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The Disclaimer: this is a review of my experience last Saturday. I was helping a previous group and wasn't able to watch shows until Madison came on. A buddy and I also went on an extended intermission to bike to the Surly Brewery/Beer Hall. Apologies and respect to the corps I missed.

Also, one minor note: none of the pictures are mine. I was going to post some photos I took, but filter software just added photo-sharing sites to the list.

The Prologue: I've gone to DCI Minnesota every year since it's first run in 2010 ... the hellstorm year. To have an inaugural DCI regional in your backyard get cancelled mid-way through the World Class schedule was as surreal as it was depressing. The weird charm of walking through crowded concourses mixed with fans, staff members, and miserable corps members in half-unis wore off after a couple of hours.

The next year, we finally got to see the full show (with the caveat that Minneapolis was more hot/humid than Kuala Lumpur that day). The tradition continued every year until 2014, when a stupid Imagine Dragons concert forced the show to get moved to La Crosse, Wisc. The temporary La Crosse regional was actually a fun time, but I was ready for the show to return.

The Experience ...

6:54 - Madison Scouts - My friend is a Scouts alum and wanted to see what his crew was up to. I saw the show from the side in Mankato, but was willing to give it another view. The concerns about another non-finals year don't appear to be justified, IMO ... but there's still plenty of season left.

This is a throwback show in almost every way despite the Bb horns and use of A&E. For the most part, it totally works. The Boerma arrangment allows the music to breathe as it is, not compartmentalized into the conventional drum corps package (which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but gets a little old after a while). The music ensemble is killing it and the color guard is slowly coming into the Gene Kelly role nicely.

Visual still seems to be the thing holding them back, but the emotional progression of this show (out-of-towner comes to big city ... learns the ups-and-downs of show biz ... becomes a gentleman and a movie star) completely trumps last year's (people in suits take drugs and now everything is in color ... also, something about a clock).

The new staff knows what they're doing. If the organization retains the same core group (instead of freaking out and allowing another huge staff turnover), they'll be fine. I think Madison stays in finals this year.

7:10 - Intermission at Surly - Apologies to BAC, Blue Stars, and Phantom, but we planned on spending a chunk of time at the Surly Beer Hall, the newest jewel of the industrial area along University Ave and Hwy 280. It's only a 3-5 minute bike ride from the stadium.

Constantly packed, but there's an army of bartenders and wait staff who know what they're doing. There's a respectable kitchen, but we didn't have any time for food.

Here's what's on tap, half of which is only available at the beer hall. I had the Dampfbier and #merica ... both of which were box 5.

B9315745714Z.1_20150109220852_000_GD49JH

8:19 - The Cavaliers - Rode back to the stadium and caught the men of Rosemont. I made the mistake of watching an early season video of them working on "Run Boy Run," and assumed the worst. This performance put my concern at ease, but unfortunately, I think this is a programmatic step back from last year's show -- which had a rich theme to draw ideas off of and embraced it's campiness.

The "Game On" idea seems great on paper, but I'm seeing enough specific moments in the show that support it. I'm not seeing any clear "game(s)" that are being interpreted. The guard appears to be playing a futuristic mish-mash of Running Man (see Schwarzenegger filmography), wrestling, parkour, and competitive raving. I know they're trying to interpret the general idea of "competition" or whatever, but I'm not getting a clear concept of anything.

A while ago, a BOA group (Center Grove HS) did a show literally entitled "A Futuristic Game of Capture the Flag." I only caught glimpses of it, but the show seemed to work. It was a specific idea that -- as weird as it was -- was enough to build a show from.

Back to Cavies' show ... honestly, as much as I despise most instances of narration, "Game On" is a show that would benefit from it. Find a member with a rich, Marv Albert/Michael Buffer-like voice and have them do some sort of play-by-play, color commentary, or announcing.

I might be a little harsh on this show considering I just came back from a bike bender. Musically, the Cavaliers hornline has graduated to sounding "lush" (especially in the Bruckner opener ... man, that's cool) and the battery continues to faithfully throw-down McIntosh's tasty beats. I'm also really surprised by the low guard score. I thought they performed what they were given quite well.

They have a great instructional staff and won't get passed by anyone currently below them. I'm interested to see how things pan out between them and BK.

8:36 - Carolina Crown - I said earlier that the Cavaliers hornline "graduated to sounding lush." With respect to them, there was a clear level change with Crown. We weren't sitting in a good spot (lower bowl, on the 10 yard line ... outside of the PAs, so I have almost no pit/A&E critiques) and my friend insisted that this stadium "drinks sound" (more on that later).

Once Crown came on, however, I still felt the visceral impact I've been enjoying from them over the years. The opener hits you with devastation. Yes, the giant "Abandon All Hope ..." flag was a little unruly, but it was still effective. The extended drum break that goes into "Dies Irae" is relentless, as is the Copeland interpretation. And then the "Adagio in G minor" ... ballad of the year, in my opinion. The "9th" closer still seems a little abrupt and missing something, though (which seems to be a popular opinion on here). Not sure what GE boosts or changes can be done.

When we watched Crown, an old friend from my early drum corps years stopped by and watched with us. She's an on-and-off visual instructor, and was pretty critical of the constant movement they were doing. I personally didn't have a problem with it: they have a great movement vocabulary to work with and they are one of the few corps who can pull this sort of dance stuff off. It also helps that they're not wearing those ungodly terrible teal pants from last year.

I'll get to the point: despite it's 1 or 2 flaws right now, I love this show. I love that the hornline continues to explore and push musicality in this activity. I love that the drums have meat to their book (and that they're achieving). I love the guard's characterization, and especially the fabric that's used. The simple use of stark colors and specific types of fabric can add so much.

