Like the guy celebrated at the altar inside Minneapolis' biggest church, Friday's lineup for the Basilica Block Party centered on two acts who have risen again.
Country-rock troubadour Jason Isbell headlined opening night of the 24th annual fundraiser, five years after he triumphed over addictions and lived to sing beautifully about the fight. And hometown heroes the Revolution once again proved their value as a go-to celebratory band, two years after they came back together to honor their old boss, Prince.
Just as they did with similar party-upping appearances in town at Rock the Garden and Super Bowl Live, the Revolution's members reminded hometown fans of the now-extra-timely messages in such lesser-played Prince classics as "America" and "Mountains," each appropriate fare at a Christian temple. "Erotic City," on the other hand ...
Playing the church-front stage before the Revolution, KC Dalager of the Minneapolis indie-pop band Now, Now reiterated how the Basilica party isn't your typical church party.
"This is the first song I wrote with an F-bomb in it," she sheepishly admitted while introducing the title track of their new album — ironically named "Saved."
The cuss words stayed, and so did the Noah's-flood-level beer sales common at the block party, proceeds of which pay for restoration of the Basilica of St. Mary, a downtown landmark for more than 100 years running.
Despite gorgeous weather and the guaranteed energy boost of return favorites Fitz & the Tantrums, Friday's attendance looked to be under 10,000, fewer than most years.
Part of the downturn may have been due to weekend competition from Bon Iver's Eaux Claires festival and Trampled by Turtles' big all-Minnesota show at Duluth's Bayfront Park. Another culprit may be the muddied format at the radio station that co-helms the party, Cities 97, which now plays a lot of omnipresent Top 40 acts that Basilica organizers could never afford.
The rest of Friday's lineup was as confusing as the station, with a vanilla-soul act that sounded like it came off the suburban megachurch circuit, Delta Rae, performing on the big stage alongside an Australian acoustic guitar-wiz that sounds big into scoring PBS nature specials, John Butler. Meanwhile, Isbell could be heard Friday performing at the studios of a station other than Cities 97, one that actually plays him on air.
However he wound up at the Basilica again, Isbell and his long-solidified band, the 400 Unit, put on one of the most riveting headlining sets of at least the last decade of the party's history.
He started with three stirring highlights off last year's record, "The Nashville Sound," including the anthemic opener "Hope the High Road" and the Basilica-appropriate dirge "White Man's World." He offered plenty of oldies, too, starting with a deeply Southern classic from his days in the Drive-by Truckers, "Decoration Day," and later including a bevy of cuts from his 2013 comeback album "Southeastern," including "Cover Me Up," "Super 8" and "Traveling Alone." The latter was nicely spiked by Isbell's wife Amanda Shires' haunting fiddling and harmonies.
Remembering his appearance on the same stage three summers earlier opening for Wilco, Isbell humorously commented, "I didn't know what we were getting into, playing a church. This time, I knew we were coming into something good."
The good Basilica vibes continue Saturday with retro-'90s bands Cake and Third Eye Blind, plus Børns, Andy Grammer, Judah & the Lion and more. Tickets will be $75 at the gate.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 • @ChrisRstrib