By Tanner Kent
The Free Press
MANKATO — Boardwalk Arcade has come a long way from impromptu dorm performances.
Four years ago, Boardwalk Arcade was nothing more than Rich Ostrom and Sam Brady, fellow musicians and first-year students at Minnesota State's Julia Sears Residence Community.
Taking advantage of the most spacious dorm rooms available on campus, the pair would frequently hook up an amp or two, pull out a few chairs and stretch their musical muscles — casually jamming to the delight, or chagrin, of their neighbors.
Ostrom and Brady upped the ante during finals week that year when they ran some extension cords through the windows of the first-floor dorm rooms. In the truest spirit of rock spontaneity, Ostrom and Brady staged an impromptu outdoor concert.
“We’d get the occasional noise complaint,” Ostrom said. “But no one ever seemed to mind too much.”
Safe to say no one is complaining now.
The Mankato four-piece will debut its first studio album “Melting Pot” during a CD release party on Saturday at Red Sky Lounge.
Now joined by fellow MSU student Chris Bertrand and Rich Ostrom's brother, David, (who is coming to MSU in the fall), Boardwalk Arcade has begun to announce itself as a Mankato band to be taken seriously.
Featuring a guitar-driven sound that combines elements of blues, ska and funk — which band members have coined “blue skunk” in honor of Mankato's literal translation in the Dakota language — Boardwalk Arcade has crafted a pleasingly original framework for its growing catalogue of original music.
With Bertrand writing the lion’s share of the lyrical content — “His creativity is flowing 24-7, even on days when the rest of us maybe aren’t feeling it,” Ostrom said — band members mostly collaborate on the rest, including duties on lead vocals.
Their sound is marked by nuanced guitar harmonies and careful attention to beat and measure, allowing the music a sort of patience and breathability that belies the young band’s enthusiasm and ambition.
“This has been something that has just felt so innate, so natural,” Brady said, comparing Boardwalk Arcade to previous bands in which he’s played. “And it just keeps getting better.”
With 10 tracks, “Melting Pot” is an ambitious debut recorded with the help of Ocho, a Mankato music guru and man-of-many-bands himself.
On the atmospheric “Manic Oceanic Hospitality,” a surfy melody seems strangely in harmony with the introspective lyrics Bertrand first penned years ago in his mother’s basement. “Life as an Adult” is a catchy, coming-of-age pop tune that showcases Bertrand’s ability to refresh common rock themes with adroit lyricism: “It feels so bizarre/To be where we are/Is this life as an adult?”
On “I Reside,” listeners will find what may be the album’s best guitar solo — David Ostrom’s wailing, plaintive interpretation of the song’s angst-ridden content.
“I’m still blown away every time I hear that solo,” Brady said.
During an interview at The Free Press on the cusp of releasing their studio debut, band members were jovial and confident, buoyed by their burgeoning cohesion.
Effusive in their praise of each other’s abilities, band members talked anxiously about David’s arrival in the fall when all the band members will be in Mankato and able to gig more often. They’re already developing material for a follow-up album and are hoping another year or two of playing local venues will lead to more opportunities in the metro area.
“We’re hoping to establish ourselves here and then move up the musical pipeline,” Ostrom said.