For the first of two back-to-back nights at First Avenue, a young and enthusiastic crowd arrived early and screamed and sang along all night to sets by locals Allan Kingdom, Hippo Campus, and Dead Man Winter, and the Current’s first national birthday party headliner, Cold War Kids.
Both of the Twin Cities were well represented throughout the night, with Allan Kingdom and Hippo Campus repping St. Paul and former Mayor RT Rybak extolling the virtues of Minneapolis in his introduction of Dead Man Winter. But the portion of the metro population that really turned up was the all-ages crowd; when Allan Kingdom asked the crowd to wave their phones in the air, what really stood out was just how many of those phones were being held up by hands with big black Xs scrawled across them.
That youthful, ecstatic energy helped to light a fire under the performers from the very first song. Backed by DJ Tiiiiiiiiiiip, Allan Kingdom gave a stylish performance dressed in a rippling silk shirt and small collection of scarves. Given how sparse many of his beats are (“Evergreens,” for example, skitters forward over pulsing flutes and basic midi tones), the setup gave Kingdom plenty of room to show off his versatile voice, which he pushes seamlessly through staccato raps, punctuated yelps, and smooth, soulful croons.
“Who’s at the back? Are those some middle-aged people?” Kingdom asked between songs, surveying the scene. “Well, they’re cool too. My parents are middle-aged.”
The room was almost completely full by the time Hippo Campus went on, and the screams of appreciation started before the screen had even lifted to reveal the band. With all four members grinning and giggling like they were high on Pixy Stix, Current host Jill Riley acknowledged the crowd’s excitement by noting, “Boy, you guys must be really excited for Hippo Campus, huh?” And with another roar of screams, the mutual lovefest began.
Much like Kingdom, Hippo Campus have already evolved significantly since they began performing a short year and a half ago. It was impressive to see just how much punch they can pack into each swell and crest, and they held onto the crowd’s attention for dear life as they rose and fell together as a quartet. Lead singer Jake Luppen has also grown even more comfortable and confident on stage, and he sprinkled in some heartfelt banter anytime he wasn’t thrashing around behind his mic stand.
Although their debut EP, Bashful Creatures, is certainly nothing to scoff at, the tracks from that release took on another life in the live setting—especially the title track, which climaxed with all four members singing in beautiful harmony. And the new songs they debuted showed incredible potential; although he was rather opaque on the details, Luppen suggested several times that some kind of follow-up album is already in the works.
Given how audibly the room was buzzing after Hippo Campus’s set, it’s a good thing they were succeeded by a collection of music scene veterans like Dead Man Winter. The energy shifted rapidly as Dead Man Winter wound into their simmering roots-rock jams, but Dave Simonett proved that he knows just how to slow-burn his way into people’s hearts. Backed by Erik Koskinen, Bryan Nichols, JT Bates, and his Trampled by Turtles bandmate Tim Saxhaug, Simonett started with a version of TBT’s “Repetition” that was more in line with the cut from his early 2014 solo EP. By the set’s apex, “Hollow,” the band had constructed a massive wall of sound, and they held the audience rapt through their finale performance of the heart-string-tugging “A Long, Cold Night in Minneapolis.”
And for the first time in the Current’s five-year history of hosting anniversary shows at First Avenue, touring act Cold War Kids finished off the night with a nonstop string of singles and hits. It was astonishing just how many of the band’s songs had been in the Current’s rotation over the years, and even a casual fan like myself had plenty of opportunities to bounce and sing along to songs like “Hang Me Up to Dry” and “Audience.”
Cold War Kids clearly have a knack for writing earwormy, hooky melodies, but they also brought a harder, punk-influenced edge to their songs live and ended the evening on a rambunctious and infectious high. And with no encore, they definitely left the crowd wanting more.
Cold War Kids set list:
All This Could Be Yours
Louder Than Ever
Hang Me Up to Dry
Something is Not Right