Monday, November 21, 2011 at 8:13 a.m.
Vita.mn's Vth Anniversary Party with Hold Steady, P.O.S., Night Moves, and No Bird Sing
November 18, 2011
"Congrats on throwing such an 'epic' party!" an acquaintance gushed to me shortly after arriving at Vita.mn's "Vth" anniversary bash on Friday night. I found her flub more endearing than embarrassing and we both got a good laugh out of it when I gently reminded her I work for party host's competition, but it did get me thinking about the impact that the once-fledgling, now promotionally powerful Star Tribune offshoot has had on our local community.
Many of Vita.mn's strengths are also the qualities that set it apart from City Pages: As an entertainment-only publication, it has the space to spotlight not only music coverage (most of which is still reprinted from Chris Riemenschneider's work for the Star Tribune) but fashion, nightlife, and the local art scene. As an organization, it has the revenue to sponsor all the hippest concerts and events. In these recession times, as journalists are laid off left and right and many papers are struggling to simply stay afloat, Vita.mn's resources are plentiful and their parties lavish; Friday night's party was the paper's biggest event yet, and they pulled out all the stops to book some hefty Minnesotan (and Minnesota-tied) acts and flood every corner of the club with slices of spectacle. Like one of Vita.mn's "Last Night" columns come to life, their fifth anniversary was, for lack of a better word, quite the scene, with familiar faces at every turn.
Epic is certainly suited to be an "event center," and though it has become decidedly less cheesy since its days as the Quest (remember those weird fake trees in the club's smaller upper-level Ascot Room?), there still were a few challenges to overcome for the night's performers. The balcony's many catacombs provided guests with the space to mingle, but it made it difficult to experience any of the live music from the upper deck; downstairs, the rest of the show's 1500 guests were cramming uncomfortably close to get an unobstructed view of the stage, and even from the center of the room the sound quality was a little iffy.
The sound problems were especially noticeable during P.O.S.'s set, as the evening's "surprise" guest (his appearance was only announced on Thursday to avoid stealing the spotlight from next month's Doomtree Blowout Week at First Ave) struggled to hear himself or the handiwork of his DJ Plain Ole Bill from his spot on stage. Perhaps because of the technical difficulties, P.O.S. opted to focus mostly on familiar songs from 2009's Never Better
, though even the visibly excited fans in front of the stage seemed to have a hard time singing along to songs like "Optimist." He did manage to try out two new songs, both of which are still untitled and both of which he also played this summer at the Pizza Luce Block Party
: A slinky dance song with the words "I don't want to think about it I just want to get down" and a banger with a wobbly beat tentatively titled "Fuck Your Stuff." He cut the first song about halfway through, throwing his hands in the air and crying "I can't hear," but the latter got the crowd riled up enough that fans started climbing up on stage (there was no barricade or security staff separating the huge crowd from the performer), with one man taking an unadvised stage dive into a pocket of concertgoers that didn't appear to have any intention of catching him.
All of which is to say that P.O.S.'s set was a bit chaotic, and though Stef Alexander's charisma shined through and he made some real connections with the front of the crowd, even he seemed a little on edge -- and anyone who's seen the typically positive P.O.S. perform knows that seeing Pissed Off Stef actually turn into a Pissed Off Stef is a pretty rare occurrence.
It would take a lot more than an ill-fitting venue to slow down the Hold Steady, though, especially given that they were playing their first Twin Cities gig in almost a year. After taking a bit of a hiatus (frontman Craig Finn has been working on a solo album
, due out at the end of January, plus the band has been in the studio working on a new Hold Steady record), the band is back in action with a slightly altered lineup. It was hard to tell whether they were overcompensating for the fact that their keyboardist Franz Nicolay is no longer with the group or because they were playing an unfamiliar venue, but the band fired off their songs at such a fast pace that Finn barely had the chance to address the audience during the set. The songs blazed at a frantic pace but their new even-more-guitar-heavy sound was focused and, at times, downright incendiary.
Like P.O.S., the Hold Steady chose to focus on mostly familiar material, grouping together a section of songs with especially Twin Cities-heavy, nostalgic lyrics. "This song's about pretty much the same thing," Finn cracked before "Your Little Hoodrat Friend," saying it was about "somebody who didn't learn their lesson." He followed it up a few songs later with "How a Resurrection Really Feels," making the line "Holly was the hoodrat, and now you finally know that" seem all the more congruous.
For a community that seems to find endless joy in celebrating its own merits, the Hold Steady were the perfect way to cap off the night. "Minneapolis, St. Paul, Twin Cities, Brooklyn, U.S.A. -- we are all the Hold Steady," Finn declared in their encore, bringing it all home both literally and figuratively with "Killer Parties" while guitarist Tad Kubler abandoned his instrument to take the evening's most successful stage dive into a sea of outstretched arms. Everyone knows that they're really a Brooklyn band, but every time the Hold Steady come home, they're ours.
Personal bias: As previously mentioned, I am gainfully employed by the party host's competitor -- not to mention the fact that the gig was booked by my friend and a frequent Gimme Noise photo contributor, Stacy Schwartz. So, more bias than the typical show, I suppose, but overall I thought it was a really fun night.
The crowd: If I listed every person I ran into at this party, the list would be longer than my review.
Overheard in the crowd: Lots of singing along to the Hold Steady, with one girl near me practically falling over the balcony railing to gesture dramatically along with Finn.
Random notebook dump: Didn't make it in time for No Bird Sing, unfortunately, and was upstairs for most of Night Moves' set; for all the sound problems that plagued the evening, John Pelant's voice rang out crystal clear and managed to cut through the din of the party.
Hold Steady set list:
Rock & Roll Problems
Girls Like Status
Sequestered in Memphis
Hot Soft Light
Stuck Between Stations
Multitude of Casualties
You Gotta Dance (With Who You Came to the Dance With)
You Can Make Him Like You
Your Little Hoodrat Friend
Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night
How a Resurrection Really Feels
Dr. Love (KISS)