Tomorrow night at 7:30 pop artist Peter Himmelman returns to the Twin Cities to play a show at the Fitzgerald Theater in downtown St. Paul, with our friend Dan Israel opening for Himmelman. Himmelman is touring in support of his new release The Pigeons Couldn’t Sleep. Last week the Star Tribune’s Chris Riemenschneider profiled Peter and previewed the show in “Himmelman’s permanent thing.”
Himmelman is the genius who fronted the Twin Cities group Sussman Lawrence before he went solo and developed a national following. I saw Sussman Lawrence perform around town several times in the early 1980’s. I was always impressed by the wit of Himmelman’s songwriting, which at the time was deeply under the influence of Elvis Costello. (I’ve since met the talented Sussman Lawrence keyboard player Jeff Victor, who speaks of Peter with great warmth and admiration.)
Himmelman was signed to Island Records as a solo artist on the strength of This Father’s Day in 1986. “11th Confession” off that recording went into heavy rotation on MTV for its compelling video. Several more records for Island followed.
I saw Himmelman perform in February 1990 at First Avenue in Minneapolis backed by his old Sussman Lawrence bandmates when he came through town in support of his terrific Island release Gematria. “The Trees Are Testifying” off that album remains one of my favorite songs in his impressive body of work.
The next year Himmelman moved over to Epic Records and released From Strength to Strength. With a nod to the radio hit “Woman With the Strength of 10,000 Men” — an uplifting tribute to a woman who could only communicate through a computer video screen as a result of her paralysis — many consider it his finest recording, though Flown This Acid World has to be a contender as well.
Himmelman is originally from the Minneapolis suburb St. Louis Park, as were his bandmates in Sussman Lawrence. Regardless of your taste in film or politics, you can’t help but be impressed by the roster of accomplished St. Louis Park natives including Himmelman, filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, political wonk Norman Ornstein, Grammy winning songwriter Dan Wilson, and perhaps even a guy who hasn’t been funny since the expiration of the Al Franken decade in 1990.
Local songwriter Dan Israel hasn’t quite made it into that exalted company yet, but he’s getting closer. Dan was named Songwriter of the Year in the 2006 Minnesota Music Awards, has released eight critically acclaimed compact discs, has opened for many national acts, and receives regular radio airplay around the country. And he’s from St. Louis Park too.
Himmelman is an observant Jew whose spirituality obviously infuses his music. While Dan says he is a bit less observant than Peter, I believe that both Peter and Dan share a love for America and Israel (the country) that is not in vogue on the scene they inhabit. There is accordingly also an element of defiance and loneliness that one can hear in their writing. And, Dan advises, the show will rock too. Both Peter and Dan will be playing with full bands.
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