Late Night Fights And Pole Dancers Equal Bliss At Varsity Theater


The definition of “bliss” is complete happiness. Late Night Fights (LNF) might have attained that when they pulled out all the stops at their album release party Sunday night at the beautiful Varsity Theater. It was an evening that included the typical smoke and light show. But also banners, masked stage artists, a large shredding machine prop, a cannon, and a few hundred ping-pong balls. Add to that three opening bands, pole dancers and you have an example to add to Webster’s dictionary. Bliss is LNF’s third album and contains six quality songs including the single “The Whole World Is On Drugs.”

Hustling to the U of M campus, I was too late to catch the first band, Lake Avenue. Sorry guys, hopefully next time. I did arrive in time to see Divide The Fall who I had seen compete with four other local bands in the next2rock Live Local Finale at Mystic Lake last August. I enjoyed their strong show and looked forward to a longer set than the 15 minutes the contest allowed. Their sound is along the lines of Breaking Benjamin without the ballads.  After a few of their originals, singer Ethan Weinaug said they were going to play one cover song as we may not be familiar with their music but everyone would know this one.  It was a cool rock version of “Stay” by Zedd.  They played “Left For Dead” from their self-titled EP.  It was the first song they wrote together as a band. Weinaug said that their first year together as a band was coming to a close quickly and wanted to finish with the song that started it all for them, “Our Existence.” Talking with Weinaug after the show, he said while they were disappointed not to win the next2rock contest, they stay in contact with some of the other bands. That’s what they appreciate so much about our Twin Cities music community; how friendly and supportive bands are.

The time between bands for stage turnover is probably the most boring part of a concert. Not tonight as several pole dancers from Pole and Performing Art entertained with some amazing performances to pass the time. The announcer said to throw some dollars up there anytime you see the dancers do something you could not do. All I know, is there should have been a lot more money donated to these strong young ladies. I would recommend all rock shows add this type of intermission entertainment.

Next up was Red Tide Rising, tourmates of Late Night Fights for a short ten-show tour that concluded at tonight. Sensing they would be starting I moved to the front of the stage to take some photos. When they started up, the air moved by the bass woofers built into the stage nearly knocked me over. I hung in there and really felt the music I must say. The Denver band is fronted by bird-masked singer Matthew Whiteman and his brother Andrew on guitar. Andrew looked dressed for work with a black dress shirt and red tie. Holding a guitar and no briefcase. His office for the evening would be stage-right. Matthew would not remove the scary bird mask all evening, even at the merchandise table later. The mask works well with his aggressive vocals. Trying to I picture him growling that way without a mask almost seems awkward. Think about how confident and bold you feel on Halloween when in disguise. But difficult to keep a Halloween mask on that long, much less sing. He did admit after the show he gets pretty sweaty under that mask. Matthew also said they will be releasing a new EP in 2019 to add to 2013’s The Rising and 2016’s Voices.

Late Night Fights began their set with flashing police lights mounted in front of the drum set and no shortage of smoke. Again being front center by the stage I got smoked out and can still taste it. Lead singer Ryan Guanzon used to sit behind the drums for New Medicine but shifted his musical focus to writing, producing, and fronting a band. Wearing a black knit hat, black t-shirt, and a well-used Telecaster, he looks like a rocker. More importantly he sounds like one in handling all of the vocals and guitar work for LNF. The other two parts of the Minneapolis rock trio are Shane Peckham operating a red Fender 4-string and Daniel Johnson running the kit behind the flashing lights.

After a few songs, Guanzon discussed with the crowd that they just released their third record, Bliss. “We challenged ourselves and put together the album in three weeks, from writing to finish,” he explained. “I wouldn’t recommend it. It was tough and the hardest part was that I had like three car accidents including someone dropping a boulder on my car.”

They played “Dark Artists” off of the new album. Guanzon explained that it’s about doing things we wish we didn’t do. During the song a brunette dancer wearing all black crawled across the front of the stage and began the first instance of a pole performance during the live music. All the lead singer could muster up after finishing the song was, “Thank you!”

They slowed things down next with Johnson taking a break while the seated Guanzon and Peckham both played acoustic guitars on “Saving Face” and “A Beautiful Lie” from the first album Jousthouse. Guanzon showed great emotion in his vocals on the acoustic songs and explained this was only the second time trying that version. The other time was in a “cheese bar,” but this time in a beautiful place. As they re-geared he asked if it was OK if they got loud again. This was the first song off their last album Renal 911, “Fuel the Disease” which was a strong rocker. It also featured a new pole dancer with angel wings.

Next came the song from Bliss I was really looking forward to having listened to it a lot. It was the single, “The Whole World Is On Drugs.” Besides being a great song, this is where activity picked up on stage with a masked doctor feeding banners brought on stage by other assistants into a large spinning saw blade. Meanwhile we had some stage effects with sparks flying up on each side of the drum platform.

One of their best known songs, “Prison,” was next and featured some silent, motionless actors with glow-in-the-dark X-eyes and mouths. With just one song left, he had a handful of Bliss CD’s to handout to those in the front row. For the finale there were more props, featuring a large cannon that was wheeled out on stage next to the guitarist. He looked at it quizzically, when pointed right at him at first, but then they righted its aim. As they concluded the show with the final song, hundreds of ping-pong sized balls were dropped upon the crowd. Most were white, but those finding the red ones could claim a prize after the show. I noticed walking out that up in the rafters of the varsity among it’s beautiful chandeliers were banners with the letters B-L-I-S-S. Just one more nice touch.

Late Night Fights threw one heck of an album release party at the Varsity Theater tonight with a little bit of everything. Please support by purchasing their new CD Bliss. I listened to it on the drive home and loved songs like “Great Divide,” “Sway,” and “The Chosen Ones.” I think you will enjoy it too. Quite the night. We went to a pole dancing performance and a rock show broke out.