Best New Bands showcase at First Avenue

Categories: Concert Review
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Bouncer Fighter at the Best New Bands showcase. Photos by Daniel Corrigan; click here for the slideshow.

Local music writers and musicians are always making remarks about "how great the scene is" here in the Twin Cities, but how does one quantify such a broad statement? Anyone looking to learn more about the local scene that loves celebrating its own vibrancy would do well to check out First Avenue's yearly Best New Bands showcase; last night's lineup showcased a diverse, impressive collection of up-and-coming bands and once again proved that the Cities are home to a healthy and thriving music scene that is constantly reinventing itself.
Bouncer Fighter took the stage first with an introduction by The Current's David Campbell and Cities 97's Jason Nagel, who described them as a cross between "insane country metal and cartoon metal." The metal influence was especially prevalent in the first half of their set, when they pummeled through a few faster songs that featured low, churning riffs and a spastic violin. As their set wore on the songs got a bit lighter and even sing-songy at times, with lead singer Caleb Pease delving into the country side of their side with a high-pitched twang. But neither country nor metal really get to the heart of Bouncer Fighter's sound; they have a sort of punk-infused, raucous energy that is hard to describe, and it makes their unique sound as irresistible as it is uncategorizable.

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Maggie Morrison and Grant Cutler of Lookbook. Photo by Daniel Corrigan.

Lookbook dramatically shifted gears with a sparse, down-tempo set of moody electro pop. Lead singer Maggie Morrison was mesmerizing, with a powerful, booming voice that escaped out of her small, unassuming frame. A combination of '80s pop singer and gospel diva, Morrison's reverberated vocals were the perfect accompaniment to Grant Cutler's moody and muted mixes of droning synthesizers and echoing basslines.

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Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps. Photo by Daniel Corrigan.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Best New Bands night at First Avenue is that it gives relatively new bands the chance to perform on a stage normally reserved for big-time acts. Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps adapted remarkably well to the large stage, as Smith's characteristic warble radiated throughout the room. Between songs, Smith paused to look out at the crowd. "This is so weird," she remarked, smiling sheepishly. "I'm not nervous or anything." If Smith and her bandmates were nervous, it was hard to tell from the audience; her voice was as strong and sure as ever, and her band of sidekicks smiled and laughed their way through the set, mouthing the words along with Smith as she sang.

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Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles. Photo by Daniel Corrigan.

Smith was paired back-to-back with another folky group, Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles. Though the two singers are often compared to one another (presumably for being female and folk-oriented), there were vast differences between the two sets. Michelle sang with more of a hard-edged veracity and had a looser, more rollicking and Gypsy-tinged aspect to her music, while Smith gave a more straightforward, melodic performance. Both women took to the big room well, and the moderately sized audience swelled to its biggest for these middle sets.

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The Dynamiters. Photo by Daniel Corrigan.

Next up were two bands I hadn't seen before, the Dynamiters and Yer Cronies. Though none of the musicians in the Dynamiters are technically "new" (the band comprises former members of Die Electric!, Freedom Fighters, and the Monarques), the current lineup came together just last year. As expected, the Dynamiters played their garage- and punk-infused rock with an exactness and intensity that reflected the collective experience of the seasoned musicians. The band was a bit more poppy than I was expecting, with a few songs that were especially hooky, but drummer (and former City Pages writer) Jeff Guntzel kept the spirit of rock and roll alive by disassembling his kit and throwing his cymbals on the floor with a loud clang.

Yer Cronies played the only lackluster set of the night. Though I really enjoyed listening to their album and enjoyed their piano-laden style of melodic indie rock, the songs didn't translate very well to the large stage. Whether that was nerves, uncertainty in the large room, or a common occurrence in their live set is yet to be seen. Unfortunately, most of the audience cleared out at this point, and even though I had been looking forward to Kristoff Krane's set (I'm a huge fan) the exhaustion of the evening started to set in and I decided to head home myself.

See more photos from the evening in our slideshow.

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