, so I was excited to see something similar open in Saint Paul as well and I was not disappointed. During our first visit, and subsequent trips it was hard to decide what to check out first, and upon returning with my family and wife’s family visiting from California, we still have not sampled everything the Keg and Case has to offer. In the meantime, more stuff has opened!  

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A view of Forest and Fork’s mushroom farm from Clutch Brewing

It is a pretty cool place, all of these storefronts bustling in the guts of the one of the old Schmidt warehouses, where once cases of beer were packed for distribution. There is a mix of established Twin Cities businesses and entirely new ideas. Local mainstays like Bogart’s Doughnuts, Pimento Jamaican Kitchen, and Revival, here opening a counter 5349277419558532630specializing in smoked meats (for us vegetarians, they even offer a delicious barbequed jackfruit) opened branches here. At the same time, such unique new ideas as Forest to Fork Wild Food are growing wild mushrooms on premises! I can’t wait to try out some of their chicken of the woods in a recipe.

 

Upstairs, Clutch Brewing revives the building’s beer roots, allowing patrons to enjoy a pint or two with their meals. My favorite was the Barnstop, a biere de garde, a quaffable, malty style I don’t see too often and always enjoy.

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enjoying some Sweet Science!

Our favorite is, of course, the first year-round physical location of Sweet Science Ice Cream. After checking out a few of their pop ups, it’s great to have a place to grab their delicious, innovative ice cream.

The lines can be a bit intense, but worth the wait. If you happen to be able to visit during the day on a weekday, it’s a lot easier. Also, parking can be limited as well. It is nice to live within walking distance! Especially by spring, this will become a regular stop for us, and I’m looking forward to trying the pizza and the halwa. I’d definitely recommend checking it out!

 

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2017 Highlight: Night in the Children’s Museum

This was a new experience!

Last September, Lindsay and I were playing our weeknight trivia down at Emmett’s Pub on Grand, one of Trivia Mafia’s many locales. We’ve kind of gotten a little obsessed with them over the last year, but that’s a topic for a future entry in MSP Adventure Time. That Tuesday, we happened to win third place and claimed our prize; two tickets to the first ever 21 and over night at the Minnesota Children’s Museum!

I have vague memories of visiting the Children’s Museum in St. Paul as a kid years ago, though by this time, I was more into the dinosaurs at the Science Museum of Minnesota or the dioramas at the Bell Museum than the early childhood hands on educational activities at the MCM, so I never really thought much of them over the years. As a childfree adult, there was no reason to, I guess.

22089416_10155723047559322_1693943889041471595_nHowever, the museum recently expanded and built up a lot of cool stuff, like cool interactive firetrucks and multi story climbing towers and ball launchers that would appeal to the grown ups as well. Perhaps by putting together this Adults@Play: 21+ Museum Takeover Event, they wanted to share these new amenities for play with a greater audience. What better way to get the word out about all this new stuff than to allow adults to tromp through the place without feeling self conscious? Maybe next time, they will bring their kids!

 

It was a very fun evening, in any case, and I really appreciated the chance to see the vibrant, cool space in downtown St. Paul, from it’s cozy outdoor play area to the rooftop, and just run around like I didn’t have anything to worry about, while enjoying some adult drinks, of course.

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Throughout the museum, there were cool things to look at, and it seemed the grown up, or maybe “Kidult” attendees were having a good time, thanks to such activities as a fun improv game from the Theater of Public Policy and arts and crafts brought to you by Can Can Wonderland (see previous entry). Lindsay and I definitely had a lot of fun with the latter, crafting our own really cool magnets we totally have on our refrigerator.

Keep an eye out, ‘cause they’re planning another one for this spring. Or you could take your kids any day and miss out on having as much fun yourself!

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Some cool magnets we made from vintage books and magazines!

2017 Highlights: Can Can Wonderland

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Hitting the links at Can Can Wonderland: Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Just opened in 2017, Can Can Wonderland was one of the most fun, weird, and wild nights out I have gotten the chance to experience over the last year. Buried deep under an old can factory in the industrial zone in the Midway area of St. Paul, it is one of those new uses for decaying industrial infrastructure that is making the city so interesting.

After hearing about it early in the year, Lindsay and I were excited to finally make it there with a group of friends for my birthday last August, and it was definitely worth the wait. In this case, literally, as the place was so popular we had to wait several hours to get into the much anticipated artist-designed mini golf course the place is becoming most well known for.  From what I’ve heard from others, arriving the earlier the better is advisable to get checked in for minigolf, as we discovered as we were the very last group to make it through the links late one Thursday evening after getting signed up before seven.

