First Avenue has always been the “hip, musical friend” of Twin Cities concert venues. When that friend makes a playlist of the best new bands, you listen – and immediately say “thank you.”
That is exactly what happened Friday night. Delivering seven different sets over five slightly chilly hours, the “Best New Bands of 2017” show had something for everyone.
Starting off the night was the grunge pop quartet, Sass. Their strolling, melodic riffs and lyrics were paired with heavy chords and high-pitched shrieks. In songs such as “Velvet” and “Role Model,” they showed quite a range, and oh, did those combinations work.
They were everything you’d want to see and hear at a house punk show, except deservedly now on a bigger stage. From playing 7th St. Entry in the past and kicking off their tour today, they look only keep growing this year.
Following the opening set was Early Eyes. Having celebrated a year together in October, they’re not only young in longevity but in age as well.
A Radio K highlight, they flaunt an essence of the fellow University of Minnesota band, Hippo Campus and the Irish Two Door Cinema Club. But they make it still fully their own.
They started off their set with a preview of “Coffee,” which is set to be released on Monday. Following with tracks such as “Take You,” “Waste of Time” and “All It Will Be,” they successfully showed off their chops in mixing up musical tempos, moods and styles. No matter what they played, each song was greeted with hoots and hollers by the many fans wearing the band’s merch. The band gave no doubt to everyone else as to why they were invited to play that night, all while having the most laughs and fun on stage.
Following Early Eyes, the vibe of the Mainroom shifted in both sound and atmosphere when BLAHA took the stage.
Moving from bubbly, beachy tunes, the four-piece band powered through heavy four-on-the-floor rhythms and riffs. The driving power and energy was certainly a force that made you stop and listen. While the lyrics weren’t always distinguishable, they still portrayed the guttural feelings they were designed to.
Drawing an older crowd than the original two acts, it was a testament to the scale of talent in the Twin Cities; The lineup covered all the bases.
Continuing the heavier sounds, The Bad Man brought a bit of punk-meets-funk on stage, dressed in all white. Having filled in the main floor, there was a very “dive bar-esque” vibe to the crowd watching. It was untamed, energetic and brilliant.
As soon as front man Peter Memorich finally ran on stage in a white fedora, red jacket and no under shirt, spectator’s eyes stayed glued to him for the rest of their set.
Peter somehow found a way combine the gravelly vocals of The Clash and the flamboyant dance moves of Mick Jagger – all while joking, and running around the stage.
Tracks like “Black and White TV” and “Sound of the City” flowed flawlessly into one another, and they had the stage presence of a band that had been doing this for decades.
To be honest, there was a slight air of confusion in the room to what all we were watching, with their wide range of “dusted off Minneapolis sound,” but it was a good confusion. The energy of their saxophone-driven funk-rock simultaneously made no sense and all of the sense at the same time.
Reflecting in the intermission after The Bad Man, I realized I didn’t know many of the songs that were being played tonight. But that wasn’t the point of the concert. It was about that initial discovery.
These bands were the best new bands of the last year, and First Avenue wanted to be the one to make those introductions. That night, we were all learning names to add to playlists later.
Dwynell Roland, the next act that took the stage, was definitely one of those names.
“I’m the only rapper here, hi!” Roland said with a laugh, while pointing to himself and his DJ. “This is the band!”
Once on stage, he didn’t want to get back down.
Starting with “slower” jams that had every head in the venue bobbing along, he showed off his lyrical flow and sampling. Getting the venue to rap “stop, drop, Roland” along with him and keep their hands in the air, he really knows how to work a crowd.
Even his water breaks were entertaining, dancing along to DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat.”
The hype and the set spoke for itself in the lyrics to his song “Dude:” “I know I’m that dude, she say that she love me, I know that she do.”
Swap out “she” for “everyone in the venue that night,” and then you’d be right.
With the pure fun and excitement that Roland produced, it was amazing to think that there were still two acts to go that night. Would people stay that late and keep listening in the slightly chilly venue?
That question disappeared when Thomas Abban took the stage. 89.3 The Current’s Andrea Swensson said his fans demanded that the station play his music, and we all quickly understood why.
With a white mask over his face, jaws dropped as he started wailing on his guitar. His distorted yet immaculate playing gave many in the audience “guitar face,” the electric vitality of the gospel keys brought me to musical church, and his voice faintly reminded me of a certain “Purple One” who also rocked the Mainstage with mystic.
It was a power we all were not fully expecting but fully embraced throughout songs like “Symmetry and Black Tar” and “Death Song.”
Ending with “Uh,” a popular track on The Current, he enjoyed teasing the crowd. After creating anticipation, he powerfully delivered the finale of his set on his knees. Running not only off stage, but out of the building entirely, he sure knows how to make a grand (emergency) exit.
In his debut performance at First Avenue, the musician sure set the bar high for himself for any other sets he plays around town. One photographer wished me “good luck” describing that and putting it into words. Honestly, I’m still not sure I’m fully able to.
Still reeling from the set, however, it was finally Lady Lark’s time to make the entire venue dance, complete with sunglasses on and tambourine in hand.
While the crowd had thinned a bit that late in the night, more of the checkerboard floor had opened up for those there to dance. And dance they did.
Lady Lark and her band wrapped up the show with their own mix of soul, pop and funk. The moving baselines, electronic pop, powerhouse vocals and overall groove of “Love (Is Just a Game)” was a lovely seal to an incredible night.
Thinking back, the importance of local music was mentioned constantly throughout the night. Presented by 89.3 The Current, Radio K and GO 95.3, the respective hosts discussed how these artists worked to keep Minneapolis music alive, right here in town.
The seven acts that shared the First Avenue stage Friday were showcased as some of the best new bands of 2017, and they did not disappoint.