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First Avenue's 20 best concerts: #20-11

First Avenue's 20 best concerts: #20-11
Photo by Erik Hess

Related:
First Avenue's 20 best concerts: #10-1
First Avenue's 20 best concerts: Readers' picks
First Avenue: An archived history via flyers, riders & contracts
Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list

First Avenue is undoubtedly among the premier rock clubs in the country -- possibly the world. Since 1970, the building at the intersection of First Avenue and Seventh Street North in downtown Minneapolis has hosted drinking, dancing, and live music as the Depot, Uncle Sam's, Sam's, and since 1981, First Avenue. The iconic silver stars naming past performers painted on the outside walls tell part of the story of the club, but the anecdotes of obscenely cheap tickets, balmy temperatures, and youthful days arriving long before the jaded regulars are what make this building an institution. Even riskier than summing up the best shows from the club's 42-year history would be to let these ear-shattering, heart-warming evenings go forgotten. Here are 20 of the finest nights First Avenue ever had. --Reed Fischer

First Avenue's 20 best concerts: #20-11

20. Arcade Fire/ Wolf Parade/ Bell Orchestre, First Avenue, 9/29/05 
Arcade Fire were well on their way to indie-rock success story when they rolled into this sold-out Mainroom show, but even the local skeptics became full-blown believers. The band played nearly all of their utterly brilliant debut LP, Funeral, as well as three tracks from their self-titled EP, but it was their stellar cover of David Bowie's "Five Years" -- the band had just performed it with him earlier that month at a Fashion Rocks event -- that truly made this show magical. By the time openers Wolf Parade came out to join the band for a euphoric version of "Wake Up" that closed out the show, the Canadian collective had alerted each and every one of us that a new day was indeed dawning in rock 'n' roll. --Erik Thompson

First Avenue's 20 best concerts: #20-11

19. Meat Beat Manifesto, 7th St. Entry, 11/10/89

This was the Sex Pistols in Manchester for a good chunk of what would become the Minneapolis techno scene. Since it was a Friday night -- the day after the regular house music night in the entry, House Nation -- they already had a ton of bass cabinets to make the Entry into a giant bass bin. The Meat Beat show was three musicians and two male modern dancers in techno dinosaur armor. It was captivating and ridiculous as the dancers locked their feet into the Entry's lighting trusses, and danced upside down for large chunks of the show. There weren't more than 35 people in the room, but within two years at least 20 of them had techno records out. I watched part of that show with First Avenue booker Steve McClellan, who just kept rolling his eyes and muttering. The only other time I saw him do that was at Lisa Suckdog playing in the Entry with an act that consisted mostly of having sex, talking in French and, I think, eating chocolate cake. --Chris Strouth
First Avenue's 20 best concerts: #20-11

18. Burning Spear, First Avenue, 9/24/01

Reggae legend Burning Spear (Winston Rodney) has always been a powerful performer at First Avenue. But in the first weeks following 9/11, reggae's pillars of peace, love, and positivity seemed like Dorothy believing in the Wizard. If anyone else in the Mainroom was doubting the love of Jah Ras Tafari that night, Spear shook it out of us. He was in very strong voice, and his band was coming off of months on the road together: They could feel each other. Spear fixed his eyes at a point above and beyond the audience and swayed, his shoulders shook with a shiver and he started, "We are here to pick up the pieces, come along my brothers, come along my sisters." He seemed to be channeling more than singing that night. My friend took pictures and she swears there are "orbs" around Burning Spear in the photo. I don't believe in orbs, but I believe in reggae again.

--Rachel Lee Joyce
First Avenue's 20 best concerts: #20-11

17. Pulp, First Avenue, 5/26/96
It's stunning how much the nattily dressed Jarvis Cocker expressed with his legs during this performance. The Pulp frontman thrilled a lively, combative crowd while leading his band through a set that pulled heavily from the near-perfect Different Class album. While every Britpop fan at the time (including myself) was wasting far too much breath on Oasis, this was the band that exceeded what little stateside hype they'd earned. One woman in the crowd was either trying to flirt with Cocker, or just make a scene. Either way, she repeatedly lambasted him for the commentary found in "Common People." And, proving his deftness once again, he sidestepped it all and suggested they discuss the matter afterward. And a not-so-humble brag to those who are shelling out to see Pulp in reunion mode right now, note that this show was $5! --Reed Fischer
 

