The Rubaiyat and Delta Rae: Luther College ’16

As I have mentioned several times before on my blog (and incessantly in person), Delta Rae is my favorite band. I enjoy their recorded music, the videos are fun, but the real reason they’re my favorite is the live show. It is intense, and fun, and a little transcendent, and incredibly inspiring. I am always watching for new tour dates, because unlike my other ‘favorite’ bands, their concerts are worth the drive and the price, just for the energy and passion and joy of the performance.

They completed the “After It All” tour not too long ago (I saw them in Madison, and they were incredibly engaging, as always) and then did an acoustic Christmas tour, but it only had a few East Coast dates. I wasn’t expecting another tour anytime soon…

But then, I discovered the announcement for the New Moon Rising tour. I scanned the locations and hit upon The Varsity Theater, Minneapolis, MN. I was ready to book tickets at that point, but then I looked at the next line…

Decorah, IA! Guys, I live 20 minutes from Decorah. I am completely willing to drive to Chicago (6ish hours) to see this band. (I have been to Minneapolis, Des Moines and Madison, previously.) I don’t know what possessed them to book a date in a rinky-dink town, but I was thrilled! I haunted the box office website until the tickets were posted, and then haunted it for a couple weeks more because, occasionally, Luther College offers night-before “Dinner with the Artist” events, and I was hoping they’d feature Delta Rae. They didn’t, but after having been to the show, I understand why.

Then, I proceeded to invite everyone I know who is even remotely likely to come to something I cold-invited them for. I ended up with Tim, Lance, and Robin – my core posse, as it were. Lance and Tim have both seen them before, and Robin has been invited to every concert, but hasn’t been able to come until now.

So, we had a foursome of grown-ups for a night out! Robin was even able to come early enough in the afternoon that we could go out for dinner beforehand. We ended up getting kind of a late start for dinner, but went to Decorah and started the debate about where to go. I have heard of the Rubaiyat and how nice it is a number of times, but it is never open when I am in a situation where it might be an appropriate destination. We finally had an occasion for a nice dinner and no children at the same time the place was open, so I finally got to try it!

I have to admit, I was pretty seriously disappointed. The place was loud – too loud to have a conversation, even at a table of only four. It wasn’t even half full while we were there, either.

The menu was, to be honest, pretentious and off-putting. They were struggling for gourmet to a point that was a little obnoxious. I know my own appetite enough to know that I wouldn’t eat an entire entree, but there was nothing on the menu that sounded appetizing, and the one dish that wasn’t actively off-putting, I still wasn’t too excited about. And I am not a very picky eater. Given the company I was in, I was worried.

Lance and Robin ended up ordering a burger, which was  topped with “Local bacon / sun-dried tomato pesto / brie / LTO / fries” and sounded terrible – who puts brie on a burger? It tastes like wet socks. 🙁

Tim ordered the Chicken Parmesan, which came with cheese tortellini, spinach, and “house made bacon infused red sauce”.

I ended up just getting the soup and salad, because nothing seemed appetizing enough to pay the sticker price. The soup at least sounded interesting, with tomato, spinach and artichoke (or something – it was so loud, I could hardly hear the waitress) and it’s hard to go wrong with salad.

The soup ended up being a complete disappointment. It was basically tomato soup with a couple of canned tomato pieces in it and some parsley on top. I got one shred of identifiable artichoke, and mostly just felt gypped about it because there wasn’t even enough “house bread” to make it a dipping soup. The salad part of the course was leaf-lettuce like my parents grew in their garden (and I didn’t like as a child), a couple of cherry tomatoes, a sprinkling of feta cheese, raspberry viniagrette, and a couple of onion shreds. For what I paid for the ‘meal’, I was seriously disappointed – both in flavor and quantity. I have a relatively small appetite, and I left still hungry.

We have admittedly raised our standards on restaurant food, but Tim’s chicken parmesan was pretty disappointing, too. The tortellini tasted like the stuff you can get at Wal-Mart, the red sauce was essentially marinara (granted, marinara has a strong enough flavor that it’s hard to give it a ‘twist’) and the chicken was good, but it wasn’t $21 worth of good.

All in all, the Rubaiyat experience was a complete fail. A rather expensive fail. I understand what they’re trying to do, but I have definitely experienced it done better. Like, across the street at Restauration.

Anyway! There was still a concert to look forward to – the whole focus of the evening.

The tickets said that Delta Rae was going to be performing at the Center for Faith and Life, which is an ampitheater with row seating. When I saw Live at Luther College back in 1999 (Good Lord, has it really been that long ago?!), they played in the gym and it was an open floor with no seating. Every other time I’ve seen Delta Rae, they’ve played in a general-admission venue/bar that is mostly standing room only. I thought they’d either relocate the band or reconfigure the venue.

But no, they had Delta Rae in the same venue that Lance and I took my mom to see “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as a ballet. It was… Extremely awkward. The audience started out seated, and I was completely expecting them to jump to their feet and go down to dance by the stage, but nobody ever did. I, for one, had ants in my pants the entire concert, and chair-danced only because I was too shy to go down and do it in front of everyone.

