I went to First Avenue on Saturday night with the intention of reviewing the Sharon Van Etten show and sticking around to check out Die Antwoord. But after spending seven hours inside, outside, and around the club taking in all the sights and sounds, it’s impossible for me to untangle the evening and describe one event without illustrating how vastly different it was from the other.
As photographer and First Ave employee Daniel Corrigan wrote while uploading a photo of Die Antwoord to Facebook: “I am surprised the contrast between the two did not rip a hole in the space-time continuum.”
The evening began rather stoically, as a modestly sized crowd filed into the Mainroom for Van Etten’s early show with openers Tennis. The opening act failed to inject any kind of energy into the room, performing note-perfect but otherwise uninspired renditions of their pop-oriented indie rock songs. But by the time Van Etten appeared on stage the crowd had swelled and pressed in close, preparing to hang on her every note and word.
Van Etten is a deeply personal and emotional songwriter and her work seems to specialize in recreating the pivotal heart-in-the-throat moments of romantic longing and loss. Her lyrics are simple and literal, and her songs leave most of the heavy lifting up to her voice — and oh, what a voice it is. Fluid and silken and warm, Van Etten’s vocal delivery commanded the room, remaining the sole focal point of each song even as the band crested and fell behind her.
Unlike her recent show at the Cedar Cultural Center, which found her chattering away between each song, cracking jokes, and otherwise lightening the mood, her Mainroom set seemed more focused, her banter more restrained. At one point, she stood blushing at the adoring audience and someone yelled “Just keep playing,” to which she gratefully nodded her head and said, “Those are some words of wisdom.” At another point, she relished in an opportunity to divert attention off of herself by announcing that guitarist Doug Keith is a Minnesota native and that he’d wanted to play First Avenue “since he was 10.”
Singles “All I Can” and “Leonard” were pulled out early in the set, and created space in the middle of the performance for a nostalgic pairing of an old song about moving home to live with her parents, “I Fold,” with the tale of leaving her parents’ house to move to New York City for doomed romance that failed to keep her there (“Give Out”). She followed that up with a new song that featured the repeated refrain “It’s too right, too right,” and a positively devastating series of her most visceral songs — namely, set closer “Love More” and encore opener “Ask.”
At the set’s end the room was promptly cleared out, and with it went all of the nights defining characteristics. Out into the night went the bookish, earnest fans that make up Van Etten’s main demographic. As the room changed over and the next act loaded in, a new line started forming outside the club. And this time they were wearing hot pants.
Up until Saturday, the connection between South Africa’s Die Antwoord and music fans in the Twin Cities was entirely digital, as their collection of bizarre, provocative, and fashion-forward videos made their way around the world via the web. Minneapolis bought up tickets so rapidly that the show sold out almost instantly, and welcomed the group to the area by donning colorful, skin-baring outfits and partying like it was their last night on earth.
The rare nature of the show, the late start time, and the confrontational qualities of Die Antwoord’s pulse-quickening rap-meets-rave music combined to create an explosive hour of nonstop movement inside the club. Rapper Ninja took great joy in amping up the already buzzing crowd, jumping off the stage and over the barrier more than once (at one point while dressed only in a pair of flimsy Pink Floyd boxer shorts), while sidekick Yo-Landi Vi$$er played up the animatronic, cartoonish nature of her high-pitched voice by donning black contact lenses and a variety of flashy, fierce outfits.
The group was just at Lollapalooza the day prior and clearly brought a lot of that big-festival energy along with them, making for a club show that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. As I filed out of the Mainroom once again, I couldn’t help but scratch my head: I can’t remember the last time I saw two such incredible shows that had so little in common with one another. What a night.
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