Rogue Valley, the 4onthefloor, Birthday Suits round out a jam-packed weekend of music

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Photo by Steve Cohen
DeVotchKa at First Avenue
April has historically been a busy time for touring bands stopping by the Twin Cities -- and if this weekend's overflowing concert calendar was any indication, we're in for a downright hectic spring.

On Friday night, as DeVotchKa sold out the Mainroom at First Avenue, locals Rogue Valley ran across the finish line of their massive four-albums-in-12-months endeavor that has seen them record and release a full-length album each season. Of Rogue Valley's four album release shows -- including the grandiose introduction to the project at the Fitzgerald, the somewhat lackluster rock set at First Ave, and the transcendant multimedia performance at the Cedar -- Friday's show seemed est suited for the vibe of its venue. 

Since its remodeling, the Varsity has transformed into a sort of swanky, retro-futuristic garden terrace, and the band played on that feel by extending the fake foliage onto the stage with swaths of baron tree branches and projected images of wintertime scenes. Unlike the Cedar show, however, the projections were merely a small part of the overall package, as Rogue Valley were also accompanied by two string players and a troupe of young dancers dressed in white with white woolen hunting caps, plus special guests Stephanie Wilbur Ash and Geoff Herbach reading poetry and Jeremy Messersmith making a cameo on "Shoulder to Shoulder."

"Onward and over the seasons turn," bandleader Chris Koza sang toward the end of the set. "I'm not letting you go, I'm not ready to go." One has to wonder what the future holds for this group, who have poured a relentless amount of energy and time into constructing and recording a massive 46-song catalog over the past year. Even at the albums' weaker moments (of which there aren't many), it's obvious that Koza labored over the melodies and song structures. With a voice as eerily crystalline as Koza's ("Auto-Tune was invented to mimic voices like Koza's," I scribbled in my notebook), his music runs the risk of sounding too perfect, so smooth and airtight that it just might glide right over your head, but the effort he puts into elegant compositions gives Rogue Valley's songs its hooks and heft.

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Photo by Ben Clark
Rogue Valley at the Varsity
As Rogue Valley's show was letting out, there was still plenty of time to scoot across to the other University of Minnesota campus to catch Pink Mink and Birthday Suits at the Triple Rock. There was a small but spirited crowd in attendance (heavy on the spirits), and the bands treated the audience to two blistering sets. In addition to donating all of the door proceeds to the Red Cross to benefit the earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan, Birthday Suits also hawked a series of rare old 7" records, including a small selection of Sweet J.A.P. singles that were snatched up almost instantly, while Pink Mink debuted a new "Hidden Beach" retro t-shirt. By the end of Birthday Suits' set, the crowd was literally throwing wads of cash onto the stage to benefit Japan. So awesome.

On Saturday night, J Mascis and Kurt Vile and the Violators played a sold-out show in the Entry, which also happened to be an EP-release party for openers Fauna. The band surely won over a few new fans that night, as I could hear people around me muttering "Who are these guys? They're from here?" and "What an unexpected treat!" throughout the set. Led by Zachary Vex, who also runs the effects pedal company Z. Vex Effects, Fauna plays a dark, jagged alt-rock that hearkens back to bands like J Mascis's Dinosaur Jr. and speaks to the band's roots in the '90s rock scene.

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Photo by Alexa Jones
Fauna at the Entry
"We broke up for 17 years and got back together last year," Vex explained between songs. "We just couldn't stay away from each other."

Fauna unveiled a special hand-crafted, limited-edition theremin that they had created just for the occasion, and even brought it out on stage at one point to demonstrate the instrument for the audience.

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Photo by Andrea Swensson
Back at the Triple Rock, the room was stuffed to the gills for the 4onthefloor's vinyl release show. The band looked downright giddy to be in front of such a monstrous crowd, especially since there were no advance tickets available for the show. It's clear that their recent "Are You Local?" first-place win has helped the band with their draw, and they played the hell out of their sold-out gig.

"That's how you play a fucking show!" one onlooker cried toward the beginning of their set.

Armed with four beer steins and four kick drums, the 4onthefloor tore through a set of punchy, bluesy stompers that resulted in more than a few sing-alongs in the sweaty crowd; though they are still a new band, they play with an incredible precision, lead singer Gabriel Douglas peering out into the audience with a crazed look in his eye.

At the end of the set Douglas said the band would be back in two nights to play their first annual 4/4 show at the Triple Rock, which they hope will develop into a tradition. They will be celebrating "4onthefloor Day" tonight with openers the Evening Rig, and the show is only four bucks.

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Photo by Ben Clark
Off! at the Triple Rock
An already busy weekend was capped off by another bustling night on the West Bank, as the Cedar filled to capacity for Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears and Those Darlins and the Triple Rock pulled in a big crowd for Off!, a show that featured just as much sermonizing by bandleader Keith Morris as blistering, balls-out punk rock songs. As if that wasn't enough music for the weekend, the Entry hosted buzz bands Toro Y Moi and BRAIDS, while Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame threw a late-night party over at Epic.

Now that was a weekend.


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