When First Avenue opened its small side room as a second rock club in 1980, the Suburbs were already too big a band to play there.
When it finally reopened 7th St. Entry along with the rest of the world in 2021, the Suburbs felt perfectly big for the moment.
That's big in the local history sense. Big in the literal sense, with eight members (horn players Max Ray and Stephen Kung barely fit at the back of the newly rebuilt stage). Still big in popularity, too (the $75 tickets sold out faster than you can say, "Hey, mooove over").
Suburbs frontman Chan Poling is big on churning out songs, too — which is maybe the best reason for his band to be the first to play in the former Greyhound bus depot since COVID-19 regulations began rolling back in Minnesota.
Friday and Saturday's Entry shows weren't the band's first of 2021. They had already jumped back into the thick of it with gigs from Burnsville to Chisholm in recent weeks. At those appearances, they mostly stuck to old favorites such as "Love Is the Law," "Cows," "Life Is Like" and "Rattle My Bones."
They played some oldies at the Entry, too — as if "Love Is the Law" wouldn't be played at this love fest! — but the reopening bashes also doubled as release parties for the Suburbs' latest album, "Poets Party."
They played the new record nearly in its entirety Friday, which was a very 7th St. Entry thing to do.
"This is a great room for trying out new songs," Poling noted near show's end, introducing "Hurricanes," a rollicking, playful new highlight.
The new songs covered the wide range of sounds that still give the Suburbs a modern edge but made them hard to peg in the late '70s and early '80s — somewhere between the wily punk acts that frequented the Entry in those days, the artful post-punk and synth-pop bands that made critics' year-end lists back then, and the New-Wave-y pop heard on the radio.
Bassist Steve Price, who coproduced the record with Poling, lit into a hard-thumping riff in "Buckle My Head" that was blissfully evocative of the manic groove set by retired Suburb Michael Halliday in "Music for Boys." Guitarists Steve Brantseg and Jeremy Ylvisaker traded licks on that one and another rambunctious new one, "Dear Billionaire," reminiscent of ex-co-leader Beej Chaney's grinding interplay with the late Bruce Allen on the classic "In Combo" album.
Anchored over his keyboards trading vocals with the increasingly vital Janey Winterbauer, Poling channeled Bryan Ferry and David Bowie as effectively as ever in the sexy, "Fame"-like romp "Social Style Lush" and the more somber "His Toy, His Dream, His Rest." The latter is one of several tracks on "Poets Party" to pay homage to actual poets (in this case, John Berryman).
Talking about the album a week ahead of the shows, Poling explained the "inspired setting" of the band's creative space over the past decade.
He and drummer Hugo Klaers remain the only original Suburbs members. The current lineup, however, has put in as many years together as the original group did and has — as Poling put it — "really come into its own while still staying true to the original band."
"They all started out as fans of those original albums," he said, "and they continually won my heart over being so devoted to Bruce's licks or the various wild sonic ideas Beej always had."
But especially with this album, the singer continued, "They've developed a richer, more idiosyncratic sound without being blasphemous to the original band."
He added, "I mean, we were just kids back then. This band now is made up of much more experienced and developed musicians, including me. I know I've gotten better."
The recording of "Poets Party" began in early 2020, just before the groups's Valentine's Day gig at First Avenue. That was one of the last full-capacity concerts in the club's main room, which is due to reopen July 16-17 with Flip Phone's Pride weekend dance and drag parties. (Rock shows will crank up again there en masse in September.)
When he wrote and recorded "Summertime" — the new album's buoyant first single — Poling said he was "just in standard winter mode" during that 2019-20 stretch. "I was just looking ahead to that next summer and all the joy that usually comes with it," he said.
"Little did I know," he glibly added.
"Summertime" sparked one of the brightest of many luminous post-quarantine moments Friday. Everyone in the packed, mostly maskless room seemed to absorb its sunny lines: "I'll see you in the summertime / Everything will turn out fine."
A similar, daylight-at-last vibe lit up the dark room right before the Suburbs went on, when longtime First Ave production manager Conrad Sverkerson walked out to greet the crowd with other key staffers and club-owner-turned-national-venue-advocate Dayna Frank.
"We welcome you back," the typically stolid Sverkerson said, igniting atypical emotions. "We want you to enjoy the show and each other's company."
Everything indeed turned out fine, and as 7th St. Entry nights go, this one was huge.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 @ChrisRstrib
New album: "Poets Party" is available on vinyl or CD in local stores or thesuburbsband.com and on most streaming sites.