The Current's 8th Birthday Party, Night Two Featuring Cloud Cult, Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner, Now, Now, the Chalice (with YN Rich Kids aka the Kids) First Avenue, Minneapolis Saturday, January 19, 2013
Sometime during most people's mid-twenties, birthdays start to look a bit self-indulgent. There's no inherent faux pas in celebrating the annual milestone so long as the event has a meritable weight behind it. It's unclear how many eight is in radio station years, but Saturday night's back half of the Current's annual celebration of genial disc jockeying felt like those biggest and booziest birthdays may be behind us.
Side-by-side, Friday night of the Current's two-day bash boasted a more flavorful lineup. And
much like the pitfalls of any party planning, adapting to the schedules
of your desired guests can often be a bitch. The evening's two standout
performances came early and left early. 2012 Picked 2 Click winners the
Chalice led the night with a pristine near-hour set. As rich with hip
hop talent as this city is, the Chalice' mid-level production and
world-beat leanings are comparably fragile. It's refreshing to hear it
played in a venue like First Avenue that can keep things loud without
Photo by Erik Hess
The women of The Chalice also
managed to dodge with poor fortune of having to follow YN Rich Kids, now known as the Kids. They proceeded with a spot-on performance of last year's now-ubiquitous
"Hot Cheetos and Takis." It's the closest people in the crowd ever came
to losing their minds over what was playing out on stage. I would have
not expected the moment to become the evening's great unifier, but the
most cherished facets of any local identity tend to be the things that
look the most silly from the outside.
Photos by Erik Hess
The Current's celebration could benefit from more of these weirdo
moments amidst the utterly reverent attitude most participants exhibited
throughout the evening. Both Blaine trio Now, Now and Soul Asylum
frontman Dave Pirner gushed over the station's support as if any recent
artistic successes were entirely ascribable to MPR. I'm not trying to
diminish the prism of resources and avenues of exposure that The Current provides for local
artists. Their in-studio output alone can rival the
publicly-sponsored fare on either coastline. I guess I just wish more bands realized how happy The Current staff was to have them there as well.
That praiseful attitude did, after all, pad out two sets that left something to be desired. There's a modern anachronism at play within Now, Now's music that can be hard to ignore. Last year's Threads was released in part by the record label of Death Cab For Cutie guitarist Chris Walla, and they work with the same crisp guitar effects found across his Seattle-Tacoma pallet. But much of the group's electronic instrumentation sounds out of place against their emotive guitar playing. Many of the keyboard effects Now, Now uses would be more at home in songs full of MGMT's brand of youthful camp. Their eventual glockenspiel patterings seemed much more appropriate for the mix rather than their synthetic melodies did.
And while Dave Pirner's acoustic set seemed to have full support of the audience, the work from his full-band catalog couldn't stand with only two guitars holding up the songs. Delayed Reaction favorite "Gravity" was a remarkable high point. Co-pilot Justin Sharbono's acoustic harmonies made it hard not to imagine the song being written by a solo Pirner in the first place. Still, songs like the mournful "Oh, Karl" did not float well through a crowd that had already grown chatty by 10:30 p.m. Nor did the protest preach of "Black Gold." Pirner did, however, have a choice quote in regards to this Grave Dancers Union cut's meaning when he told the crowd, "This song used to be about the Gulf [War], but now it's about fracking." After teaching everyone that protest songs can shift their intentions around as current zeitgeist sees fit, Pirner gave us the sing-along many were waiting for with "Runaway Train."
Around, 11 p.m. the crowd's volume helped clarify that this drove came for Cloud Cult. Ringleader Chris Minowa's words could be heard across the crowd as the group pounded out Light Chasers favorite "You'll Be Bright" early on. While the
communal energy never peaked past a gentle head nod, it's easy to
assume that Cloud Cult will sell out their first headlining Mainroom
performance when they return in April to support the March release of Love.
Photos by Erik Hess
Regardless, it was a bit disheartening to see so many empty indie-rock
gestures unfold on stage during Cloud Cult's set. A gnashing new number from Love required Minowa to sing through a megaphone a la Win Butler. But it's an aesthetic choice that seems trivial when all the instrumentation still sounds pristine, regardless of the pace. And the frontman's decision to leave his socks and shoes backstage makes him no more a man of earthly insight than a pair of designer ripped jeans would make him a construction worker. It's a showiness that seems more concerned with appearance than
sincerity. Someone's birthday party is an unfortunate time to be insincere with people.
But that's the trickiness of the Current's annual affair and
birthdays in general. Like any good party, the guests in attendance are those who make the experience memorable. It's a shame Saturday night's best bands made their exits from the stage so early in the evening. There's always next year.
Critic's Bias: I
always try to keep an open mind at The Current's birthday parties as I
know any event's success involves a certain level of satisfying the most
central demographics. But in comparison to either night from past last
two years, Saturday was pretty vanilla.
Random Notebook Dump: "If I were a dad, I'd come here once a year to make my kid listen to my 'Now there's a face for radio' jokes."
Now unfortunately lost about ten listeners -- myself included -- to a teenage
couple that put on a hell of an audible and visual demonstration on how
to round second base.