Dessa in concert in 2010 but not on Wednesday
It took First Avenue a little more than six hours to celebrate its 40th anniversary on Wednesday night. In a word, it was a blast.
Here are some reasons why: (as witnessed by my 5 1/2 hours in the main room. Note: performers were limited to about 20 minutes, save for the closers, Heiruspecs.)
Mayor R.T. Rybak presenting the key to the city – shaped like Prince’s glyph -- to First Avenue general manager Nate Kranz.
Spider John Koerner’s percussive right foot during his and Tony Glover’s indelible folk-blues, including “St. James Infirmary.”
The Twilight Hours (introduced by yours truly and Minneapolis music raconteur Jim Walsh) dusting off a timely tune from their Trip Shakespeare past, “Snow Days.” (When Walsh and I knew Matt Wilson and John Munson in their Trip Shakespeare days, they were the Kevin Love and Darko Milicic of our thrice weekly pickup basketball games; Wilson was a tenacious rebounder -- who once broke a finger or thumb, so he had to temporarily switch from guitar to drums-- and Munson was a shot-blocking center with good hands, a soft touch and an ability to speak in an exotic foreign language, i.e. Chinese.)
Mark Mallman’s bizarro reading of “Nature Boy,” made famous by Nat King Cole.
Gary Louris doing his first ever solo electric guitar performance. “High Water Blues” found him getting carried away in electronics a la Neil Young. He rocked on “Haywire” and debuted a sweet, almost Dylanesque tune, “Gulder Annie,” from a just-completed Jayhawks album. He closed with a remarkable guitar version of his favorite (piano) power ballad, Nilsson’s “Without You.”
Steve McClellan, First Ave’s longtime (former) manager, made a rare appearance onstage to introduce Grant Hart. Having returned a day earlier from Europe, Hart offered a striking solo electric set featuring two new tunes and some dramatically new interpretations of Husker Du numbers including “Green Eyes.”
The room got more crowded and younger for Dessa, who was captivating whether singing or rapping. Loved her jazzy/hip-hop-y “Dixon’s Girl” (think Erykah Badu meets Rickie Lee Jones), “Mineshaft II” with its Eminem intensity and cadence, and her a cappella/spoken word mashup of Freedy Johnston’s “Bad Reputation”and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” with her fierce spoken word in between.
Fresh from a Soul Asylum rehearsal, Dave Pirner introduced St. Paul’s Heiruspecs, who gave a typically invigorating performance, with late-set guest appearances from Dessa, Big Zach (from Kanser) and Heiruspecs’ St. Paul Central High classmate Martin Devaney.
Anniversary cake (some white, some chocolate) for 1,000. Yum, yum. (I had two pieces of the chocolate -- four hours apart.)