Local Current Blog

Caroline Smith, Howler, Heiruspecs and the Cactus Blossoms round out night two of the Current’s 9th birthday

You know it’s a good party when one of the biggest stars from the first night comes back to perform an encore at the second. After delivering a show-stopping set on Friday, Lizzo returned at the end of headliner Caroline Smith’s performance to steal the spotlight once again—and it was just as much a testament to the collaborative nature of the Minnesota music scene as it was a quick victory lap for the powerhouse rapper and singer.

But first a quartet of local artists took the audience on a Tilt-a-Whirl ride through a variety of genres, tempos, and volume levels. Country crooners the Cactus Blossoms started the evening on a quaint note; as brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum serenaded the audience with their incredible vocal harmonies, the band laid down honky-tonk grooves that transported the audience out of the cold January weather and onto the sunny grounds of a county fair.

“There’s just enough room in here to waltz,” Torrey instructed before launching into “Adios Maria,” and the crowd nervously laughed (who us? Waltz?) and bobbed their heads to the buoyant beat.

The mood shifted quickly to accommodate the celebratory hip-hop of Heiruspecs, who have been fairly quiet in recent years but who performed like they had never taken a break from the stage. Led by MC Felix and chameleonic beatboxer, vocalist, and rapper Muad’dib, the crew debuted a few new tunes in addition to fan favorites like “5ves” (which was released just a few months before the Current went on air, in late 2004) and “Get Up.”

“We’re just trying to bridge that gap, you know what I’m saying? Between Cactus Blossoms and Howler,” Felix joked between songs.

Though some of the songs they played were a decade old, Heiruspecs’ music has aged incredibly well—perhaps because of the vintage soul backbone that runs through so much of their music, which will (hopefully) never go out of style, or perhaps because of the band’s ability to create an almost hypnotic, scintillating mood. The new material (including lead single “Towers”) nestled in nicely alongside the older songs and got fans excited for the release of their next album, which is due out in late March.

Speaking of bands with albums coming out in March, Howler followed with a set that leaned heavily on songs from their forthcoming World of Joy. Though they clearly idolize iconic ’80s punk bands like Hüsker Dü and the Replacements, the Howler of 2014 offers up quick-paced, polished, and tight rock ‘n’ roll that is powered more by sheer momentum than the raw emotion that defined their predecessors’ work. Early song “Back of Your Neck,” for example, used to feel loose and jangly; this time around the band (which has swapped out founding drummer Brent Mayes for new hire Rory MacMurdo) pummeled through the song so fiercely that lead singer Jordan Gatesmith joked that it was their version of death metal.

With the audience’s ears still ringing from Howler’s aural assault, Caroline Smith took the stage with her expanded band, including backup singers Hannah von der Hoff and Dear Data’s Mina Moore, to present the neo-soul songs off her latest album, Half About Being a Woman. Smith seemed less self-conscious than at her album-release show, trading her previously nervous-sounding stage banter for a few concise nods of appreciation to the Current and her ever-growing fanbase.

The band labored through a few technical difficulties—there was either a faulty cord or amp causing loud bursts of feedback—but Smith stayed on point, leading the band in and around the mishaps with grace. And she shined especially bright on the slow-burning title track of her new album, the scintillating “Bloodstyle,” which featured special guest Mike Lewis (Happy Apple, Fat Kid Wednesdays, Bon Iver, the Cactus Blossoms) on sax, and an encore rendition of “Closing the Doors” that bridged the divide between her current soul material and her folkie roots.

Check out our recap of night one, and more of Nate Ryan’s photos from Saturday night right here: