Caroline Smith at First Avenue, 9/27/13

Caroline Smith at First Avenue, 9/27/13
Photo By Mark Kartarik

Caroline Smith
With Solid Gold and Toki Wright & Big Cats
First Avenue, Minneapolis
September 27, 2013

As the screen in front of the First Avenue stage lifted to reveal Caroline Smith and her sprawling five-piece backing band and two backup vocalists, the winsome singer/songwriter took one look at the packed house gathered to celebrate her record release and exclaimed astonishingly, "What the fuck?" fully taken aback by the outpouring of support the local scene showed her on Friday night.

It seemed that everyone wanted to witness the full transformation that Smith and her songs have taken over the course of the past couple of years, as she has given her plaintive, acoustic-laden folk music a rich, soulful twist on her new album, Half About Being A Woman. Those throwback, doo-wop-laden songs were the clear highlights and focus of Smith's stirring 65-minute, encoreless set, as the crowd swayed and swooned along to Caroline's assured and audacious new sonic direction.

See Also: Slideshow: Caroline Smith at First Avenue, 9/27/13

The show burst out of the gates with Smith's catchy new single, "Magazine," as Jake Hanson -- who produced Half About Being a Woman -- provided a vibrant guitar riff that gave the song an added bounce. Throughout the entire performance, everyone on stage had broad smiles plastered on their faces -- as did a majority of the crowd as well -- completely swept up in the buoyant, sultry nature of the songs themselves as well as the tremendous turnout on a night where modern Minnesota music proudly took center stage.

"If you've got your baby here with you, tell them that you love them," Smith instructed the crowd coquettishly while introducing her smooth new R&B number, "All That I Know Is (I'm Your Baby)." "I've got my mom here. I love my mom." And Smith's unguarded, congenial tone permeated her songs as well as the performance, as she instantly connected with her passionate fans, friends, and family who filled the club.

Caroline Smith at First Avenue, 9/27/13
Caroline Smith at First Avenue, 9/27/13
Photos By Mark Kartarik

In addition to Hanson, who served double-duty after also playing with openers Solid Gold, the rest of the band was comprised of Smith's longtime bassist Jesse Schuster and drummer Arlen Arlen Peiffer, along with keyboardists Charlie Smith and Tickle Torture's Elliott Kozel, and backup vocalists Hannah von der Hoff and Ayo Awosika, who all helped add a rich, full sound to Smith's bold new songs.

Occasionally, that robust new sound proved to be a bit too overwhelming, as the thunderous bass, which was heavy in the mix all night, dominated lighter numbers like "Tanktop" and "Calliope," as the rumbling low end robbed the simple pop numbers of their natural ebullience. But the bass-heavy, textured arrangements perfectly suited the new material, and Smith and her band delivered exquisite takes on all nine of the album's tracks throughout the well-paced set.


Smith joked about how she's normally so talkative, but the night had rendered her mostly speechless. However, she was able to fire off this gem midway through the set, "I'm just trying not to fall over up here," Smith said while her band playfully encouraged her to twerk. "When I twerk I look like a chicken. I move my neck instead of my ass. God bless you, Miley."

Caroline Smith at First Avenue, 9/27/13
Caroline Smith at First Avenue, 9/27/13
Photos By Mark Kartarik

Before a self-assured, soaring take on "Child Of Moving On," Smith introduced the track by saying, "So, we have a new record out, and this is the song that started it all." And indeed, the song formed a stunning centerpiece of the riveting set, and truly ignited the middle portion of the performance.

Smith, von der Hoff, and Awosika perfectly matched their harmonies on an assertive version of "Walking on Strong," with the backup singers also delivering powerful, impassioned solos at the end of "Half About Being a Woman," which also proved to be a showstopper. The band were clearly feeling comfortable at this point, and that assured ease shone through as they tore into a funky version of Michael Jackson's "Rock With You," which got everyone in the group and most of the crowd dancing right along to the song's indelible rhythm.

After "Denim Boys" -- one of only three older songs Smith played during the set -- Caroline thanked her family for flying in for the show, before going on to provocatively introduce the last song of the night. "We sang a lot of songs for the ladies here tonight. But gentlemen, I didn't forget about you. I wrote a song just for you, too." And with that, the band closed out the encoreless night with a vivacious rendition of "Buy Me Something," which built in tempo until its frantic, lively outro allowed Smith to thank us one last time. "We fucking love you guys," Caroline gushed as everyone came together for a well-earned group bow. And with shows as memorable as this, that mutual affection is only bound to grow.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: After getting a small taste of Smith's new direction down in Winona during the Mid West Music Fest, I was anxiously awaiting hearing how those songs evolved and expanded on a bigger stage. This show clearly did not disappoint.

The Crowd: It was seriously one of the better looking crowds I've seen at First Ave all year. Y'all were looking FINE.

Overheard In The Crowd: "I think the bass just knocked out a couple fillings in my teeth."

Caroline Smith at First Avenue, 9/27/13
Photo By Mark Kartarik

Random Notebook Dump: Solid Gold delivered a wonderful opening set, with the band sounding tight and massive in the Mainroom. Their 50-minute performance drew mainly from their intoxicating recent record, Eat Your Young, as well as a sprawling, experimental cover of the Beatles' "Love You To," which found the group really losing themselves in the exploratory nature of the track. I sadly missed the first set of the night by Toki Wright and Big Cats, but Solid Gold really warmed the crowd up well for the headliners, as Minnesota music shined brightly all night long.



All That I Know Is (I'm Your Baby)



The One Thing

Kind Of Man


Child Of Moving On

Walking On Strong

Half About Being A Woman

Rock With You (Michael Jackson)

Denim Boys

Buy Me Something

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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