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First Avenue’s Best New Bands (Minneapolis, MN)

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First Avenue’s annual showcase of the Twin Cities’ best new bands returned this year bringing together 2007’s unusual talent pool that included acts ranging from ambient noise to African hip hop to stoner rock. Though each set was far too short to allow any band to leave an honest impression the overall consensus was that Minneapolis is one of the best in the country in terms of emerging acts.

To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie, the one-time Stereogum favorites, were burdened with the difficult position of opening the show to a still-scattered audience yet ahead of the night’s six other bands. In an attempt to combine a booming triumph of sound the band overshadowed itself however, clashing a bit as it failed to harness a mixture of textbook level shot calling and with spontaneity. The ultimate reality was set by a band with eyes possibly still bigger than its stomach; shooting for Sigur Rós but coming up quite a bit short.

A Night in the Box followed by introducing a trend of energy that would continue through much of the rest of the evening’s showcase. Multi-instrumentalist Travis Hetman began the set by tuning up his mandolin, plugging in and leading drummer Alex Dalton and violinist Kailyn Spencer in a effortless introduction to the band’s version of electric busking. Singer/guitarist Clayton Hagen joined the group as it proceeded with its set of fierce bluegrass and dirt road gospel. Oddly then that the following band, Black Audience would retroactively pursue that trend with the showcase’s next set, playing a sit down blend of deceptively authentic music. Singer Jayanthi Kyle fronted the act as it utilized the historical puzzle pieces that had come to help define American music many years ago; the guitar, banjo, bass, drums and even the spoons. In the process Kyle and crew delivered a set strongly based in realistic theme while expelling the seriousness of the evening with a parodiable crowd pleasing, seductive finale.

The sounds of the next band, Gospel Gossip, are entirely misleading when heard as individual recorded tracks. Ironic then, that singer Sarah Nienabor mumbled something to the effect of “this is our pop song” before trouncing the stage during the band’s extended conclusion. The performance can best be described by a brief conversation I had with a friend after the set had finished. “I can’t recall if anyone’s written this anywhere, but didn’t the singer remind you of…” “Yes.”

I’ve been witness to some fantastic moments of spectacle on stage, but the impressive display of intuition and sheltered chaos by the young Nienabor can only, if even to a fault, draw similarity to that of the once self destructive Kurt Cobain. Playing pop songs has never lent itself kindly to thrashing about the stage, throwing trash or casually falling over, but surprisingly Gospel Gossip destroyed any preconceived ideas I may have had of the band with its fantastic set.

M.anifest took the stage after a brief set of introduction, joining an already waiting crowd of comprised of backup singers, a DJ and backup MC. The Ghana-come-Minneapolis rapper, who appeared draped in a knee-length dashiki, immediately began fueling the crowd with usual hop hop hype spots before breaking into a string of fantastic socially-centric material. Playing a variety of tracks from his 2007 release Manifestations, including “She Lives,” “Africa Represent,” and “Babylon Breakdown,” the high spot of the set came when Muja Messiah took the stage with M.anifest, both joining in on Messiah’s of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes.

Prior to Mouthful of Bee’s first note, the night’s MCs Dave Campbell and Jason Nagel introduced them as the band with the most hype leading to the event, and without a doubt they were right. The obvious fan favorites, Mouthful of Bees’ return to the live setting was greeted with an eagerly awaiting full house, a luxury that few bands had during the evening. There was an odd feel to the set however, one that measured itself by a sense of constricting awkwardness. While it has been since the summer since the band maintained any sort of live schedule the set felt a little bloated, with keyboardist Simon Larson seemingly distancing himself from the tight four piece. Whether or not the short set was indicative of a negative state within the band however is a bit of a mute point though as Mouthful of Bees played as confident as ever, especially so with its ever-growing audience.

The one true shame of the showcase was the way that Campbell and Nagel jokingly name dropped Gay Witch Abortion throughout the entire even leading up to the duo’s performance. It wasn’t in a way that was cynical or harmful, but it still insinuated that the name was the attraction and the band who subsequently played fantastic music was extra. For a genre that heralds such acts as The Fucking Champs it seems unnecessarily so that the duo may have been named as such for sake of publicity rather than just blend in with their contemporaries (though it must be noted that Gay Witch Abortion is a fantastic name for a band). All the same Shawn Walker and Jesse Bottomley took the stage with little show, immediately driving into the first of many pulsating tracks. Bottomley, who could double for Josh Homme if only he were about 40 pounds heavier, had a rock star wife and a full band backing him, was shattering in his stoner-picking delivery – often bouncing his Cry Baby off the stage as it shuttered and chirped out. Likewise, Walker’s smashing delivery only took up rest for slugs of PBR (with the occasional water chaser…musicians need hydration too) before ensuing with the duo’s set. If it weren’t for A Night in the Box’s refreshing string of well crafted songs and me being a handful of beers closer to bed by the time they hit the stage Gay Witch Abortion could have very well been my pick as the best performance of the 2007 edition of First Avenue’s Best New Bands.