Drive 105 was my favorite radio station in middle school. Does anyone remember Drive 105? It was an airwave haven for good music that in 2005 or ‘06, became LOVE 105: The Twin Cities’ Home and Heart (or some such drivel of a tagline.) My haven was razed. In came 89.3 The Current as my favorite station. The Current has been around for thirteen years now, and they threw a two-night party at First Avenue to celebrate. I got to attend night two with Reina Del Cid, Lady Lark, Ron Gallo, and J.D. McPherson in attendance.
I get checked in around 8:30 and I realize I’ve missed most of Reina Del Cid, a true bummer because they are one of my favorite local groups. I arrive just as the lead singer is remarking on this night being her first night in the main stage. They dedicate their last song to Virginia Woolf.
Lady Lark is on next and I’ve no idea what to expect. But she’s bright and loud and her band is all dressed up like the Blues Brothers. Lady is wearing a gold sequined dress and shines, up there. Her first song is called Move Your Body and we do. There is a very upfront synth presence but the rest of the rhythm section stays pocket to let Lady Lark’s vocals soar through.
Lady has two back up singer stage right and they’ve got synchronized choreography that makes this performance very anachronistic: we are in a time before, far back, there should be cigarettes being smoked inside and pomade in my hair. It’s a very real transformation and the crowd follows her.
She does a half hour of dancey blues. We dance and sing with her and leave sweaty and smiling. In between sets I’m ordering a beer and their she is! I wait in a little line to speak with her. What a star.
Next it’s Brian Oak and Jill Riley, The Current’s morning show hosts, to announce the next act: Ron Gallo. Out he walks, face painted in vague bewilderment, and he’s pulled something out of his back pocket: a crumpled piece of notebook paper which he unfolds, peers at, and reads from in robotic monotone. “Hello, I am Ron Gallo.”
Judging by his cultured social awkwardness and pastel-striped sweater, I’m expected some watered-down rip off of The Shins. I am proved delightfully wrong.
Three more people come on stage to fill out the space and what we have here is a punk band, complete with a keyboardist. It’s fast and loud and angry. Sometimes Ron pulls out a trumpet, which he screams through. He plays his guitar with his teeth. He jumps. The bass player is wearing a Wu Tang shirt. I love this.
Midway through the set the band slows things down with “All The Punks Are Domesticated,” which I can only describe as an American Mac Demarco interpreting NOFX’s decades-old song Separation of Church and Skate. Ron’s guitar tone is clean and snappy, Dead Milkman style, and his lyrics rail against the timidity of today’s punks. This ironic self-mockery is idiomatic of the genre but somehow feels fresh.
I’m calling Gallo the night’s best act before he’s even left the stage. Their set ends with an extended jam that’s very Velvet-Underground-droney.
It’s J.D McPherson next, and I’m steeling my will. I’ve tried, with this band, I really have, but it’s never clicked. I remain open-minded. Here they are.
I have to say I’m impressed: the band has a palpable energy on stage, an obvious command of their instruments, real control of their space. It’s country-blues in essence and presented with rockstar ease, but I still can’t shake it: it’s disingenuous. I can’t dig inside the songs and feel them as I’m supposed to – there’s a floor to the music that’s impenetrable. I feel myself losing interest, wishing Gallo or Lady Lark would come back out, yearning for music that will get inside me and work it’s way back out again and then, it’s over. I leave First Avenue with only one though really occupying me: Gallo should have been the closer.
The evening, however, was an absolute blast and the highlight of my month. Happy birthday to The Current! Here’s to another thirteen years!