The 93X Nutcracker is one of those annual event ingrained in the radio station’s core following of hard rock listeners. It’s great opportunity to further put off Christmas shopping and instead do more of what we should be doing over the holidays, spending time with friends and family…..at a rock show. With 93x offering discounted 4-packs of tickets, it also made for an affordable night out and reason to call some friends out of the blue. The 2019 version of the Nutcracker featured four terrific bands: 311, Highly Suspect, The Glorious Sons, and BRKN LOVE. This year it was held at the larger Minneapolis Armory, which was a nice change from the cramped Myth, but made it a bit challenging to fill the cavernous space. It didn’t help that the popular Monster Jam event was taking place right next door at US Bank Stadium on this Saturday night. The choice between loud music and loud monster trucks can be difficult. With temps dipping below zero, it was a blessing that the attendance was a little light. As regular Armory concert attendees know, it usually requires standing in line up to an hour to enter the venue. With absolutely no entry line, I’m chalking this up as Christmas miracle in saving me from frostbite.
Thankfully, the absence of a line also allowed us to be in the arena in time for the promising openers, BRKN LOVE. The main floor was only one-third full as we weaved around clusters of concertgoers to find a nice spot third row from the stage. Like an unexpected Christmas present from a great aunt, this quarter’s set was the pleasant surprise of the evening. Their frontman from Toronto is the impressive 21-year-old, Justin Benlolo. He sure has the rock scream down. They play a straightforward brand of guitar rock, along the likes of Them Evils, but with more powerful vocals. They opened with “Papercuts” from their recently released self-titled debut album. Benlolo’s high-pitched voice got me singing along in falsetto trying to keep pace. Bluesy guitar and pounding drums started their second song, “I Can’t Lie”, and the crowd roared when the young singer nailed the high finishing note and held it impressively. We learned this was the largest venue the band has ever played, then heard my personal favorite, “Flies In the Honey”. “It’s a song about drugs, ” Benlolo told us. Of course it is. And also a can’t miss hit. Unlike “16” that we would hear later from Highly Suspect, not many seemed familiar with “Seventeen” by BRKN LOVE as it is not in the four songs currently available from the already “released” album. But “Shot Down” sure is, and if a 93X listener, you’ve probably heard it. Plus, it’s even cracked the Top 20 at Rock Radio. Unfortunately, this was their closing number as the openers were only allotted enough time for five songs. BRKN LOVE is the real deal. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the tracks from their new album.
Papercuts/I Can’t Lie/Flies in the Honey/Seventeen/Shot Down.
THE GLORIOUS SONS
One of my very favorite bands, The Glorious Sons, was up next. Frontman Brett Emmons would tell us, “We grew up six hours north of here (Kingston, Ontario) and Minneapolis is one of my favorite cities.” It should be, for how many times they have visited here and the constant radio play of “S.O.S.” and now “Panic Attack” on 93X. I believe this was my fourth time in just over a year that I’ve been lucky enough to see them. Emmons wore the same housecoat (like my grandma used to wear) I’ve seen him wear before and guitarist Chris Koster notably wore a Prince t-shirt. Unfortunately as the second opener, they would also be limited to a very short set of just seven songs. Their set included five songs from their impressive new album, A War On Everything, beginning with “Wild Eyes”, which the dazed and confused singer certainly has. The barefooted Emmons teetered atop the very edge of a stage speaker in his out of control best during the second song, “A Funny Thing Happened”. It might not have been so funny had he fallen and cracked his nuts.
Back in July at the Palace Theatre, they treated us to the yet untitled song at the time referred to as “Rock and Roller”. It now has it’s official name, which is one of the longer song titles out there, “The Ongoing Speculation Into the Death of Rock and Roll”. They did not have time to play anything from their awesome 2014 album, The Union, but did get to Young Beauties and Fools. During “My Poor Heart” from the album, Emmons paused and tapped the microphone to his chest like a heartbeat during a break in his barefooted wandering. “Spirit to Break” is one of my favorite songs from their new album and we heard it right before their current radio hit, “Panic Attack”. The familiarity of this song invigorated the casual fans among the 93x listeners as did “S.O.S. (Sawed Off Shotgun)”, which had a tremendous run at #1 on music charts and remains in the regular station rotation. Emmons had the crowd sing the pre-chorus over and over again, “I don’t know who to trust, maybe people like us”, before finally kicking into the closing outro for a strong finish. Despite the short set, it was great to see The Glorious Sons live in the largest Twin Cities venue they have played to date. Hopefully, they will be back on their own headlining tour soon, to play many more songs from their three great studio albums.
Wild Eyes/A Funny Thing Happened/The Ongoing Speculation Into the Death of Rock and Roll/My Poor Heart/Spirit to Break/Panic Attack/S.O.S.(Sawed Off Shotgun).
Highly Suspect could certainly have been the headlining act for this show, as their music is more aligned with 93X’s active rock play list than 311. In fact, the evening’s crowd peaked during Highly Suspect’s set, with many of the younger attendees heading to the bars rather than sticking around for 311. However, compared to other sold-out Armory shows I’ve attended, I’d say tonight’s show was about two-thirds full. The area close to the stage got quite packed though. Ashley from 93X’s Half-Assed Morning Show introduced the band and then the stage went dark except for the large “MCID” displayed on the large video board behind the stage. Frontman Johnny Stevens looked like he just arrived off the bus, wearing a winter coat, “MCID” cap, Nike shorts and leggings, and boots. Twin brothers Rich (bass) and Ryan (drums) Meyer, who are the other original members, joined him as their Elton John intro music finished.
