The Current's 7th birthday party at First Avenue, 1/27/12

The Current's 7th birthday party
With Tapes 'n Tapes, Dead Man Winter, Low, and Night Moves
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Friday, January 27, 2012

View a slideshow from the concert here and check out coverage of night two here.

The seven-year love affair between Twin Cities music fans and the Current was only strengthened over the weekend, as the tastemaking public radio station celebrated its 7th birthday in style with two sold-out nights full of all Minnesota acts over the weekend at First Avenue. Friday evening was a bit of an oddly-paced affair, but the night managed to swell to a euphoric crescendo during Tapes 'n Tapes' triumphant closing set.

The birthday bash opened with Night Moves, a local quartet who also featured prominently in Wednesday night's Best New Bands showcase. And while the group's mid-week set was a bit uneven and reserved, on this evening they were in great spirits, joking amongst themselves and the crowd, which only added to the soaring, grandiose nature of their sound. The jaunty guitar work of frontman John Pelant escalated right along with his impassioned vocals, bringing an ebullient, vibrant quality to their performance.

The Current's 7th birthday party at First Avenue, 1/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

It was dismaying that Low was second on the bill, but the Current obviously wanted to keep the energy level high as the evening wore on, so it was an understandable decision to have the subtle-but-stirring Duluth trio on earlier in the night. And, after video tributes to the Current from Tommy Stinson, St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman, and Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak, Low took to the stage, and were joined throughout their 40-minute set by Dave Carroll from Trampled By Turtles, who augmented their stark sound with his understated banjo work.

The Current's 7th birthday party at First Avenue, 1/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

And while it was nice to hear another musical layer added to Low's often delicate sound, frontman Alan Sparhawk's guitar work was rather restrained at the start, as if he didn't want to overwhelm Carroll's faint banjo. The boisterous crowd didn't really help matters either, as people talked loudly throughout Low's tranquil set. This was especially apparent on the set opening "For Your Place On Sunset," a rather hushed b-side to 2003's Murderer EP, and frustratingly continued during a trio of new songs from C'mon ("Try To Sleep," "Witches," and "Especially Me").


Things picked up a bit as members of Dead Man Winter joined the group -- which technically amounted to 4/5 of Trampled By Turtles being up on stage as Low swelled to an 8-piece -- as Duluth was represented proudly throughout the evening. "When I Go Deaf" built gradually to its explosive climax, which finally drowned out the crowd, and "Murderer" and "Nothing But Heart" majestically brought the set to a close. More people should have just shut up and enjoyed it.

But it seemed like those talkative folks were clearly there for Dead Man Winter, as the crowd were completely swept away by the countrified bluegrass pop of the local quintet. And while starting your set with a cover is always a risky move for any band, their energetic rendition of Bob Dylan's "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" was a fantastic way to kick things off.

The Current's 7th birthday party at First Avenue, 1/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

Sadly, their set only went downhill from there (how could it not after starting with a Dylan song), as their rather sound-alike numbers were lacking in both substance and soul, and didn't really resonate much. This reviewer was clearly in the minority, as the rest of the crowd got down to Dead Man Winter's spirited 40-minute performance, which culminated with an emphatic version of Trampled By Turtle's "Victory," which got most of the prodigious crowd moving and singing right along with amiable frontman Dave Simonett.

Tapes 'n Tapes came out feisty and on fire, starting their set with the explosive guitar-driven jam that eventually morphs into the incendiary "Jakov's Suite." The start of their set wisely focused on The Loon material, as spirited versions of "Cowbell" and "Just Drums" quickly followed a forceful rendition of "Freak Out," which fit well next to the older songs. The set dragged just a bit as the band relaxed their breakneck pace on "Conquest," "Badaboom" and "One In The World." But they closed things out explosively with a frenetic version of "Insistor" which got a good portion of the crowd jumping in time with the riotous rhythm the band was generating.

The Current's 7th birthday party at First Avenue, 1/27/12
Photo by Erik Hess

We were warned before Low's set that we might be seeing them again later on in the evening, and sure enough Alan came out to join Tapes 'n Tapes (along with Micky Alfano and John Pelant from Night Moves) to close out the night with a faithful, emphatic cover of Prince's "Purple Rain." Some employees of the Current came on stage to join in the fun, and sang along just like everyone in the crowd. It was a stirring, unifying moment which only strengthened the bond between the radio station, their listeners, and the burgeoning local music scene. 

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: After seeing Night Moves just two days before the show, I went in excited to see Low and Tapes 'n Tapes again.

The Crowd: Local music fans and members of the Current who were quick enough on the draw to snag tickets before the show quickly sold-out.

Overheard In The Crowd: "I just don't get Low" -- a phrase repeated over and over again by an annoying girl behind me, who sadly never quieted down enough to even attempt to "get Low."

Random Notebook Dump: While I felt the line-up was stronger on Saturday night, the evening was still a lot of fun and quite celebratory. And it was worth it just to hear Low play "When I Go Deaf" and the "Purple Rain" cover alone.

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