A guide to First Ave's annual newbies showcase, which has steadily grown despite the weather.
Besides the usual overload of occasion-rising performances, there were a lot of memorable moments at First Avenue's Best New Bands showcase a year ago. Like when co-host David Campbell admitted he has a crush on Lucy Michelle & the Velvet Lapelles (the whole band, not just its two female members). Or when Gen-X-aged old-men-out the Dynamiters used a line that maybe the Twilight Hours could swipe for this weekend's edition: "Thank you for giving it up for grandpa."
The best quip, however, was Dynamiter Brian Schuey's bold no-duh admission on a snowy night: "I would much rather be in the Worst Bands of Acapulco show right now."
So the worst thing about First Ave's Best New Bands is it comes at the worst time of the year. Fortunately, bad weather hasn't kept the event from growing. The shows used to be held next door in 7th Street Entry over a few consecutive nights. They graduated to the main room as an all-in-one concert in 2002. Then in 2007, they took another step up by moving from a weeknight to a coveted Friday-night slot.
First Ave booker Sonia Grover -- who polls fellow staffers and local scenesters to assemble the lineup every year -- believes this year's roster is one of the best.
"They're all such wildly different bands, it's going to be fun to see who sticks around for which bands," Grover said. She pinpointed the changeover from sweet, folky pop vets the Twilight Hours to young and abrasive noise-rock wiz Slapping Purses near the end of the night as a prime example.
Generally not the best way for the club to make money on a Friday night, Grover said the New Band showcases "are our way of thanking bands. Playing First Avenue is a big dream for a lot of them, but this place wouldn't exist if we didn't have so many great local bands coming through here every year."
In the hope of enticing those of you who don't know these groups from Adam & the Ants, here's a rundown of the acts being thanked this year (in order of their scheduled appearance):
Fresh from playing a New Year's Eve tribute set to garage-rock pioneers the Monks, this rowdy psychedelic quartet features former members of the locally adored carnivalistic troupe Thunder in the Valley. Here, they stick to simpler, rawer, scrappier but no less thunderous sounds with a reverb-soaked style nicely laced with piano/organ. A welcome '60s throwback that's more punk than it is trippy.
File between: Black Lips and your bootleg copy of the "Nuggets" box set.
It's hard to call a trio built on one guitar and drums -- with a song about Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz -- a hip-hop act, but that's the nearest tag that fits for this dark, hair-raising band. Rapper/growler Joe Horton, a fan of Muddy Waters in addition to Milosz, previously fronted the experimental rap/rock group Hyder Ali along with guitarist Robert Mulrennan. Their eponymous debut album featured such diverse guests as Bo Ramsey, Eyedea and pianist Alicia Wiley, and was loaded with harrowing, epic songs, including the Current favorite "Devil Trombones."
File between: Kill the Vultures, Tom Waits and Leadbelly.
At once rootsy and edgy, this atmospheric folk duo is led by the Wars of 1812's smooth Peter Pisano on voice and guitar with Brian Moen of the reputable Eau Claire band Laarks on drums and trinkets. The echoey, stargazey songs on their ambitious debut, "Inter-Be," feature Pisano's emotional confessionals buried under a colorful coating of looped organ bits, piano and softly shuffling drums.
File between: M. Ward and Bon Iver.
Plenty has already been written about this boy/girl fuzz-rock duo, which won City Pages' own newcomers poll, Picked to Click, and then came in at No. 3 on our year-end Twin Cities Critics Tally with the rock-solid debut album "Reasons." After an onslaught of gigs in the past few months, frontman Howard Hamilton has raised the volume and intensity level of their already roaring garage-pop songs, and drummer Laura Bennett is kicking it hard enough to vibrate a bomber-sized beer off the ledge at the back of the Entry a few weeks back.
File between: Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and the Troggs.
Another high-ranking newcomer in our TCCT poll with their debut "Stereo Night," this is the only Best New Band '09 inductee -- and maybe the first in the showcase's history -- whose members have sold out First Ave many times before. Co-leaders Matt Wilson and John Munson made a solid go of national alt-rock stardom in the early '90s with Trip Shakespeare, and then mellowed out together with their folky duo the Flops. This new group comes off as a sonic middle ground with a sprinkling of Beatles-esque melodies, rounded out by Munson's New Standards mate Steve Roehm on drums and Jacques Wait on guitar.
File between: "Norwegian Wood" and "Toolmaster of Brainerd."
