Some may have wondered if Friday night’s Best Bands of 2015 showcase at the First Avenue Mainroom was a misnomer. Perhaps it should have been titled “Best New Bands of 2016”? The show, hosted by Andrea Swensson (The Current), Barb Abney (Go 96.3), and Jared Hemming (Radio K), may have featured last year’s best local bands as chosen by First Ave, but it wasn’t so much about what they were doing last year.
The concert format — short sets with minimal changeover time between, and no two similar genres performing in succession — offered a brief period in which each performer could stake their claim in the Twin Cities music scene for 2016. In the spirit of the New Year, here are some resolutions for 2015’s Best New Bands based on Friday’s performances.
Murder Shoes: Don’t get lost in genre
The five-piece Minneapolis band has been called many things since it’s 2014 conception — surf-pop, lo-fi, shoegaze, surf-goth. But if Friday’s show says anything about the future of the band, it’s that they are at once all and none of these things.
Occasionally featuring surf-style guitar riffs and clean-to-buzzy rhythm guitar, their rage is much wider than simple shoegaze, sometimes feeling more like late-2000 post-punk than straight beach rock. The song “Girls Named Benji” was fun, sexy, and almost poppy against a darker, more rock influenced mood that permeated most (but not all) of their set.
Such exception and range of genre show that Murder Shoes hasn’t quite settled on a trademark style, and perhaps they don’t have to. In the new year, one can expect Murder Shoes to keep exploring new expressive avenues and expanding in range.
Lexii Alijai: Keep talking
Lexii Alijiai started and ended her set seated on a stool in a manner more akin with an intimate acoustic show than a seven-band banger at First Avenue. This approach, while non-traditional, served to highlight the way in which she raps — she’s aggressive, and she’s upset about something. But she’s not here to yell; she’s here to talk about it.
There’s a deep sense of intimacy about the way that Alijai performs, betraying heartbreak and hardship through a series of very personal anecdotes. Her rapping is highly self-aware, not to be mistaken for self doubt or shyness, and it’s captivating.
The mournful soul that Alijai gives to her performance is unique and bittersweet. For the next year, she's definitely got more stories to tell, more struggle to express and explain.
Perfume Monster: Write more songs
Self-described as “dream R&B," Perfume Monster makes music for doin’ it — sexy simplified, with high and sweet crooning vocals and heavy bass with airy synth leads. Consisting of five members with varied backgrounds, the group considers this music to be a major departure from previous projects (read: rock bands).
You couldn’t tell this from the vibe dripping off the stage, however. Onstage, Perfume Monster exudes a sexy deep-bass feel, extremely rich in texture. Put this on your playlist of late-night bedroom jams next to the Weeknd. At one point the band even compared themselves to Drake, and if you weren’t thinking about it until then, you’d have to admit it’s a pretty accurate comparison.
They've still got a long way to go. The group admits to only having five songs ready for live performances, which was perfect for a short set like Friday’s . Their next show is in March, providing ample time to write some new material and a whole year to expand on it.
Bruise Violet: Stay angry
The most energy on stage Friday came from Bruise Violet. Inspired by indiscriminate anger, this three-piece all-girl punk band sings about anything and everything that pisses them off.
The group’s subject matter covers fuckboys, "Sketchy Jeff," and other youthful struggles — a fitting repertory considering the majority of the three-part band is still in high school. But don’t let the fact that they’re young throw you off. They present high-energy entertainment, the members demonstrating skilled performance chops beyond their collective years. It’s almost sweet, and it’s almost scary.
Throughout the performance, Bruise Violet's youth was most endearing in the banter between songs. They called for selfies from the crowd, and expressed over and over again their collective disbelief at being onstage that night. While their brief set probably prevented a pit from breaking out, there’s some big excitement coming in the next year for them.
Baby Shel: Lose no momentum
Baby Shel hails from the Red Lake Indian Reservation about five hours north of the Twin Cities. He takes every chance he can get to make it to the cities to perform, and this dedication to his art is finally paying off. The momentum from Baby Shel swept the audience the moment he took the stage on Friday.
Highly engaged with both the audience, his DJ, and the guests he brought on stage, Baby Shel delivered his lyrics in quick succession, with a keen ear for rhythmic accuracy and timing. (At one point, he calls out to the crowd: “Y’all want to hear some fast raps?!," which essentially was what we were hearing all along.)
When you listen close, however, those same lyrics can be staggeringly dark, discussing life on the reservation and all the hardships he’s seen his friends and family go through, not to mention the struggles he faces himself. But what captured the crowd’s excitement most was his shoutout “to all the weed heads," which goes to show that through whatever hardship, we can all find common ground.
Baby Shel took a moment to sincerely thank the crowd before his last song. He’s excited to have gotten here, but — as he stressed to City Pages in last week's print edition — by no means is he done. Expect Baby Shel to only get bigger.
Eric Mayson: Play a show to scale
Eric Mayson has a flair for the dramatic. The short performance was theatrical in scope, including energetic and choreographed dancing, songs that ebbed and flowed through various moods, and a final, bright resolution at the end.
Mayson sat in front of two keyboards at front center of the stage with a total of six singers (three on each side) surrounding him. When you factor in the backing band behind them, the total number of performers onstage reached nine. It felt like a Broadway performance — a live, hip-hop/R&B reenactment of the last supper, except sunnier and everyone makes peace and hugs at the end.
Due to how theatrical his performance was, Mayson’s portion of the show felt short. It was so sunny it may have been easy to skip over the more intimate artistry that his recordings convey. While his website lists no current upcoming shows, one can only hope that this year provides ample opportunity for Mayson to play a large-scale show, all stops pulled.
Aero Flynn: Get weird
As the final musical performance of the evening, Aero Flynn offered some choice first words to the crowd: “Let’s get fucking weird.” What followed was a reverb-y "wall of sound," one that was both disorienting and comforting in its fullness. It’s messy, atmospheric, and moody, topped gently with a bright falsetto singing and sweetly arpeggiated synth leads.
The performance hinged on the careful orchestration of each song. As such, it’s hard not to draw comparisons to a harder, faster, louder, Bon Iver, made even more inevitable that they both hail from the same Eau Claire music scene. The set generated an understated and calming close to the show, generating the snowy backwoods sound for which the Midwest is well-known.
Aero Flynn entered the stage promising weirdness. In a sense, the performance that followed was weird, but in another sense, it wasn’t quite weird enough.
Critic’s Bias: I didn’t ask anyone what their actual resolution was. It could be take up downhill skiing or eat healthier for all I know.
The crowd: People moved pretty freely in and out of the venue as the artists changed. Each performer definitely had their fan club, the location and size changing with each new set.
Random notebook dump: "Like JT in his prime, except singing with Gold Panda" [on Perfume Monster]. I also tried to draw the fire emoji next to Baby Shel...a couple of times.
Notes on the opener: There wasn't really an opener, unless you want to count the Prince tracks played before Murder Shoes. If you're from Minneapolis, you always get hype for Prince (or maybe that's just me).
Overheard in the crowd: "I came here for ________" or, "When does _______ get on stage?," or the dreaded, "DID WE MISS _______" The blend of genres brought a variety of people in, and not all of them were there to see every performer.