Two acclaimed young rock acts that took daring turns on their new sophomore albums, Alabama Shakes and Father John Misty, wound up with an equally adventurous location for their twofer concert pairing Saturday in Minneapolis.
It was such a unique site, in fact, many of the 8,000 attendees had to use Google Maps to find it in the heart of the city. Through a partnership with the city, First Avenue nightclub and Chicago promoter Jam Productions, Saturday’s instantly sold-out show was brought to the city’s newly reacquired riverfront property, Hall’s Island, under the Plymouth Avenue Bridge in northeast Minneapolis. The “island” — more of a peninsula, really — was regained from a lumber company to convert back into a park.
Saturday’s concert was thus a test in more ways than one, with show organizers and city officials keeping their eyes on the site’s functionality while fans kept their ears on how the bands’ bold new music comes off live. Here’s a rundown on how each of them fared.
It’s flat. It’s grassy. It’s relatively easy to get to from both sides of the river. It has the downtown skyline for a stage backdrop. And it’s outdoors.
With Saturday’s crisp, clear weather and the city’s lack of an amphitheater, that latter trait seemed like a godsend. Beyond that, the setting wasn’t anything too special. It lacked the sloped vantage point of Rock the Garden, and had more of an aromatic sense of being riverside than visual. The locally connected First Ave staff planned well, with food trucks by reputable local eateries such as Anchor Fish & Chips, plus a powerful and mostly flawless audio setup.
It only took a couple songs for the comedic Misty man, Josh Tillman, to start throwing out one-liners the way Frisbees are tossed around Hall’s Island most other days. One example: “This is so worth missing the Hello Kitty convention for.”
It took Tillman awhile longer to get up to speed musically. Dramatic, intimate early tunes such as “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me” are better suited to a candlelit cabaret than sun-soaked field. It was as if he flipped a switch seven songs in with “I’m Writing a Novel,” and from there his 65-minute set rarely faltered. “Chateau Lobby #4” came off gorgeously like John Lennon’s “Number 9 Dream,” while “The Ideal Husband” made for a scorching finale.
Tillman doesn’t mess around when it comes to his backing band, too, with a forceful yet elegant and convincingly grandiose five-piece unit that almost outshone his own chest-baring charisma. No kidding.
Conversely to Misty, it took Southern soul rockers Alabama Shakes all of three minutes to get going — the duration of “Future People,” one of the weirder and more subdued tracks off the new record, “Sound & Color.” From there, their 90-minute set was mostly hold-on electrifying, even though the band weirdly skipped its 2013 breakout hit “Hold On.”
If any windows shattered in northeast Minneapolis on Saturday night, it was from the soaring, Janis-Joplin-gone-to-church howler notes frontwoman Brittany Howard hit mid-show in “Gimme All Your Love,” a more conventional showstopper off the new LP. The encore kickoff song “Over My Head” also made a strong case for the new album’s space-headed, clenched-fist power.
Howard and her Athens, Ala.-reared bandmates breathed new life into songs off their debut album, too. Their trio of new backup singers added a warm, harmonious vibe to “I Found You,” and the whole lot of them went for broke in the psychedelic gospel finale “You Ain’t Alone.” Literally and figuratively, they took it to the river.