MUSIC REVIEW | 89.3 The Current’s 8th Birthday Party at First Avenue: Surprises on nights one and two

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There is not an organization in the Twin Cities that has done more for the local music scene over the last eight years than Minnesota Public Radios 89.3 The Current and the first night of the stations birthday party continued that tradition. Four local artists who have had increasing success showcased the variety of local music on Friday, January 18. 

Wunderkind John Mark Nelson led off the night’s event performing his second time in a week on the First Avenue Stage. John is a recent graduate of Minnetonka High School and has just released another single, “The Moon and The Stars” and has started a Kickstarter campaign to release his third album. With a backing band that filled the stage John provided the audience with a folk tinged full sound reminding me of bands in the Arcade Fire vein. The most impressive part of the show is the full orchestration that John had developed; a full band with backing strings and percussion that is much more mature than his nineteen years.  His most popular song, “Reminisce” was the perfect example of his music and was the crowd favorite. 

Chastity Brown continued the folk tinged theme of the night so far but added in her own bluesy interpretation to her songs. Chastity and her backing band are definitely bringing together the best in blues and roots music with her stunning voice. When I hear Chastity I think it is definitely road music, strong and determined with sweetness to it; her fourth album, “Back Roads Highways” continues that tradition. I can hear a little Bonnie Raitt in her music and also reminds me of Alabama Shakes. On Friday night with her backing band at their best Chastity memorized many in the crowd and finished the set with a rollicking version of her hit, “After You.” I appreciate Chastity most when she picks up the tempo and After You is a perfect example of that.     

In September of 2012 Secret Stash Records released Twin Cities Funk and Soul: Lost R and B Grooves from Minneapolis/ St. Paul 1964-1979. The Twin Cities Funk and Soul All-Stars were the perfect segway from the smooth sounds of Chastity Brown and prepared the band for the much more rocking sounds of 4onthefloor. With Fancy Ray McCloney (The Best Looking Man in Comedy) MC’ing the set he brought up a lineup of classic blues and funk artists including The Valdons, Willie Walker and one of my favorites Maurice Jaycox of Butanes fame. While the library of songs was probably unknown to most of the audience there was a special connection with these classic artists sharing their music with the Current crowd. The set also brought the surprise artist of the evening, Nicholas David, of The Voice fame. David performed with the entire All-Star line-up and was a pleasant addition to the evening. The backing band while never introduced was classic in their ability to providing the perfect complement to the performers. 

4onthefloor ended the night with their version of “Stompin” Blues,” this was their third sold out show at First Avenue in the last calendar year. It is expected that 4onthefloor will be releasing a new album in spring of 2013 as a follow up to their first full-length self-titled album. 4onthefloor has some of the most rabid fan base in the Twin Cities (including this reviewer) and the show was a sing along with much of the crowd knowing the songs.  There were also pleasant guest surprises with Zach Sobiech sitting in with the band. 4onthefloor gave us a preview of a two songs from their upcoming album and ran through some of their most popular songs including “Junkie,” “On Tuesday” and “Lionhearted.” 4onthe floor is known for their unique takes on cover songs and on Friday night they appropriately covered “Singing in My Sleep” by Semisonic; joining them on the stage for the song was Maurice Jaycox, Marc John Nelson and Zach Sobiech.

The Current definitely put together an excellent first night birthday party, Happy Birthday, The Current! 

— John Schultz


On Saturday, January 19 the party continued at First Avenue with The Current’s Birthday Party concert – featuring Minnesota bands and showcasing the diversity of good music happening in the state. There was a sense of reverence coming from the stage, especially for the younger emerging bands. It was a sold out show and the crowd was as diverse as the music.

First up was The Chalice. While I’m pretty new to their music, I have seen them three times in the last month. The act is a power trio of young female singers ranging hip hop to soulful singing to something they affectionately called the “raptop” computer. Their voices are sultry, the rapping is sharp, they have a commanding presence on stage. For an audience that may have come to see Dave Pirner or Cloud Cult, I think this was a good introduction to a different kind of hip hop. Songs like “Ladies Night” drew in new people and then of course you can always get the older fans with “Push It.” If I had one wish it would be that they add a Magnetic Fields’ cover to their lineup. (I thought they were wonderful on the Minnesota version of 69 Love Songs.)

A surprise addition to the lineup was the YN Rich Kids singing “Hot Cheetos and Takis” – and they brought the house down! The kids were impressive and gracious asking for a moment of silence to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and then they rocked it. (No wonder their video made Time’s list of top nine videos of 2012!)

I had not seen Now, Now prior to the show. A nice contrast to The Chalice, their voices are more sweet than sassy with an almost eerie echo. The crowd went from a bounce to a collective sway. I was surprised at how young the band was; their sound seems more seasoned than they are. “The Pull” was a crowd pleaser, in part I’m sure to the play it gets on The Current, highlighting the importance of having a local radio station that plays local music.

I have seen Dave Pirner on stage so much lately I had to check my calendar. It was nice to have a solid nod to the 80s Minneapolis sound. I feel almost un-Minnesotan saying this, but I think I prefer Pirner on his own (ably backed up by Justin Sharbono) than the whole Soul Asylum. The set was solid. No big surprises except a brief rendition of “Free Bird,” as requested. Gave me hope for a little Jukebox Hero, but that didn’t happen. Along with the rest of the crowd, I was happy with the hits. I’d also be happy with a longer show of Pirner and Sharbono.

Cloud Cult rounded out the night as the grand finale and this was definitely their crowd. My friend (new to Cloud Cult) noted that she’s not sure how the band sounded but she the folks all around her could sing. The music was happy, some of the songs were sad – the combination makes them a touching band. I love the sound of so many musicians on stage. Of course going to see Cloud Cult is a production. It’s fun to watch the artists on stage. Earlier in the day I had decide that I could bid on some of the art created during the show. By the time I got to the bid sheet the numbers were north of $700. I’ll have to bid earlier next time, but I’m pleased for the artists and applaud the idea of combining music, art and entrepreneurialism.

The final surprise was bringing everyone up on stage to play Semisonic’s “Closing Time” and then we all blew out the candles!

— Ann Treacy

See photos from last year’s The Current’s Birthday Party: Night one and night two at First Avenue (January 2012).


John Mark Nelson


Chastity Brown


Maurice Jaycox


Willie Walker


The Valdons


Nicholas David


4ontheFloor


The Chalice


YN Rich Kids


Now, Now


Dave Pirner


Cloud Cult




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