The Current's 10th Anniversary, Night One
Featuring Cold War Kids, Dead Man Winter, Hippo Campus and Allan Kingdom
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Friday, January 23, 2015
Booking Billy Idol for the Turf Club wasn't the only sign that 89.3 The Current was going all-out for its week of 10th Birthday Party festivities. The taste-making local radio station also sprang for a national act, California indie rock group Cold War Kids to headline the first night of its annual First Avenue birthday bash.
The mainroom birthday show began when the Current turned five years old in January 2010 (P.O.S., Mason Jennings and other Minnesota music heavyweights were featured on the bill) and eventually turned into a two-night affair. The birthday party has grown in popularity and size in the past half-decade, but had exclusively sported local musicians until Cold War Kids' set Friday night. The Current clearly isn't hanging this event up to dry anytime soon.
Backed only by a DJ, Kingdom kicked off the night with a lively set of his witty, self-conscious raps. The 21-year-old Woodbury High School graduate (real name: Allan Kyariga) spit out six songs during his 30 minutes on stage, showing hometown pride with references to St. Paul, Ramsey and the Metrodome and a millennial's way with words on songs like "GOAT" ("When I say Pikachu, I mean look your way").
Perhaps the best way to judge the success of an opening act on a bill as eclectic as the birthday party's is by how many new fans they convert. Kingdom found plenty of subjects Friday night. The young rapper asked the crowd to "make some noise" if they were already familiar with his work, to plenty of hoots and hollers. Then, "Make some noise for the people that just found out about Allan Kingdom." Even more responded to that second command.
As young as Kingdom is, at least he's able to secure an alcohol wristband at First Avenue. The members of Hippo Campus, a couple of whom also hail from Woodbury, aren't even of drinking age yet. However, you wouldn't guess that from their well-honed live show, beyond-their-years songwriting or rapidly-growing local following. The group was easily the most loudly-received at last weekend's Best New Bands showcase in the mainroom, and you could make an argument for that being the case this week, too. It's a good thing First Avenue hands out free earplugs.
The four-piece, who were name-checked in the pages of NME this winter and are preparing for a national tour with the Mowgli's, fit nine songs of their jittery, Bombay Bicycle Club-esque indie rock into a 40-minute slot. Most of the selections were from last year's Bashful Creatures EP, including the groovy "Souls," energetic live favorite "Suicide Saturday" and local radio hit "Little Grace," the latter of which singer Jake Luppen dedicated to Current DJ Andrea Swensson. "She found a song online and was kind enough to ask us to do an interview," Luppen recounted from the stage. "That really helped us out a lot."
It's always an impressive show of confidence when a young band like Hippo Campus airs its best and/or most popular songs in the middle of the set, as Luppen, guitarist Nathan Stocker, bassist Zach Sutton and drummer Whistler Allen did with "Suicide Saturday" (the night's first sing-along) and "Little Grace" (which received one of the concert's biggest applauses). That bet on the rest of the Hippo Campus catalog paid off, as the band had its fans on the floor dancing and jumping through the final notes of "Violet," a new song that could appear on an upcoming release Luppen alluded to twice during the set. Besides, these four young men have plenty of chances to close with "Saturday" and "Grace" as they try to win over new fans this spring.
There was a mass exodus from the venue after Hippo Campus' Best New Bands set six days prior, leaving the final two bands of that concert to play for a half-full mainroom. On Friday night, everyone stayed right where they were. That's why you book Cold War Kids and a band whose singer and bassist just threw a big festival with their other group.
The quintet has two releases, 2010's Wolves EP and 2011's Bright Lights LP, but a significant amount of Dead Man Winter's setlist was devoted to songs from the new album they're reportedly recording. Simonett and his crew also offered up two Trampled by Turtles cuts, "Walt Whitman" and "Repetition." There was still time for favorites from Bright Lights, however, as "Wasteland" showed off the singer's ear for a twangy hook and "A Long, Cold Night in Minneapolis" proved a thematically-perfect closer to hour three of a four-hour concert that's keeping everyone from stepping into the January chill.
Friday night's headliners might have known that they were helping the Current celebrate its 10th birthday, but it's also possible they didn't. Cold War Kids lead singer Nathan Willett mentioned mid-set how much he and his band love playing at First Avenue, but there was never a mention of the radio station throwing the shindig during the group's rowdy 50-minute set. (The band could be forgiven, though -- they're in the middle of a nationwide tour in support of last year's Hold My Home and actually played a similar radio-sponsored gig in Philadelphia Saturday night.)
Luckily for them, Willett and his bandmates were only brought in to play a set of songs everyone knew. Home opener "All This Could Be Yours" kicked things off with a bang, but it was the anthems off Cold War Kids' 2006 debut, Robbers & Cowards, that really got the crowd going. "Hospital Beds" and "We Used to Vacation" were met with a roomful of cheers of recognition, while the group's biggest hit, "Hang Me Up to Dry," became the loudest sing-along of the entire night.
Some have called out the publicly-funded Current for throwing itself a 10-day birthday bash, but it's important to realize that there are very few cities that have an independent radio station that truly celebrates music. It's even fewer that can put together bills like Friday (and Saturday) night's.
Critic's Bias: I'm a fairly big Trampled by Turtles fan, having seen them seven times and Dead Man Winter once before. I saw Hippo Campus at the Best New Bands show last weekend but haven't listened to their recorded music that much. Still, I was very impressed then and very impressed this time.
The Crowd: Friday's crowd must have been a true cross-section of Current listeners. There were people of all ages and genders, there were those that came out for each of the four acts and there were those who took a bathroom/bar break for each of them.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Oh, you have to bring your own shirt!" upon me and my fiancee's cousin realizing that The Current free T-shirt screen-printing station wasn't giving out shirts, too. As Cake suggests in "Rock and Roll Lifestyle," how else will I prove I was there?
GIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS