Jessica Manning. Submitted photo

Best Picks: March 9–22

Updated: May 17, 2018 - 3:53 pm

What to do downtown after work

Music well traveled

Although she grew up more than 4,000 miles outside the Twin Cities, Jessica Manning is at home in Minneapolis.

Just like her parents, the young singer-songwriter, a native of Stockholm, Sweden, has travelled a long way to get where she is. Her dad, a Virginia-born musician who grew up in Harlem and found himself touring in Scandinavia, and her mother, a Californian who grew up in Chicago and studied abroad in the far-flung capital, met at a concert and put down roots. Manning spent the first six years of her life in Sweden before briefly studying in New York and moving to the Twin Cities, where she graduated from Southwest High School and calls the North Loop home.

“It’s a weird story of how I ended up [in Stockholm], but, in a weird way, it’s a huge, huge part of who I am,” she said. “It’s really similar. It really is.”

In Minneapolis, Manning began to write original music at 16, songs she would perform for YouTube or at school talent shows. Manning credits her dad for her musical roots, though there are gifts across her family — “a lot of travelers, a lot of creatives, a lot of curious folk,” she said — from a grandfather who dreamed of becoming an opera singer to a grandmother who was a world-class pianist. Like her dad, Manning decided not to pursue a classical education.

“I was never the person who wanted to be taught music,” she said. “For me, as a songwriter, it makes it a little more fun because I’m just figuring things out without any rules in my head.”

Manning released her first original songs on an EP in 2013 and played the local café circuit. The differences between the group of adult contemporary songs and her debut album that she dropped in February are striking. “What if I Run,” a collection of synth-laden R&B and electronic-tinged pop tracks, sounds more like English singer Jessie Ware, Sweden’s Little Dragon or local veteran Aby Wolf. Manning drew inspiration from “Coloring,” one of the first tunes from singer-songwriter Kevin Garrett. The song, with its similarly production-driven sound that straddles both pop and R&B, had a modern quality that Manning wanted to make her own.

“I think the most difficult thing for a musician, and maybe any artist, is to figure out how to make it ‘you,’” she said.

Last year, Manning and guitarist Zach Brose enlisted Northeast Minneapolis-based producer Brett Bullion (Bad Bad Hats, Lizzo, etc.) to help bring her vision for the album to life. The result is a thoroughly modern-sounding album whose layers of production complement the best of Manning’s charismatic voice. Standout tracks like “Red Birds” and “Homestead” combine the rich tones of Manning’s silky lower register with an airy, emotional atmosphere and support from her band.

After kicking off a mini Midwest tour in Duluth, Manning will play Nicollet Mall’s Dakota Jazz Club on Saturday, March 11 with Lady Lark. The relatively new Minneapolis-based group, fronted by singer Taylor Harris, combines the past three decades of R&B and pop into its soulful tunes.

Manning will also perform at the 7th St Entry on Sunday, March 19 as a special guest before local indie rockers Robat, who recently released their debut album, “Tiny.” Chalk, another local band, is also set to perform. Last fall, the band released a psychedelic, self-reflective album dubbed “Water.”


Snacks galore at Hennepin Steam Room

It’s not on Hennepin Avenue and it’s not a steam room anymore, but the replacement of the Tangiers nightclub should nevertheless be a signal to downtowners that the space has a newfound focus on the neighborhood and its needs. Hennepin Steam Room, named after its home in the historic Hennepin Steam building, keeps some of the nightclub’s lounge atmosphere, but adds on what the North Loop has become known for: destination dining. The restaurant offers both a happy hour at 4 p.m. and late-night plates at 10 p.m. during the week. On the menu there’s both bar snacks and appetizers, which will offer a lot for post-work outings or a quick drink with a friend. While there wasn’t quite a standout among the small bites, the cannellini bean cakes topped with a bit of kimchi ($5) were unique and filling. And the bacon-wrapped fennel seed breadsticks ($6) sound perfect to wash down with a beer at the 32-foot marble bar. Speaking of booze, Hennepin Steam Room has a sufficient selection of local craft beers, wine and its own signature cocktail menu. The Nowahl ($9), with its smoky, refreshing taste, was a winner.


Monstrous movies

The other day I got around to watching Guillermo Del Toro’s 2015 film “Crimson Peak.” The movie is a gothic romance, a ghost story and a haunted house tale reminiscent of both Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and the Bronte sisters. It’s also a reminder of del Toro’s masterful visual storytelling, from the living, breathing house to the beautifully constructed — and often grotesque — effects. His creative process has been collected into a touring exhibition, “At Home with Monsters,” which will be on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Art through May 28 — so don’t worry if you don’t get to it in the next few weeks. Having been to the opening party, I can say that the exhibit brings the dreamlike work to life, from the interdimensional creatures of “Hellboy” to the lore of “Frankenstein” — one of his favorite books. If you want to see the monsters in action, Mia is hosting a film series with the Film Society of Minneapolis-St. Paul that will show some of del Toro’s best work: “The Devil’s Backbone” (March 10), “Pan’s Labyrinth” (April 7) and, yes, “Crimson Peak” (May 5).