Best New Bands Of 2010 Showcase at First Avenue, 01/26/2011
Best New Bands of 2010 Showcase
(The Goondas, The Jahhawks, Pink Mink, Hastings 3000, BNLX, Phantom Tails, BadNraD, and Grant Cutler and the Gorgeous Lords)
January 26, 2011
Judging by the talent and diversity of the acts, as well as the boundless amount of energy and creativity on display throughout the Best New Bands of 2010 showcase at First Avenue Wednesday night, I'd say that the future of Twin Cities music is in capable, if a bit untamed, hands. The crowd was given a generous cross-section of what's happening now in local music, as 7.5 bands (more on that later) delivered rapid-fire, 25-30 minute sets that provided a healthy glimpse as to what the future of the Minneapolis sound might be, while giving a knowing nod to its distinct past as well.
Erstwhile Lookbook member Grant Cutler brought his new outfit, the Gorgeous Lords, with him for the opening set of the evening, which easily turned out to be one of my favorite performances of the night. Playing as a robust five-piece, the band churned out a simmering, brooding set, giving a darker edge to some songs, while brightening others with a guitar heavy, alt-country vibe. Opening with a lovely, mercurial rendition of "Hold On To Me," the band seemed rather unconcerned about the crowd that was still finding their way in to the club, and instead lost themselves in their music. The band stuck to tracks from their 4-song EP, as well as two other numbers, and closed their all-too-brief set with "Orphan," which sounded a bit like the spacier, mellower material from Spiritualized, and the melancholy majesty of "Our Love Is A Mighty Fortress," which impressively ended their performance.
The night then took a 180º turn with BadNraD, a one-man dance party fronted by Jake Sullivan on synths and keytar, along with a host of his rowdy friends (one of them dressed up as a slice of pizza), who served as cheerleaders/go-go dancers during the high-spirited set. And while the uproarious set could have benefited from being a bit later in the evening when everyone was a bit more loose, "This Is Rock 'N Roll," aided by signage from the dancers (and a neon messageboard on Sullivan's sneakers), still managed to get the crowd dancing, and gave the audience a taste as to what party music looks and sounds like in the city.
Phantom Tails were up next, and David Campbell was quite impressed that they were one of two bands on the bill that brought their own smoke machine. They also brought a big, incendiary sound that easily won over the swelling crowd. They have hints of the Faint mixed with the darker sensibilities of Joy Division layered within their music, but it was thoroughly modern and quite brash, filling the Mainroom effortlessly with their edgy, keyboard-driven melodies.
BNLX brought their blistering brand of 'amplified audio signals' to the stage next, delivering a taut set that sampled from most of their four EP's. After seeing them perform in far more intimate confines across the city, it was truly a pleasure to see them in the Mainroom, as their expansive, roiling sound was easily able to fill the club. "Frogger" was full of gratifying discord, while "Got Needs" was simply combustible. Covering Prince at First Avenue takes a lot of chutzpah, and many bands have failed miserably while trying. BNLX simply didn't give a shit, tearing through a riotous version of "When Doves Cry" that seemed divisive to certain audience members, but sounded just awesome to me. And their explosive closing number, "Where Is The Love," was one of my favorite local songs released last year, and this version was on fire right from the start, ending their stunning set strongly.
It struck me during Phantom Tails and BNLX's sets that up to this point in the evening, there really wasn't any stage banter coming from any of the bands. Due to the short set times, each band meant business right from the moment they stepped on stage, letting their music do the talking for them. And, with any new band (and most older bands as well), we don't really care what you have to say, it's what you have to play that brought us here in the first place, and most of these bands got that point, which only added to the overall success of the night.
Hastings 3000 attempted to broadcast his performance via Skype, but the connection was faulty (or was it?), so a band sporting gas masks flanked the stage, covering it in smoke while Hastings 3000's music was played over the PA (or was it?). No matter if he was being meta, or if technology let all of us down, the set was unfortunately a fiasco that didn't accomplish much other than filling up the Ave with a whole lot of smoke.
After that rather artificial 'performance,' it was great to get back to basics with the balls to the wall rock 'n' roll of Pink Mink, who tore through their spirited half-hour set as if they had a point to prove. Both Christy Hunt and Arzu Gokcen owned the stage, opening with a volatile version of "Black Door" and never looking back. "Earthquake On The Loose" was actually a swinging version reminiscent of the catchy melodies and irrepressible attitude of the Runaways, while "Hidden Beach" built to a big, discordant finish that was one of the night's highlights. It is great to see a band inject so much of their own spirit and personality into their music, and that infectious energy proved impossible to resist as the four-piece delivered one of the best sets of the night, closing out with a "spooky" instrumental that was a ferocious and fervent way to finish an amazing performance.
The big secret going into the showcase was who the mysterious 'special guests' would be during the 11:45 time slot. It turns out that it was the Jahhawks, a dub-step Jayhawks cover band fronted by Zach Coulter of Solid Gold with JT Bates on drums, James Buckley on bass, and Jacob Hanson on guitar. Suffice it to say, you've never quite heard a version of "Blue" like the easy-skanking rendition these guys pulled off last night. It was audacious, it was interesting, and in the end I'm not sure how successful it was, but that really wasn't the point. It was a bunch of talented musicians trying something new, and for that they should be commended. And, if you didn't like what you were hearing, it proved only to be a brief, three-song set, with "Waiting For The Sun" and a fun version of "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" (that I actually quite liked), all getting the ska-treatment. You probably won't hear this ever again, although the band threatens to revisit this formula for a Brother Jahli set sometime soon.
Video of the Jahhawks by Danny Sigelman
The Goondas closed out the night as only they can, with an untamed, intrepid set of reckless rock 'n roll. It was a high octane set full of histrionics and enormous guitar riffs, as the wild quartet opened with "Jackalope Jesus" and never let up once during their incendiary half-hour set. Singer Brenden Green climbed up the speaker stacks as well as into the crowd during their boisterous performance, which found the one microphone stand available to the band broken, so Green had to hold the microphone up to guitarist Jackson Atkins so he could sing vocals on the tempestuous "Devil Woman." It was a breathless set from the band, and certainly energized an audience that could righfully be fading after such a long night (I know I was). But it was a true exclamation point on an evening filled with adventurous, innovative music that bodes well for the fitful future of music in the Twin Cities.
Critic's Bias: I love local music, and I love it even more after last night.
The Crowd: A good turnout for one of the strongest Best New Bands showcases in recent memory.
Overheard In The Crowd: "That guy dressed like pizza is making me hungry."
Random Notebook Dump: Even though I had a great time at both the Current's 6th Birthday and First Avenue's 40th Birthday celebrations, this lineup engaged and entertained me far more than the others, simply because these bands have something to prove and a point to make, they took more risks, and were far more fascinating than other more "polished" acts on those other bills.
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