Now that's what I call dedication.

About a thousand fans showed up for last weekend's Best New Bands of 2007 showcase at First Avenue, despite the subzero windchill and the fact that, by design, none of the performers was a marquee name. Radio personalities Jason Nagel and David Campbell showed up as hosts, despite the fact that neither has a show to promote anymore (they both got booted off the air). Here's how the night went:

A Night in the Box proved to be a novelty hit with its faux-gospel, get-behind-me-Satan rock, but I thought co-leader Clayton Hagen showed where the group's priorities lie when he stopped playing his guitar during one song because he dropped his fedora hat.

A band that has "gospel" in its name but none in its sound, Gospel Gossip started out a bit tepidly but proceeded to nearly steal the show with a beautiful whirlwind of guitars and swerving tempos. It would have been tops if not for Gay Witch Abortion, who looked puny onstage as a duo but never sounded larger.

Mouthful of Bees emerged onstage as a five-piece with the addition of a keyboardist, but I couldn't tell if his keyboard was actually plugged in. It was mostly an off night for the Bees, but a couple of their new songs proved worthy additions to their buzz.

A similarly haphazard but nonetheless promising set was played by Black Audience, the rustic, banjo-accompanied folk sextet featuring Valet's Robin Kyle and his wife, Jayanthi. They rambled through choice covers such as "Poor Wayfaring Stranger" and Dylan's "Queen Jane Approximately," but the highlight came when Jayanthi flaunted the "black" in the group's name by singing the provocative Alberta Hunter nugget "You Can't Tell the Difference After Dark."

M.anifest also strutted his Afrocentric background to great effect, even though a guy standing next to me wrongly guessed he's from Eagan (nope, he's really from Ghana). The best part of his set was a clever remake of M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" featuring guest rapper Muja Messiah, with whom he performs Feb. 8 at 7th Street Entry.

Mercy beat

If you fear that Gary Louris' upcoming solo album won't fulfill your Jayhawks nostalgia fix, a good consolation might be the new CD by the House of Mercy Band, "Left Behind."

The eight-track collection is laden with bittersweet, "Hollywood Town Hall"-style harmonies and twangy electric-on-acoustic picking, much of it anchored by House of Mercy bandleader C.P. Larson with MVP input by Mike (Razz) Russell -- a frequent collaborator of former Jayhawk Mark Olson. One standout track is a down-homey sing-along of the hymn "In the Midst of Faults and Failures," but the disc features plenty of divine originals, too. The Mercy crew hosts a release party Sunday at the Turf Club (9 p.m., $3).

Incidentally, Louris has booked a March 25 gig at the State Theatre, his first local show to promote his album "Vagabonds" (out Feb. 19). Look for ticket info soon. Olson, meanwhile, returns to the 400 Bar on Feb. 10.

Sugar Swede

Fresh from a write-up as "Artist of the Day" on, Love in October is hoping to find some love in January with its CD-release show Saturday at 7th Street Entry (9 p.m., $5). The band is led by brothers Erik and Kent Widman, who moved to Minneapolis from Sweden.

"Pontus, the Devil and Me," their full-length debut, is a loud, high-strung, suburban American-sounding pop-rock collection produced by emo pioneer Ed Rose (Get Up Kids, Motion City Soundtrack). It could easily be mistaken for a high-dollar major-label release, with catchy and tastefully polished, albeit unoriginal, radio fodder such as the Weezer-ish "A Day in the Life Of" and the Plain White T's-teasing "Method to Madness."

Random mix

Here's a gig that genuinely sucks to plug: Dillinger Four headlines a benefit Saturday at the Turf Club for the Hexagon Bar's tattooed bartender Bob Flom, who has bone cancer. Private Dancer and Millionth Word are also on the bill ($5-$10 donation requested). ...

The fact that no one seems to know much about the Twin Cities Hip-Hop Awards happening Saturday at the Varsity Theater should tell you something about the event's validity, but it could at least be a fun party. Muja Messiah, Golden, Prof & Rahzwell and MN Fats are listed among the performers (10 p.m., $10). This is one awards show where everyone's a winner -- or at least they'll tell you they're the best. • 612-673-4658