Everybody who knows anything about First Avenue knows its significance to the 1980s music scene. The heart of the Twin Cities punk and funk scenes during the time, the historic nightclub was the pulse of the music that was coming out of Minnesota. Complicated Fun: The Minneapolis Music Scene, a new play presented by the History Theatre in association with McNally Smith College of Music, aims to capture the spirit of that era.
Written by Alan Berks and directed by Dominic Taylor, the play is about a fictionalized cast of misfit youths who find themselves in awe at punk’s beginnings. In one scene, a girl hands a boy a copy of the Replacements’ Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash on cassette as he confusedly reads the album’s tracklist: “I Hate Music”? “Somethin’ to Dü”? “Shutup”?
Described as a “mixtape love letter to the counterculture sounds that made Minneapolis famous” and named after a song by the Suicide Commandos, the play harkens back to punk’s formative years, the do-it-yourself ethos that made anybody feel like they could start a band, or emulate punk’s divisive attitude.
Some members of McNally Smith’s faculty are the basis for characters in the play. Among them are Steve McClellan, First Avenue’s manager in the ‘80s who now teaches music business, and Chris Osgood, a member of the Suicide Commandos and the college’s vice president of community relations. McClellan was the longtime manager of First Ave, and Osgood helped secure the rights for the music performed in Complicated Fun.
At a Sunday night preview event, Osgood and McClellan spoke about their experiences in the ’80s scene. Osgood praised McClellan for always paying bands fairly — in contrast, he remembered, after one show at another venue the Suicide Commandos were simply offered a third of what was in each cash register.
Another scene finds the cast in a record store debating tastes with typical music snobbery. “Are you a Dü or with the ‘Mats?” one girl asks an out-of-place boy. “Do you play an instrument? Are you in a band?” In another, as a crowd watches an early performance by the Replacements, they question why one of the member chose to wear a tutu onstage.
With music direction by Nic Delcambre, the play features 26 live cover songs that soundtrack the ‘80s in Minneapolis, from Husker Dü to the Replacements to the Suicide Commandos to Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis to the Suburbs and more. In a performance of the Replacements’ “Here Comes a Regular,” Delcambre fully embodied the song’s deep angst.
“First Avenue certainly has its place in history,” Osgood said in a press release. “This play shows what happened in the ’80s and how that set the table for everything that was to come.”
Complicated Fun: The Minneapolis Music Scene runs April 30 – May 29. For tickets and more information, visit historytheatre.com.
Peter Diamond is a senior at the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities and a sound and vision editor of The Wake Student Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @repetediamond.