Don't believe the Skype

A majority of the acts employed fog machines over human drummers Wednesday night at First Avenue's Best New Bands marathon, including BNLX, BadNRad and Phantom Tails, but that was hardly the oddest thing about the annual showcase. Surprise No. 1 came when gas-mask-wearing garage-rocker Hastings 3000 (guitarist Joe Hastings) tried to perform live via Skype from Hawaii. No surprise to anyone who has used even a cell phone in Hawaii, the connection lasted all of 20 seconds, and the backup plan -- a hologram recording of Hastings reflected onto a wall of fog -- also fell flat. A much better and even weirder experiment came in the "surprise guest" slot: a one-off all-star band called the Jah-hawks, offering Jamaican dub versions of "Blue" and two other Jayhawks tunes, with Zach Coulter (Solid Gold), Jacob Hanson (Halloween, Alaska) and rhythm kings James Buckley and JT Bates. It actually sort of worked, prompting co-host Jason Nagel to suggest they return as Soul Jahsylum or Brother Jahli. Still, the best of the Best New Bands were Pink Mink and the Goondas, playing decidedly straight-up, snarly punk-rock -- you know, with actual drummers, no costumes and no Skype log-in.


Hip-Hop awards return

When a brawl broke out onstage during last year's TC Hip-Hop Awards at First Avenue, it put an abrupt end to the night, but did not permanently spoil the show. Organizer David (Depth) Powell believes the Big 2010 Knockdown kicked in a greater purpose to the 2011 awards, happening Friday with a safe lineup that includes "American Idol" castoff Paris Bennett and some acts who didn't get to perform last year, including I Self Devine and Illuminous 3. "[The fight] was an isolated incident that went against what this event is about, and that's what we plan to prove this year," Powell said. Among the positivity-accentuating add-ons will be legends awards to late rapper Eyedea and community activist Q the Blacksmith, plus a presentation on autism tied to YouTube sensation 50 Tyson. Still, First Ave staff hasn't forgotten the negatives and plans to erect a stage barricade and tighten security. Said general manager Nate Kranz, "The hip-hop scene is so strong in Minneapolis that I wanted to make sure this event got another chance."


Trumpeting a new drink

La Belle Vie bartender Johnny Michaels likes to name his acclaimed cocktails after niche celebrities -- his "Bronko Nagurski" is as intense as the football legend it's named for. Bronko is long gone but not so the inspiration of Michaels' Manhattan/sazerac hybrid, "The Future Ghost of Roy Hargrove." In fact, the Dakota asked Michaels' permission to serve his concoction when jazz trumpeter Hargrove returned there this week. An agreement was reached after Michaels and the trumpeter's manager settled on a new moniker, "Roy Hargrove and the Mysterious Case of the Missing Maltese Horn." Actually, the only thing missing was a meeting between Michaels and Hargrove. "I was tempted to go and talk to him," Michaels said, "but I didn't want to bug him."


Will the cat get 10 percent?

When director Jill Sprecher was writing "The Convincer," she wanted to make a movie her father could sit through. "He sells insurance in Wisconsin, and I think he's going to like this," she said of the caper movie, starring Greg Kinnear as ... a Wisconsin insurance agent. "He told my sister [her co-writer] and me that it was impossible to pull off an insurance scam. But every time we came up with a scenario he'd say, 'Oh, yeah, that could work.'" It was a little easier hiring Minnesota native Lea Thompson to play Kinnear's wife in the film, shot in the Twin Cities last winter. Thompson's cat, Stinky Pete, likes to roam her Hollywood neighborhood. When she went to pick up runaway Pete at a nearby home one day, she received a startling greeting: "You're Lea Thompson! You're an actress! I'm a director!" It was Sprecher. "So my cat got me a part," said Thompson.


Peavey input

Want that skating rink restored? Think a summer carousel might be spiffy? More trees? Fancier fountains? City officials, Orchestra Hall honchos, architects and others concerned about life on Nicollet Mall want public input about the revitalization of the once-iconic Peavey Plaza. The Minneapolis landscape architecture firm Oslund Associates has been hired to redesign and refurbish the plaza. Staff from the firm will be on hand to take suggestions Tuesday from 6 to 7 p.m. at Orchestra Hall.


From Breck to the bar

Minneapolis-bred actress Marisa Coughlan is flexing her behind-the-scene skills in Hollywood. Best known for her own 2007 series "Side Order of Life" and her recurring role on "Bones," the Breck School grad wrote a pilot episode for a series called "Lost and Found" that ABC will shoot. The sitcom is about a New York bartender whose life goes topsy-turvy when the 18-year-old son she gave up for adoption shows up at her doorstep. He won't be able to drink at the bar.