“Love is the Law,” and huge love was shared widespread between and by all—musicians, friends and audience members—for Suburbs guitarist Bruce Allen, who died in December at the age of 54. At First Avenue’s sold-out tribute show on February 13, people of all ages danced wildly, beaming at each other in excitement and love for the Suburbs, one of the best Minneapolis bands of all time, who drew enthusiastic crowds at their performances since 1977 (introduced to one another by Suicide Commandos’ Chris Osgood, and keeping the same lineup since). Proceeds from the show went to the Bruce C. Allen Art and Music Scholarship Fund.
The show, titled “The Suburbs and Friends: A Musical Tribute to Bruce Allen,” featured the Suburbs, Bruce Allen’s junior high band, the X-Boys, and the Suicide Commandos. Performing with these bands were special guests from local to New York City to L.A., including the Suburbs’ Iggy-Pop-looking, long-haired, notoriously wild frontman Beej Chaney. Living in L.A., he hadn’t played with the Suburbs since 2003. The Suburbs’ last show was in 2006.
Kicking off the event with the Who’s catchy, iconic “My Generation” were Twin Cities punk-rock pioneers the Suicide Commandos, featuring Chris Osgood (guitar/vocals), Steve Almaas (bass/vocals), and Dave Ahl (drums/vocals). They closed with a personal favorite, “Complicated Fun.” Allen’s most recent, all-star band, the X-Boys, performed several of Allen’s favorites. Performing with the X-Boys were members of the Wallets saxophone team Max Ray and Rochelle Becker, the Litter’s Casey MacPherson (lead vocals), and Osgood (guitar/vocals)—no longer sporting the twin Hello Kitty guitar since Allen’s death—the Suburbs’ Chan Poling (keys), and Hugo Klaers (percussion). They were followed by a true highlight of the evening: Bruce Allen’s junior high school band (featuring original members John King and Jay Peck) playing fantastic 60s underground classics. I could almost hear Allen playing with them, and it was great to see them after hearing Allen’s stories about their basement shows.
Then, the most highly anticipated event of the evening. “Ladies and gentlemen, The Suburbs!” After a toast by Poling to Allen, the Suburbs kicked into “Music for Boys.” The crowd went crazy dancing and singing along to the very familiar ‘Burbs songs—especially new wave “Baby Heartbeat,” the fast rocker “Rattle My Bones,” and a favorite, the short, fast, and ridiculous “Cows.” The moving slow song, “Girlfriend,” brought tears to my eyes, remembering Bruce, as did the ballad “Best is Over.” Steve Brantseg, a local guitar hero who one enthusiast aptly called “a force of nature,” filled in for Allen brilliantly. Steve Price filled in on bass, as Michael Halliday has health issues. Joining the ‘Burbs at various points were Chris Osgood, Curtiss A., Slim Dunlap, and Casey MacPherson (X-Boys). They closed with the intensely driven encore song, “Chemistry Set”—replete with screams by Curtiss A.
The wild-paced set, driven by punk, new wave, and jazz rhythms, flew by too fast, and it was one of the best hours I’ve ever had at First Avenue in the 20-plus years I’ve attended shows there. Sadly, I missed “Drinking with an Angel,” one last time. Bruce Allen has surely received much “Credit in Heaven,” for his lifelong love for, and contribution to the arts. He was loved and is missed by all.
If you didn’t get a chance to contribute to the Bruce C. Allen Art and Music Scholarship Fund, go to bruceallenfund.org and contribute and/or see the photo montage!
And FYI: another Suicide Commandos show is in the works for this summer.