My first First Avenue show: Yeasayer and Strange Names
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen
If you saw my post last week, you'll know that I had never been to a show at First Avenue -- despite already hitting many of the other clubs around town. Knowing how essential this is to any serious Twin Cities music fan, I knew I had to go and make it soon after divulging my secret. On Saturday, I went to see Yeasayer in the iconic mainroom, and I can't believe I waited so long.
I arrived before the doors had opened to be sure I could take in the whole experience. Once 8 o'clock approached, the crowd at the Depot next door quickly trickled out to join the queue of people. I discovered you don't have to wait until getting past the bouncer to experience the music as two street performers straddled the Seventh Street curb using their knees as drum sets.
Most people in line look as if they're wearing their clothes from earlier that day, but a few others are definitely dressed for the occasion -- skirts and dresses meant for weather 30 degrees warmer. My time soon came to receive my wristband and walk up the left ramp into the venue. Yes, I've seen hundreds of photos of the venue, but nothing can completely capture these sight lines and lights. You can be standing on the left balcony and spot a friend who's on the main floor, or all the way on the other side of the venue.
Photos by Anna Gulbrandsen
Before any music started in the Mainroom, I ducked into the 7th St. Entry. With a row of in-wall seating in the back, the vibe is like a throwback to a basement or garage. It's easy to get up close and personal with each performer, making seeing locals End Quotes and headliners HRVRD one of the night's many highlights. It's a place where many musicians introduce their music to growing fan bases, and it's easy to see why it's such a coveted spot. The space is too intimate for noisy conversation, which makes listening and enjoying each set inevitable.
Back over in the Mainroom, the space didn't start to fill until after UMAMI's opening set. I took this as the perfect opportunity to check out all the recommended viewing spots. To my surprise, there was never a bad spot to stand. I lingered mostly on the balconies during UMAMI's psych-rock set and was pleasantly surprised, even though I wasn't directly in front of the music. It was perfect for warming up to a night enjoying a few drinks from one of the six bars.
After their set, I headed down to the ledge on the left side of the main floor. Dominated by the huge speaker overhead, it is definitely not for the faint of heart. As soon as Minneapolis's Strange Names took the stage, I was blown away. Anyone who stands here will become a part of the music as the bass beats through their chests. A few songs into their set, I decided to hop down into the main pit.
Strange Names' indie-pop set was dominated by unreleased new tracks. Perhaps buzzing from lots of Red Bull -- the evening's sponsor -- the guys never failed to ignite their energy off the stage and into the audience. Frontman Liam Benzvi cracked a joke about not knowing what taurine was when he was a kid chugging Red Bulls on the reg.
Even for someone like myself who's a bit vertically challenged, the main floor was probably my favorite location of the night. The stage is elevated enough so one can still see the band despite there being taller audience members closer to the front barricade. And even if you can't fully see the stage, nothing surpasses the experience of the brilliant light designs flashing in front of your eyes. It's easy to get lost in the music and the shared experience with those around you. As the set came to an end, Strange Names pulled out their hit "Potential Wife," which got strangers dancing with strangers, using the music as their only point of connection.
Photos by Anna Gulbrandsen
After their set, the crowd trickled outside for a couple minutes of fresh air before headliners Yeasayer took the stage. Smokers lined the star-filled walls, while the socialites hugged the curb in groups, trying to stay warm. A couple of minutes passed and the crowd gradually moved back inside to fill the Mainroom floor. Slightly less crowded than for Strange Names, the audience packed in tightly toward the front barricade as Yeasayer began their set.
Although they had a slow start, the group redeemed themselves after playing their first single, "Henrietta," fairly early in their set, allowing the main floor to merge into a slow, side-swaying dance floor, now heavily joined by a thin layer of smoke above their heads. Frontman Chris Keating yelled out on multiple occasions,"What does it take to get a star on this place?," only to compare himself to Prince and thus declare them as undeserving. "We would still like one," he concluded.
But maybe they're not as undeserving as they think. The highlight of their synth-heavy set, "Ambling Amp," showed how important it is to truly engage with the audience to create an unforgettable experience. During this song, the entire crowd burst into dance and created a baptismal moment of sorts when a cup of beer was splashed on my head. Initiation: complete.
Personal Bias: This being my first time at First Avenue, I wanted to concentrate on the experience more than the music, but the music (not surprisingly) became the experience.
Overheard in the Crowd: "They should have "LOW" down here [girl points down to the bottom of exterior wall]...ohhhh irony!"
Random Notebook Dump: I'm definitely coming back Wednesday for Best Coast.
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen
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