“There’s magic in this place, there really is,” noted the Kills’ Jamie Hince toward the end of their incendiary set Wednesday at First Avenue.
That sentiment might seem obvious to everyone in Minneapolis, but we also tend to take it for granted. Many cities have their own ultra-cool club — NYC’s Knitting Factory, Chicago’s Empty Bottle, etc. — but not many of them are looked upon as hallowed ground the way First Ave is.
Prince's recent death only served to intensify that feeling. While nobody on stage addressed it explicitly, it’s safe to say everyone present knew what Hince was getting at.
As the Kills started their set, however, it was a much lighter, get-down-to-work-type affair. Hince began by offering a humorous “good morning" to bandmate Alison Mosshart’s "good evening,” and with that, they spent the next 80 minutes melting faces clean off to the bone.
The band sparked things with a rousing version of “No Wow,” the title track from their 2005 sophomore effort, Mosshart clad in leather pants, Hince looking like an East End punk circa 1978.
By the time “U.R.A. Fever” got going, the floor was a sweaty, dance-filled mass, Minnesota’s stolid stoicism be damned. The band ripped through “Heart Is a Beating Drum” from 2011’s Blood Pressures, “Kissy Kissy” from their ’03 debut, Keep on Your Mean Side, and “Hard Habit to Break” from their new Ash & Ice, which drops in just a few days.
The band was obviously having fun, exchanging glances and laughing, singing into each other’s microphones (Hince and Mosshart share vocals, though she’s the clear leader), and Hince jumping on his monitor during “Heart of a Dog.” The set generally started to resemble a series of swift, tooth-shattering kicks to the mouth. The crowd could not get enough.
The Kills are easily a top-five best current touring act, and Wednesday only strengthened that notion. Much like the bulk of their recorded material, the show provided no-frills rock that somehow seemed incredibly familiar. The band seems like they sprung fully formed from the mouth of a dragon.
“Black Balloon” and the absolutely fantastic new song “Doing It to Death” marked the halfway point in fine fashion. And while “Baby Says” may have been the weakest offering of the night, it was by no means a dud, just a brief lull before “Whirling Eye,” another new one. It's clear the Kills aren’t running out of good ideas anytime soon.
“Pots and Pans” bled into “Monkey 23," and for a brief few minutes the band left the stage, setting up an encore that actually pushed the momentum harder, if that was even possible. The four songs blew by at breakneck speed, “Tape Song” and “Fried My Little Brains” being the standouts, the latter likely the ultimate highlight of the entire set. And with a brief “thank you” from Mosshart, they were gone.
The songs were, as always, quick and dirty. The Kills spoke little from the stage, though it was a vast improvement from years ago, when they would pointedly ignore the audience, letting the music speak for them. Their involvement with other bands — most notably Mosshart’s work with the Dead Weather — is clearly a factor in extending what the Kills continue to accomplish.
The Kills' formula always seemed poised for a phenomenally short shelf life, but they've made it work for the long haul. The audience is left to marvel at the results through bouts of tinnitus and rearranged faces, with beaming, jagged-toothed smiles.
Critic’s bias: The Kills have long been a favorite of mine and while I was lukewarm on their last effort, save for a few songs, Ash & Ice seems destined to make my end-of-the-year list without much interference.
The crowd: Populated mostly by late-20s/early-30s folks, and a little unruly. At one point near the end of the encore, I witnessed a very intoxicated man get booted from the show, only to learn later some friends had been in an altercation with him, which resulted in his ejection.
Overheard in the crowd: Mostly peoples’ plans for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. We do love our cabin/lake weekends in this state.
Notebook dump: The Kills seem to have never forgotten that it’s supposed to be fun being in a band.
The set list:
Heart Is a Beating Drum
Hard Habit to Break
Heart of a Dog
Doing It to Death
Pots and Pans/Monkey 23
Fried My Little Brains