September 16, 2011
There was a lot to celebrate at First Avenue on Friday night. Not only were both Caroline Smith & the Good Night Sleeps and Dead Man Winter celebrating the release of their stellar new albums that evening, but Dark Dark Dark debuted five brand new songs during their set (and played their gorgeous number "Celebrate" for good measure), and the Daredevil Christopher Wright were still riding high from their just released EP, The Longsuffering Song.
First Ave was already good and packed by the time Dead Man Winter took the stage (many apologies to Daredevil for missing their set), which comes as no surprise considering the rabid following that Trampled By Turtles has in the Twin Cities. And their polished, assured performance certainly pleased both their hard-core fans and new listeners alike. Their spirited, 45-minute set drew mainly from their excellent debut album, Bright Lights, as well as a choice 'cover' of the TBT hit "Victory." The band clearly were enjoying playing their new batch of songs to a full house that were already singing right along with them.
Dark Dark Dark were up next, and their studied, serene performance was the kickoff show of their hectic fall tour, which has them playing a remarkable 29 shows in 30 days. But the band seemed to be looking forward to their upcoming jaunt, so much so that they tried out five new songs that made up a majority of their hushed 50-minute set. After a moving version of the aforementioned "Celebrate," and a moody, tense take on "Something For Myself," the sextet launched into the new portion of their performance. And while it will be nice to hear these songs again in a more intimate environment, I admire the bold decision by the band to try out their new material to a packed (and boisterous) Friday night crowd at the Ave.
According to Marshall LaCount, the new songs are titled "Hear Me," "Without You," "Meet In The Dark," "It's A Secret," and "Who Needs Who." The band will be working on a new record through spring, but it proved to be a real treat to hear these early previews of what were ultimately all somber, ominous numbers. Vocalist Nona Marie Invie stayed rooted at the keyboards while she sang these fatalistic new tracks, which found the rest of the band adding subtle musical flourishes that only augmented the doleful nature of the songs. The band got back to more familiar territory as they finished out their saturnine set with the lilting "Bright Bright Bright," and the ethereal "Daydreaming," serenading the patient (but restless) crowd with more recognizable songs as their performance drew to a close.
It was nearly midnight by the time Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps took to the stage, but First Ave. was still completely full, a testament to both the unique talents of the band and the crowd's fervent desire to hear their new songs. After opening with a lively version of "Closing The Door," which found the band getting used to the big stage and the overflow crowd, you could tell that Smith was a bit overwhelmed by the support shown to her and the band.
"I don't even know what to say right now," she exclaimed a tad nervously after the ovation died down. Bassist Jesse Schuster stepped in to help put their thoughts into words, saying "We've never played a bigger show in our entire lives." And, while you worry that some young bands might wilt under that massive moment, Caroline Smith and company more than stepped up to the challenge, delivering a confident, captivating set that had everyone (the band included) smiling and in good spirits by the end of the night.
Their lively, 70-minute set featured nearly every song from their excellent new record, Little Wind, as well as plenty of older material that blended in seamlessly with the new songs. It was truly a celebratory performance for the band, who shared that joy with their respective family members, who all made it in for the show. "All our parents are here," Schuster exclaimed excitedly. "That's never happened before. My parents don't stay out past 11." That type of uninhibited exuberance proved impossible to resist, as the crowd was fully swept away by both the exquisite songs and the effortless charm of Smith and her band.
The band really hit their stride after a strong rendition of "Lack Of Height," as the new songs simply soared in the large club. "Calliope," "Scholarships," and "Strong Shoulders" all churned with a vitality and vibrancy that was new territory for the band. I had never heard them sound so assured and poised before, and that confidence injected their songs with a crisp potency that only added to the energy of the room. They brought out members of Dark Dark Dark and Daredevil during the middle portion of their set to help augment the numbers with musical flourishes as well as backing vocals, which only increased the feeling of warm camaraderie that was exuding from the stage.
With Nona Marie Invie and others on backing vocals, the band launched into a lovely, elegant rendition of "Eagle's Nest" which was one of the clear standouts of the set. It was so good that, after the ovation died down, Smith gushed, "That was more fun for me than it was for you." Smith went on to introduce the next number by saying, "My dad and brother flew in from Ohio for the show. They don't have a song yet, but my sister Hannah does. She's selling merch right now, and this is for her." It was a gorgeous version of "Hannah's Song," made even more special by knowing that the inspiration for the track was there to hear it.
Their hit single "Tanktop" really got the crowd going, and that momentum carried into the biggest surprise of the night. With members of Daredevil on backing vocals, the band tore through a blazing version of Kanye West's "Power," with Smith rapping the entire song in a surprisingly on-point vocal delivery. Again, the band took full advantage of the enormous spotlight on them for the evening and knocked it out of the park, giving all of us a moment that we will be talking about long into the future. It was such a volatile rendition that Smith felt the need to apologize to her mom immediately afterwards. Believe me, no apologies were necessary.
After closing the main set with a moving version of "Denim Boy," Smith exclaimed to the roaring crowd, "Thank you so much. This is seriously a dream come true." And, there was no doubt that she meant every word. But the crowd kept cheering long after the band left the stage, drawing them out for an unplanned encore. Smith jokingly wondered, "OK guys--who put you up to this? What is wrong with you people?" But the band got it together for a stirring version of "Gracie," which closed out the night superbly. For fans and the bands alike, I don't think we'll forget about this show for quite a while.
Critic's Bias: I had seen Caroline Smith before, but I had never heard her sound quite like THAT.
The Crowd: Sold-out and extremely supportive.
Overheard In The Crowd: "It was worth it just for Caroline's dress alone."
Random Notebook Dump: I absolutely love it when parents of the band members come to their shows.
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