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Best New Bands of 2013 at First Avenue, 1/30/14

Black Diet at First Avenue's Best New Bands of 2013
Black Diet at First Avenue's Best New Bands of 2013
Photo by Erik Hess

Best New Bands of 2013
With
Frankie Teardrop, GRRRL PRTY, Allan Kingdom, BBGUN, Black Diet, Fury Things, and Southwire
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Thursday, January 30, 2014

It's difficult enough to assemble seven artists for any show, let alone seven good artists. First Avenue's yearly Best New Bands concert managed to do so without any artistic repetition. These acts with varying amounts of newness still clinging to them provided a cross-section of the Twin Cities (and Duluth) scene at the moment. Hip hop, soul, gospel, post-punk, and alt-Americana could coexist under the banner of driven live performance, and for a crowd that was hungry for it all.

See Also: Slideshow: Best New Bands of 2013 at First Avenue, 1/30/14

Starting with Southwire, our representatives from the 218, the night proved that bringing personality to the stage was just as important as the songs. The group's self-titled debut intermingles Jerree Small's folk-spiced gospel voice and Ben Larson's rich low range impressively, but to see their faces grinding out the notes and feeling of the work is yet another pleasure. The despondent beauty of "Gone Astray" and the uplifting majesty of "Brother" showed mastery on both emotional poles of their all-too-brief set.

Best New Bands of 2013 at First Avenue, 1/30/14
Photo by Reed Fischer
Best New Bands of 2013 at First Avenue, 1/30/14
Photo by Erik Hess

The scruffy power trio of Fury Things ramped up the distortion to move things along, and filled in the gaps of their set with even more feedback. With Pixies-like dedication to pop hooks, and the raw, exclamatory quality of Superchunk's best, the band has hatched upon an amalgam of past alt-rock victories that incorporates enough of their own swagger and passion to keep it interesting in the present. Guitarist and lead vocalist Kyle Werstein channeled high energy into "Hard to Breathe," while bassist Devon Bryant and drummer Andrew Carson just beat the living snot out of their respective instruments. As newer songs with even more head-nodding surges ran past, the set became the neck workout of the night.

Anyone with upcoming nuptials to plan should get Black Diet on their shortlist immediately. Sure, "wedding band" isn't the sexiest way to describe a really tight rock 'n' soul act, but something as upbeat and steeped in the classic Stax sound as this group is hard to come by -- especially when you want elegance injected in some dance groves. Plus, they did a blistering cover of LCD Soundsystem's "All My Friends" -- with a guest violinist -- that would've left everyone happy had the night ended suddenly right then. Melisma-prone lead singer Jonathan Tolliver knew how to move both his body and his voice in tantalizing ways that built on-stage chemistry backing vocalist Mugsy, and roused the rest of his band to action. Bassist Garrison Dakota Grouse was ready with enough over-the-top heroics and posturing to play to the back row.

Best New Bands of 2013 at First Avenue, 1/30/14
Best New Bands of 2013 at First Avenue, 1/30/14
Photos by Erik Hess

With Cloud Cult's Sarah Elhardt-Perbix and Shannon Frid-Rubin adding string and keyboard touches to the alt-country mix, BBGUN kept full-stage momentum rolling. On "Everybody Smokes," singer-guitarists Al Church and Neal Perbix harmonized and rocked like the veterans of local stages that they are. Neil Young and Big Star influences peeked out here and there, and Church was keen on starting chants among a now-eager room of participants. Even during the more melancholy songs, the focused labor of drummer Jeremy Hanson and bassist Jesse Schuster linked to the heart rhythms of the crowd.

 

An "X" marked on the back of each hand, 20-year-old rap phenom Allan Kingdom burst onstage with a surprise guest. Plain Pat, who used to work with Kid Cudi and is now Kingdom's manager, was in the DJ booth. But forgive us if our eyes stayed on the young MC as he lunged around the stage with limbs that appeared to be made out of rubber bands one minute and steel beams the next. Early on, Bandcamp faves "Good Problems" and "Achilles" proved how unhinged and ferocious Kingdom already can be as a rhymer. His words were delivered with lightning speed, but his face conveyed that his mind is working even faster. "I got myself into a beautiful mess," he admitted midway through. The fresh tracks dropped in later -- perhaps called "Work Me Over" and "Please Take It" -- could stretch the local hip-hop game until it snaps.

Best New Bands of 2013 at First Avenue, 1/30/14
Photo by Erik Hess

Next, the masterful aspects of GRRRL PRTY's set in no particular order: DJ Shannon Blowtorch ratcheted up the crowd with her razor-sharp control of the booming bass. A bespectacled, charismatic Quinn fed the intensity of the cascading bodies on and off the stage with spoonfuls of sass. Sophia Eris embodied her Kordell Stewart jersey and slashed back and forth with poise and Minaj-like vocal flexibility. Manchita had the fiercest twerk of the bunch, but never let a synchronized dance moment of the set go by without a nastier display of rigor on the mic to follow. You've all heard plenty about Lizzo, but it's because she's got her solo act figured out, and then there's a whole new clip of theatrics and menace she unloads during a PRTY set. "99 problems and a dick ain't one" embodied.

Without repeating too much of what's been said about this all-female hip-hop crew, the best way to win over a crowd is to hone every level of the performance to a point sharp enough to pop a balloon -- as Lizzo did with a manicured nail at the close of "Wegula." Watching a group playing any type of music while gripping the steering wheel this tight empowers an audience like nothing else.

Best New Bands of 2013 at First Avenue, 1/30/14
Best New Bands of 2013 at First Avenue, 1/30/14
Photos by Erik Hess

Finally, garage-rock trio Frankie Teardrop gave more when the night had already seemingly exhausted itself. The theoretical bloodletting began courtesy of the band's titular frontman's "Fuck this city" pronouncement before "Chicago." His stringy mop of hair, chunky gold chain, and oversized black tee made him look like the coal-hearted cousin of Ariel Pink, and his guitar playing was equal parts unpredictable and confident.

Teardrop's songs are often cautionary tales about living too fast, but are set to brisk tempos that are too tempting to just say no. The serrated chorus of "Stop" was a quicker, dirtier relative to its Tough Guy EP take, and Teardrop's onstage catharsis deepened as the set unfolded. You want proof of this band's unfettered dedication to their material? While Gunnar Kauth worked the kit with loose-limbed precision, bassist Jackson Woolsey pounded out his notes so hard that a cut opened up on his wrist. Eventually a smear of red spread over his instrument's upper real estate. It was painful to watch, but it hurt even more to turn away. 

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: Cold weather makes good music sound extraordinary. Writing a detailed account of a seven-band bill is never easy.

The Crowd: Youthful, and not afraid to dance a little. They seemed moderately excited to play with the large balloons provided by the club.

Overheard: "To be in this band you have to have awesome hair," regarding Black Diet.

Random Notebook Dump: BBGUN's joke about how the "Doors" opened the night at 7 was kind of funny the first time. 

See Also:
50 cool facts about the Minnesota music scene
Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list
Top 10 must-see Minnesota music videos this week

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