Two legendary local rock groups came together on Friday to celebrate The Current’s 10th anniversary and a shared 10″ record release—joined by none other than “the most rock ‘n’ roll mayor west of New York.”
Those were St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman’s words, at least, when he proclaimed Friday, Jan. 16 to be 89.3 The Current Day in the station’s home town. The mayor made the announcement before welcoming the Suicide Commandos to the Turf Club stage. They would be joined by friends Craig Finn and Tad Kubler of the Hold Steady to play a mix of the two groups’ songs as well as some punk classics.
The Turf Club was packed from the get-go. Showgoers swarmed the merchandise tables and carried glossy copies of the hand-stamped collection of in-studio performances by the two bands. (You can watch the Hold Steady perform and listen to the Suicide Commandos play those live Current Sessions here; copies of the record will also be available for sale while supplies last at the Electric Fetus and at The Current’s remaining 10th anniversary events).
Surf sirens L’Assassins opened the show with a set worthy of the “psycho beach party” frontwoman Tea Ann Simpson sang of. The quartet’s numbers were playful and unstoppably energetic. Their retro costumes and sassy stage presence made for stunning visuals. L’Assassins were a welcome prelude to the man-show that was about to happen onstage, getting the room ready for punk without making it redundant.
Before the headliners took over, Current host Bill DeVille stepped onstage to introduce a special guest: Mayor Coleman, who quipped about how The Current reinvigorated the Twin Cities music scene, “and by that I mean St. Paul.”
“If Betsy [Hodges] was here I’d be nicer to Minneapolis, but she’s not, so hell with ’em. Yeah, I got a proclamation, so listen up,” he said, holding up an official-looking folder and reading:
Whereas 10 years ago on the radio one morning, Sean “Slug” Daley’s voice rang out telling us to say “Shh,” and whereas 10 years ago Minnesota’s public radio decided that indie music matters, that young people matter, that local music matters, and whereas that the new radio station hired the best music hosts around and changed local radio, emphasizing the best of what our local community had to offer, and whereas we have gathered at the new and improved Turf Club—OK, seriously, the Clown Lounge. You don’t stick to the floor anymore, it’s way better—to celebrate with some local kids who turned into national heroes, the Suicide Commandos and Lifter Puller, who you may know as the Hold Steady, and whereas they said it wouldn’t last, but look at ’em now, 10 years later, whereas KCMP 89.3 The Current is my personal favorite radio station, and I’m the mayor, so I can declare things just like that. How therefore I, the mayor, rock n’ roll wannabe, recovering bagpipe player, and proud listener to The Current, mayor of the City of St. Paul, do hereby proclaim Friday, Jan. 16 to be 89.3 The Current Day in the City of St. Paul.
Coleman’s proclamation was met with cheers, and the Commandos took over. Forming their power trio triangle, drummer and vocalist Dave Ahl’s first hoots immediately transported us back to a rock n’ roll of sunnier days. Switching seamlessly from song to song and one lead singer to another, the band attacked the beat, making a perfect mess of every song. They fed off each other like a group that’s been playing together since the ’70s, but their energy was raw. It’s hard to say whether that comes from years of practice, or knowing how to throw it all aside when they hit the stage.
The Current isn’t the only one celebrating a big anniversary this year: 2015 is also the Suicide Commandos’ 40th birthday. “I think it’s safe to say, don’t trust a band over 40,” Ahl joked.
When guitarist Chris Osgood invited his Hold Steady friends onstage, Craig Finn and Tad Kubler broke up the triangle. Finn’s spastic gestures from center stage upped the showmanship as they joined the Commandos on their hit “Burn It Down.” During a long interlude in Hold Steady song “Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” Finn reflected on how he got into rock despite not being “able to turn on your radio and hear cool music.” As a 12-year-old Minneapolis kid, for his birthday he got a red Fender guitar that he didn’t know how to play. His parents sent him to an Uptown guitar shop for lessons, where he met his first guitar teacher: Osgood himself.
“He taught me about rock n’ roll and he taught me about life,” Finn said. “He showed me ZZ Top for the first time, Cheap Trick, Iggy and the Stooges. And the best part is—and this is my favorite thing—before he’d answer the phone, he would turn up the stereo and then answer the phone. I was 12 years old and I said, ‘Why do you turn up the stereo before you answer the phone?’ and he said, ‘Because, Craig, you want people to think you’re having a party.’ So, to call those lessons life-changing would be a massive understatement.”
Osgood played casually next to Finn as he spoke. If he was proud, he didn’t gloat. “No talent at all, not at all,” he growled.
At the end of the set, Coleman joined the group onstage with his Telecaster for the Who’s “My Generation,” a nod to rockers of old while toasting the two bands’ continued graceful aging. After an encore of the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop,” the gang left the stage, leaving the crowd to scatter and grab the final 100 records, ears ringing as they took in the final minutes of 89.3 The Current Day.
Suicide Commandos with Craig Finn and Tad Kubler
Hailey Colwell is a journalism major at the University of Minnesota and a co-director of Theatre Corrobora.