First Avenue's 20 best concerts: #20-11

Categories: Lists
Photo by Erik Hess
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First Avenue is undoubtedly among the premier rock clubs in the country -- possibly the world. Since 1970, the building at the intersection of First Avenue and Seventh Street North in downtown Minneapolis has hosted drinking, dancing, and live music as the Depot, Uncle Sam's, Sam's, and since 1981, First Avenue. The iconic silver stars naming past performers painted on the outside walls tell part of the story of the club, but the anecdotes of obscenely cheap tickets, balmy temperatures, and youthful days arriving long before the jaded regulars are what make this building an institution. Even riskier than summing up the best shows from the club's 42-year history would be to let these ear-shattering, heart-warming evenings go forgotten. Here are 20 of the finest nights First Avenue ever had. --Reed Fischer
20. Arcade Fire/ Wolf Parade/ Bell Orchestre, First Avenue, 9/29/05 
Arcade Fire were well on their way to indie-rock success story when they rolled into this sold-out Mainroom show, but even the local skeptics became full-blown believers. The band played nearly all of their utterly brilliant debut LP, Funeral, as well as three tracks from their self-titled EP, but it was their stellar cover of David Bowie's "Five Years" -- the band had just performed it with him earlier that month at a Fashion Rocks event -- that truly made this show magical. By the time openers Wolf Parade came out to join the band for a euphoric version of "Wake Up" that closed out the show, the Canadian collective had alerted each and every one of us that a new day was indeed dawning in rock 'n' roll. --Erik Thompson
19. Meat Beat Manifesto, 7th St. Entry, 11/10/89
This was the Sex Pistols in Manchester for a good chunk of what would become the Minneapolis techno scene. Since it was a Friday night -- the day after the regular house music night in the entry, House Nation -- they already had a ton of bass cabinets to make the Entry into a giant bass bin. The Meat Beat show was three musicians and two male modern dancers in techno dinosaur armor. It was captivating and ridiculous as the dancers locked their feet into the Entry's lighting trusses, and danced upside down for large chunks of the show. There weren't more than 35 people in the room, but within two years at least 20 of them had techno records out. I watched part of that show with First Avenue booker Steve McClellan, who just kept rolling his eyes and muttering. The only other time I saw him do that was at Lisa Suckdog playing in the Entry with an act that consisted mostly of having sex, talking in French and, I think, eating chocolate cake. --Chris Strouth
18. Burning Spear, First Avenue, 9/24/01
Reggae legend Burning Spear (Winston Rodney) has always been a powerful performer at First Avenue. But in the first weeks following 9/11, reggae's pillars of peace, love, and positivity seemed like Dorothy believing in the Wizard. If anyone else in the Mainroom was doubting the love of Jah Ras Tafari that night, Spear shook it out of us. He was in very strong voice, and his band was coming off of months on the road together: They could feel each other. Spear fixed his eyes at a point above and beyond the audience and swayed, his shoulders shook with a shiver and he started, "We are here to pick up the pieces, come along my brothers, come along my sisters." He seemed to be channeling more than singing that night. My friend took pictures and she swears there are "orbs" around Burning Spear in the photo. I don't believe in orbs, but I believe in reggae again. --Rachel Lee Joyce
17. Pulp, First Avenue, 5/26/96
It's stunning how much the nattily dressed Jarvis Cocker expressed with his legs during this performance. The Pulp frontman thrilled a lively, combative crowd while leading his band through a set that pulled heavily from the near-perfect Different Class album. While every Britpop fan at the time (including myself) was wasting far too much breath on Oasis, this was the band that exceeded what little stateside hype they'd earned. One woman in the crowd was either trying to flirt with Cocker, or just make a scene. Either way, she repeatedly lambasted him for the commentary found in "Common People." And, proving his deftness once again, he sidestepped it all and suggested they discuss the matter afterward. And a not-so-humble brag to those who are shelling out to see Pulp in reunion mode right now, note that this show was $5! --Reed Fischer

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