First Avenue's 20 best concerts: #10-1

Categories: Lists

3. Public Enemy, First Avenue, 12/12/88
In a time before Chuck D became the hip-hop guy every NPR listener could quote, Public Enemy was the band that was scary. Hip hop went from the cartoony plumage of Grandmaster Flash to the harder attitudes of Ice-T and PE. Walking into their first show felt dangerous -- at least from my perspective as gothy teenager from Fridley. It felt like a moment where everything changed. Punk rock wasn't dangerous anymore, but this was. With Griff and the hard-stepping of the Nation of Islam soldiers, Chuck D and Flavor Flav stepped so hard that it was bouncing Terminator X's turntables. It was a bit like losing your virginity, only without sex and a lot more references to Louis Farrakhan. --Chris Strouth
2. Prince, First Avenue, 7/07/07
Needless to say, there are countless Prince shows at First Ave that could fit in this slot. Take your pick from the run of mid-'80s blowouts, the filming of Purple Rain, the exploration of Sign O' the Times, and so forth. This was the most surprising show of them all. On the morning of 7/7/07, my alarm went off at 5 a.m. I rolled out of bed and got hastily dressed. It was Prince day. People had been sleeping on the sidewalks surrounding First Avenue since the night before, and I was worried I wouldn't get there in time. After an eight-hour wait I had both a wristband and a ticket.  
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Another eight-hour wait later that night proved that it was worth everything to see Prince onstage in his second home again. It came along with a performance in Macy's and at Target Center. Sheila E and Wendy showed up, among other special guests, and it took the Minneapolis police to shut down the show around 4 a.m. --Stacy Schwartz
1. Joe Cocker, the Depot, 4/03/70
Nothing feels as sweet as the first time. According to the April 4, 1970, edition of the Minneapolis Tribune, "not since the truck drivers' strike of 1934 is it likely that there has been such excitement, such chaos, such congestion, such noise just off Hennepin Av. as there was Friday night." The account, which later calls the space Fillmore Upper Midwest, says that carpeting and other interior decorations weren't yet installed, but the old bus station was packed with sun-tanned men and women wearing expensive hippie garb by the time Cocker hit the stage just after 8 p.m. The $10 tables were full, the $4 standing room was reserved for those willing fight for it, and the initial stocking of booze was used up by showtime. A long-haired Cocker worked hard on a stage filled with 40 people, "singing like a black man" and dancing "like a spastic," and the two sets had the feel of a circus sideshow. From day one, this club had its magnetic persona established. --Reed Fischer  

What was your favorite show at First Avenue? Write us, and send photos to and we'll include you in a list of readers' picks on the blog next week.

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