Regardless of where they end up, this show is a monumental rebound from last year's visually cluttered mess of a show.

8:53 - Santa Clara Vanguard - First time I've seen Vanguard live since 2011. It was weird seeing the Sybilski influence on their marching style, as well hearing Phantom's old music arrangers do their stuff.

But this is still Vanguard show ... a great Vanguard show.

Ever since Blue Stars 2010, I had been longing to hear a similar misterioso type of music in a show. The use of Bach's "Invention" does this spectacularly. As the show progressed, the eerie yet refreshing musical arrangements continued to develop and never lost steam. And yes ... there's a theremin solo.

Visually, the top group of corps know how to explore the entire field and stage guard/music ensemble creatively. Pete Weber has them marching frantically, but there's also a lot of good staging going on.

I'll need another viewing or two to really breakdown this show, but I think Vanguard's visual package is catching up to their music (though their brass is apparently underachieving, which I think will change later in the season).

9:10 - Cadets - Speaking of needing another viewing ... there's so much to chew on in this show.

After watching Phantom 2002, I longed to see a top 5 group perform Shostakovich's 10th again. Was a little surprised to see Cadets answer the call, but I'm so #### glad they did. The music ensemble displays so much dynamic range, and everything they do grabs your attention. When they're at fortissimo, you can feel it. When they're at pianissimo, you can still feel it.

The "Mulholland Drive" ballad didn't have me tearing up like Crown's "Adagio" did, but it's still an effective moment that does a lot of cool things in a condensed setting. It's a meandering, listliss, dream-like ballad ... and it works.

I mentioned ability to explore the field, and Sacktig's drill work this year is unrivaled as far as I'm concerned. So much is happening, but everything supports the music.

Overall, there's a type of maturity and focus to this show that I've never seen from this corps (at least IMO). "Between Angels and Demons" was my favorite for it's inventive execution of a simple idea. The ideas in this show are a little more nebulous ... but the music and movement do their work, and the performers deliver. I think this has already overtaken 2011 as my favorite.

I always mention that I'm not much of a Cadet fan, and that most years there's some fundamental design misstep or groan inducing moment. There's none of that. Even if you don't care about the numbers or vocal effects (which I think help), these kids are throwing it the #### down.

9:27 - Blue Devils - Last week, I got into an argument on a drum corps sub-reddit with someone who didn't like 2014 Blue Devils, saying that the programming was "pretentious" and "too-cool-for-school." I vehemently disagreed.

That being said, if he wanted to use that argument, he could have maybe used this year's show as an example (though I would have still disagreed).

I know a lot of people on DCP like to rag on this post-2007 surreal era of BD programming, but I'm still a sucker for it (didn't care for 2009, though).

I love how BD balances whimsy with their traditional B.A. performance maturity. For example, the snares start the show perched up high on the latter props and play through some insane split parts. The whole show is full of moments like this.

The show uses guard soloists as character types/motifs that exist in literature. One puts on a giant cape/shawl and portrays the "evil queen." Another portrays the good girl/princess who vanquishes said queen. There's also a Mad Hatter/general fool-type.

For being a BD show, it's very tounge-in-cheek ... with the infamous K-Pop segment being the prime example. I was expecting something groan inducing ... but I thought it was kind of cute. The good girl/princess is looking for a love interest ... rather than play some sort of lush ballad, they put on some "I Like You" by GOT7.

With that said, is it as effective as what the other top groups are doing? Not really. I dig the show, and I think it's really accessible, but this is a different year with corps out for blood.

Overall, I think Cadets have too powerful of a vehicle to pass by August.

9:44 - Minnesota Brass - The last of the three hometown corps finished the night. I was surprised by how clean it was. Quite a few hornline holes, but I'm guessing that will get fixed.

Having Meehan as an arranger is already paying off for the corps. Really digging the overall musical arrangements. A little different vibe from years past, but it's working. The battery continues to do their thing well and the guard is providing some quality characterization. I'm looking forward to what this show does in Aug/Sep.

The Final Thoughts ...

- I love having a regional here. I hope TCF Bank stadium continues to host a show. I also hope the new U.S. Bank stadium a few blocks away in downtown Minneapolis hosts some shows as well. Maybe a DCI finals is in order?

- My friend was insistent that TCF stadium "drinks sound," and in some ways he's right. It's a two-tiered shallow bowl stadium. But pretty much all of the top 5 made their presence felt.

- Minnesota has proven itself to be a fantastic hub for drum corps. There's great housing sites, an elite stadium with another one on the way, an accommodating metropolitan area with lots to do (and drink), and support from four local drum corps.

- Last year was one of my all-time favorite years after watching the top-15 in the theaters. Hard to say where this year ranks, but it's shaping up to be a good one.

- I'm picking Cadets to take it all. There's a type of athleticism and performance urgency that I'm not seeing from anyone else.

- Good luck to everyone on tour. I will see most of you in the theaters.

Edited by ShutUpAndPlayYerGuitar
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I've gone to DCI Minnesota every year since it's first run in 2010 ... the hellstorm year. To have an inaugural DCI regional in your backyard get cancelled mid-way through the World Class schedule was as surreal as it was depressing.

Yes, that was probably the worst day of 2010 for me................(except for when my uncle died.)

Last Surly I had was a Fiery HE##.

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You should have skipped writing this pointless "review", and had more beer.

Right ... how dare I write about the experience I had in the review section (after going out of my way to make it clear that this is a "limited" review ... both in the #### header and in the main text).

It's clear that you need a hug. Since I can't oblige that, I'll give you a pity "like" instead. I hope it brightens your day.

Edited by ShutUpAndPlayYerGuitar
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