Last night, First Avenue played host to the Star Tribune‘s eighth annual Are You Local? Showcase — an annual show celebrating the local talent of the Twin Cities. The show boasted two well-established local acts as headliners: the longtime hometown heroes the Suburbs and the quirky post-punk band Gramma’s Boyfriend. The winner of this years Are You Local? contest, Nick Jordan also had his time onstage as part of his prize for being named this year’s best new act. The stark contrasts among the different musical styles of the three performers made for a dynamic night of music, all weaved seamlessly together with the help of DJ Shannon Blowtorch.
The celebration of local music appropriately started off with an enthralling performance by Nick Jordan. Friday night’s performance marked the first time being on the Mainroom stage for the 23-year-old singer-songwriter, and it probably won’t be the last. Accompanied onstage by a full band behind him as well as two backup singers and a host of dancers, Jordan put on the most sensual and sassy performance of the night. The moment Jordan stepped on stage, flanked on either side by his two dancers, it was clear he was going to make the most of his set.
The range and power of his voice, as well as his unwavering energy throughout the set, made it clear why Jordan had emerged triumphant as best new act. Not only does Nick Jordan know how to sing, he also knows how to put on an entertaining show. Nearly every song that was performed, the majority being from his debut LP NJ, had detailed choreography. The dancers, who are apart of the Energy Dance Collective, were meticulously in time with each other and the music, captivating the audience.
As an introduction to his last song, “Old School,” Jordan shared a personal revelation: “I wrote this when I was 19, I’m 23 now. That was when I realized songwriting was a superpower, and that it’s my superpower.”
Star Tribune music critic and co-host of the night, Chris Riemenschneider, certainly seemed to agree. After Jordan’s performance, Riemenschneider made a point to mention how the set made him think of Prince’s attendance at last year’s Are You Local? show and about how he wished Prince could’ve been there last night to witness Nick Jordan’s performance.
Following Jordan, the experimental outfit Gramma’s Boyfriend lit up the stage. Just last month, frontwoman Haley Bonar was at First Avenue as a solo artist, headlining the second night of the Current’s 12th Birthday Party. This night Bonar appeared onstage in sunglasses, wearing an American flag dress and sparkly, silver leggings. Half way through the set, the dress was abandoned to reveal a t-shirt made to look like a man’s chest, complete with nipples and a hairy back.
The band kicked off with “Down in a Bucket,” the catchy first track off of their sophomore album, Perm. The set also included two covers: Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” and Daniel Johnston’s “I Live My Broken Dreams,” the latter of which can also be found on the Perm album. The band seemed to be enjoying themselves — especially Bonar, who bopped around on stage, occasionally throwing in some aggressive head bangs. Gramma’s Boyfriend ended their set with the love ballad “Glitter” from their debut album The Human Eye.
Finally, the Suburbs dominated the stage for well over an hour. Haley Bonar was not the only musician that night with a noteworthy wardrobe. The Suburbs were dressed to impress and looking rather dapper in their snazzy suit jackets. Even guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker — who had a busy night performing with both Gramma’s Boyfriend and the Suburbs — made a minor wardrobe change to a red velvet jacket to fit the ranks.
Their set contained all the classics spanning the band’s lengthy career, much to the joy of those in the crowd who cheered when their favorite song was played. The band also played the title track and other new material from their forthcoming album, Hey Muse.
Some fans had a hard time containing their excitement, resulting in some moshing breaking out toward the end of the set and again during “Rattle My Bones,” which was part of the band’s encore. The band members were particularly interactive Friday night, throwing guitar picks and drum sticks. As he came back on stage for the encore, drummer Hugo Klaers even threw some cans of beer into the crowd.
Throughout the night, DJ Shannon Blowtorch provided the audience with the perfect tracks, purposely picked to get everyone in the mood for the bands yet to perform. Pockets of dancing frequently formed throughout the crowded room as people danced away the downtime between bands. Even after the Suburbs left the stage and the lights came back on, the crowd still seemed reluctant to let the night end.
Writer Lillian Speakman is a senior at Hamline University and a DJ for HU Radio. Photographer Emmet Kowler works with lights all day and takes photos after dark. See more of his work at Interface Magazine.