Local Current Blog

Review and photos: The Local Show’s Artists to Watch

Tony Peachka's Danielle Cusack and her Bruise Violet bandmate, Emily Schoonover. All photos by Emmet Kowler for MPR.

The Twin Cities enjoyed a bounty of concerts on Saturday night. Metallica rocked U.S. Bank Stadium; Wilco played Hall’s Island; Har Mar Superstar, Flume, Square Lake Music & Film Festival, and a half dozen other shows went down all over the metro. The Cedar, though, had an edge (plus written support from U.S. Representative Keith Ellison; read his letter here). Dozens of artists may have taken Twin Cities stages last weekend, but no event spotlighted more bands than the Local Show’s Artists to Watch showcase.

Last year, Local Show host Andrea Swensson posted a list of “10 new Twin Cities bands to watch,” and Apelis Productions’s Corey Bracken booked eight of those up-and-comers at the Cedar. This year, the event returned, with Swensson curating the line-up more directly. From 6 until 11:30 p.m., ten Minnesota artists on the rise — Ana Tuirán, Good Night Gold Dust, Tony Peachka, Tabah, Lexii Alijai, Lady Midnight, Holidae, Nazeem and Spencer Joles, Porno Wolves, and Fraea — showed just how promising Minnesota music is.

Just across from the blue awning of Cedar-Riverside’s West Bank Grocery, Ana Tuirán and her band kicked off the evening on the Cedar’s outdoor stage. Hailing from Mexico City, Tuirán is an elegant songwriter, setting songs like “Cerca de ti” and “Actress” to sea with smooth guitar solos (Tomás Simpson) and Brazilian-inspired rhythms. She sang in English, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese (she also speaks a bit of French), even covering samba/funk legend Jorge Ben.

Good Night Gold Dust drove up from Mankato to play the five songs off their EP, the precursor to the album they’re hoping to release next year. Like their music, their live show is sweet and tireless, with drummer Michelle Roche keeping time on her feet (she’s also the Mankato Symphony Orchestra’s timpanist). Guitarist/vocalist Colin Scharf looked electric as he veered around the stage — after the set, a woman in the lobby gasped, “Boy, that guy sure has a lot of energy!”

Tony Peachka flipped it back to the outdoor stage, playing garage pop with insatiable spirit. It may have started raining halfway through the set, but the band just upped their energy; vocalist Melissa Jones got louder, and guitarist Stephanie Jo Murck stormed out from the stage. Later, bassist Danielle Cusack jumped around with her Bruise Violet bandmate, Emily Schoonover.

Passersby had to look twice while the band’s hair whipped around and their boots stomped the wood stage. One particularly poignant image: a girl about 10 years old behind the stage, straddling her bike with her mouth wide open.

Tabah wowed the audience indoors, going from smoldering strains of indie rock to breakneck tempos within measures. They know how to set up a groove, having trained in jazz, and their lyrics landed in that sweet spot of simple and profound (example: “To believe in the kid in the corner is to be human”). “Myth,” in particular, struck a chord with me. After the news that Tabah will release their first LP in January, the man next to me had to share his excitement. He turned, saying, “They’ve really got something!”

Lexii Alijai says what she means — and she expects you to return the favor. “Tell me how you actually feel,” she rapped in “How You Feel,” which, like most of her music, gets very personal very fast. Accompanied by DJ Micropenis, she performed her “Real Friends” (Kanye) and “Exchange” (Bryson Tiller) remixes, leaving plenty of time for her Joseph’s Coat and feel∙less material. Several of Alijai’s fans made it to the showcase just to see her, rapping along with her the whole way. She also made new fans: “There’s two little boys recording [from the sidewalk],” she said, “and I know they don’t know who I am. That’s really dope.”

Lady Midnight performed with incredible charisma, using her experience in Afro-Cuban music (Malamanya), pop (VANDAAM), and several other genres to inform her satiny set. She and DJ Keezy even delivered a bassy “Hold Up” cover, ever so elegant in the music’s spareness. Lady Midnight closed with “Wax Line,” a taste of her upcoming EP with Atmosphere/Brother Ali/Murs producer Afrokeys.

Two thirds of the band couldn’t be at the show, but Holidae seemed more alive than ever while performing with four dancers, whose work gave songs like “Bodyguard” and “Darkest Shade” new depth. Nina and Marcus performed arresting choreography right in front of the audience during dark gem “Royalty,” and Ashley Gold’s voice warmed up the now-brisk night.

Nazeem and Spencer Joles brought horns and high energy to The Album tracks live, performing “Smoke Dat” and “The Kids Are Alright” all over the stage. “I turn the voices in my head into a symphony,” they rapped, and the sentence felt just right. Bonus: they brought members of Unknown Creatures to the stage and performed a joint reggae track.

Porno Wolves were my new find of the night; the bluesy rock band showed off their chops in a short, impactful set. Before playing “Young Moon Rising,” they joked, “If you guys want to howl, that’d be really nice. We’d love that.”

Fraea closed out the night with music from Bend Your Bones — although, as vocalist Jessie Daley pointed out, the band have collectively broken five bones since the EP dropped, and they haven’t bent any. Daley’s opaque voice covered synths.

I’ve seen half of these bands live, some as many as three times before, but everyone looked better than ever at the Artists to Watch showcase. That means that they’re finding what works, trying new ideas, and learning from mistakes — and that growth, above anything else, makes me excited for Minnesota music. Nothing could be more promising.