Unless you count the faux hip-hop ceremony that turned into Fight Night 2010 or the overflow of self-congratulations on Twitter, the Twin Cities music scene hasn’t had an awards show in almost 15 years. Here’s a wrap-up column on the year in local music that might just fill the void, or else guarantee such observances are avoided.
Best overall trend of 2015: Kids making music. Nothing makes the rest of us feel at once old as dirt but young at heart than seeing musicians younger than our snowblowers blowing the roof off a venue.
It happened when underage rockers Hippo Campus played First Avenue (twice!) in January and especially at its sold-out headlining set there last month. It happened when Allan Kingdom, 21, hit the Brit Awards with Kanye West or played the South by Southwest and Eaux Claires fests on his own. It happened when Dem Atlas, 22, played to a sea of people at Soundset and the Rhymesayers 20 concert. It happened when Bruise Violet, ages 16-20, nailed their Replacements and Lunachicks tribute sets over the past month.
Worst overall trend: It was a rough year for two of Minneapolis’ best-loved, old-school musical watering holes, Nye’s and Lee’s Liquor Lounge.
Falling somewhere between North Stars owner Norm Green and Kris Humphries’ famous ex-wife on the list of people who broke this town’s heart, the developers of the condo tower taking over the Nye’s property have backpedaled a bit amid an uproar but still plan to close it next summer. Lee’s, on the other hand, was salvaged by a rich patron who pledged to keep it as is. But then the bar’s centerpiece band Trailer Trash left in a dispute just before the holidays, and now comes word that longtime booker/sound-man Joe Holland has also quit, and the Belfast Cowboys will end their 10-year run Jan. 9.
Best reason to go out every weekend: There were more large outdoor live music events this year than ever, and they started earlier and went later into the season. May’s bookings saw the inauguration of Hall’s Island in Minneapolis with Alabama Shakes and the return of Somerset, Wis., as a metal haven with Northern Invasion. September and October saw the artist-driven Festival Palomino and Doomtree Zoo festivals. In between was Justin Vernon’s nearby, homespun Eaux Claires fest, such coolly unique affairs as P.O.S.’ Best Show Ever, and at least two block parties nearly every weekend.
Worst side effect of going out every weekend: Fans may have been burned out by the time autumn rolled in. Both Palomino and the Doomtree Zoo had great lineups and nifty setups but saw modest attendance relative to their offerings.
Best reason to look up at First Avenue: The best rock room in the state got even better after a top-of-the-line lighting rig was installed in July. In a good way, the splashy new system wasn’t all that noticeable — until it was. Like when TV on the Radio test-drove it a few days later.
Worst reason to look up at First Avenue: Pieces of ceiling material dating back to the 1930s finally decided to come down a few songs into an Aug. 12 metal show. Upsides to the downfall: The accident could have been a lot worse, only a handful of shows had to be moved or canceled, and the club has probably never been safer than it is now. Also, it was fun hearing local TV anchors say “Theory of a Deadman.”
Best local producer: BJ Burton, the in-house engineer at Vernon’s April Base Studio, stepped out and worked wonders producing Low’s vibrant 2015 record and coproducing Lizzo’s bold sophomore album, not to mention his lovely collaboration with Swedish songwriter Tallest Man on Earth.
Best new bands (or solo acts): Lexii Alijai, Baby Shel, Bones & Beeker, Bruise Violet, Bug Fix, Catbath, Cherry Cola, Church Dads (the name, anyway), Finding Novyon, Gospel Machine, Matt Latterell, Eric Mayson, Murder Shoes, Nazeem, 9th House, Pho, Pornonono, Royal Brat, Shadow in the Cracks, Strange Relations, the Stress of Her Regard, Swimsuit Area, Tall Tales, Whatever Forever and Wolf Blood.
Worst new band: That guy who read Yoko Ono-brand spoken-word prose to set up a full-volume airing of “Revolution 9” while Curtiss A was on break at First Ave’s John Lennon tribute.
