The second night of The Current’s birthday shows impressed upon concertgoers the importance of local acts, with many of the artists saying onstage that’s why they appreciate The Current so much. Many fans even arrived early enough to catch all five bands: Bruise Violet, Gospel Machine, the Cactus Blossoms, Gramma’s Boyfriend, and Tommy Stinson.
First up for the evening’s festivities was the young grunge-punk trio Bruise Violet: Emily Schoonover on guitar and vocals, Bella Dawson on the bass and vocals, and Danielle Cusack rounding it out on the drums and vocals. You wouldn’t know it from their raw, hard-hitting sound, but Schoonover and Dawson are still in high school and Cusack is in the first half of her college career.
Their first song “Sketchy Jeff” shocked the crowd and perfectly encapsulated the sound of Bruise Violet. Starting off sweet, the song swiftly kicked everyone with a punch to the body part where they were least expecting it. Bruise Violet’s guitar roar somehow pairs perfectly with beautiful angelic harmonies of “I hate your guts” (“Sketchy Jeff”) and “Asshole” (“Gutter Boy”).
Even Cusack herself admitted, “I never thought I’d be chanting ‘asshole’ in a three-part harmony in front of this many people.” This is the second weekend in a row that Bruise Violet has been in the Mainroom — last weekend they played as one of First Avenue’s Best New Bands of 2015.
The sheer force and power of their set was clearly not expected by most of the crowd — I overhead one person saying that they had shaken “the ear wax a little bit,” and many wondered if it was necessary to go grab some earplugs for the next set.
Up next was R&B soul group Gospel Machine, with a core lineup of Jayanthi Kyle on vocals, Wes Burdine on guitar, Jimmy Osterholt on bass, David Osborn on drums, and Scott Munson on keys. They were also joined onstage by members of the Brass Messengers. Gospel Machine’s energy was infectious, with the crowd feeding on the band’s complex jams and classic soul grooves.
It was the kind of music that got people in the back — who had the most room — dancing the hardest. Kyle glowed on stage, with earrings a mile long and a big smile the whole time. Songs like “Them Young Girl Blues” — from the recently-released Your Holy Ghost — made it impossible not to draw connections from Kyle to past visionaries like Nina Simone.
Munson’s dramatic keyboard playing and Osborn’s dynamic beats also proved to be great additions. Frequent winces from Burdine and Osterholt suggested that it does, in fact, hurt to rock that hard.
In true Current birthday party fashion, the next band brought a completely different vibe to the stage – harmonious duo Cactus Blossoms. Hot off the release of their Jan. 22 album You’re Dreaming, the band led by brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey didn’t disappoint.
Even for audience members who aren’t Americana buffs, it was impossible not to be won over by the brothers’ charmingly honest on-stage presence. Their appeal was apparent from the second they came out wearing denim shirts — not a hair out of place — and started to play “Stoplight Kisses,” the first song off the new album.
While they both admit many of their songs would be considered sad, listening to them in the crowd, it felt much more even-keeled than that. A calming wave washed over the audience from new songs like “Powder Blue,” and it began to feel as though we were simply dropping in on a conversation between close friends while floating down a river.
Gliding onto the stage next were the much-anticipated Gramma’s Boyfriend, which features frontwoman Haley Bonar like you’ve never seen her before if you’ve only followed her acclaimed solo career. Bandmates Jeremy Ylvisaker, Mark Erickson, Luke Anderson, and Jacob Hanson came onto the stage proudly wearing birthday hats, while Bonar opted for a silver bodysuit and a custom-made striped neon tutu skirt.
With choreography seemingly inspired by both Martha Graham and Devo, the band moved together seamlessly from song to song as they gained momentum. While many songs off the new October album Perm were chaotic and funky, songs like “Little Lightning” reminded us of Bonar’s folk roots and “Señor Suitcase” had the whole crowd energetically saying “hola” right back to the band. Another crowd-pleaser was a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “I Live My Broken Dreams,” heard on the new album.
Immediately following Gramma’s Boyfriend, The Current had a surprise in store for us. Soul Asylum frontman Dave Pirner strode out, grabbed an acoustic guitar, and played a poignant cover of David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust.” As the screen dropped for the final set-change, the speakers roared with the world premiere of the new Soul Asylum single, “Supersonic.” (Catch its radio premiere tonight on The Current’s Local Show.)
Last but not least, Mary Lucia introduced rock star Tommy Stinson: “He’s my favorite member of Guns N’ Roses, he’s my favorite member of Bash & Pop, and he’s my favorite member of the Replacements.”
For members of the crowd whose Minnesota music memories date back to the ’80s, there was audible incredulity about seeing the legendary Stinson, and they were clearly transported back in time. The hype that had been building up the whole night wasn’t lost on Stinson, who clearly thrived on the crowd’s excitement. The songs were effortless as the entire crowd instantly began violent head-bobbing (with the occasional full on head-banging).
While Stinson’s set was energizing and by far the most well anticipated of the night, the climax of the evening was yet to come. Suddenly, Stinson decided to switch it up and ran to the back of the Mainroom to play Bash & Pop’s song “Nothing” — behind the bar. Audience members who had been unable to get close enough to the stage suddenly had front-row seats to the most-photographed event of the night.
At the risk of leaving the rest of the audience behind, though, Stinson appeared back on stage again afterward, where he continued to play acoustic and un-amplified: “Now I’ll do one up here, the same way.” It was a great note to end on, with a quick full-band encore to close out the night.
Whether you missed it or just want to relive the glory, check out the photos below — and the write-up from the first night’s shows by Cecilia Johnson here.
Mackenzie Martin is a podcast enthusiast and senior at Macalester College, where she majors in media & cultural studies.
All photos by Nate Ryan / MPR
Above: Sean McPherson and Jade introduce Bruise Violet
Above: Mark Wheat introduces Gospel Machine
The Cactus Blossoms
Above: Jill Riley and Brian Oake introduce Gramma’s Boyfriend
Above: Mary Lucia, Mark Wheat, and The Current staff introduce Tommy Stinson