A minor tsunami rippled through the music industry Friday when the April lineup for California's Coachella music festival was announced with mostly internet-based electronic, R&B and pop artists on it and very few guitar-rock or classic hip-hop bands. It was as if everyone over 27 and anyone who still buys physical albums was uninvited.
Here in Minneapolis, Friday night's Best New Bands showcase at First Avenue, often a weather vane for the local music scene, offered a very different signal. In this case, all those Coachella 2019 naysayers probably would have thought the kids are still all right.
Over the course of seven acts, music during the five-hour marathon ranged from the Carnegies' 1960s garage-rock to Annie Mack's lowdown blues and the Scrunchies' high-adrenaline punk to Yam Haus' high-polish, radio-friendly pop-rock. Even the one electronic-based band on the bill, Static Panic, wired up a classic brand of synth-funk — very classic in the case of this particular venue that Prince made famous.
And yet there was still something cutting-edge and forward-thinking about the roundup of Twin Cities newbies.
As if First Ave was reflecting last week's congressional swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, four of the seven entrants picked by club staff as best new bands were led by women; two of those were entirely female. One group also had a gender-fluid singer.
Gender was only one of myriad themes the musicians covered lyrically — as when Iron Range-rooted, twang-rocky singer/songwriter Faith Boblett said her new tune "Clay" was "about being a woman in this day and age" (suffice it to say it was not a light, happy ditty) — but it was a main topic of conversation between songs.
"I'm proud to be up here with so many women and nonbinary musicians," Scrunchies singer/guitarist Laura Larson said in a rare break in her band's breathlessly paced set.
"Start a band!" Gully Boys drummer/co-vocalist Nadirah McGill urged the many young women in the crowd, as she described how far her group has come in just two years. "More women, especially more women of color, need to be in bands."
That diverse mix on stage may have added to the draw offstage, or maybe it was just the unusually warm weather that made Friday night's show one of the best-attended Best New Band showcases of all time. Whatever the reason, the strong turnout was yet another reason to feel hopeful about the year-in-review kickoff to 2019.
Best overall showing: Coming into the night fresh off winning City Pages' Picked to Click newcomers poll in November — a distinction that the unquestionably promising Thomas Abban slightly fumbled in last year's Best New Bands roster — Gully Boys solidly lived up to the hype. Singer/guitarist Kaytee Callahan confidently delivered her nerve-wracked, manic but melodic songs with a fiery tone that matched her flaming-red hair, and the whole band showed the tight musical bonding and pure joy that comes with a first wave of touring.
Hey, First Ave bookers: Get these ladies/Boys some prominent opening slots!
Left the most on stage: Although she had performed at First Ave more than any other singer in the BNB lineup as a member of Kitten Forever, Scrunchies leader Laura Larson was anything but nonchalant about playing the main-room stage again. She tore through most of her band's debut album "Stunner" within the allotted half-hour time slot, ferociously screaming and bellowing as she does in Kitten Forever, but without the breaks naturally allowed by her other band's three-leader lineup — and shredding on guitar in a way she never does in her other group.
To be continued?: Randomly landing the unenviable opening slot, the Carnegies still kicked off the night like they were the headliners. Vintage-attired, mop-topped twin brothers Roman and Royce Mars convincingly channeled the Zombies' moody haze in "Ragged Old Man" and ebulliently ripped through the standard "Baby, Please Don't Go."
Unlike a headliner, though, they faced a strict time cutoff; the First Ave "curtain" (movie screen) rolled down on them just as they brought up a dancing dinosaur for their final song. Here's hoping we can see that dinosaur-act finale sometime soon at the club.
Most ready to pop: In the night's final slot, collegiate rockers Yam Haus seemed like the band most in line for commercial success. Almost every song the Hudson, Wis., classmates played had an "oh-oh-oooh" chorus for easy singalong status, and charismatic frontman Lars Pruitt came off like a natural showman (if not much of a stage-diver). Their sonic echoes of Walk the Moon and Ed Sheeran obviously puts them more in line for Go 95.3 airplay than 89.3 the Current or Radio K (all three sponsors of the show), but their inclusion added to the all-inclusive coolness of the lineup.
Room for improvement: As energetic, original and just plain fun as Static Panic's proud, freak-flagging brand of electro-funk was, the vocal interplay between Ro Lorenzen and guitarist Keston Wright was distractingly uneven compared to its sexy, slick appeal on record. On the other hand, north Minneapolis-reared, Rochester-based blues woman Mack was ultra-impressive vocally — with a raspy delivery reminiscent of Mavis Staples at her most rocking — but she and her ace band weighed down their time slot with all heavy, long, sometimes sluggish songs. They could use a couple up-tempo or just shorter, breezier tunes to brighten things up.
Best wardrobe trend: Sequins ruled. Each of the Gully Boys' members, Scrunchies' Larson and Static Panic's Lorenzen all wore sparkly attire that reflected their dynamic performances. Whether or not they also reflected the show's gender makeup, at the very least the sequins certainly shined brighter under the main room's stage lights than the flannel that often used to dominate First Ave in winter.