Friday, May 25, 2012

Thoughts on Three Venues - Part One

It seems that live music schedules in the Twin Cities are forever feast or famine (such is life in a medium-sized music market, I guess). As a result, I recently found myself with tickets for three shows in the course of seven days. A hectic schedule of a type I hadn't experienced in several years which, given my age and early work schedule, took it's toll on both body and mind. As it happens, each of the shows were in quite different venues, each providing largely positive, if vastly different concert-going experiences...

Night one: St Vincent with openers Shearwater, First Avenue Mainroom, Saturday, May 12, 2012

Having been to at least a hundred shows at First Avenue and the 7th Street Entry over the past 25 years, it seems only natural that I would come to take the venue for granted, and until recently, this was indeed the case. Twin Cities outsiders would often laud it as a great venue, but I mostly took those compliments with a grain or two of salt, as so many people seemed to be influenced by the "Prince factor" (you'd be amazed  by the number of people who come to Minneapolis who think that Prince literally owns First Avenue). Repeated encounters with the often surly staff and haughty VIPs led my friends and I to rechristen it "Forced Attitude". Only recently have I come to understand that First Ave is actually one of the great club venues, and on Saturday, May 12th, 2012 I fell in love with the place all over again.

We arrived relatively early to claim our favorite spot right behind the sound desk. We used to arrive extra early in order to grab seats in the balcony in the days before First Ave realized that they could make those reserve seats and charge a massive premium for them. As my wife and I are getting too old to go sloshing around in the pit, and given that we are both of rather hobbit-ish height, this spot, behind and up two steps from the controls is ideal. Shortly (no pun intended) after we staked out our territory, one of the First Ave sound guys, who proudly announced that he'd been working there for over 30 years, turned to us and told us that we had the best spot in the room and that we were in for a treat, as First Ave had just installed a fabulous new gajillion-watt sound system (he didn't say "gajillion" but I can't rightly recall the exact figure. Suffice it to say it was impressive).

I must firmly attest that the crusty old hipster sound dude was not lying. Shearwater, to whom I had listened on Spotify (note to self: do not judge a band by how they sound on Spotify with crappy laptop speakers) and thought were "okay, but the singer's voice is a bit too Bunny-Bear-ish", came on and sounded quite fantastic indeed. As I marveled at the Mainroom's new and striking combination of both volume and clarity, I grew ever more anxious to hear what St Vincent was going to sound like. They did not disappoint. Annie Clark (aka St Vincent) put on one of the best shows I've seen in ages. Highlighted by the out of this world, stumbling backward, android-mannequin dance she would do whenever she broke into one of her signature guitar freak-outs; her killer backing band; her ever-improving and already stellar cover of the Pop Group's "She Is Beyond Good and Evil" (though I doubt most of the crowd could identify the original); and topped by the most exciting front-person crowd surfing I've seen since Iggy Pop.

Several recent remodeling tweaks (notably moving of the stage-left stairway, which blocked sight lines from the right side of the audience) along with the fabulous new gajillion-watt sound system, have made First Avenue better than ever. I am looking forward with greater anticipation than ever to my next  opportunity (whatever it may be) to attend a show at First Avenue. On one night in may, at least to my mind, the Mainroom at First Avenue firmly re-established itself as the premiere venue for a big rock show in the Twin Cities.

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