Best of the Twin Cities®

Best Of 1999

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Best Of :: People & Places

BEST CONCERT VENUE

Few doubt that the larger of First Avenue's two concert rooms has a central place in the documentary that will someday be made about Minneapolis rock 'n' roll. But this converted Greyhound station's black cinder-block exterior is more than a punk-rock landmark and a postcard for Purple Rain fans. (As recently as last fall, Sleater-Kinney exclaimed how excited they were to be playing in "Prince's club.") No, the Ave.'s Mainroom would be special for its interior layout alone. No other venue of similar size (capacity: 1,200) gives as clear a view of performers from every angle. Even upstairs, in the glassed-off mezzanine, you can drink from two separate bars and still glance over your boring date's shoulder to see the stage. The venue's black walls, floors, and ceiling allow the Ave. a virtually unparalleled ease in transforming itself every night, taking on the character of each new crowd. As a result the club's identity is a blur: a salsa haven one evening, a rave headquarters the next, a post-Target Center party for weekenders. New this year is First Ave.'s in-house magazine (an eight-page, tabloid-sized, photocopied affair), which replaces the 18-year-old club calendar. First Ave.'s managers have enlisted a broad pool of contributors from around the community to weigh in on their favorite shows of each month. The result is a journal of fan endorsement at its most honest, along with pretty decent borrowed photography of both hometown and visiting acts. With all this going for it, there should be little surprise that performers from around the country rave on about the virtues of this place--and not just because they once dressed like Morris Day or Vanity.

BEST ACOUSTIC PERFORMER

If you think traditional American folk music is all about frogs and mama, go out and buy the American Anthology of Folk Music. Sex and violence are at the heart of our folk tradition, folks. But if the '60s revival did occasionally glance down at these darker roots, it more often set its sights on contemporary social struggles, forever associating the acoustic guitar with peace and justice. Three decades later the local acoustic scene has produced a number of ("post-")folk stars who mess with our ideas of what strumming sans amplifier should be about, including the Mason Jennings Band and Brenda Weiler. (Both, with any luck, will become giant pop stars in a few minutes.) Still, only singer-songwriter Pablo revives folk's first-person-narrative tradition of sex and violence, and he manages to do so without sounding either exhibitionist or boastful. He has a remarkable vocal range with a throat affectation that's in Dylan's tradition, not his style. Pablo's melodies sound like they've been thrown down a flight of stairs, jumping scores of notes, sometimes in a single syllable. "Goddamn the agile sexless dreams of imperfect history," he quavers at one point on his agile, sexful 1998 album, Vulgar Modalities. You tell it, brother.

BEST ALBUM OF THE PAST 12 MONTHS

Last fall when rumor began spreading that there was a 23-year-old drum 'n' bass artist working out of his parents' Edina basement, many local insiders assumed the music he made would be a fraction as interesting as that exotic home life. Well, we were wrong. The willfully elusive anti-beats and ductile, melodic structures found on Mandell's import debut Parallel Processes have made for the most innovative, if not just plain best, music this town has produced since the Jayhawks' heyday. Mandell's classically influenced "techno etc." is simultaneously as challengingly rich and accessibly hooky as that of his U.K. post-rave contemporaries Autechre. And even if it could stand an inflection of the wistful cutesiness evinced by his compositional hero Aphex Twin, Mandell's seriousness has an admirable integrity that's sorely lacking in the cheap ironists who parody techno's cheesy lineage in disposable disco. As music, Parallel Processes updates Schoenberg for the Twenty-First Century, making love to your ear hole just as passionately as it plays with your mind's eye.

BEST ALL-AGES VENUE

It comes as little surprise that as the nation's latest baby boom passes into adolescence, all-ages venues such as the Whole Music Club on the University of Minnesota campus, Bon Appétit in Dinkytown, and the Coffee Shock in St. Paul are experiencing a late-'90s boom. But the Foxfire Coffee Lounge has managed to do something more than merely cash in demographic trends. The downtown Minneapolis club has remained both forward-looking and inclusive during its first year of existence, with early band bookings including little-known but highly acclaimed national acts such as indie-rockers Creeper Lagoon and punk-funkers the Make Up. The coffee-and-sandwich shop also gives its high-ceilinged, wood-floored space over to weekly teen Bible-study meetings, DJ nights, periodic hip-hop get-togethers, and hardcore punk shows. Chances are you'll find the widest age range of punk fans in the Cities here, sometimes scrunched into the same deep-cushioned couches.

BEST BAD TIMING

The day after the Vikings' dismal loss in the NFC title game, McCombs's lieutenants met with state officials to begin pressing their case for a new stadium. It's only a matter of time until Vegas posts odds on how much longer the team will stay in town.

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