It used to be safe for music fans to leave town over Thanksgiving week and not miss a thing, but the bookers at First Avenue have pretty well taken care of that. This year, the days around Turkey Day saw two of the most electrifying 7th Street Entry shows of the year, as well as some of the most potent installments of the main room’s two most beloved annual traditions of recent years. That’s not even mentioning the Hold Steady’s two-night stand, which resumes tonight (and will be covered tomorrow). Here’s what you might’ve missed if you went to Grandma's house instead:
DEATH GRIPS (Entry, Wednesday night)
What a way to work up a Thanksgiving appetite. Death Grips rapper/growler MC Ride and his onstage accomplice, drummer Zach Hill, only put on a 40-minute set in front of a sold-out crowd Wednesday, but there were more energy and adrenaline and sheer physicality poured into that 2/3-hour than most bands can muster during two full hours. Mr. Ride (Stefan Burnett) and Hill weren’t just being cool when they tore off their shirts upon taking the stage and jumped right into the opener “Come Up and Get Me,” almost like cold-clocking the crowd to start a fight. The dudes simply never let up from there.
Other songs from the new collection, “No Love Deep Web” -- whose free release on the web led to Death Grips losing its short-lived deal with Epic Records -- ran together like jackhammer noise bleeding into iron-welding at a construction site. As hardcore punk in tone as it is hip-hop, with nerve-rattling but never heavy-handed electronic backing, the music wasn’t so much of a shock to local fans who are also into P.O.S. and/or Marijuana Deathsquads. At times, it came off a little too brawny and chest-beating (think: '90s rap-metal show), which left Ride’s radical lyrics somewhat lost in the chaos. But what thrilling chaos it was, especially when the crowd exploded for “Guillotine” mid-set.
IKE REILLY ASSASSINATION (First Ave, also Wednesday)
Outside of the '70s-Vegas-gangster-looking suits they wore to the stage, Reilly and his band of temporarily garish gentlemen didn’t offer anything fancy for the 10th anniversary installment of their Thanksgiving Eve performances. They didn’t need to, either. While these annual showings have occasionally been spirited to a fault (“spirited” in the alcoholic sense), this one was surprisingly clean and spot-on. The IRA hit the ground running with a string of fan favorites right off the bat, including “Cash is King,” “Duty Free,” “Hip-Hop Thighs No. 17” and “What Ever Happened To the Girl in Me.” They brought back their trio of three female backup singers -- dubbed the Assassinettes -- who actually added more of a devlish quality than angelic to songs like “I Don’t Want What You Got (Going on).” In the encore, they dedicated “Commie Drives a Nova” to former Turf Club fixture Leah Rule, currently battling cancer and a big part of the original Twin Cities support base that led to the IRA landing this annual gig in the main room. “Do you believe it: ten years of this shit?” Reilly coyly asked mid-show. There was no reason to doubt it this year.
TITUS ANDRONICUS (Entry, Thursday)
“All I want for Christmas is no feelings.” What a thing for Patrick Stickles to sing on Thanksgiving -- one of several instances of weirdly poignant lyrics given the timing of his Replacements-loving New Jersey band’s latest Twin Cities gig. Perhaps the weirdest of all was the paired-up “Food Fight” and “Eating Disorder,” from the new album "Local Business," which culminated with Stickles spattering the line, “Spit it out! Spit it out!” No doubt, some of the fans who were moshing and stage-diving were on the verge of regurgitating some of their holiday meal -- the second night in a row the Entry saw such mayhem.
On stage, it wasn’t the wildest nor the best showing by Titus A of late, but it was solid. I personally sort of missed the folky energy brought to the band by Amy Klein, especially since the three guitars offered up Thursday often seemed redundant. But there was an extra-diabolical electric undercurrent in the cover of Diarrhea Planet’s “Ghost With a Boner” and their own classics “And Ever” and “Four Score and Seven” near the end of the 100-minute set. The show ended with Stickles hoisting his guitar up into the low-hanging rafters above the stage, where it stayed as he left (it wasn't still hanging there Friday, though; I checked).