They opened with “Bath Salts” before Stevens talked about their new album. He asked, “What’s it called?” The crowd answered, “MCID.” He continued quizzing, “What’s it stand for?” “My crew is dope!,” they quickly replied. “Damn straight!,” said Stevens, putting down his guitar for a song from MCID, “Snow White”. He asked the crowd to help him out on another new song, “These Days”. “The chorus of this song has one note,” he said. “Let’s see if you can hit it and help me out. I’m losing my voice.” The rest of the band took a breather as Meyer sat to play an acoustic version of “Arizona” from the new album with their keyboardist assisting.
As Stevens returned to the stage he said, “What a lovely bunch of humans you are tonight.” Then everyone scrambled for their cell phone to capture the band’s mega-hit, “My Name Is Human”. Stevens again told us, “That’s right. You’re beautiful humans.” He also asked, “Do we have any freaks in the house,” as they began “Freakstreet” which was also from MCID, as would all of their remaining songs tonight. Stevens told us he is a believer in repetition so had us once again say what the name of their new album is and what it stands for. After mentioning how he suffers from mental health issues like many others here tonight do as well, it was “Fly”, the opening song from MCID, which also addresses this topic. You probably recognize the “Dear Johnny” part or his shouts out to various folks which included Minneapolis, tonight anyway. The song ends with him saying, “This is a family. This is MCID.”
The band left the stage and returned in bright orange vests, hats, and gloves for “Tokyo Ghoul”, for which Stevens appears as his hip-hop/rap self, “Terrible Johnny.” Despite venturing outside of their typical sound, the song was heartily enjoyed by the crowd. After starting their final song, Stevens said suddenly, “Stop the beat.” He continued, “I feel like you know it, because you made it #1, twice! So we are going to do it again, this time with you singing “Oh God”, loudly.” The crowd obeyed, especially the kid right behind me. Actually, if Highly Suspect ever needs a fill-in vocalist, this kid could pull it off. Of course, this song was the band’s current monster hit, “16”, telling the heartbreaking story of Stevens’ previous relationship. The crowd continued to sing along to the song they know so well, but then like the other opening bands’ sets, it came to an end too soon.
Bath Salts/Snow White/These Days/Arizona/My Name Is Human/Freakstreet/Fly/Tokyo Ghoul/16.
The crowd turned over a bit with the forty-somethings taking the spots vacated by the twenty-somethings. Ashley from the HAMS again took the stage to say a few words, including what she thought her mom would say, “Drive safe, get an uber, or get a ride. But also, enjoy the rest of your night.” The stage really got cleaned up too, with stagehands diligently sweeping the surface until perfectly clean. 311 took the stage with the video screen now actively displaying various moving space images, comic scenes, and band logos during the show. Singer Nick Hexum and guitarist Tim Mahoney opened up the show with twin guitar parts on “Beautiful Disaster” before the other vocalist, SA Martinez got more involved, stepping out to sing on “Homebrew”. Drummer Chad Sexton resided behind a tinsel strewn drum kit, while bassist P-Nut sported a cool florescent LA Dodgers cap to match his glowing fret board markings.
We then heard one of their two universally known hits, “All Mixed Up”(“Down” being the other), which got more of the audience involved. “Happy Holidays,” Hexum said. “We are super-stoked to be here. Let’s get this place bouncing!” The video board displayed a green comic book background as the crowd did get jumping to “Freeze Time.” We also heard their slow cover of The Cure’s “Love Song”, that the band is well known for, before the first song of the night from 311’s new album, Voyager. It was the impressive “Stainless” which alternates from the band’s more typical mellow reggae sounds to harder guitar rock sections. Quite good. “What The?!” was another new song off Voyager. Phones were raised during the slow, psychedelic “Beyond the Gray Sky”. I’m sure the gray sky was a result of the massive amount of vaping, etc. tonight. Another newer song was “Too Late”, from their other most recent album, Mosaic. We also hear another of their classic hits, “Amber”, which even my daughter recognized.
Hexum announced, “This coming June 10th marks 30 years for the band, so jump for joy.” Getting back to the task at hand, Sexton was featured on an extended drum solo during “Applied Science” and then joined by the other band members who hammered away on additional drums brought on stage for them. They followed with what Hexum described as a “happy slam dance song”, “Do You Right”, before finally playing their other universal hit, “Down”. After exiting the stage, they did appear for a single encore number, “Creatures (For a While)”, which put the finishing touches on yet another successful 93X Nutcracker and a cold walk to the car. Happy Holidays everyone!
Beautiful Disaster/Homebrew/All Mixed Up/Freeze Time/Love Song/Stainless/Come Original/What The?!/Don’t Stay Home/Beyond the Gray Sky/You Wouldn’t Believe/Too Late/Amber/Applied Science/Do You Right/Down. Encore: Creatures (For a While).