Last night, First Avenue transformed from a bustling nightclub into a rock n’ roll haven as Tommy Stinson and The Lemonheads administered a healthy dose of punk nostalgia between the walls of the mainroom. Formed in 1986, The Lemonheads have blended genres of alternative rock, pop and punk in their sound. With catchy songs including a hard driving cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson”, The Lemonheads have remained a potent presence in the scene so many decades later. And when in the richly rooted music metropolis of Minneapolis, what better way to celebrate a couple of 80’s punk rock veterans and dive head first into nostalgia? Put Tommy Stinson on the bill.
It’s hard to overinflate the significance that Tommy Stinson has had on the Minneapolis music scene. Best known as the spiky-haired charismatic bass player of legendary punk pioneers The Replacements, Stinson is arguably one of the most infamous characters to come out of the Twin Tone era. Being a 24 year old girl from Colorado, the only prior opportunity I have ever had to see Stinson play was at The Replacements reunion show at the now deceased Midway Stadium. Which to be honest, was probably one of the most ideal places to see him. But I was absolutely stoked to see him again in a completely different setting. Sometimes you just know when you’re about to walk in and witness an icon. Someone I never had the opportunity to see in their “hayday”, but I still respect the hell out of. Seeing any member of The Replacements gives me that feeling.
Of course, Stinson is more than just The Replacements. After The Replacements breakup in 1991, Stinson went on to form alternative rock band Bash & Pop the following year. Bash & Pop released one full-length album before disbanding in 1994. Just over two decades later, Stinson reformed Bash & Pop in 2016 and has been releasing new music and touring with them ever since. Being an avid fan of Bash & Pop’s record Anything Could Happen, I was absolutely hoping to hear some of Bash & Pop’s material seep into Stinson’s set at First Avenue.
Stinson’s set opening for The Lemonheads was a solo acoustic set. With Stinson kicking off the evening’s antics, it was no surprise that the main room floor was filled with eager bodies well over 15 minutes before showtime. The tried and true old school punk rockers and new generation of fans came out in droves to catch Stinson play. As the screen rose above the stage, Stinson came out warmly greeted by the sight of a packed house. He cracked a smile as he pursed his lips around the microphone and began to play.
Stinson’s energy and charisma was immediately infectious to me. He started his set with a couple popular Bash & Pop songs including “On the Rocks”, and continued to play a roughly 50 minute set. A few songs in, Stinson joked by saying, “I don’t have a setlist, you know. I’m just up here making it up and playing what I remember on the spot. I’m the jester in the court this evening.”
Although Stinson was seemingly flying off the seat of his pants, he absolutely delivered. Stinson has a reputation for being a crazy, unpredictable rock n’ roller, but his set at First Avenue was on point. He remarked, “You ever notice how you start to give less of a shit the older you get?” Between the jokes and banter, it was apparent Stinson didn’t care what the crowd thought. He was just having fun.After Stinson’s set, I looked around the floor and noticed that the room was now stuffed. Likely close to sell out capacity, if not officially then damn near close in anticipation for The Lemonheads. With the crowd buzzing, The Lemonheads took the stage and were very warmly received. The band came out and instantly sparked cheers and excitement from the audience. While arguably best known for a few hit singles, The Lemonheads set expanded across their entire catalogue and included a healthy dose of covers.
What stuck out to me the most about The Lemonheads was their sound. Lead singer Evan Dando’s vocals were spectacular, and the rest of the band sounded full and rich. Dando came out on stage sporting a white Gibson SG in which he made the strings absolutely purr. If I could put it one way, I would say The Lemonheads were sonic euphoria. Sometimes veteran rock bands get stale, and sometimes they age like a fine wine. While The Lemonheads have been a band for the better part of three decades, they didn’t miss a single beat at First Avenue.
Dando remains a master of his craft. Playing in front of an almost (or more than likely) sold out main room, The Lemonheads still stand the test of time and can mesmerize with good vibes and nostalgia. No frills, no antics, just a good sounding show. Shows like this one make me truly appreciate the Minneapolis music scene, and how supportive the people are of the music that means so much to them. No matter how much time has passed from the first time you hit play, the feeling never quite goes away.