On the other hand, there is plenty stuff to of keep you occupied while you’re waiting, including vintage arcade machines, a variety of tasty comfort food (I recommend the grilled cheese), and delicious, bizarre cocktails. The blue cheese infused gin “Sailing the Seas of Cheese,” for instance, was a refreshingly creamy mix served in the gaping maw of a shark shaped mug, complete with fake blood. Wow! And, it is was quite tasty as well. Of course, Lindsay ordered me a wonderful Happy Birthday cocktail as well, a delicious birthday cakey drink which was served with a sparkler and a party popper let off by the bartender.

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Receiving a birthday sparkler from the bartender at Can Can Wonderland: Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

In addition, another new 2017 brewery, BlackStack Brewing, shares the same location, in on old warehouse upstairs from Can Can’s subterranean factory space, allowing you to sip a few pints of Punch Press Belgian ale or Spare Parts dark lager while waiting for your queue in the Can Can line. The comfy, low key brewery offers plenty of seating and board games, too.

As for the mini golf, it was well worth the wait. Now, I haven’t played much mini golf for a number of years, so I was a fair bit rusty when the time came to hit the course. To be honest, I ended up swinging wildly at the ball and didn’t get very far in terms of progress. Maybe the beer and the cocktails had something to do with that, but the elaborate and innovative backdrops certainly made even losing fun. In addition to the cool surroundings, the whimsical holes allow for any number of strategies for getting your ball through the obstacles- attempt a delicate maneuver to roll it right up the tongue of the Blue Toad, or try to knock it over the pond? Take the bridge or brave the tornado in the Natural Disaster? My favorite was trying not to get the ball lost under the couch in Gramma’s Living Room, packed full with kitschy bric a brac and vintage knick knacks. After all eighteen holes, I was pretty tired.

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Taking a rest on Gramma’s Couch at Can Can Wonderland: Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Thankfully, we were responsible and came via Lyft, though on a less hot, muggy day, Can Can Wonderland is a convenient fifteen minute walk from the Fairview Avenue Station on the Greenline. I’m looking forward to making another expedition here.

Holiday Cheers

 

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Having a merry Christmas at Lawless Distilling

It’s back to work for many of us Americans on Boxing Day, MSP Adventure Time included, so hopefully everyone has had a warm and cozy holiday season so far. Now that the big ones are over and a subzero cold has settled over the metro, I’m going to reflect a little on some of the fun things we got up to this busy holiday season.

There’s always the crop of local craft fairs and markets, as I’ve written about every year, great for picking up a few last minute locally crafted gifts. A new one we checked out this year was the Hoppy Holidays Makers Market at Urban Growler Brewing Company in St. Paul’s St. Anthony Park neighborhood, one of my favorite local breweries. Along with checking out some cool local craftspeople, we picked up a bottle of the Bourbon Barrel Imperial Porter, one of Urban Growler’s limited releases. Not as much of a beer drinker, Lindsay has discovered a tolerable liking for the rich, sweet, heavy stouts and porters. That’ll be a great, heady libation for our New Years celebration.

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Urban Growler

Along with the craft fairs, we had another fun, energetic evening down at the Eagles Club in Seward, as I wrote about earlier this year. The 7th Annual Kinda Kinky Holiday food raiser was, again, a good time. The same Kinks hits performed with joy and energy by a roster of guests, it is always a cheery experience.

The highlight of the holidays was definitely the Miracle at Lawless, Lawless Distilling’s hosting of a holiday themed pop up cocktail bar idea originating in New York. Here, they’ve transformed their cosy and intimate but elegant space into a Christmas lighted extravaganza complete with themed drinks and the comforting, nostalgic scene of pine. It was packed when we arrived but we quickly got a couple of tasty drinks, a Gimlet Who Stole Christmas and a Sipping Hot Chocolate infused with fragrant Bittercube bitters. This has come to be one of our favorite spots in the cities for cocktails and it was a great way to get a break from the stressful holiday season. They’re continuing the miracle until New Years, so I’d really recommend stopping by for a festive and stimulating beverage.

 

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Miracle at Lawless

Hmm, I notice that a lot our holiday outings involve a drink or two…

In any case, for the new year, we will be writing a little about some of our favorite distillers here in the Twin Cities!  

