The holy trinity of the Minneapolis music scene – The Current, First Avenue and the newest member – Go96.3, joined forces on Friday to celebrate their annual “Best New Bands.” Each year these three Minneapolis tastemakers team up to present what has basically become the “Oprah’s Favorite Things” of Minneapolis music scene. While “best” and “new” are relative terms, these annual event has become a launching pad for local acts to take their career to the next level. Some of these names who’ve managed to spread their wings beyond our little corner of the Midwest in the past include Bruise Violet, Strange Names, Night Moves, Caroline Smith and of course reigning kings of indie-pop Hippo Campus. Friday night once again showcased a slew of amazing local talent that are well on their way beyond any Minneapolis “best” and “new” list.
So I want to start by saying – if you read nothing else on this review or don’t look at any other photos, please skip ahead to Thomas Abban. Though the evening was a showcase of a variety of talent, Thomas Abban was hands down the most unexpected surprise of the evening. Nearly moved to tears during his set, I was overcome with emotion simply basking in the glory of the clearly prolific genius that was standing on the stage in front of me.
First up, kicking off the evening was the latest project of Tony Peachka’s Stephanie Jo Murck – Sass. While no strangers to the First Ave Main Stage, as Tony Peachka was named one of the Best New Bands last year, Sass brought something new and fresh. For Sass, Murck takes center stage on guitar and lead vocals. Rounding out Sass is Joey Hays on drums, Alex McCormick on bass and Willem Vander Ark on guitar and supporting vocals. Sass was on stage first as the crowd was filing in from the arctic tundra. “Oh my gosh – I love these guys,” one of the First Ave staffers said and she was putting on wristbands at the door. There was that contagious, infectious energy that radiates from Murck and Sass which made it evident why they snagged a spot on First Ave’s Best New Bands. Friday night marked the start of Sass’ January tour.
Second to take the stage was the current (and The Current’s) reigning darlings – Early Eyes. This five-piece, though relatively new to the local music scene (they formed in 2016), has wasted no time garnering quite the fanbase. I don’t want to just compare these guys to their 2014 Best New Bands predecessors, Hippo Campus but the similarities are undeniable. While appealing to the Radio K, U of MN crowd, Early Eyes also made it clear on Friday night that they are much more than a college band. There’s a freshness to Early Eye’s indie-pop sensibilities that appeal to the college kids and moms alike (all of which were dancing along, tallboys tightly gripped in hand). Jangly guitars layered over boppy lo-fi basslines make for a sound that is so Minneapolis but is definitely poised for things beyond the Twin Cities.
Kicking things up a notch was BLAHA, the solo project of Mike Blaha of The Blind Shake. BLAHA’s style is loud, intense, fast and reminiscent of some of the early punk days in Minneapolis. This four-piece definitely had one of the heavier sounds of the evening but the crowd at First Ave was loving every minute of it. While there is an undeniable poppiness to BLAHA is package in a dark, psychedelic package. Supporting Mike Blaha is Karl TeBeast on drums, Dylan Rosen on guitar and Allison Gunderson on bass.
THE BAD MAN
With the night moving right along, The Bad Man took to the stage around 9:45. As we all know, 2017 was a weird year to say the least, we had a lot of hard goodbyes last year. One of those hard goodbyes was of the iconic Triple Rock. But last night watching The Bad Man, it was clear the spirit of the Triple Rock and punk music is alive and well. The Bad Man is fronted by the theatrical Peter Memorich. Though Memorich’s theatrics border on spastic, it’s absolutely to not enjoy. Their entire set was unpredictable, loud, bombastic and everything you want from a punk band. While early punk is definitely evident in The Bad Man’s sound, they also draw elements from across the gamut – from ska with the saxophone and even early rhythm and blues (think early Rolling Stones). Their set on Friday was obviously a bit of a full circle moment for the band and specifically frontman Peter Memorich. “I sat right over there with dad and I told him I’m gonna play that stage one day. And you know what he did, he bought me another beer,” Memorich said with a laugh. The Bad Man is, well, we don’t know who the bad man is, but the members of The Bad Man are Patrick Davis on guitars, Seth Bellow on drums, Ben Hintz on saxophone and Warren Peterson on bass.
“How we do this shit is we start slow and then we bring it up to the max, ok?” 24-year-old Dwynell Roland said at the beginning of his set. We first fell in love with last summer at another Current event – Rock the Garden, where Roland was joined on stage by Doomtree co-founder P.O.S. And though 2017 seemed to the first year Roland’s name really started buzzing throughout the Minneapolis scene, he’s been at this for much longer. And this is evident in his live performance. There’s a charisma and confidence to Roland that reads more like “seasoned pro” than “best new band.” Roland did the start the set off slow, with bedroomy r&b and drawly flows before taking launching into heavier, feel-good, party-ready anthems. We’re lucky to live in a city with an incredibly eclectic hip-hop scene that constantly seems to be churning out new rappers but Roland has clearly risen to the top. A standout from Roland’s set is the infectiously catchy Dude.
There’s these once in a lifetime artists that come along, well, once in a lifetime. They have a thaumaturgic ability to conjure up something in your soul that you never knew was there. The 21-year-old Thomas Abban is one of those artists. On Friday night, it was as if I’d been waiting to hear Abban my whole life and didn’t even know it. Abban’s music, and the place his live performance transports you to, is something I don’t know if I can properly put into words. I feel like my attempts to describe the spellbinding magic of Abban and his band will be futile because nothing will truly do him justice. Abban demands to be witnessed, experienced, and basked in live. What I can say is Abban’s sound encompasses both that which is familiar, comforting but also pioneering. Everything from his otherworldly falsetto vocals to his complex arrangements and freakishly skillful guitar playing are on another level. If everyone is operating in XYZ, Abban is operating in ⇏. It’s not as much a amatter of Abban being on another level, but on another universe, another reality, another level of existence and if during his live set the audience gets a glimpse into the world of Abban. Abban’s drummer LA Buckner was also probably one of the most technically skilled and precise drummers to grace the mainroom is quite some time. So yes – Abban and band had the collective jaw of First Avenue on the floor.
Closing out the evening was reigning neo-funk/soul queen of Minneapolis – Lady Lark. Lady Lark and her band took to the stage shortly around 12:15 due to Abban’s long set that went over scheduled time (which no one was complaining about). Lady Lark has been making her mark on the Twin Cities music scene in a big way throughout the past year and it’s clear after last night she’s showing no signs of slowing downs. Her sound, her energy, her entire aura is infectious. Her funk sound is dancey and there’s really no way to not have fun watching Lady Lark live.
So once again, though the terms “new” and “best” may be relative (and subjective), it is safe to say that First Ave once again delivered on their annual showcase of some great, on-the-rise, local talent. It’s not every night you get to watch such a myriad of artist from rap to ska to punk to pop and everything in between on the same ticket. If last night was any indication, 2018 is sure to be a good year for music in the Twin Cities.