It became clear after only a song or three that there were very few people in the audience who were familiar with Delta Rae’s catalogue. I sat towards the front, because I just like them that much, and though I didn’t do much looking at the crowd, there was only one other person in my field of vision who clearly knew the lyrics. (I know Lance does, but he’s not the type to sing along, like I am.) The band talked about doing mostly  new music (“New Moon Rising”, yanno), but then Eric and maybe Elizabeth might have been getting a little frustrated, because they talked about there being five people in the audience who had seen them before, so maybe all the music was new. They were very graceful about it and continued to put on a really wonderful show, but it was clear that the audience wasn’t responding the way they were used to.

Brittany did a little more talking than I have heard before, and introduced a new song with a clearly heartfelt (but not specific) explanation of her recent break-up. Then, Eric told a sweet story about Brittany finding a ladybug (it had to have been an Asian Lady Beetle – we don’t have ladybugs at this time of year, but there’s no reason either of them would know that – I’m just glad she didn’t get bit) and holding it while she sang through sound check.

As for the music: the song I really wanted to hear live, “Bethlehem Steel”, wasn’t in the set list. But as always, I was surprised and pleased with what was offered, and found something to look forward to later.

One of the first songs they did was a new one about a disillusioned and abused wife who lost her baby to her husband’s fists; “The only good thing we ever made.” I don’t remember the lyric exactly, but I remember the emotion and the passion in the performance. I imagine it’s called “Hitching A Ride”, though I’m not sure.

They did “Scared”, “Morning Comes”, “Chasing Twisters”… A modified version of “Never Die”, “Bottom of the River” (of course), and probably a couple of familiar tunes that I’ve missed in the retelling, but it was mostly new or different music.

One of the new songs, Ian had a really ambitious falsetto interlude that built up to an incredible high note that I could see he was straining for, but he totally earned. I saw the girl sitting directly in front of him whip her head around to her friend and say, “Oh my GOD!” I was amused, but felt the same way.

They did a few snippets of covers that engaged the crowd a little more at certain points, but they were blended so seamlessly with their own music that I didn’t initially realize it was a cover. The one exception, I will say, was “John The Revelator”. I wish it had been recorded – it was really great. Elizabeth’s voice and passion made it an awesome song. I mentioned on the drive home that “John the Revelator” was a high point of the performance, and Tim said that he had heard a number of versions (he grew up on southern gospel) but had never heard one that good.   [I don’t take pictures or videos at these concerts, because the band is so much fun. I want to experience it in real time, not watch the live action over a screen to make sure I’m getting a decent shot. It ruins the experience. All the same, I wish I had recorded that one, cos it was very good.]

The show ended around 10PM, and the band mentioned that they’d be out later. I passed up the chance to meet them in Minneapolis, met Elizabeth accidentally on the curb in Des Moines (and embarrassed myself, most likely) and had a timeline in Madison. I figured the chance of ever meeting them in a smaller venue was now. Robin seemed to have enjoyed the band – she bought their new album, an EP and a T-shirt. I already own all the music in iTunes format (so the kids don’t wreck it), so I didn’t have anything new to get. But, I made everybody wait around because I really wanted to meet them. It took about 40 minutes after the show for Brittany and Elizabeth to come out. In the meantime, we watched the roadies and the ‘guys’ from the band pack away their equipment, and loitered in the foyer.

Eventually, the ladies came out to sign autographs and take ‘selfies. I don’t know why the other two leads didn’t come out, but I imagine it has something to do with marketing – Liz and Brittany appear a lot more than the brothers. I waited awhile before having the courage to get bemcandidin line, and by the time I made it to the front, I was completely embarrassed for being so excited about something that I made 3 other relatively disinterested people wait for 45 minutes for me to do. Lance kept giving me that ‘I know you’re excited, and I’m amused’ look, but Robin came with me in the line, and had a CD for them to sign. I felt like I was missing an opportunity, so I asked them to sign my ticket, and Robin suggested a photo, which I did with both enthusiasm and trepidation. Also, a little bit of shock euphoria. Robin has saved me from a number of these situations – I remember the one time I tried solo karaoke – it was bad. She saved me by finding the key. Anyway, I met them very briefly, and I think probably failed to convey the respect I have for not just their music, but their performance.

There’s a reason I’m a writer – I’m bad at life in real-time!

We made Robin listen to “Bethlehem Steel” on the way home, as well as “Run”, another of their anthems, “Never Die” in its album version, and “Cold Day in Heaven”, which I keep forgetting about until I hear it again, but is poignant and beautiful.

When we got home, we put the lingering kiddos to bed, and then sat up for a little while to catch up on each other’s lives. It was, all in all, a wonderful evening. And I’m going to keep following this band; and not just because that was an awkward performance for me, even as a spectator, and they pushed through it with grace.



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