I’m envious of anyone who knows how to play the piano. It means they spent part of their childhood doing something more productive than figuring out which kinds of spiders are disposed to fight when shaken together in a jar.
I know what you’re thinking: “Then go learn to play piano!” No, it’s too hard, but I can do the next best thing: Go to Shout House Dueling Pianos in downtown Minneapolis and watch professional pianists in their prime while I drink.The place is a vast and open beer hall with two, as you’d imagine, pianos facing each other on a stage. Mirrors reflect the quickfire fingerwork before them. I took a table up front and center, ordered a burger because this is America, and got to work watching the pianists take turns playing audience requests.
Contrary to the name, the pianists weren’t dueling — if shaken in a jar together, neither would harbor resentment toward the other. Instead, they took turns playing and complimenting the other’s performance. They belted out the classics, cheerful and good renditions of songs about dark desert highways, nine o’clock on a Saturday, a small town girl livin’ in a lonely world, and of course Sweet Caroline, mandatory singing wherever there are two or more people. The pianists at Shout House know everything. There was even a spirited rendition of My Humps by The Black Eyed Peas, which I am informed is a naughty song. You can’t bring your kids to Shout House, there is booze and the pianists swear.
The atmosphere at Shout House is vivacious and brotherly, everyone singing along and drinking beer and happy en masse. I requested my favorite song, Paint it Black, but appreciate now why they didn’t play it. A song about hating everything is antithetical to the love Shout House was washing over their guests that night.
Long after the burger and when I had to go, they brought two new guys out. One of them looked like a high school math teacher, so it was even more striking when he hit us with a rendition of Highway to Hell that singed everyone’s eyebrows off. (What do you have to do to be able to sing like Brian Johnson, gargle razor blades every morning?) The place was gearing up for even harder nighttime rocking while I was leaving to go home because I’m old.
I later learned from Shout House’s manager Angela Wynveen that the barn burner who played AC/DC is an engineer by day, but has been performing at the bar for over ten years. “When we find a great pianist, they tend to stay,” said Angela. “They love putting their own unique spins on top 40 hits and fielding the occasional curve ball from the audience. They can’t be stumped, though. They’re too good for that!”
In honor of the event, Shout House will be open all week during the Super Bowl rather than their usual Wednesday through Saturday. What better place could there be to soak in the city’s carnival atmosphere that week, singing fight songs, eating rib tips, and drinking beer? Very few, and that’s being generous.
One day imminently we’ll go back. Everyone should go. Minneapolis needs as many people as it can to go “BOM BOM BOM” after the “SWEET CAROLINE.” So good.
By David Scheller