Prince would have been nice, sure, but the Current's eighth birthday party still had quite a royal guest list.
With rock's Purple Pope entrenched a few blocks away at the Dakota all week, rumors/pipe-dreams surfaced that he might pay another papal visit of sorts to First Ave nightclub on Friday or Saturday nights. He crashed the same party in 2010, for no other apparent reason than to bless the public radio station's strong support of new, adventurous and/or local music.
This wasn't the year Prince finally plugged in, but the surprise guests who did show up to the Current's sold-out, two-night affair made for a surprisingly comprehensive overview of last year's Minnesota music scene, alongside many of the acts already announced to perform.
Three of the biggest local headline-getters of 2012 unexpectedly joined the First Ave fray: North Side crunchy bunch Y.N.RichKids of "Hot Cheetos & Takis" fame, Eagan-reared soul crooner Nicholas David Mrozinski from NBC's "The Voice" and Lakeland-based, YouTube-adored swan-song singer Zach Sobiech.
The "Hot Cheetos" whiz kids will probably go down as one of the Current birthdays' all-time best presents. The teen and pre-teen rappers were brought on stage Saturday by female hip-hop trio the Chalice, who finished up their own finger-licking-good set by slyly pulling out bags of Takis corn chips. This was enough to get the crowd salivating.
Sweetly, the Kids first asked for a moment of silence for Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday is being marked Monday. They proceeded to deliver their hit like something out of a dream, with charmingly cocksure delivery highlighted by high-wired, pint-sized MC Ben 10 and his hyper mid-song burst ("You can't stop me!").
Now, Now singer/guitarist Cacie Dalager, who recently played on national TV, was nervous about having to follow the Y.N.RichKids on Saturday: "Do you have any idea how much it sucks going on after 'Hot Cheetos & Takis?' " she asked.
Now, Now nonetheless lived up to last year's national exposure by masterfully breezing through songs off its guitar-gusty, NPR Music-favored album "Threads," including a gorgeous rendering of the new single "Separate Rooms." The Chalice also enjoyed a breakout year locally, as reminded by its funky finale "Push It," but the trio's set looked forward to brighter years with heady and heavier new songs.
Though his heyday was long before the Current, Soul Asylum frontman Dave Pirner also had a noteworthy 2012, reflected in his acoustic set Saturday by the strong new songs "Gravity" and "By the Way" as well as his new sidekick for the show, guitarist Justin Sharbono (who replaced co-founder Dan Murphy in the band). Saturday's headliner, Cloud Cult, had an unusually quiet 2012, but the other-worldly orchestral-rockers recapped all their Current hits from other years, including "Running With the Wolves" and the new scorcher, "1 x 1 x 1."
Friday's lineup was headed up by the 4onthefloor, who packed First Ave for the first time in 2012. This time, the hard-howling stomp-rock quartet played host to the hard-fighting Sobiech, a terminally ill Stillwater High School senior who performed his farewell song that has touched a million-plus YouTube viewers, "Clouds." Yeah, wow.
Friday's other surprise guest, Nicholas David, also delivered a touching one-song performance (Al Green's "Tired of Being Alone"). However, he was just a coda on the set that became the high note of the parties, the revue-style performance by Prince predecessors the Valdons, Willie Walker, Maurice Jacox and other stars of Secret Stash Records' "Twin Cities Funk & Soul" compilation.
Also a big local music story in 2012 -- 35-plus-years since their initial heyday -- the veteran R&B makers added a touch of style and a nice contrast to the sometimes overly trendy 89.3 playlist with their utterly timeless quality. Let them be a litmus test for future Current birthday parties.
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