Maybe the sold-out Varsity Theater was too packed for it, or the crowd to cool for it, or the group’s rhythms just a bit too heavy, but it felt like a dance party wanted to break out at Divine Fits' Twin Cities debut on Thursday night. Instead, a whole lotta head-bobbing and foot-tapping were going on. There were also a lot of broad smiles over the cover-song choices in the set and the birthday activities, and at the end of the 75-minute performance a lot of those smiles turned to gaping jaws.
The don’t-call-it-a-side-project band of indie-rock vets -- led by Spoon frontman Britt Daniel and Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs -- kept up a percussive, pitter-pattering tempo throughout the show, akin to Daniel’s other band, but with less punk muscle and more New Wavey slickness. After the slow-building, jittery opener “Neopolitans,” the quartet (expanded from a trio on record) went straight into ‘80s-ish pop mode with the throbby, Boeckner-led gem “Baby Get Worse” and Daniel’s breathy “Like Ice Cream.” And that’s when Daniel got to explaining the lyric that immediately endeared his new band to Twin Cities audiences.
“I was stuck in L.A. writing, and I was sort of under the gun,” he said, introducing the Minneapolis shout-out song “Would That Not Be Nice.” Apparently, a friend of his in an unnamed band contacted him from a tour stop here. “And yeah, I thought, ‘I would love being in Minneapolis right now.’”
The song went over big for more reasons than that, as did the Boeckner song that followed, “My Love Is Real,” which is also now getting ample 89.3 the Current airplay. It was Boeckner who showed the most love for Minneapolis, when he gushed, “I [expletive] love playing here. I can’t believe it’s taken us this long to get here.” (The group skipped us on a fall tour when its album, "A Thing Called Divine Fits," came out.)
The middle of the set felt like a long breather, as the band played one Boeckner-led new song and two covers. First up came “Lost,” the Frank Ocean hit, which sounded tailor-made for Daniel’s sputtering singing style and was rocked up a bit. Boeckner also led the group through a moody, synth-tinged version of Tom Petty’s “You Gotta Lucky” – sort of silly, but kudos to Divine Fits for at least fleshing out their set list with covers and stretching out their own songs, instead of just playing their record straight and stopping short of an hour. Yes, unlike certain other buzz bands that have come through recently. Silliest of all, Boeckner and Daniel welcomed up a friend celebrating a birthday to swing into a Transformers piñata that dropped from the ceiling (very reminiscent of Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge).
The show got serious again musically with the longer, steamier “The Salton Sea” and the intensity level kept building until the encore finale, “Shivers,” a Rowland S. Howard/Nick Cave cover that the band made its own on its record. Still no dancing (it’s a slow-chugging song) but the crowd did sing along and was pretty much mesmerized by it. Here’s hoping the band -- which clearly demonstrated it has the chemistry of a real band, not a project -- will come around again for a reprise.