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Concert review: Har Mar Superstar reverently sings Sam Cooke

Har Mar Superstar Photo by Rickett & Sones

Twitter's been real ugly, recently. It's often just a nonstop barrage of arguments, with much of it comprised of users who only have a few minor differences attacking each other over those differences.

This is worth mentioning because Har Mar Superstar recently came under fire on Twitter for cultural appropriation with regards to his “Har Mar Superstar Sings Sam Cooke” tour, which came to Duluth's Sacred Heart Music Center on Friday night. Har Mar — also known to his parents as Sean Tillmann — was attacked by a Twitter user who was offended by the very idea of Tillmann's tribute show. Of course, the usual back-and-forth of Tweets happened, others got involved, think-piece articles were written. In the end, Tillmann met with the person who had attacked him to try and gain understanding, and he even set up a GoFundMe to raise money for several Twin Cities organizations. In the end, over $10,000 was raised, several thousand of that out of Tillmann's pocket. You could say that it all ended up being a good thing.

The fact is, the singer who performed on Friday night seemed to be one with a deep love for the music he was playing, and he displayed absolutely no bad taste, bad-faith moments that seemed like cultural appropriation. At Sacred Heart, Tillmann was reverent but not a thief. He appreciated the music without claiming in his behavior or voice that he was its author. To put it flatly: He sang songs he loved. Tillmann's not trying to make a career out of singing the music of Sam Cooke — on the contrary, he has spent the majority of the past decade running around in his underpants and singing sex jams like some kind of lunatic. This is just a side project, a brief detour.

And what a detour. Tillmann and his band came out in jackets and ties, and immediately set to performing detailed, expert renditions of many of Cooke's most well-loved hits, the horn players and guitarist getting special attention. Tillmann's voice was the obvious focal point, and he was on his game the whole show, hitting piercing high notes with ease, his pitch never wavering. It was one classic after another: “What a Wonderful World,” “Cupid,” “Twistin' the Night Away.”

The crowd, seated and calm at first, eventually succumbed to the music, and many couples got up to slow dance on the ballads. Before long, the area in front of the stage was filled with people shaking their moneymakers to the uptempo songs. It was a hot room — Tillmann talked about this several times — but the heat didn't prevent people from getting involved.

At one point, Tillmann mentioned that he wouldn't be performing Cooke's signature song — and comment on American racism — “A Change is Gonna Come,” pointing out that it would've never occurred to him to do so. He got applause in response, the crowd surely acknowledging the Twitter trouble that the singer had recently been in.

After the Cooke set, Tillmann played a short set of his own material, ending with his “Lady, You Shot Me,” which takes its title from Cooke's own last words. It was an appropriate way for Tillmann to tie his own music back to Cooke's at the end of the night.

If anything, the respectful Cooke set in the first two-thirds of the show made the transition into a traditional Har Mar Superstar set on the back third seem a little bit of a tricky move for the typically irreverent singer, but, by the end, he was on the ground and kicking his legs into the air, the audience cheering him on.

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