Seven years ago, it looked like 89.3 The Current was about to become the little radio station that could. With the dawn of 2012, it’s clear that The Current has become a veritable powerhouse in the Twin Cities music scene. By releasing coveted tickets to MPR members before the general public, it’s a wonder that there are still fans that haven’t yet joined the ever-growing flock of individuals contributing to public radio in efforts to gain (or attempt to) access what have become member-exclusive shows. No exception to this members-only phenomenon, The Current’s 7th Birthday Party sold out in a matter of minutes—even with the two-night split between eight treasured local acts. Finding a ticket to either show became a game of visiting The Depot and begging for a ticket (usually to no avail) or taking chances with Craigslist sellers who often resell tickets at exorbitant prices. And while there are a few kind-and-fair-hearted sellers willing to resell their tickets at face-value (“It’s public radio! Why would I want to make a profit?”), it’s clear that snagging entry to this birthday party was like winning a Golden Ticket.
Haley Bonar took the stage all by her lonesome, clad in black with her hair pulled back. Standing there, like the singer-songwriter beacon of light in the Minnesota scene, she held her own onstage. No stranger to the scene, Bonar, who hails from Manitoba, has built an admirable music career that spans from Duluth to Minneapolis to Portland and back. And while her softly lilting voice intrigued and entranced the crowd, there were some concert-goers yearning for a more energetic act. I couldn’t help but think it was unfortunate for Bonar to open for such a diversely spirited group of acts ranging from hip-hop to punk and finally the next Minneapolis indie super-group. However, Bonar is clearly one of The Current’s favorite artists, and while some of the crowd lazed slightly, there were a fair amount of people that truly appreciated hearing the mostly Golder-filled set. There’s no doubt that Bonar has a long and celebrated career ahead of her, with her seemingly endlessly-blue eyes and honest emotion-filled voice.
Saying Sims delivers an energetic performance is like saying Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have made meager earnings during their respective careers. With a kind of ridiculously frenetic energy, Sims took the stage straight off a plane from Seattle and owned his set with the killer skills that Minnesotans expect from the members of Doomtree. A shout out to Loring Park earned a cheer from the crowd, and it’s clear that Sims keeps Minnesota ever-close to his heart and his art. He’s not afraid to talk about the hard things in life, and yet you don’t come away feeling depressed, you come away from a Sims set questioning things in a good way. Those hard Minnesota winters have made you stronger, but what can you do to make sure others feel as fortunate as you? One of the evening’s more “meta-moments” came during Sim’s performance of “One Dimensional Man.” For anyone unfamiliar, “You did your part, you gave your hundred buck to NPR… screaming save the planet, but you won’t even save your neighbor, damn it,” surely made a few people think twice about their presence at the show—and indeed, I would have wondered about Sims’ sincerity in being at the concert if not for his profuse thanks to The Current for letting him perform. During “Bangarang,” the crowd erupted and people that had swayed thoughtfully only minutes before suddenly raised their arms and shouted like it was a call to arms. And truly, though I wouldn’t classify myself as a hip-hop fan, there was little I could do to resist the charms, the messages, and the incredible beats that Sims brought to the table.
Footage from the Suicide Commandos‘s old “Burn It Down” video kicked off their set, and boy was it a set. Going from hip-hop to old school punk seems a bit of a stretch, but the crowd still bristled from Sims’s performance, ready for more. As they thanked everyone for sticking around: “We are from the past. Thanks for letting us be part of the fun.” It became apparent that, yes, they were a bunch of older guys onstage, but hell—they still had the chops to back up their music. Still playing with the verve and wild abandon of a group of twenty-somethings, Suicide Commandos brought it, hands down. Though each of the members took their turn singing, I’ve got to shout out Dave Ahl for his drumming precision while being able to belt out song after song. For the band that spawned a handful of Minneapolis punk legends like Husker Du, The Replacements, and Soul Asylum—I was glad they’d kept the energy of their music close to their hearts and coursing through their hands as they played a phenomenal set.
Finally came the last band of the night, the one that everyone had been waiting for, wondering about, wanting: Polica. Born of members from Roma di Luna, Digitata, Gayngs, and Vampire Hands, Polica shot to fame in the Twin Cities like no other bands in recent memory. Channy Casselle’s haunting and distorted vocals drive along the band’s melodies and percussive beats. And in case anyone was wondering, yes, “Wandering Star” is just as good (and in fact, better) than hearing it blasted on The Current through speakers. However, I must admit that Polica isn’t for everyone; Casselle’s highly altered, auto-tuned vocals aren’t always as ethereal and other-worldly sounding for some as they are for others. Someone near me complained about not being able to actually hear her voice amid all the electronic embellishments, but it was clear that the preponderance of people huddled close—closer than for any of the night’s other sets—to the stage were under Polica’s spell. The band’s stage presence was good, not great, but certainly defined by Casselle’s enthusiastic pacing to and fro, hands grasping in the air for notes. Indeed, this past year, The Current and fans built Polica a pedestal that the band lives up to, but it should be noted that they still have a ways to go. Bands can’t survive on hype alone, and glittering stars often fade. Though I hope they overcome the glorification and emerge with a more diverse set of songs in the future—for now, they excel at their newly-formed style and have created the perfect recipe for a sold-out show, if only to see what all that talk is about. (Don’t even think about trying to get into their CD release show on Valentine’s Day.)
Without doubt, each of the groups featured during the evening thanked The Current profusely for featuring them at such a highly-anticipated, high-profile, highly attended event. And truly, I have never seen First Ave packed to the brim so tightly. However mashed together as everyone was, the evening’s concert-goers were polite and considerate to each other and to the bands (perhaps a result of being MPR members). All in all, The Current has found the perfect concert recipe for local-music lovers and celebrates it grandly with their annual birthday parties. This year’s celebration, perhaps more than most recent years, lived up to the excitement and showcased vastly differing types of music in a format that really worked, giving at least a little bit of something to everyone—that is, everyone that could score a ticket.
Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.