The Suburbs and the Suicide Commandos at First Avenue, 11/19/10
You can't talk about the history of the Minnesota music scene without both The Suburbs and The Suicide Commandos coming up within mere minutes. Bands from here made it big before and after them, but they represent the beginning of Minneapolis's "Golden Age" and Friday night -- the first of a two-night stand by the bands -- they shared the stage with respective sets that could teach up-and-coming local bands a thing or two.
The Suicide Commandos began the night with their brand of home-cooked punk rock and they sounded like they haven't missed a beat since forming in 1975. They are less active on stage nowadays, but guitarist/vocalist Chris Osgood still jumped on the monitors a few times to wail on his guitar and vocalist/bassist Steve Almaas still has the intensity of a 22-year-old ready to kick life in the teeth and claim it for himself.
Songs like "Fireball 500" have since become classics, locally, at least, and it's possibly because they all possess something that a lot of punk songs from their era did not: rhythm. There was a driving rhythm to all of the Commandos' songs, and while they all sound like their from a definite time (late '70s-early '80s), they have aged more gracefully than, say, the Sex Pistols' catalog or even the mighty Ramones. The songs, especially when played live, aren't just two-minute blasts of atonal noise made purely to frighten the old people; they're well-crafted, hook-filled gems with an odd stop or drum break thrown in every so often to keep everyone sharp.
As they were coaxed by the crowd to return for a truly unplanned encore (the screen in front of the stage was descending as they reassembled) Osgood joked, "Can we do this? Will we piss off The Suburbs?" It was a testament to their legacy and the respect they have cultivated and deserve. The Commandos' songs are like punk rock that was encased in amber and has now been drawn out carefully for entertainment; they haven't rotted or fossilized, and there's still plenty of vibrant life in them.
Dressed as always in natty duds (including Steve Brantseg of the Phones' white, sequined suit), the Suburbs began a set that could easily be described as a showcase. Original guitarist Bruce Allen died last year and while his absence leaves more than a bit of a hole, they showed they can still absolutely crush from the stage, with Brantseg filling in on guitar and Steve Price holding it down on bass.
There was never any clear box to put the Suburbs into and while that was detrimental during their '80s heyday, it makes their diverse body of work that much stronger now. It's all built on a common new wave thread, but there are pieces of soul, art-rock, post-punk and more.
"What can I say? 'Credit In Heaven' rules," keyboardist/singer Chan Poling commented early on, after roaring approval from the crowd at their rendition of the title track from their 1981 album. The Suburbs cruised through the rest of the show, which included all the greats from their ouvre. "Music For Boys" was stunning, as always, and "Black Leather Stick" was still vicious. They brought out former Revolution drummer/producer Bobby Z to play on "Life Is Like," the best song that never made it into a John Hughes film, and the night began it's denouement with an awkward-starting encore (Poling hadn't quite left the stage) that began with "Love Is The Law."
They brought out The Suicide Commandos for "Baby Heartbeat" and ended with a cover of "The In Crowd" that most closely aligned itself with Bryan Ferry's version of the song. There were roughly 14 people on the stage at that point, most all of them Minneapolis music royalty. There was a fortysomething man crowd-surfing and singing along. It was a powerful, poignant sight to behold as the night came to a frenetic, perfect end.
Critic's Bias: I just started listening to the Suicide Commandos a few years ago and could kick myself for not starting sooner.
The Crowd: Lots of people who have been listening to both of these bands for a long, long time.
Overheard In The Crowd: "This cougar in front of us is basically wearing just a sweater with a belt. Gross."
Random Notebook Dump: "It doesn't matter that the fame was fleeting for these bands, the songs are tight and they are holding the crowd."
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