 

 

 

Urban Growler, 2325 Endicott Street, St. Paul

Miracle at Lawless, 2619 S 28th Avenue, Minneapolis

 

MSP Reading Time: 100 Things to Do in the Twin Cities Before You Die

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The bucket list, all that stuff that one should experience in life before one, well, “kicks the bucket” seem to be a pretty popular format to base local travel books around currently. Perhaps due to its slightly morbid nature, I find it a fascinating concept, having browsed through various lists before, 1000 albums, 1000 books, etc. I am a bit of a list junkie, I must admit, as I write about over on my other blog, Reading Rainstorm. It looks as though this one is only one among many books detail the essential one hundred things citizens should experience before dying (or moving?) So, of course, I was eager to check out the list of must do activities in my home metro of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and their various suburbs. All in all, I found 100 Things to Do in the Twin Cities Before You Die to be a pretty solid list.

While it might be a bit more of a stretch in a medium size metro area like the Twin Cities, I feel that compiler Tom Weber put together a very nice list of some of the most awesome things to do around here, including museums, annual festivals and events, famous local cuisines, and our well known performing arts venues (oh, and sports). It was quite fun going down the list with my fiancee, a transplant from California, tallying off all of the things we’ve done. Even with all of my activity in the course of writing this blog (and my 34 years in the area compared to Lindsay’s 4 years), she’s beaten me out. I’ve only accomplished 42 of the suggestions in, while she’s gotten up to 46. Almost half! I guess we locals occasionally take the wonders held in our neck of the woods for granted while people seeing them through new eyes get through more. I have certainly had a lot of fun adventures with her over the last year.

Of the ones I can check off, a few of my favorites from the blog appear in the list, though I’m definitely looking forward to getting through even more of them with my love, and there are quite a few that I have yet to experience that seem pretty interesting. Of course, as is true for any such book published two years ago, it is not quite up to date. There are a few on the list that, if you haven’t accomplished them already, will be impossible (eating at the Oak Grill at the Macy’s in downtown Minneapolis, for instance).

Of the entries that remain, though, there is plenty of exciting inspirations. I really enjoyed the lists taking advantage of the extreme seasons of the Twin Cities, not forgetting to neglect all of unique experiences to be had in the dead of winter, from ice skating to art sled racing. Over the course of the next year, I’m hoping to check off a few of the more interesting things I haven’t done yet and write about them here, one for each season.

Specifically, I’m hoping to do #27 and experience Powderhorn Park’s May Day Parade for spring, check out a free summer movie or concert in one of Minneapolis’ park (#25), finally get to #23, one of BareBone’s Outdoor Puppet pageants for Halloween, and hopefully next winter they’ll be enough snow for next year’s #31 art sled rally.

Also, regardless of season, I’m looking forward to #64, touring the Capitol with my state worker sweetheart this year, as well. In any case, we’re well set to check off half of Weber’s list in the next year.

This is a cross post with my book blog, Reading Rainstorm.

 

 

Union Depot Holiday Bake Sale

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In the weeks before the holidays, one can certainly find oneself encountering all manner of treats and goodies, whether at holiday potlucks or family cookie exchanges. It can all be a bit overwhelming, especially as one is also scrambling to find those last minute gifts, if you happen to be or know people celebrating Christmas.

Popping up across the Twin Cities in November and December are a large number of holiday craft shows, a few of which I blogged about during the last few years. This year, Lindsay and I went to the St. Paul Union Depot for it’s European Christmas Market. Due to icy wind and snow on that afternoon, though, we soon went inside the depot to check out another event; the Union Depot Holiday Bake Sale. The 4th Annual sale, it boasts drawing the top Twin Cities bakeries to peddle cookies, candy, and other sweets. There were definitely some delectable and tasty treats on sale, in particular the T-Rex Cookie Company and Heavenly Treats’ toffee. We were able to get some shopping done, too! Unfortunately, I’m not sure I’d come back- the admission fee to get in to even browse the treats ($5 with a commemorative tote) seemed a little much, especially since so many other craft and food shows are free (including the Depot’s Christmas Market, itself). Only a handful of our favorite bakeries were represented, so it was definitely lacking quite a few of the best bakeries the Twin Cities can offer, and curiously, several non-baked good merchants were also on hand, almost as if the selection criteria had little to do with merchants offering the best desserts in town. There were some music and cookery demonstrations, but nothing was happening while we were there. May be best to plan ahead before visiting events with admission fees.  

German Culture in St. Paul

It has been a busy summer, and spending all my time going on fun adventures with my beloved fellow adventurer, I have neglected updating my blog on all the exciting things we have been up to. Over the next week, I’m hoping to get things up to date and, I hope, not let it slip so much in future.

