Eustace the Dragon. Photos by Bethany Joy Schrock

Eustace the Dragon. Photos by Bethany Joy Schrock

Best Picks: April 5–18

Updated: April 6, 2018 - 1:12 pm

What to do downtown after work

Campfire songs

Chitchat and laughter are nearly as central to Eustace the Dragon’s music as moving vocal harmonies and melodic string arrangements.

“There are sections where you can just hear us goofing around and talking. It makes you know there are people singing the songs,” said Danny Churchill, a singer and guitarist in the trio.

Churchill, singer and wife Amanda and their friend Jessica Smith formed the Twin Cities-based band several years ago after meeting in church.

Following time as an indie cover band, the three took on the name — a reference to the parable of a boy whose greed and arrogance gets him turned into a dragon — and now make their own music, a stripped-down blend of folk and country.

Eustace the Dragon release its debut album, “Glad Friends,” last fall. Recorded at the Churchill household, the 16-track record features some of their musical friends, such as Andrew Thoreen of local band Har-di-Har and Peter Miller of We Are the Willows.

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Their music is too genuine and original to be written off as twee, and despite its sweet sound, there is a bitter side to the songs. The title track “Glad Friends,” which delves into the costs of a past relationship, was originally called “Glad We’re Still Friends.” It begins with Danny singing a charming melody and then builds over time with trombone and additional voices, which ask a lingering, affecting question (“You took everything that I had / What was it worth?”).

“We called it ‘Glad Friends’ because that’s often the settings that we’re singing in, like hanging out with friends in houses or around a bonfire just having jam sessions,” Smith said. “It felt honest also to make that the title track because there’s some dark, bitter parts in our writing too. We really care about writing about our hard experiences.”

The song is representative of the members’ approach to music, which they describe as a stirring group experience that feeds off their friendship and their own stories. Their genre is as accurately described as “alternative folk” as it is “choral campfire hang,” Smith said.

Their goal? To be friends forever.

“Whenever we’re really all super into it, everyone is just singing whatever they want and it works together and sometimes it doesn’t, but you get that full feeling that everyone is just free,” she said. “That’s the goal for me, that late-night abandon.”

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Like a campfire performance, there’s a live element to their music. When the three took to putting together the album they put new spins on old songs they’ve carried with them for years. On stage, the three make tweaks and switch out lyrics to better connect to their current lives.

“Half the songs we’ve written, the circumstances surrounding them are totally different, but people continue to connect with the sentiment,” Danny said.

Eustace the Dragon will play First Avenue’s 7th Street Entry on Tuesday April 17 at 7 p.m. The Collection, a chamber pop band out of North Carolina, and local duo Inside Voice, a project from Hilary James of Bathtub Cig and Peter Miller, will open the 18-plus show.

Drink in it all in

What if everyone had a story to tell? If they did, what drink would be in their hand when they told it?

These are questions raised at Nicollet Island-East Bank’s latest bar, the Sonder Shaker. It’s a small cocktail lounge in the apartment building that replaced parts of the old Nye’s Polonaise Room.

A BOY NAMED SUZE photo by Eric Best webInside, a dimly lit room filled with bar stools and velvet furniture offers plenty of non-stuffy places to tell a story of two. For a drink, you couldn’t go wrong with the Matcha Man ($10) whose earthy, bitter green tea flavors are balanced with a smooth egg white and bright, sweet citrus liqueur. Or try the cocktail A Boy Named Suze ($10), which pairs Plymouth gin with Cocchi Americano — a brilliantly bitter, yet sweet quinine-laced aperitif wine — and Suze, whose earthy taste comes from the gentian root. I’d recommend trying to make this one at home because the aperitifs will, at the very least, make great things to sip on the porch this summer with a big lemon or orange garnish.

For food, the Sonder Shaker offers a happy hour from 4 p.m.–6 p.m. that will get you deals on scallop ceviche, which would pair well with a citrusy drink, and a roasted carrot and sunchoke dish that comes decorated with reduced red wine and pickled spices. Neither of these options is boring — they may even tell their own story.


One for the record books

If you’re looking for a nearby place to head to on Record Store Day (Saturday, April 21), try Flashlight Vinyl. The Northeast Minneapolis new and used record store is one of the latest to open in the city and is nestled in the Alamo building on Central Avenue across the street from Diamonds Coffee Shoppe. Owner Raoul Benavides promises more LPs, tapes and 45s than you can handle. From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., the shop will be slinging records out of its parking lot. Plus, shop-turned-food-truck SSSDUDE-NUTZ will be selling their wacky square donuts and coffee. I’d recommend picking up Jeremy Messersmith’s newly released album, “Late Stage Capitalism,” which we featured in our last issue. Then go through Benavides’ considerable collection to find an old favorite.