It’s a tradition that’s 10 or more years older than most of the musicians taking part in it this year, but it remains as vital and vibrant as ever.
First Avenue’s Best New Bands showcase dates back to the early 1980s, when the freshly opened 7th St. Entry hosted a weekly tryout for newly formed live acts. In order to make the year’s best-of lineup and move on to main-room slots, bands on those nights had to impress such tough-nut judges as Steve McClellan, Chrissie Dunlap and soundman and Mighty Mofos leader Billy Batson, then the clubs’ gatekeepers.
One year alone shows the Best New Bands nights’ lasting legacy: The 1986 lineup featured the Gear Daddies, Trip Shakespeare, the Blue Up? and Run Westy Run. More recently, the 2014 installment featured Hippo Campus, PaviElle, ZuluZuluu (now Astralblak) and Tiny Deaths.
The Entry no longer formally hosts a weekly new-bands night, but First Ave’s staff has many other nights — and venues! — from which to pick their favorite newcomers each year. Here are this year’s entries, in alphabetical order.
Faith Boblett: After her family moved to the Iron Range in her early teens, this now-Minneapolis-based folk-rocker turned to writing and recording songs to fill her time and was already well on her way to finding her voice when she enrolled for high school at Perpich Center for Arts Education. She just issued her second album, “Enough,” produced by local vet Knol Tate and offering traces of Neko Case and Brandi Carlile.
The Carnegies: Part of the wave of musical St. Anthony Village High School graduates that also includes members of the Bad Man and Jaedyn James & the Hunger, twin brothers Royce and Roman Mars and their bandmates look and sound like a paisley-attired group that might have opened up for the Yardbirds or Kinks in 1965-era London. They played a whirlwind of block parties and other fun gigs over the summer and were just in the main room last month singing Beatles songs with Curtiss A.
Gully Boys: The winners of City Pages’ Picked to Click trendsetters poll in November, this trio of young women earned their stripes and even their own signature drink at the newly rocking Mortimer’s in 2018. Their debut album, “Not So Brave,” boasted a coolly off-kilter, obtusely melodic indie-rock sound reminiscent of late-’80s-era First Ave regulars Throwing Muses. They’ve had plenty of opportunity to tighten up since its September release with a steady string of tour dates.
Annie Mack: After several years of gigging around southern Minnesota, this bluesy Rochester area singer/songwriter caught on strong in 2018 following the release of her diverse but distinctive EP, “Tell It Like It Is,” equal parts Muscle Shoals and Alabama Shakes. This past year landed her gigs from the Dakota to the Minnesota State Fair to 89.3 the Current’s birthday parties, the latter of which will bring her back to First Ave just two weeks from now.
Scrunchies: After several years of hammering away on bass and drums to brilliant, minimalist effect in Kitten Forever, former Baby Guts bandleader Laura Larson was itching to fire away on guitar again and thus started this noisy new quartet with members of Tony Peachka and Bruise Violet. They made their live debut exactly one year ago in the Entry and cranked out a debut LP in June, titled “Stunner” and offering echoes of classic riot-grrrl bands as well as Fugazi and Superchunk. They opened for Bad Bad Hats in the main room in August and will also return there in two weeks for the Current parties.
Static Panic: What would a First Ave new-bands showcase be without a little Princely funk and grind? This electronic/synth-heavy R&B trio echoes classic Minneapolis Sound grooves alongside modern flavor akin to Frank Ocean and the Weeknd, nicely spotlighted on their May-issued EP “Chrome.” Singer Ro Lorenzen has a smooth falsetto and sultry purr, and the band already proved it can get big crowds hopping when it opened for Twin Shadow at the Fine Line and the Hold Steady at Surlyfest.
Yam Haus: Safe and wholesome enough to perform at the Mall of America and churches over the past year, the boyish young men of this Hudson, Wis.-reared pop/rock quartet proved themselves meaty and electrifying enough to ignite a packed First Ave main room when they became a last-minute replacement at a Go 96.3-sponsored show with Bishop Briggs in May. Their slickly produced but earnestly inspired debut album, “Stargazer,” echoed the likes of Coldplay and Ed Sheeran and has not surprisingly racked up a million Spotify streams since summer.