First Avenue's 40th Birthday Party, 12/15/10

First Avenue's 40 Birthday Party
December 15, 2010
First Avenue's Mainroom & 7th St. Entry

Now that is how you throw a birthday party. On a night meant to honor some of the bands and the people who have made the Twin Cities music scene what it is and those that will see it into the future, it ultimately became a celebration of how lucky we all are to have a venue like First Avenue for the last 40 years. Stretching across 6+ hours of performances, both in the Mainroom and the Entry, bands, fans, and dignitaries alike (R.T. Rybak dropped by) told stories of their fondest First Ave memories and played sets filled with songs that were fitting, feisty tributes to the venerable nightclub. And, as is the case with any respectable birthday party, there was plenty of cake to go around.

After a brief, lively opening set by the Hypstrz (most sets went about 20 minutes), Mayor R.T. Rybak came on stage to present First Ave's general manager Nate Kranz with a Prince symbol-shaped key to the city, which Rybak appropriately took out of a guitar case. It set a celebratory mood that carried over into all the performances and conversations I witnessed throughout the night. Spider John Koerner and Tony Glover opened their engaging set with a passionate take on "St. James Infirmary," the Twilight Hours dusted off the fitting Trip Shakespeare classic "Snow Days," and the Mighty Mofos kicked off their spirited performance with a blistering rendition of the Who's "Heaven And Hell." No sappy, breathless renditions of "Happy Birthday" here; this was a party for a debauched rock 'n roll club, and all of the bands played like it.

First Avenue's 40th Birthday Party, 12/15/10
First Avenue's 40th Birthday Party, 12/15/10

Mark Mallman, who, along with Dessa, were the last "special guests" to be added to the bill, put on a rousing, idiosyncratic performance like only he can, although it sure was strange to see him leave the stage after only 20 minutes.

But it really took Gary Louris's solo set before the night got its first truly transcendent performance. Armed with just his electric guitar, Louris tore things up during his all too-brief stint on stage, opening with a rowdy version of "High Water Blues" that featured two lengthy guitar solos. Louris stated sincerely that, "It's a pleasure to play here, in one of the greatest rock clubs in all the world. And this isn't, what do they say, my first Rodeo." It was a genuine sentiment echoed by all of the performers throughout the night. Louris also played a couple tracks from the just-completed new Jayhawks record, and closed with a boisterous version of Harry Nilsson's "Without You" that ended the set strongly.

Grant Hart was up next, and he went the solo guitar route as well; there just was a more combative edge to his songs. After asking the crowd to help whistle along and receiving no audible assistance from us, he called the audience a "bunch of lame ass motherfuckers." It was indeed a great moment. Hart charged through a couple of new songs, as well as breaking out a tender version of Hüsker Dü's "Green Eyes."

First Avenue's 40th Birthday Party, 12/15/10
First Avenue's 40th Birthday Party, 12/15/10

Dessa's soulful set was lovely and moving, with Aby Wolf by her side through most of the performance, offering backing vocals for stunning versions of "Mineshaft 2," "The Chaconne," and "Matches To Paper Dolls." Dessa closed her session with a spoken word piece which she morphed into a defiant (albeit truncated) cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

Har Mar Superstar got down (and stripped down) during his wild set, playfully asking the crowd "Who's got a DUI out there?" and "You all ready to dance? Fuck those snowbanks and shit." It was a funky, fun performance that finished up with Har Mar gyrating all over the stage on "Tall Boy."

First Avenue's 40th Birthday Party, 12/15/10

After an introduction from Dave Pirner, Heiruspecs closed things down properly with a riotous, guest-heavy set that featured appearances by Dessa, Big Zack (from Kanser), Martin Devaney and Carnage, who got locked into a stellar beat-boxing competition with Muad'dib, before Felix tore things up smoothly on the mic as Twinkie Jiggles laid down the velvety bass line. It was an energetic way to end a truly festive evening, and hopefully there will be plenty more birthday bashes for First Avenue as the years go on.

Critic's Bias: I've spent more time and money at First Avenue in the nearly twenty odd years I've lived in Minneapolis than I care to admit. First show--Mudhoney, Screaming Trees and Gruntruck in '92.

The Crowd: A mix of all ages there to pay tribute to a venue we all love.

Overheard In The Crowd: "I need to get more cake."

Random Notebook Dump: Martin Devaney, Birthday Suits, and Chooglin' all put on great sets in the Entry as well. 

For more photos: See our full slideshow by Tony Nelson.

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