The Current's 9th Birthday Party, night one, at First Avenue, 1/24/14
Photo by Tony Nelson
The Current's 9th Birthday Party, Night One
Featuring Har Mar Superstar, Lizzo, Night Moves, and Actual Wolf
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Friday, January 24, 2014
Exactly nine years to the day of the Current first going on the air, First Avenue was sold out and buzzing on Friday night, as a strong lineup of locally based talent was on full display. All four acts were eager to entertain the packed house as well as personally thank the radio station that showed them support.
Actual Wolf started the night with a rollicking opening set, with Eric Pollard getting the crowd more than warmed up with his stirring songs and stellar backing band. He was joined by brothers Jake and Jeremy Hanson (on guitar and drums, respectively), Low/Retribution Gospel Choir's Steve Garrington on bass, and Erik Koskinen on guitar, with all of them giving Pollard's rootsy, Americana-drenched songs some extra kick. In fact, the band was having such an enjoyable time on stage that the set came off like a live Basement Tapes session, with the group injecting the material with a loose, vibrant quality that easily won over the room.
Photos By Tony Nelson
Pollard sprinkled a few new songs (including a lovely version of "Thinkin' of You") into the well-paced set, with the band picking up steam and growing more sonically adventurous as the performance went on. "Kerosene & Spark" and "Let It Go" were early set highlights, before Pollard fittingly dedicated an absolutely smoking version of "Hydrant Eyes" to Current DJs David Campbell and Bill DeVille -- both early supporters of Pollard's music who gave his songs some precious spins on the air and helped his career take off. The band had been teasing us a bit throughout the set, with scorching but all-too-brief guitar solos peppering the songs, but on the set-closing "Victims & Things," they really stretched things out and went for it, with a blissful cascade of guitars washing over the appreciative crowd, who saw the band off with a well-earned ovation.
Strange Names have been working on their debut full-length for a while now, and were clearly excited to show off plenty of new songs during the grand festivities. That was a bold and confident move in front of an audience that is still in the process of familiarizing themselves with the electro-pop pulse of the band. But frontman Liam Benzvi was clearly in the mood to party, playfully sporting x-ray specs throughout the set, while exuberantly telling the crowd, "I'm Whoopi Goldberg, and you're my Sister Act."
Photos By Tony Nelson
The group also brought out their friend, singer Tara Loeper, to give the new material an added vocal sheen. The older tracks that the crowd did recognize went over well, with "Potential Wife" and new single "Ricochet" all soaring within the club. But the band were clearly most excited about debuting their new songs, and devoted much of the set to material featured on their forthcoming album, which guitarist Francis Jimenez announced will be coming out on April 1. The new tracks oscillated between lively, Devo-like excursions and pulsating, New Order-esque jams, with Benzvi exclaiming, "Tonight's about fun" while introducing the numbers. And indeed it was, as Strange Names' infectious spirit and buoyant songs easily won over plenty of new fans while getting their older supporters even more excited about what is to come for the band.
The Twin Cities could really be suffering from an oversaturation of all things Lizzo as of late, that is if the young MC didn't have the talent or unbridled charisma to warrant all of the attention and back up all of the hype. As if Lizzo really needed one more grand coming-out party for another part of the local music scene, she truly rose to the occasion on Friday night and shook the crowd with her stellar songs and seductive stage presence. It all added up to the set of the night, as Lizzo started her performance with a sultry rendition of "Happy Birthday" (a la Marilyn Monroe) and never looked back, as the beats supplied by Doomtree producer/DJ Lazerbeak banged in the speakers, Lizzo's rapid-fire rhymes energized the crowd.
Photos By Tony Nelson
Her star is clearly on the rise elsewhere, as well, as Lizzo just returned from playing the BBC's Future Fest in the U.K., and is planning on heading back there this week. Her live show is clearly road tested by this point, and it reflected the supreme confidence of an artist who knows how to rock a stage and has the perfect songs to do it. After a flurry of Lizzobangers material started the set (including rousing versions of "W.E.R.K., Pt. II," "Wat U Mean," and "Hot Dish"), Lizzo brought out her GRRRL PRTY cohorts Sophia Eris (who also provided backing vocals for the rest of the set) and Manchita for quick run through of "Wegula" and "Night Watch," with Eris staying center stage to help Lizzo tear up their hit single "Batches & Cookies."
Lizzo then gave us the live debut of her new song, "Paris," a track that was just used in an episode of the hit TV show Girls, added proof that her boisterous music is making it far beyond our Minnesota borders, as it should be. The song turned into a club-wide singalong, before Lizzo dedicated an impassioned version of "Bloodlines" to her family: "This song goes out to my mom and my sister who are listening to the show half a country away." The stellar set ended with a vibrant rendition of "Faded," which found Lazerbeak's beats booming throughout the club, and Lizzo dancing away while she delivered the infectious hook, knowing that she had just delivered a knockout performance.
Photo by Tony Nelson
"What do you think of this leather trench coat with rose inlays that I'm rocking?" asked Har Mar Superstar as he took the stage to close out the night. And while Sean Tillmann bemoaned the fact that he couldn't swear during his performance, it didn't stop him from delivering a rousing set filled with cheeky but still clean jokes and entendres that peppered his playful between-song banter. But his soulful, R&B-drenched new songs from Bye Bye 17 were what ultimately made the set memorable, as both "Lady, You Shot Me" and "Prisoner" took on a vivacious groove, helped along by Lizzo, who sang backing vocals throughout the set while rocking a stylish pink cowboy hat, as well as Solid Gold bassist Adam Hurlburt and guitarist Jefferson "Catfish" Quinn. The band and Har Mar himself were all in top form, with Tillmann joking, "We really frontloaded that set -- you don't think we can come back from that, do you? But I've got so many records!"
And indeed, he revisited those albums with lively takes on "Power Lunch," "Almond Joy," and "Tall Boy" that got the crowd dancing and Har Mar pulling off challenging yoga poses after removing his tight-fitting sweater in order to get more comfortable. But his new material really injected the set with plenty of special moments, as the doo-wop charm of "Restless Leg" was driven by a fresh Quinn guitar solo, while main set closer "We Don't Sleep" really found the band hitting a smooth groove.
Photos By Tony Nelson
"Thanks for having us back," Har Mar teased after returning for an encore. "That must have been a boring radio break for you listeners at home." But he wasted little time heating things up once again, as "Body Request" took on a sultry vibe, and he introduced "Don't Make Me Hit You" by joking, "I'm the victim in this song -- so settle down feminists, we're good." After wishing Sean Anonymous a happy birthday along with the Current, "Both of them are nine years old," Har Mar closed out the night with an impassioned run through of "Late Night Morning Light" that ended the show on a high. And while we didn't have any wild collaborations that have closed out past Current birthday bashes, after performances as strong as these, there wasn't a need for anything else.
Personal Bias: I was a fan of all four bands and artists heading into this show -- I knew it was going to be a good time, and it most assuredly was.
The Crowd: Filled with local music lovers and unabashed supporters of the Current.
Overheard in the Crowd: "I haven't seen any of these bands yet. But I trust that the Current won't steer me wrong."
Random Notebook Dump: From what I gathered on Twitter, the live audio feed of the performance was top notch. Kudos to the Current for broadcasting the show live for the first time for all of those fans listening at home. That was a nice touch.
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