TRIBUTE TO THE REPLACEMENTS (both rooms, Friday)
Things are rarely neat and tidy in ‘Mats land, but you could easily divvy up this year's tribute show into four parts:
1) The bittersweet but surprisingly well-seasoned Mad Ripple Hootenanny tribute to ailing ex-Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap, which kicked off the show. Led by writer/musician Jim Walsh -- whose book on the Replacements is what instigated these annual tributes -- the sit-down guitar-pull featured the likes of Dan Israel, Terry Walsh (Belfast Cowboys), Martin Devaney, Gini Dodds, Nick Leet (High on Stress) and more, all doing Slim’s songs. The tunes missed their originator's wryly smiling presence but stood up strong without him. Best of the bunch was Ben Glaros’s tender version of “Times Like This,” with all too many lyrics that touched heavily on the occasion (“Trouble seems to find you when it’s most unjust”). Curtiss A seemed to want to singlehandedly lift Slim off his hospital bed across town in the finale, “Partners in Crime,” for which he proverbially kicked his own chair: “I hate this sitting-down sh**,” Curt cracked.
2) The half-dozen mini-sets in the middle of the show. Return favorites Story of the Sea with guest partner (and tribute host) Dave Campbell kicked off the festivities with several “Don’t Tell a Soul” cuts, including “Talent Show,” “Achin’ To Be” and “You Be Me.” The Belfast Cowboys offered up maybe the night’s coolest song selection, “Busted Up,” which is the Slim original that Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson recorded for the upcoming Replacements benefit EP. Lucy Michelle & the Velvet Lapelles also pulled a terrific post-‘Mats Westerberg nugget out of their hat, “Mr. Rabbit,” while putting fun new spins on “I Will Dare” and “Androgynous” with their accordion-laden gypsy-rock sound. The most original performance was the Entry set by 4onthefloor bassist Chris Holm’s side band Fattening Frogs, offering swinging, bluesy renditions of “Shooting Dirty Pool,” “Take Me to the Hospital” and a couple obscurities, “Bundle Up” and “Nowhere Is My Home.” And kudos should also go to the members of another Entry entrant, Blue Ruin, just for being younger than most of the songs they played.
3) Pink Mink’s surprise all-star tear through the “Stink!” EP in the main room. The first clue of what the poppy punk queens had in mind was the cop with the bullhorn at the start of the set (Dave Campbell in disguise), who predictably announced, “This is the Minneapolis Police. The party is over.” First Ave’s own Conrad Sverkerson then stuck his head out to yell the expletive response supposedly shouted by Dave Pirner on record. Other guests included the Birthday Suits’ Hideo Takahashi for “F*** School,” 4onthefloor’s Gabe Douglas for “God Damn Job,” Dillinger Four’s Paddy Costello on “Stuck in the Middle” and a thundering “Gimme Noise” climax with second drummer Shawn Walker (Gay Witch Abortion) and bassist Greg Norton (reportedly his first time on the First Ave stage since Hüsker Dü broke up). Word is the “Pink Stink” was recorded for possible release, which is certainly good news.
4) Even after all that, the Melismatics-led live redux of the “Pleased to Meet Me” album with rotating singers still came off like a grand finale. Actual Wolf’s Eric Pollard dutifully carried the weight of “Alex Chilton.” Martin Devaney only had a few hours’ notice to fill in for an ailing Dale T. Nelson on “I Don’t Know,” and he nailed it. Both the Melismatics’ members and Lucy Michelle did the jazzy tones of “Nightclub Jitters” justice. Pink Mink’s Arzu Gokcen was a doubly fun choice for “Red Red Wine,” given that she’s also a sommelier by day. Craig Finn of the Hold Steady made a surprise visit and showed surprising grace singing “Skyway,” providing a cameo-like guest-star kick before the credits rolled. The real star in the end, though, was once again Curtiss A, who sang his heart out over the Belfast Cowboys’ horns in “Can’t Hardly Wait” while also making the brainy observation, “If they’d put more songs on the album, we’d play more.” Good thing there are more albums, and hopefully many more years to come.