Free Energy and friends belt out "Funkytown" to close the evening. Photo by Leslie Plesser

Free Energy and friends belt out "Funkytown" to close the evening. Photo by Leslie Plesser


Since the well-read devotees of 89.3 the Current would likely find a simple "Happy Birthday" sing-along so passé, it is only sensible for the Twin Cites' trendiest end-of-the-dial station to compile its own party playlist. So with bands in varying threads of cool, the station threw their sixth birthday bash to a packed crowd of twenty and thirty-somethings Friday night at First Avenue's mainroom. And this was no stand-and-watch affair. Everyone in attendance seemed to be in a constant loop of making their slow fifteen-minute trek through the club, stopping to speak with different crowds and friends (kind of like a birthday party.) This mindset seemed to stick with everyone through the night (the drunk rumble seemed to be the biggest hurdle for many bands in the lineup.)

Trampled By Turtles took the stage with welcoming attention from an audience that would slowly turn their interests back towards the bartenders. And it really was something that did not seem to be the fault of the band. The group, a late add after Cloud Cult pulled out due to a member injury, played with their expected precision. They even dished out a Cloud Cult cover towards the end of their set. But it was one of those moments when it is easy to feel like the club was built for raucous bands over acoustic strings. Roma Di Luna upped the ante in regards to that aforementioned notion. The husband-wife team was able to give the audience a bit of a tug with their soulful folk rock. Channy Moon Casselle's voice has some pretty big power over a room, but the group as a whole could benefit from appearing more interested or involved with what they're doing.

Jeremy Messersmith seemed to bring a bit more of heart to the party. The whole evening actually seemed to be built as an emotive crescendo. Messersmith and co. sauntered on to the stage in uniform white suits, apparently dressing only in the best for a local station that has given the gang some considerable love. They opened with the rookie-year track "Novocain," and it really showed how their greatest strength live is their ability to mold their fairly basic pop stylings with a lot of passion. It was, once again, a set that ultimately fell victim to the buzzing of an increasingly drunken crowd. After Messersmith's set, the radio station's emcees did their habitual donation-rousing over the mic (the Twin Cities' favorite James Carville doppelganger, Mark Wheat, gave one of the more feverous motivationals on keeping Minnesota weird.) The ten thousand dialogs going on at this point started to grow in volume. Moving an arm or foot became a more difficult task than it had been five minutes ago. Most off all, it became unquestionably clear who a large number of people came to see- Brother Ali.

In what proved to be the emotive and energetic peak of the evening, Brother Ali's emphatic and efficient cadence did what no other band really seemed to accomplish earlier in the night- get the crowd's attention. He spent time between tracks pouring love over the audience and the city. During one digression about why he'd never leave the area, he remarked, "Its days like today." Brother Ali tackled Eyedea's "Smile" near the end of his set, which was a naturally a welcome salute. But as Brother Ali moved through the track with punctuated stumbles, it was hard to not think about how flawless Eyedea's flow was.

A noticeable amount of the crowd left once Brother Ali did- a bittersweet thing for those still patiently for Free Energy. The evening's last act, one built around infectious hooks and big seventies guitars, would put the voices all the inebriated talking heads to good use. But with the early departure from so many at a time that was actually rather late, a feeling of tiredness lingered. Once Free Energy took the stage, they seemed to feel the same way. Their solos seemed more restrained and limited than their usual stage ambition. Frontman Paul Sprangers gave his usual Jagger-level enthusiasm towards hip gyration. Still, the crowd seemed limited to a happy albeit sleepy sway. It was the encore, a full-lineup rendition of "Funkytown," that jaunted everyone into one last sprint before the finish. 

Like the friend that got better toys every year than you, the Current's 6th birthday celebration is kind of envy-inducing. And its not even about the music. Its about that weird celebratory mentality that unexpectedly resonated through the entire night, and its something not a birthday to miss next year.