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BEST CONCERT VENUE Minneapolis 1999 -

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.

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