One of the edicts of First Avenue for most of its 46 years has been to present a cross section of music more diverse than what’s typically offered at a rock club. On Friday and Saturday, the venue celebrated its 11th year of having a local radio station with a kindred spirit: 89.3 the Current.
The Current’s all-local 11th-anniversary lineup was well-suited to the club, but not everything that went down was suitable for the FM airwaves.
“We’re not the type of band that should be played on the radio,” Bruise Violet drummer Danielle Cusack admitted Saturday, after her snarling teen-punk band dropped a few lyrical F-bombs.
For more reasons than language, this weekend’s parties would not have worked as live broadcasts like last year’s. Fans listening in off-site, for instance, would have missed Saturday’s headliner Tommy Stinson ordering a whiskey on the rocks — which he did mid-song, standing only two feet from a First Ave bartender.
In the dubious fashion of his old band, the Replacements, Stinson couldn’t get his acoustic guitar to play through the speakers when he returned to the stage for an encore. So he headed for the club’s back bar and delivered his early-’90s Bash & Pop nugget “Nothing” without any amplification, standing on a stepladder looking over the bar’s beer taps.
That truly top-shelf moment topped off a set already well-stocked in true rock ’n’ roll spirit. With an impressive band featuring the Hold Steady’s Steve Selvidge on guitar and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ Joe Sirois on drums, Stinson previewed a strong batch of new songs, highlighted by the hard-boogying opener “Not This Time” and the melancholy, Big Star-poppy “Bad News.”
In another surprise that would have complicated a live broadcast Saturday, Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum popped up before Stinson’s set and played a solo acoustic version of “Ziggy Stardust” in tribute to David Bowie.
Cover songs played a vital role both nights. Bruise Violet threw in one of their riotously fun Lunachicks tunes from last month’s Girl Germs tribute show. Also on Saturday, Haley Bonar’s freakazoid punk band Gramma’s Boyfriend played its dreamy version of Daniel Johnston’s “I Live My Broken Dreams,” one of many tracks off the group’s new album “Perm” to resonate even stronger in the big live setting.
The best cover of them all came Friday, when headliners Low surprised fans with a seductively lo-fi and lovely rendition of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” sung by drummer Mimi Parker. What a sharp contrast it was between the slow-burning Duluth rockers’ most fiery tunes, “Monkey” and “Landslide.”
The musical change-ups from band to band would have caused whiplash in other settings. The middle of Friday’s lineup saw the crowd thrusting its in the air while the innovative, gritty hip-hop trio Mixed Blood Majority raised relevant, bleak social issues without bringing the party down. After MBM, though, came JMN — soft-voiced, bright-eyed orchestral folk-pop singer John Mark Nelson — whose mild-mannered, headphones-attuned songs did bring the party down.
Saturday’s most dramatic sonic changeover came between Gospel Machine and the Cactus Blossoms. Singer Jayanthi Kyle’s graceful, shaman-like stage persona yet flaming, emphatic singing style shone through Gospel Machine’s aurally hefty, vaguely psychedelic retro-soul. From acidic soul to vintage, harmonious country, the Cactus Blossoms lost none of their intimate charm with a more electrified live lineup that featured sibling singers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum’s other brother, Tyler Burkum, on guitar.
Gospel Machine and the Cactus Blossoms are exactly the kind of falsetto-less, Pitchfork-ignored, non-cookie-cutter hipster indie-rock acts the Current could use more of to live up to its eclectic branding on air. At least in their case, it was too bad the shows weren’t broadcast live.