Digital freakout artist Jason Powers is equal parts beatmaker and noisemaker. His experimental dance-rock tunes range in style and shock value from the freakish hip-grinder "Crumpzone" to the jarring, clangy mechanical workout "Nothing Tastes as Good as Being Thin Feels." This is one new act you'll either love or hate. There's absolutely no in between.
File between: Afrika Bambaataa, Kraftwerk and the sound of a fork caught in the garbage disposal.
The verdict is still out on how serious this outlandish trance-rock unit is about its purported existence as a cultish Lunarian ministry group instead of a rock band, an act carried to the altar by frontman "Rev." Micah Mackert's astrological sermons. Gimmick or reality, it's pretty entertaining -- but would grow old fast without some compelling space jams heavy on synth/organ and frazzled guitar work.
File between: King Crimson, Butthole Surfers and Jonestown (the cult, not the band).Lone Starry 'North Star'
It might seem like a stretch for a Minnesota-based songwriter to sing about hurricanes. Twin City Playboys frontman Kevin Anthony, however, originally hails from Galveston, Texas, and saw the devastation of Hurricane Ike firsthand in 2008 after returning home to help his family clean up what was left of their homes.
"It was a cesspool everywhere you went," the singer/guitarist/fiddler recalled. "Basically, everything I grew up with was washed away."
That experience led Anthony, 41, to write "Hurricane Ike," an epic song on his first solo CD, "North Star," which he's promoting with a release party Friday at the 331 Club (10 p.m., free). Around a windy whipping of fiddle work, Anthony sings: "That's the place I first heard the fiddles play 'Jole Blon'/ He tried to wash us away, but our roots was strong."
The songs are more personal than Anthony's previous work with the Playboys, a rotating cast of roots players who capably walk the two-stepper-worn line between country and Cajun dance music. Anthony followed his future wife, Monica, to her native Twin Cities in 2005 after a stint in New York City during which he made break-beat electronic music -- no kidding -- in a duo called Electroland. Oddly enough, moving here was a way to go back to roots music, and he became a go-to fiddler for the likes of Pop Wagner, Lazy Ike & the Daredevils and Cajun Hot Soles.
"That was one of the pluses to coming here, that there's such a great little roots music scene," he said, not needing to mention the negatives on a subzero January day. But hey, no hurricanes.Heal heal rock 'n' roll!
Music doesn't get much more personal or purposeful than it does for songwriter Diedrich Weiss, a former Bloomington Kennedy High School state hockey champ and member of the alt-rock band Push on Junior, who has struggled for decades with mental illness. Weiss bounced back from a suicide attempt 15 years ago with music as a crutch, and now he dedicates money from CDs to mental-illness organizations and performs for patients at Fairview Southdale's psych ward and other hospitals.
One sweet footnote to his story is his music is pretty damn compelling, with traces of Richard Thompson and Jeff Buckley and an obviously deep emotional well in his solo acoustic songs. He's performing a public concert titled "Public Songs for Private Use: A Celebration of Transformation" at the Jungle Theater on Saturday (7:30 p.m., $10, 2951 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.).Random mix
Next door to First Ave's new bands showcase Friday night, Gay Beast is headlining 7th Street Entry to tout a new single, "Multi-Purpose Anti-Form." The show is a send-off for the noise-rock trio's European tour. Seawhores and Daughters of the Sun open (9:30 p.m., $6). ... Look for a special appearance at the new-bands gig by TheAfternoonDLight, the goofy trio of St. Cloud teens who spawned the local YouTube hit "Minnesota State of Mind," a Great White North redux of the Jay-Z/Alicia Keys hit. ...
After breaking his arm right around Red House Records' release of his jubilant double album, "A Shot of Love in a Time of Need"/"Autobiographical Notes," Willie Murphy was back in action on New Year's Eve to help rechristen Wilebski's Blues Saloon in St. Paul. Now, he finally has a CD-release party booked for Feb. 5 at the Bedlam Theatre. ...
Songwriter/bandleader Mark Grundhoefer, who usually performs as the Mark Joseph Project, has some bigwigs from the jam-band world flying in to play with him Friday at Mayslack's, including Particle's Steve Molitz, Banyan's Willie Waldman and Brian Jordan of Karl Denson's Tiny Universe. The show (9 p.m., $10) will also feature the Histronic and is doubling as a tribute to the movie "BeerFest." I guess they couldn't really pay tribute to "Half-Baked" or "Up in Smoke."
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