Semisonic works to rock a low-key crowd

Posted: April 16, 2001

The modern rock-concert conundrum: How to remove all risk of lung cancer, alcohol abuse, and permanent hearing loss and still have a good time.

Following the success of 1998's Feeling Strangely Fine, Semisonic front man Dan Wilson might have reasonably figured that on All About Chemistry, he'd need a grand gesture for big arenas. He wrote "I Wish," a sweeping love song of inner turmoil, and appended to it an extended coda. He, too, could be free as a bird, begging darling please.

Semisonic played it mid-set Thursday night at the Theatre of Living Arts. As "I Wish" seemingly faded to a close, the band breathed life into that extended coda. It was a time-honored, rock-concert moment meant for lighters, loudness, and drunken air guitar.

But no lighters lit the non-darkness of the half-filled hall, no alcoholic beverages were permitted outside the designated bar areas, and no one speaking loudly lost much ground to the sound system. To finish "I Wish," Wilson thundered, "Thank you, Philadelphia!" Philadelphia replied, with polite enthusiasm: You're welcome.

Wilson wouldn't succumb to such order. He goaded "the grown-ups in the back exchanging business cards" and "the Maundy Thursday penitents in the choir" to sing "Delicious." He worked hard for 90 minutes, said a few bad words, delivered the crowd-pleasers ("Singing in My Sleep," "Secret Smile," "Closing Time"), and let bassist John Munson sing two songs.

Joined by Chris Joyner, the Minneapolis trio kept other concert trappings: stage fog, swirling lights, strategic spots. But when Jacob Slichter  who, amazingly, sang and played keyboards while drumming  threw his sticks into this orderly crowd, the gesture seemed unduly threatening. Not because he'd actually hit someone but because everybody else made a point of using the trash cans.

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