First Avenue's 45th Anniversary
Featuring Har Mar Superstar, Sonny Knight and the Lakers, Sims, and the Cactus Blossoms
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Friday, April 3, 2015
Friday night's 45th Anniversary show at First Avenue mirrored the history of the club itself. The performances ranged between country, hip-hop, funk, and soul, with a consistent level of quality that we've come to expect from the venue over the years. The night wisely chose to celebrate the present instead of a retroactively looking back, and that's one of the big reasons why First Ave continues to lead the local music scene today.
The Cactus Blossoms started the evening with easy swinging country that warmed the slowly arriving crowd, followed by the late addition of Sims from Doomtree. Sims started to a cold crowd but ultimately won them over, adding some First Ave love while talking about getting kicked out of the venue at age 15. While the first two bands deserve more of a spotlight during your typical Friday night show, this was a gathering to mark the Minnesota music scene, and the dual headliners brought the crowd to the floor and the dancing to the next level.
Soul/funk/R&B 8-piece Sonny Knight & the Lakers did what they do best: rollick, wail, and bring the house down. Knight's vocal chops and showmanship at age 66 are the lead character, directing the brass band with a booming and emotional voice, and the crowd hit the sing-alongs and dance cues immediately.
It's the kind of music that's familiar on first listen and easy to relate to, and Knight and the band make it impossible to look away from the stage. Sonny's unfaltering delivery continually provided high points to the set, but the rousing bursts of energy from the band delivered jubilant feelings that only a good show can provide.[page]
The night took a juicier turn with Har Mar Superstar. It's been a strange journey for the project that started by pacing The Entry's stage and singing over a boombox to, now, playing genuine R&B, and gyrating on both large stages and the large screen. Through it all, his persona is highlighted by that over the top sultry factor.
Har Mar is a sex symbol for the most elemental of reasons: because he knows he is. If you believe it, it will happen--even if you're wearing Zubaz and genetics have left you a little thin up top. The set featured live bass and drums along with backing vocals from Lizzo and various sampled accompaniment over oldies like "DUI" and "Sugar Pie," to a new a capella song in the encore from a promised upcoming record.
On an evening where star power and cameos could have dominated, First Ave wisely let the music do the talking. Lizzo was the lone surprise guest (without a typical Doomtree cameo during Sims' set), and the Happy Birthday-isms were mostly saved for a special video montage of stars like Sleater-Kinney, Soul Asylum, and Atmosphere that played on the screen before Har Mar's set. It was tasteful and didn't interrupt the flow of the show, on a night that ended up being a celebration of the venue as well as the great local music regularly on display at First Ave.
Critic's Bias: It's been several years since I saw Har Mar.
The Crowd: 25-45 with a handful of older folk mixed in. Nearly 50/50 gender-wise. Imagine your average alternative radio listener.
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