Celebrations for The Current’s 12th birthday kicked off Friday night with the first of two nights of shows in First Avenue’s Mainroom. The lineup featured three local acts — Jay Smart, Black Market Brass, and jeremy messersmith — as well as Strand of Oaks and Joseph, who are based in Philadelphia and Oregon, respectively. The artists performed to a venue brimming with people eager to celebrate great music.
Kenya-born singer-songwriter Jay Smart started off the birthday celebration and blew the audience away with his incredible vocal range and nuanced songwriting. Along with originals, many from his new EP 20 Times Wiser, his set featured two notable covers: the first a beautifully soulful rendition of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” At the end of the song, Smart said it’s one of his favorite songs, adding with a smirk that he “wrote it a few years ago for Bob Dylan.” The second cover was of a song by the headliner for night two of The Current’s 12th birthday celebrations, Haley Bonar. Smart performed a slow, dreamlike version of “Kismet Kill” that had an entrancing effect.
The stage was then engulfed as the 12-piece band Black Market Brass managed to squeeze on stage. The band’s stamina was unbelievable — from the moment the curtain lifted to the end of the very last note, there was hardly a moment without music. The result was a continuous wall of Afrobeat that washed over the crowd and felt like a tangible force flowing from the speakers for those in the front few rows. Donned in their usual jumpsuits, some in red in honor of the occasion, Black Market Brass were a powerhouse of sound and energy. Two dancers accompanied the musicians on stage, mesmerizingly interpreting the music with their bodies.
From there the energy of the night only intensified as rockers Strand of Oaks from Philadelphia took the stage. Their set was comprised of heavy riffs, classic guitar solos and head-banging: three crucial elements for a solid rock show. Timothy Showalter introduced their penultimate song, “Goshen ‘97,” as a song that’s “like getting on a train — we’re going to get on that train together and we’re just going to ride it for a bit.”
Before launching into their last song of the night, the band imparted some words of wisdom to the crowd: “Be there for each other, hug each other, make out with each other, have fun with each other, but most importantly love each other, because that’s all we have.” Strand of Oaks were also excited to announce that they will be back at First Ave this March.
Joseph‘s set was breathtaking and served as an example of the absolute beauty that can be found in simplicity. The set stood out as a delicious contrast to the high energy and untamed tempos of the past two performances. With just their three voices, an acoustic guitar and a foot drum, the sisters easily won the hearts of the audience. If the heavenly harmonies weren’t enough to instantly convince you, their sweet personalities soon did.
The adoration was apparently mutual, as Natalie Closner Schepman admitted, “this is one of our favorite places to come ever, Minneapolis.” They ended their time on stage with a song that didn’t require any introduction, “White Flag” from their most recent album, I’m Alone, No You’re Not.
Headliner jeremy messersmith appeared on stage dressed to impress and with a message to share. The set’s political pointedness started with the message of “resist” written on his guitar a la Woody Guthrie. Much of the new music that messersmith shared Friday night seemed heavily influenced by current events — “Monday You’re Not So Bad” was one of these new songs, which messersmith described as a good fit for this past week. The band were joined on stage by Laurels String Quartet and messersmith admitted after introducing them that “we don’t sound like a real band without them.”
Along with the new songs, messersmith played many crowd favorites, including “It’s Only Dancing,” “Organ Donor,” and “A Girl, a Boy and a Graveyard.” Several of the artists who had performed earlier in the night were invited on stage to play with the band, including Jay Smart and Black Market Brass trumpeter Cameron Kinghorn.
For the last song, messersmith invited Minnesota Public Radio employees to join him onstage to help sing “Little Blue World” — which was written by messersmith for MPR’s 50th anniversary. It was a heartwarming end to a memorable night.
The party continues tonight with Haley Bonar, the Lemon Twigs, Sam Roberts Band, Monica LaPlante, and ZULUZULUU.
Lillian Speakman is a junior at Hamline University and a DJ for HU Radio.
Black Market Brass
Strand of Oaks