It's the least wonderful time of the year, but January in the Twin Cities also happens to be one of the best months for taking in local music. Touring bands avoid Minnesota in the dead of winter like the Basilica Block Party's bookers avoid Gay Witch Abortion, leaving many an open night to be filled. Here's a rundown of some of the killer local filler:
• A gay affair that always packs First Avenue -- so no worries announcing the lineup just two weeks prior -- 89.3 the Current's eighth birthday bash will land the weekend of Jan. 18-19. The first night's lineup ranges in age from 18-year-old John Mark Nelson to the senior all-star crew from Secret Stash Records' "Twin Cities Funk and Soul" compilation, plus headliners the 4onthefloor and Chastity Brown. Night 2 will feature the long-awaited return of Cloud Cult, who had to cancel the same party in 2010 and spent much of 2012 at work on "Love," a new album due March 5. They will be joined by Soul Asylum frontman Dave Pirner, hard-burning indie-rock trio Now, Now and hip-hop darlings the Chalice.
Tickets ($18) go on sale Friday at noon for Minnesota Public Radio members via TheCurrent.org, and 200 will be available then for anyone at the Depot Tavern. Any tickets left over go online Saturday. Both the Chalice and Nelson will be at First Ave next weekend, too, for the Jan. 11 Best New Bands showcase, also featuring Actual Wolf, Wiping Out Thousands, Bomba de Luz, Eleganza! and Strange Names.
• Speaking of new music showcases, things don't get any fresher than Cedar Cultural Center's 416 Club Commissions, a Sunday night series featuring original compositions funded by the Jerome Foundation. Classical composer/electronic artist Ted Moore kicks it off Sunday (7 p.m.), and future dates include a "saxophone choir" on Jan. 13 headed by Nathan Hanson and an Afro-Latina showcase on Jan. 20 with rapper Maria Isa and Malamanya singer Adriana Rimpel. The series continues in February with everything from a Turco-Arabic show to a jazz/dance collaboration. A pass to all seven gigs is available for $20, or cover each night is $5.
• An annual gig specifically intended to blast through the post-holiday doldrums, spastic punk duo the Birthday Suits headlines the January Blowout at the Turf Club on Saturday with three of the other loudest and wildest bands in town, the Blind Shake, the Stnnng and Seawhores (10 p.m., $8).
The Stnnng are cramming in more gigs now that drummer Ben Ivascu is on break from Poliça. Same is true of Pony Trash, the new band with Poliça bassist Chris Bierden and members of the Chambermaids and Gospel Gossip, who will continue their Tuesday night residency at the Turf Club through January (10 p.m., $5). However, the Turf's usual Monday night stars, the Cactus Blossoms, are on break for a few weeks. Fellow retro pickers Jack Klatt & the Swingers will be filling in the next two Mondays (7 p.m., $5).
• If original music isn't your thing, the Cabooze puts a cavalcade of local musicians to work for the winter with a series of tribute shows that kicks off this Friday and Saturday with the eighth annual revival of the Band's "Last Waltz." Also look for the Cash Only XIII ode to Johnny Cash on Jan. 18 (downsized to one night this year), the Janis Joplin birthday bash on Jan. 19 and the Bob Marley Remembered shows Feb. 1-2.Random mix
A memorial for longtime Turf Club fixture and Mammy Nuns bassist Leah Rule is scheduled Friday from 4-10 p.m. at Cedar Cultural Center. Some of her many musical friends, including Molly Maher, Rich Mattson (Ol' Yeller) and Terry Walsh (Belfast Cowboys), will perform some of her favorite tunes. Rule, 44, died Dec. 22 after a nearly two-year cancer battle. ... If you missed the pilot episode of Twin Cities Public Television's local music show "The Lowertown Line," hosted by Dessa and featuring Trampled by Turtles, you can now view it via www.MNOriginal.org. Among the highlights was Alan Sparhawk's guest appearance -- for his "When I Go Deaf" and their "Alone" -- as well as TBT frontman Dave Simonett's promise that the band is planning something special for their 10th anniversary in April. ... Speaking of Sparhawk, the first track from Low's Jeff Tweedy-produced album debuted last week at NPR.org/music, a soft but seething song titled "Plastic Cup." ... One more big show to look forward to this month: The Artists' Quarter is planning a 70th birthday bash for veteran jazz drummer (and the club's owner) Kenny Horst on Jan. 25, featuring pretty much everyone who owes the guy a thank-you. Which is pretty much everyone from the jazz scene.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 • Twitter: @ChrisRstrib