The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

What You're Seeing Saturday


I don’t remember quite how we first heard about Nick Africano ’05, way back in the long, long ago of freshman year. But we were there when he took the stage at Dunn Bros., listening to a voice that could finally compete with the coffee grinders for attention, and we were there, at one of the best tables, upon his return to that same venue. Macalester has always had its fair share of campus celebrities, and probably always will. But it seemed a real shame to me that its newest generations had never gotten to see and hear what Nick Africano could do with a guitar. Last month I was thrilled to learn that Nick would be playing at the 400 Bar in Minneapolis. We arrived to find the crowd already thick with Macalester students and alumni, and the news got even better: Nick had plans to perform frequently, and had also recorded his first album, Broken. He was truly in his element on stage, all mellowed guitar and resonant voice, the songs lyrical and rich. Though you may have missed out on Nick in the past, fear not: this Saturday sees the “semi-debut” of his new band at Gingko Coffeehouse, only a short ride from campus. The band, comprised of Nick, fellow Mac grads Greg Walz-Chojnacki ’05 and Mike Vasich ’05, and Jack Phinney ’06, make for a show that clearly demands to be attended by Macalester en masse. Angie Oase ’05 will be opening for the band at 7 p.m.; it’s free, all-ages, and there’s no cover.

There are five songs on Broken, each with its own unique tone, though they all share a bluesy, rhythmic base. Nick, who studied English and Hispanic Studies at Macalester before graduating last year, was also part of the African Music Ensemble, and cites the African percussion he learned here as an important influence on his music. On the album, he covers the broad spectrum of “vocals, acoustic guitar, slide guitar, harmonica, conga, tambourine,” sounding like the unholy lovechild of Bob Dylan and Jeff Tweedy. Nick says he is inspired lyrically by the likes of Dylan and Tom Waits, and is fascinated by complex, vivid voices like Sam Cooke’s, while his parents, both artists, were also hugely influential. Broken is dedicated to the memory of his late mother, a topic approached in the wrenching chords and words of “Cap and Bells,” which ends the album.

“Bittersweet Thursday” has a classic, old-fashioned feel, effortlessly full of the blues, eminently hummable. Never has a gloomy week sounded so catchy and melancholy-smooth. Having heard Nick perform the song before, I thought it would stand out as the clearest potential “single,” but then there is the irresistible “Angelina,” with the complement of Tyler Wood ’04 on drums and Jack Helsley on bass, upbeat guitar and rhythm winding through the song’s evocative lyrics. “Fixin” to “Die Blues” has a rougher edge and sharp percussive beat, while the Paul Simonesque “Bound to Burn” makes full use of Nick’s range of instruments, blending in a folksy harmonica and the even beat of conga and tambourine. The lovely, haunting refrains of “Cap and Bells” are made bolder by lyrics that read and sound like poetry: “I covered the Sun with my thumb as I held it close to my eye / I pretended, for I was young, that our love would never die / Convinced myself in and out of being willing to try / To say goodbye to you through this August-colored air.” The song speaks both to the recent death of Nick’s mother and to the very idea of loss — “Whether or not it was too early or late / Time followed behind us as if to mock our fate” –with its chorus ultimately declaring, “I sing a song to save my life.” Nick relates that “Cap and Bells” was a turning point for him lyrically, setting a new standard for future material.

If the gorgeous “Cap and Bells” is indicative of the direction in which he’s heading, we can foresee even more excellent and expressive music from Nick Africano. Already at work preparing for a full album, he is especially looking forward to performing with the new band. You should be anticipating catching them on Saturday, and in their official debut together at the 400 Bar on Nov. 17 at 8 p.m. Come with friends, enemies, family, professors all; try not to leave without Broken, and be there to support and listen as Nick and the band take their music from Macalester beginnings into the future.

The Nov. 5 show is at 7p.m. at the Gingko Coffeehouse and also features ’05 Macalester graduate Angie Oase. The Ginko Coffeehouse is located on 721 N. Snelling Avenue (corner of Snelling and Minnehaha). Free and all-ages.

The band’s debut on Nov. 17 at the 400 Bar, 400 Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis, begins at 8p.m. and is 21-and-up.

Kaila Hale-Stern is a senior with the rare opinion that there can never be too many boys playing guitars. She can be reached at [email protected].

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  • A

    Angela KerrSep 10, 2019 at 5:47 pm

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  • B

    Brian DowdSep 6, 2019 at 5:40 pm

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