In life, it can feel like we’re bombarded by decisions. Every day we’re confronted with no-brainers, life-changers, and everything in between, shaping our day-to-day lives, and the lives of those around us. It can be a little overwhelming at times. Fortunately, some of these decisions hit a sweet spot: easy to make, and a win-win for all involved; gratifying without significant cost to ourselves or others. I made one of these such decisions on Friday night: to attend a party and concert hosted by First Avenue and Surly Brewing Company in celebration of their new collaborative beer, appropriately dubbed “+1.”
I entered the depot (the site of said party) without knowing exactly what to expect. It was a party for +1, so I knew I’d be able to try the beer itself, but I wasn’t sure who else would be there, who I’d talk to, or what the general vibe would be. Luckily, these questions were quickly answered.
I sat down across the table from a stranger who turned out to be none other than the head chef at First Avenue. Naturally, I had a few questions for him. Our conversation started with the topic of the day: Beer. After admitting to him how little knowledge I had about the subject, he educated me on all things beer, from +1 (he called it light and drinkable, with citrus notes) to other beers he thought I would like (according to him, I’m a stout guy).
He was very knowledgeable, and I plan on following his advice. We also talked about his work, plans for a new affiliated restaurant in St. Paul, and about the delicious dessert being served, bread pudding made with +1. He was nice, outgoing, and a pleasure to speak with. Before we parted, he recommended I try the gouda mac and cheese, which I did and enjoyed tremendously. In large part due to this chance meeting, my night was off to a good start. It would only get more interesting from there.
My next conversation was with Ashely Ryan, the marketing director at First Avenue. Being the live music Mecca that First Avenue is, I was a little nervous at the beginning of our interaction. Fortunately, she turned out to be quite engaging. She provided great insight into the club itself and First Avenue’s relationship with Surly.
She was particularly excited about the latter, sharing with me the history of the partnership, which is a few years old and has spawned the very popular ongoing Surly outdoor concert series. The beer itself, she said, was made with both wintery indoor shows and outdoor festivals in mind.
Ryan also spoke highly of the fit between the two companies, which are both independent and Minnesota-based. We also, of course, talked about the evening’s concert. Headlined by Austin psych vets The Black Angels with support from the legendary Black Lips, the show promised to be a good one and an ideal way to celebrate the release of +1. I left the party having learned a lot. The First Ave people were great and it’s easy to see why their organization is so successful.
Now, parties are all well and good, but I’m a music reviewer at heart, and I was more than ready to move on to the rock and roll portion of the evening. Opening things up were the Black Lips. Hailing from Atlanta, the band has been making scuzzy garage rock for nearly 20 years, releasing eight albums over that period, and developing a well-regarded live show.
Coming out of the gates hard, the band instantly demonstrated their rock and roll bona fides. Though their sound can be safely classified as punky garage rock, they integrate several other genres. Sometimes they swing, sometimes they roll, and sometimes they shred. The high points of the set, the shred-heavy, but not overwhelming climax of “Family tree,” and the slower, soulful “O Katrina!” proved that they could tackle anything.
The band even had a saxophone on stage, which I can’t say I’ve ever seen in a garage rock show. The set flowed nicely, and the band used their time on stage efficiently, neither overstaying their welcome nor leaving more to be desired. They ended the set with the excellent one-two punch of “Crystal Night” and “Bow Down and Die,” thanked the crowd, and left the stage. They showed why they’re such a beloved band, and one I’ll definitely dig deeper into.
The headliner brought a much different vibe. The Black Angels have been around for over a decade, and I’ve been aware of them for about five years. One of the more popular bands from the great music city of Austin, the band has a heavy, droney psych sound. It definitely played well with the audience, who seemed pretty engaged, but I had mixed feelings on the set as a whole.
The performance definitely had its merits, with tight playing and excellent visuals (which enhanced the experience quite a bit). Despite being of a clear artistic lineage (think: 60’s psych), the band definitely has its own sound, distinctly psychedelic hard rock that doesn’t stray too far into metal territory. This was accomplished in large part by the heavily processed vocals of frontman Alex Maas, which added to the dense textures created by the band. With that said, though they have their own sound, they didn’t often stray far from it which made their live set monotonous at times.
Exacerbating this was the lack of hooks or discernible lyrics. While I by no means feel every show should be a singalong, it can be hard to sustain enthusiasm when the songs aren’t particularly engaging. As cool as the visuals were, you go to a concert for music, and I found myself bored by the middle of the set. Perhaps it just wasn’t my style. Regardless, the band has lots of fans and I would bet that they, for the most part, left happy.
Eventually, the set ended, and the crowds dispersed. It was a long night, but a rewarding one, and I was glad I went. Good times take many forms, but it’s always hard to beat the combination of good beer, good conversation, and rock and roll.