The Current's 9th Birthday Party, night one, at First Avenue, 1/24/14

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Tony Nelson

The Current's 9th Birthday Party, Night One
Featuring Har Mar Superstar, Lizzo, Night Moves, and Actual Wolf
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Friday, January 24, 2014

Exactly nine years to the day of the Current first going on the air, First Avenue was sold out and buzzing on Friday night, as a strong lineup of locally based talent was on full display. All four acts were eager to entertain the packed house as well as personally thank the radio station that showed them support.

See Also: Slideshow: The Current's 9th Birthday Party, Night One, 1/24/14
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Actual Wolf started the night with a rollicking opening set, with Eric Pollard getting the crowd more than warmed up with his stirring songs and stellar backing band. He was joined by brothers Jake and Jeremy Hanson (on guitar and drums, respectively), Low/Retribution Gospel Choir's Steve Garrington on bass, and Erik Koskinen on guitar, with all of them giving Pollard's rootsy, Americana-drenched songs some extra kick. In fact, the band was having such an enjoyable time on stage that the set came off like a live Basement Tapes session, with the group injecting the material with a loose, vibrant quality that easily won over the room.

Photos By Tony Nelson

Pollard sprinkled a few new songs (including a lovely version of "Thinkin' of You") into the well-paced set, with the band picking up steam and growing more sonically adventurous as the performance went on. "Kerosene & Spark" and "Let It Go" were early set highlights, before Pollard fittingly dedicated an absolutely smoking version of "Hydrant Eyes" to Current DJs David Campbell and Bill DeVille -- both early supporters of Pollard's music who gave his songs some precious spins on the air and helped his career take off. The band had been teasing us a bit throughout the set, with scorching but all-too-brief guitar solos peppering the songs, but on the set-closing "Victims & Things," they really stretched things out and went for it, with a blissful cascade of guitars washing over the appreciative crowd, who saw the band off with a well-earned ovation.

Strange Names have been working on their debut full-length for a while now, and were clearly excited to show off plenty of new songs during the grand festivities. That was a bold and confident move in front of an audience that is still in the process of familiarizing themselves with the electro-pop pulse of the band. But frontman Liam Benzvi was clearly in the mood to party, playfully sporting x-ray specs throughout the set, while exuberantly telling the crowd, "I'm Whoopi Goldberg, and you're my Sister Act."

Photos By Tony Nelson

The group also brought out their friend, singer Tara Loeper, to give the new material an added vocal sheen. The older tracks that the crowd did recognize went over well, with "Potential Wife" and new single "Ricochet" all soaring within the club. But the band were clearly most excited about debuting their new songs, and devoted much of the set to material featured on their forthcoming album, which guitarist Francis Jimenez announced will be coming out on April 1. The new tracks oscillated between lively, Devo-like excursions and pulsating, New Order-esque jams, with Benzvi exclaiming, "Tonight's about fun" while introducing the numbers. And indeed it was, as Strange Names' infectious spirit and buoyant songs easily won over plenty of new fans while getting their older supporters even more excited about what is to come for the band.

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