Best (and busiest) rapper for reflecting certain matters: Ensconced in hip-hop nationwide, the Black Lives Matter movement took center stage at the Rhymesayers 20 concert earlier this month but barely blipped at Soundset back in May, which is right around the time Muja Messiah hit the protests head-on with his single “Burn This Bitch Down.” He addressed similar issues again on the cosmic self-titled debut by 9th House, his new duo with I Self Devine. And he’s still going: He and Maria Isa get topical on their new Villa Rosa album, “Lemuria,” being released with a party Saturday at the Turf Club.
Best reunion news: Babes in Toyland took a decade-plus of personal turmoil out on the road and made it into their classic visceral performances of old starting in February and continuing into next year (Jan. 30 at First Ave). Either the 12 Rods or Lifter Puller 2015 reunion shows might qualify, too, but one was too long and one was too short.
Worst reunion news: “A Hüsker Dü reunion suddenly seems possible.” So read the completely untrue headline by Stereogum, one of many national music blogs to take our report on a new Hüsker Dü T-shirt website and turn it into misleading clickbait.
Best opening: Vieux Carré brought jazz back to downtown St. Paul and added some welcome New Orleans flavor when it opened in July in the former Artists’ Quarter basement space. Now if all the people who claim they want more jazz and New Orleans flavor would actually prove it, the venue could be packing ’em in.
Best opening gigs: Lizzo did a month of shows on the best rock tour of the year, Sleater-Kinney’s. She also later did a few dates with My Morning Jacket, as did Hippo Campus, who also got to open for Modest Mouse. Kitten Forever getting on Babes in Toyland’s fall itinerary was perfect, too.
Best reason to permanently claim Bob Dylan as a Minnesotan: Three months since its completion, Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra’s five-story, three-faced Dylan mural still has some of us almost crashing into the Gay 90’s building every time it catches our eye driving past 5th and Hennepin.
Worst reason to claim Dylan as a Minnesotan: “Shadows in the Night” or that IBM commercial.
Worst reason to tune into the radio: So. Much. Drama. First, 89.3 the Current fired midday DJ Barb Abney. Then Go 96.3 hired her and helped her flourish. Then the Current’s flagship jockey, Mary Lucia, went sorely missing for seven months while a stalker somehow just kept stalking her. Then the Current’s go-to local music guru, David Campbell, quit. Then Go fired smart radio pros Jason Nagel and Brian “BT” Turner to lend more time to new guys who say things like, “Because she’s blond” (their only reason to watch Elizabeth Banks host “Saturday Night Live”). Then last week Cities 97’s last vestige of non-lameness Brian Oake quit. At least the Looch is back, and Oake could soon be getting a parking spot next to hers.
Worst two reasons to say this was a good year for Prince: 1) He played Paisley Park a lot. 2) He put out a lot of new music. His many Chanhassen gigs — nine, not counting the $40-for-a-hand-wave “dance parties” — showed adventurism but lacked focus, worsened by his aging suburban compound’s increasingly stiff, stifling environment. One or two concerts in a real venue would have been better.
As for his recording output, Jay Z’s streaming service Tidal gave him a new platform for the half-decent “HitnRun” and the barely halfhearted “HitnRun, Phase 2.” And yet the recording that got the most buzz by far was his live cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” from seven years ago.
Best reasons to look forward to 2016: Nationally issued new albums by the Cactus Blossoms, Pines, Poliça, Cloud Cult and Kitten Forever are due in the next 12 weeks. Also, the Palace Theater — currently under renovations, with a First Ave management agreement — is still on track to open by year’s end, and likely to reshape St. Paul nightlife and maybe the Twin Cities concert market as a whole.
Coming next Friday:
See our 13th annual poll of the best local albums of the year, the Twin Cities Critics Tally, in the Jan. 1 Variety section.