In these perilous socio-political times, even showing your support for a public radio station can be viewed as a small act of social defiance; finding joy and emotional release in a song can feel like a crucial form of self-care.
Throughout 89.3 the Current’s 12th birthday party, there was a pervading allegiance to the healing and unifying power of music. Saturday's showcase at First Avenue -- the second part of the two-night party -- was also the celebration of a radio station that has helped strengthen the Twin Cities music community during its dozen years of broadcasting.
While the musical messages of resistance were subtle for much of the night -- save for ZuluZuluu’s socially conscious anthems of uprising and Haley Bonar’s potent, call-to-arms rendition of “Last War” -- there was relief to be found in the mere act of unplugging from the news cycle for a few hours, allowing the performances to elevate us for the evening.
The lineup represented a diverse cross-section of artists the station has championed in recent years.
-- Monica LaPlante launched the festivities with an electric jolt, as her untamed guitar riffs and fresh exuberance easily won over the early arrivers.
-- Montreal’s Sam Roberts Band delivered an earnest set of Canadian pop-rock that was tinged with jazz and electronic undertones. They glowed with genuine appreciation for the Current's efforts to spread their music to a wider audience.
-- ZuluZuluu seamlessly blended the untethered experimentalism of Miles Davis’ electric era with the soulful funk of Curtis Mayfield during their spellbinding set. Their affectionate cover of De La Soul’s “Stakes Is High” served as an enlightened call to resistance during these volatile times.
-- Long Island’s the Lemon Twigs made a smooth transition from their sold out 7th St. Entry gig in October to the Mainroom’s grand stage. Teenage brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario switched off between guitar and drums halfway through the show, rambunctiously tearing through modern glam anthems “I Wanna Prove to You,” “These Words,” and “As Long As Were Together” from their debut LP, Do Hollywood. The group even overcame a broken bass drum pedal one song into the set, getting a replacement in record time while not missing a beat. The quartet’s sound is still raw and unpolished, but that youthful urgency is ultimately part of their charm.
Haley Bonar closed out her tour in support of last year's Impossible Dream in grand style, bringing the Current’s weekend-long celebration to an impassioned close. “You’re lucky to live here. As am I,” Bonar declared halfway through her set. And indeed, her decision to return to Minneapolis from Portland, Oregon, has bolstered our local music scene; her last two records represent some of the best songwriting to emerge out of the Twin Cities in years.
The set drew mainly from Impossible Dream and 2014's Last War, with her road-tested band (playing their last show together as a group, Bonar announced) sounding sharp and inspired by the hometown crowd. During a rousing version of “From A Cage,” Bonar raised a lone fist into the air as she delivered the poignant closing lines, “We’ll learn to love our freedom from a cage.”
Following the stunning combination of “Heaven’s Made For Two” and “Kismet Kill,” Bonar introduced “Last War” by announcing, “It’s appropriate now, because the only time you should be silent is in a fucking library.” For this night, at least, it was enough of an act of defiance to raise our voices collectively in song, unified in our belief in the power of music to heal us, if only ever so briefly.
Between sets throughout the night, there was a marvelous slideshow filled with striking portraits of musicians who have visited the Current’s studios over the years. It ranged from local acts to international legends, vividly illustrating just how vital the station has become for artists and music lovers alike.
No matter how many times the station plays the new Dawes single or fawns over Regina Specktor, its contributions to the local scene -- as well as the national musical landscape -- are immeasurable and invaluable. May the public radio airwaves continue to provide beacons of light to guide us through the dark times ahead.
Check out more photos from the show here.