At first blush Nicollet Avenue’s new live music hotspot, Icehouse, seems like an unlikely space for a rap show. If you get there before doors open you’ll find the place brimming with foodie patrons quietly sipping bourbon cocktails and sharing decadent small plates. But on the first Wednesday night of the month, as the dinner rush slows and the dining room starts to clear out, the space starts to shift; turntables are hauled in, mics are set up, and the tables in front of the stage are hauled away.
“It’s going to get crazy,” the venue’s manager, Brian Lieback, told me when dinner was wrapping up with excitement in his voice. And he was right—by 10 p.m. the entire mood of the venue had switched from low-key restaurant to buzzing nightclub, and somehow, it all worked incredibly well.
As the show started I found my mind returning again and again to this idea of shifting identities and malleable branding. (Yes, I went to a rap show and thought about branding. Feel free to unfollow me now.) Icehouse is attempting something bold by straddling the dining and music worlds—two industries known for their precarious fickleness—and in a way the evening’s headliners, GRRRL PRTY, have mastered a similar balancing act. As the group’s members Sophia Eris, Lizzo, and La Manchita have proven time and again now, they don’t need a single group or look or genre to attract an audience. GRRRL PRTY’s appeal is immediate and enduring because its focus is on the personality and originality of its three core members, and whether billed as Lizzo or the Chalice (which includes Lizzo and Sophia Eris) or the Clerb (which includes Lizzo and La Manchita) or GRRRL PRTY, these performers show up with their game faces on and are seemingly always ready to throw down.
In that way, GRRRL PRTY might be the closest thing our hip-hop scene has had to another Doomtree crew. Rather than invite the occasional MC to guest on a track, collaboration is the name of the game for these three MCs and their DJs. That they didn’t even need to have their EP ready for a show billed as an EP-release (and that the EP will be a digital-only offering when it does come out on Tuesday) further speaks to our increasingly fluid times; downloading the music seems like an afterthought when they can put on shows so fierce. And the fact that they are constantly passing the ball from performer to performer and sharing the spotlight in such an ego-less way keeps their momentum ratcheting up and up.
Anyway, enough analyzing. The point is that GRRRL PRTY can bill a show as “… and friends” and people will turn out in droves, and Wednesday night’s show did not disappoint. Held down by the masterful DJ Shannon Blowtorch, the evening began with a set by frequent GRRRL PRTY collaborators Sexy Delicious, a sultry R&B band who played songs from their funky new album, Too Hot to Bother, which features additional vocals from Lizzo and Sophia Eris. The highlight of their set, though, was when Lizzo and Sophia joined the band for a joyous cover of Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” that had the packed room bouncing.
La Manchita was up next with a set of solo material, and she had so many songs to choose from that it made me wonder if an album featuring just her isn’t far off. Manchita’s beats are sparser than GRRRL PRTY’s banging dance tracks, and it gave her room to stretch out her voice and delve into some darker, more personal material. Manchita also brought up Spyder Baybie and Lizzo to perform a few Clerb songs, which transitioned seamlessly into another nonstop dance party set to Blowtorch’s impressive record collection.
Lizzo was up next along with another pair of special guests, Sean Anonymous and Greg Grease—both of whom have featured her on tracks this year. After that she could have easily done a whole set of Lizzobangers material, given the crowd’s reception, but she seemed eager to skip over her solo work and get her GRRRLs back up on stage for their headlining set (both “headlining” and “set” could be in quotations, because the night was really just one long and borderless show). From then on out it was a nonstop assault as the ladies performed their new EP, TNGHT B4 XMAS, front to back and sprinted through adrenaline-fueled versions of their singles “Night Watch” and “Wegula.”
By the time the girls filed off stage and led the crowd in another booty-shaking party it was 1:30 a.m., and those who stuck it out for the full show had huge grins on their faces. Their next Icehouse night has yet to be announced, but keep an eye out for GRRRL PRTY’s new EP when it drops this Tuesday, November 12.