First Avenue's 20 best concerts: #20-11

16. Erykah Badu, First Avenue, 4/30/97
Erykah Badu's debut release Baduizm had not yet received much play on mainstream radio ahead of her first full U.S. tour, but the club was still packed that night. For a change, the sweet-scented swirls of smoke weren't coming from the crowd -- Ms. Badu had filled the stage with incense, tapestries, and floor lamps with colored bulbs, which were the requisite trappings of a neo-soul session back then. She captivated us with the drawl-tinged octaves of her voice so much that even her between-song lectures in Egyptian numerology and African spirituality were met with air toasts to the stage. The jazzy/blues from the record translated perfectly with a full band, a rarity at R&B shows of the era. She mostly stuck to tracks from Baduizm, but when she introduced the unreleased "Tyrone," we seemed especially connected as we we sang the chorus and, when instructed by the true diva, pointed at our "third eyes." --Rachel Lee Joyce

First Avenue's 20 best concerts: #20-11

15. PJ Harvey, First Avenue, 10/01/04 
While PJ Harvey's 2004 album Uh Huh Her didn't quite match Mercury Prize-winning Stories From the City..., her First Avenue tour stop in support of that record was memerizing. In a full-length red velvet gown and matching gloves, Polly Jean tore through her stellar catalog while confidently delivering performances of "Dress," "Good Fortune," "50 Ft. Queenie," and "Meet Ze Monsta." Harvey was also still wailing away on her guitar, this being the era before her eventual foray into the stark piano and harp-laden arrangements of her current work. --Erik Thompson

First Avenue's 20 best concerts: #20-11
Photo by Steve Cohen

14. Lucinda Williams, First Avenue, 7/17/01

Lucinda Williams hit the mainstream sometime between the long gestation of Car Wheels on a Gravel Road in 1998 and her relatively quick 2001 follow-up, Essence. As her visibility grew, she'd accepted higher profile gigs such as touring with Tom Petty, which included a show just across the street at Target Center in 1999. By the time she returned to the relatively intimate First Avenue Mainroom in '01, Lucinda and her audience were ready to re-connect with these songs of heartbreak and pain in a way not possible in large arenas. In September 2009, she came back to share her joy with Minneapolis by getting married on the same stage. --Steve Cohen

 
First Avenue's 20 best concerts: #20-11

13. Marilyn Manson, First Avenue, 10/09/96 
At the time of this show, I was 15 years old, and had recently parted with a narrow and pinched childhood by becoming a goth. This rebellion was deflated a little by the fact that it was endorsed by my mother, who believed so deeply in broad-mindedness that she sprang for my ticket, fairly ruining the main thrill of it. The show was magnificent, but the venue captivated me the most. Its soul was stranger and more beguiling to me even than Manson's, and though my affair with Manson's music, torrid as it was, proved fleeting, my affair with First Avenue has seemed star-crossed from the first. --David Hansen

First Avenue's 20 best concerts: #20-11
Photo by Steve Cohen

12. The Flops/ Dan Wilson & Friends/ Semisonic/ 3/4 Trip Shakespeare 12/12-13/03

This was a reunion of the many branches of Trip Shakespeare that emerged since the beloved psychedelic/power-pop group disbanded in the early '90s. Matt Wilson and John Munson performed as the Flops (and together have since morphed into the Twilight Hours). Munson and Dan Wilson's Semisonic had grown into a worldwide success, but their days were winding down as Dan's solo project began to take shape. Both Semisonic and Dan & Friends performed sets. With Trip drummer Elaine Harris absent, Semisonic's drummer (and acclaimed author) Jacob Slichter filled in with the rest of the original group to round out the night with a set of Trip Shakespeare classics. Everyone got a little history lesson, but also a chance to shake around a bit. --Steve Cohen
First Avenue's 20 best concerts: #20-11

11. Dinosaur Jr./ My Bloody Valentine/ Babes in Toyland, First Avenue, 2/12/92
My Bloody Valentine was touring on Loveless, and splitting the bill with Dinosaur Jr. In this case, they were the middle act. I don't know anyone who stayed, but it was a show that bordered on the mystical. The club literally ran out of earplugs. I have had mild tinnitus ever since, and I don't care -- it was glorious. I was awash in sound. --Chris Strouth

Check in tomorrow for numbers #10-1. What was your favorite show at First Avenue? Write us, and send photos to gimmenoise@citypages.com and we'll include you in a list of readers' picks on the blog next week.

Related:
First Avenue's 20 best concerts: #10-1
First Avenue's 20 best concerts: Readers' picks
First Avenue: An archived history via flyers, riders & contracts
Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list


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