Well it’s official – summer is here in the Twin Cities. Six week agos we were shoveling our cars out from snow and this weekend we’re sweating it out in 90 degree weather down at Minneapolis most beloved venue – First Avenue. And who ever said living in the midwest was boring? With nothing but sunshine in forecast for this Memorial Day weekend, there was really no better way to kick off the three day weekend than with some great local (and not so local) music. Minneapolis’ Night Move packed out First Avenue with a little help from some other great acts including Shipla Ray, Wellness and Anonymous Choir. We have to give it up to Night Moves for putting together such an eclectic and just downright fun line up. So often openers can seem like the beta-version of the headliner but last night that was anything but true. Each act brought something unique to the stage for what was really, a perfect evening in Minneapolis.
Kicking off the evening was Brooklyn-based five piece, Shipla Ray. Taking to the stage shortly after 8:00 pm, Shipla Ray was immediately a force to be reckoned with. Taking no time easing in the set, frontwoman Shipla Ray kicked the set into overdrive. Her growling, raspy but at times doo-woppy vocals, layered over driving bass lines and bluesy guitar make for a mix that is pure magic. Watching Shipla Ray let out a primal scream while pounding on her harmonium (pump organ) it was clear she fits in no box that genres often try to stuff artists into. Listening to Shipla Ray’s vocals, you can’t help but be reminded of the greats such as Patti Smith or Blondie. But there is still a pop sensibility to Shipla Ray’s music – a twinge of Sleigh Bell-esque sound, heavy, almost metal drums/guitars and screaming one moment and then sugary sweet vocals and an old-school jazzy sound the next. Shipla Ray’s band was a force all their own – she was joined on stage by Alistair Paxton (guitar), Turner Stough (bass), Rich Hutchins (drums), and Christian Lee Buss – backing vocals and synth. At one point the band supported Shipla Ray with what can only be described as the most aggressive maraca solo ever witnessed on the First Ave stage. “I picked them up at a nearby circus,” Ray joked. If you are lucky enough to have the chance to see Shipla Ray live – go. She is one you need to experience live.
Following Shipla Ray around 9:00 was a Los Angeles-based quartet, with local roots – Wellness. Wellness is the latest project on former Minneapolis wunderkind Jordan Gatesmith. Many Minneapolis music fans might remember Gatesmith from his wildly successful project Howler, or Total Babe. After some pretty impressive touring and success with Howler, Gatesmith relocated to Los Angeles and has since emerged with his latest – Wellness. Though Minneapolis is no longer homebase for Gatesmith, it’s clear they still very much have that special, hometown connection with Minneapolis. The crowd at First Avenue definitely started to fill out during Wellness’ set. There is very clearly a new sound from Gatesmith with Wellness, where Howler was irrevocably surf-rock, Wellness is a much more lo-fi, grunge-pop. But Gatesmith as a frontman remains a captivating force. He’s one of those artists that just kind of fills the stage, with his voice and his presence, it’s hard to not be enraptured in their live performance. Wellness played a handful of tracks off their new EP Mall Goth. “It feels so great to be back in Minneapolis,” Gatesmith said during their set. And it’s safe to say the crowd shared the sentiment to have Gatesmith back in Minneapolis.
Taking to the stage around 10:00 was a Minneapolis’s own Anonymous Choir. Anonymous Choir is a group of women from the Twin Cities singing beautiful, heartfelt renditions of everything from classic rock hits to modern, top-40. The group was started by pianist/musician Nona Marie Invie and a group of friends. What started as a little project has grown into something larger. Invie takes a variety of songs and rearranges them into four vocal parts and plays piano accompaniment. Anonymous Choir might not have been what the crowd was expecting on a Night Moves bill but they were the perfect addition to the evening. Seeing Anonymous Choir, a powerhouse group of female vocals, situated in-between a goth-pop band and cosmic-country rockers was such a treat – one you don’t see often enough at shows. Again, opening acts can tend to feel very similar to the headliner, but the variety and ecclectiness which seemed very intentional last night at First Ave, was truly a breath of fresh air. The women of Anonymous Choir are of all ages and backgrounds but they come together to make music for the soul. “You’re getting a little glimpse of our rehearsals,” one of the woman of Anonymous Choir said with a baby on her hip and a bottle in the other hand. “Except no animals, although I would have brought my cat if I could,” she went on with a laugh. Anonymous Choir was such a quiet, understated yet powerful picture of womanhood. Though the word “feminism” was not spoken, it was perhaps one of the most powerful displays of feminism seen on the First Ave stage is quite some time.
And finally – headlining the evening was Minneapolis’ own cosmic country rockers – Night Moves. Channeling the likes of Bob Seger and Neil Young while putting a spin on it all their own – Night Moves has been making ear-wormy psychedelic country for a while now. But if last night was indicator we hope they have no plans of slowing down anytime soon. It had been a minute since Night Moves played their hometown and the energy in First Avenue reflected that. There was just a palpable excitement that hung in the air (or was that the mix of humidity and sticky beer) to have Night Moves back in Minneapolis. “We’ve got some new ones, we’ve got some old ones for ya,” vocalist and guitarist John Pelant said during the set. And new and old ones they did. Their set featured classics like “Colored Emotions” off their debut album as well as a handful of tracks off their sophomore release Pennied Days. Night Moves is rounded out with Micky Alfano, and Jared Isabella. And joining Night Moves last night was Charles Murlowski of fellow Minneapolis band Red Daughters. Together these four put on a hell of a set. There didn’t seem to be a single dull moment and they had the crowd dancing and singing along, which is not always an easy feat in Minnesota. Maybe it was the good vibes with the long weekend or the excitement that we’re not shoveling our cars out from snow anymore, but whatever it was, there was a magic in the air for Night Moves last night that reminded us why we fell in love with this band years ago – their effortlessly cool sound that channels the greats that have come before while putting that signature psychedelic-folk twist on it that is all their own. There was really no better way to start the long weekend in Minneapolis than with some tunes from Night Moves and friends. We hope to see plenty more from them this summer.