THERE ONCE WAS a time when rock & roll was exclusively a teenage phenomenon. But last week, as Dave Pirner and crew performed at Grand Old Day in St. Paul, a minority of the crowd about two miles down the street enjoyed its own kind of soul asylum: the Young at Art

Battle of the Bands. I sat on a panel of judges evaluating five bands aged 12 to 21, competing for generational dominance and air time on KFAI. The day's winners were Grotto, a tight, badass punk trio in the Guzzard/King Can vein. My originality prize would have gone to the elder Serene, though I didn't groove on their hippie grunge as much as their multipartite prog-rock structures. I wanted proof of age from Spank, a quirky pop band with a John Fogerty vocal that would sound at home at O'Gara's; and neighborhood high-schoolers Locus definitely had the popular vote. But I look forward most to the graduation of young runners-up Effervescent. They need to work through their Nirvana-isms, but they exuded the coolest attitude--and amazingly, had the only female performer of the day (I'd thought the gender ratio was balancing out among younger players). I was also surprised to see no DJs---you know, the guitarists of the next generation? Maybe next year.

Another question: Do Walt Mink have karmic issues, or are they just being forced to suffer for their art? When we last left the former Twin Cities trio, they were touring on the wings of their Atlantic album El Producto, their first record after three years of label, management, and drummer problems. What we didn't know is Atlantic fired their A&R rep the day after El Producto came out, which usually means curtains for a band. After being expunged in the "Great Atlantic Purge of 1996," the Minks hooked up with Deep Elm records in their native New York and recorded their fourth album, Colossus, due in stores this week. As if that weren't enough tumult, Minksters John Kimbrough and Candice Belanoff proceeded to lose their second drummer, Orestes Morfin--not to Beck again, but to marriage. Kimbrough and Belanoff are making their way out to these parts, however, touring as an acoustic duo. We expect to hear from them soon. (Check them at www.rockfetish.com/mink for updates.)

In the CP "Best of the Cities" issue we named The Front (15 Fourth St. N.E., Mpls.) "Best Weeknight Theme Lounge." Now, on weekends, get ready for The Back, located appropriately in the rear of Ground Zero. On Fridays and Saturdays, the Back features Deep, a DJ feature with KFAI's funkadelicious DJ Jennifer plus newcomer DJ Bionic. Now that the Front and Back are in order, can we get some similarly creative programming in "The Middle," a.k.a. Ground Zero itself? I mean, do we need to point out that GZ does have one of the best and most underutilized live stages in town? Whassup?

In other DJ notes, dance clubbers already know about First Avenue's latest naughty "adult dance" feature: Lovedrops on Thursday nights. Lovedrops notably heralds the return of legendary First Ave. DJ Roy Freedom, who had worked there for nearly two decades... And attention 18- to 20-year-olds: First Ave. has opened up the eclectic Wednesday night Mars 770 dancefloor to your demographic--for the summer, at least. And that's not to mention Woody McBride's Jet 77----a full on, state-of-the-art techno series that begins its monthly residency at the 7th Street Entry tonight (Wednesday)----and Return to the Source, an international techno all-star session in the mainroom next Wednesday.

RANDOM GIGS: Underrated songwriter Mike Merz leads his Can o' Worms tonight (Wednesday) at Bryant-Lake Bowl. The band now features the similarly overlooked Lori Wray on guitar and voice (the group doubles as Wray's solo band). The special guest is Merz's fellow ex-Pimentos for Gus singer Justin Roberts, who's preparing to release Great Big Sun, an original album of children's songs! ($5, 9:30 p.m.)... Having won a healthy dose of acclaim for their self-titled debut, The Buck-Fifty Boys play their last show of the season Friday at the Entry, with South Dakotan Rich Snow and locals Pilot Light ($5, 8 p.m.)...

REGULAR GIGS: Marina Glass, a.k.a. vocalist Dana Thompson (Strawdogs, Brother Sun Sister Moon, many others), has been performing solo "with Friends" every Tuesday night at the 400 Bar... And jazz/blues pianist James Samuel "Cornbread" Harris and his band have begun a Tuesday-to-Saturday house-band gig at BRAVO! downtown. Harris is the father of Jimmy Jam, y'know, and there's a lot more where that came from...

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