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This June was a good time to be in St. Paul if you have any interest in Germanic and German-American culture. The descendants of the largest immigrant group in Minnesota history, as well as the Austrians and Swiss, still know how to have a good time, and those interested in learning more about it or just enjoying its vaunted cultural amenities such as beer, pastries, and dour religious art had plenty of opportunity to get a taste. With Minnesota (and the rest of the country) still struggling with anxieties regarding the influx of immigrants from around the world, it is always interesting to note how similar fears and concerns were raised by Americans to groups now comfortably part of the white American mainstream, such as the Germans. The presence of such institutions and festivities show that new cultures can preserve their customs and add to the vibrancy of the region’s social fabric. Within a couple of weeks, you could experience Deutsche Tage at the Germanic-American Institute on Summit Avenue and Germanfest at the historic Schmidt Brewery on West Seventh.

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Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The Germanic-American Institute hosted their 2016 Deutsche Tage on the weekend of June 11th and 12th. A free event, it offers crafts, music, and other activities, though you must purchase tokens to obtain the beer and food on offer. On a lovely Saturday afternoon, the Germanic-American Institute was an ideal stroll from home, and, sipping some Paulaner beers and some chewy pretzels with cheese and mustard, we listened to the low, puffing sounds of the Oompah bands while we observed the many varieties of lederhosen donned by celebrating German-Americans. The ornate GAI building was filled with craft activities and more treats, but the real place to be was enjoying the summer weather on the Institute’s lawn. After winning another round of beers by completing a simple scavenger hunt, we went back inside the cool basement Rathskeller of GAI and watched an interesting presentation on home brewing as well.

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Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

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The very next weekend, we went down to the sprawling complex that housed the old Schmidt Brewery, one of the large breweries founded in Minnesota by German immigrants in the nineteenth century for Germanfest. Also free to stroll, here a $7 wristband was required to purchase the alcoholic beverages. Under the inspiring stone walls of the old brewery, all sorts of vendors selling European crafts and genealogical resources. For us, the biggest attraction here was the delicious varieties of food, including delectable vegetarian spaetzle, potato pancakes, more pretzels (of course), and some wonderful parfait with rhubarb and lemon (and plenty of fluffy, rich whipped cream). Of course, there was plenty of beer on tap here, too, this time from Minnesota’s oldest surviving brewery, also founded by German immigrants, New Ulm’s Schell’s. We also attended an interesting lecture on Lutheran identity in German painting presented by a curator from the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Some very interesting discussion with a pint of froth beer!

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You should definitely check them out next year!

The Cure in St. Paul

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The Cure, from the top of the seats!

So, seminal English post-punk band, The Cure, visited the Twin Cities for the first time in twenty years as part of their North American 2016 tour last Tuesday, packing the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, and Lindsay and I were there! Lindsay, a bit of a fan of the ‘80s band, picked up tickets for us and we were excited to be present! Of course, we had to be, I mean, these tickets weren’t exactly cheap, and, of course, The Cure! Growing up, I was a bit ignorant of much of popular music, but over the last few years I’ve been trying to increase my knowledge, so this was a great opportunity to see some giants play.  

This was my first real experience with a huge, arena rock show and it was quite the spectacle. Approaching the Xcel, we found ourselves swamped in a hoard of 40-something Cure fans, all clamoring to get through the metal detectors and into the stadium. Lindsay had gotten us some good seats, at least until the organizers decided to open up more of them, pushing us further away from the stage. Up there in the nosebleeds, it was like, as expressed by Lindsay, we were watching an audience watch a show! The flags of the United States and Canada hung above the space usually set aside for hockey, where instead an eager audience awaited a band from Britain. The Cure were opened by The Midnight Sad, a band from Glasgow, Scotland, whose lead singer bantered with the crowd in his Scottish brogue. After their set, the Cure came on!

Robert Smith, founding member and sole remaining original, performed plenty of Cure classics, for nearly three hours, pausing for an encore every forty-five minutes or so. The production values were quite impressive, rainbow lights and pulsing, themed images projected behind the band members as they went through their numbers. The air became thick and foggy with illicit smokes and the screams of fans who, having imbibed too much, were reliving their misspent youth. Lindsay and I realized that we were on the lower end of the average age bracket of the show. Upon the last encore, we left the Xcel along with a dazed crowd, who dispersed into the quiet, midnight streets of St. Paul, a city which had long since gone to bed.