The Current enters adolescence this year, and part one of the celebration kicked off Friday night with a sold-out First Avenue show.
“I got really strong when I was 14 carrying those heavy books,” quipped Kerry Alexander of Bad Bad Hats in a sweet deadpan, “and emotionally strong for other reasons.”
The first night of The Current’s 14th Birthday Party featured mostly Minnesota-based acts: Scrunchies, Bad Bad Hats, and The Suburbs are all local favorites, while rocker Rayland Baxter hails from Nashville. DJ Jake Rudh set the tone for the night spinning some classic Transmission tunes (and newer hits; the crowd noticeably picked up when Lizzo’s “Juice” washed over the dance floor). The Current hosts welcomed each act.
Scrunchies opened the night with a bang. After performing at First Ave’s Best New Bands of 2018 at the start of this month, the Minneapolis natives are no stranger to the Mainroom, and it showed. The set began with punchy “Gradient” as the trio stood (or sat, in drummer Danielle Cusack’s case) awash in fuchsia light. By their third number, “Wichita,” it was clear the band possesses a tight energy on stage. Rather than head-banging in classic punk rock fashion, their movements were contained and bouncy, the same energy flowing freely between each member. As the set drew to a close, lead vocalist Laura Larson announced the group had a special birthday present for The Current: a cover of Nirvana’s “Drain You.”
Next up, Rayland Baxter wooed the audience with a “Hey baby/ Hi baby” at the top of “Strange American Dream.” He stood tall in dark overalls framed by a talented percussion ensemble, a keyboardist, and a pair of guitars, smiling serenely out into the crowd on his breaths between verses. The cowbell-laden “Casanova” produced cheers near the end of the set, and “Amelia Baker” included a dynamic percussion interlude. Baxter sang of unfinished love affairs and the faintly political, one song turning to the next in transitions as natural as weather patterns. The warm wall of sound breezed over the audience, and they were hooked.
No one in the crowd could resist the honest spontaneity of Kerry Alexander. The members of Bad Bad Hats delivered a classically rockstar performance: flexing in unison, donning sunglasses, and — during a riff in “Super America” — shredding with their backs together. But it was during Alexander’s anecdotal interludes between songs where we glimpsed her songwriting process. “Nothing Gets Me High” is both a metaphor and literally true, confessed Alexander, “because I’ve never been high.” She sought out to write a classic love/drug song but found a narrative truer to her own experience instead, which is a testament to the band’s ability to infuse traditional pop tropes with a refreshed relatability.
Chan Poling of the Suburbs had a mesmerizing relationship with his keyboard throughout the band’s decades-spanning set. He hopped back from the instrument to twirl on one foot and slowly circle other members of the band, then swooped toward the keys to hit a few notes with an open palm. “This next song was written up in the DJ booth,” he said, pointing to Jake Rudh in the booth before “Lost You On The Dance Floor,” a song conceived after a night of Transmission. Jeremy Ylvisaker, who has been playing with the Suburbs since founding member Beej Chaney went on extended leave, absolutely stunned on guitar throughout the set, which leads fans to feel excitement for the guitar magic Ylvisaker and veteran Steve Brantseg may conjure in the future. “This is a song that goes out to you and your ancestors,” Poling announced before lunging into a jangling “Rattle My Bones.” As the band exited stage left, the darkened audience held up lit smartphone screens and just a couple lighters in anticipation of the “Love Is The Law” encore that was sure to follow.
The second night of The Current’s 14th Birthday Party is sold out and welcomes Cloud Cult, J.S. Ondara, Annie Mack, and Porcupine tonight at First Ave.
Lydia Moran is a music and arts writer in Minneapolis.
All photos by Mary Mathis | MPR
Bad Bad Hats