Always one of the best annual concerts for staying on top of what our hipster youth are into, First Avenue’s Best New Bands showcase on Friday night actually featured a lot of acts the cool kids’ parents might dig, too.
There were traces of ’70s prog-rock, “Soul Train”-worthy ’80s R&B and ’90s indie-rock in the seven-band lineup, mostly made up of musicians not old enough to remember when First Ave did the bulk of its advertising on paper instead of Twitter.
Guitars ruled and laptop computers drooled in 2017. After several years of electropop/dance-rock acts factoring heavily into the Twin Cities buzz bin, the only act that featured a laptop Friday was the lone rapper in the lineup, Dwynell Roland — and he, too, had some throwback traits and a hard-rocking quality about him.
Friday’s installment of the newbies roundup also drew one of the show’s more sizable crowds of recent years, with a 1,000-plus attendees seemingly eager to bust out of the house after an especially frigid week. The young performers all seemed to be bursting at the seams, too.
Always the best thing about Best New Band night, the up-and-coming musicians basked in the glow of their the First Ave stage lights.
“This is kind of every kid’s dream,” Early Eyes singer/guitarist Jake Berglove sweetly admitted at the end of his band’s turn.
Peter Memorich, singer in the saxophone-laden howl-rock band the Bad Man, broke from his showy frontman character on stage and pointed toward his father, recounting their first trip to the club together.
“I sat right there with my dad and said, ‘Some day I’ll play that stage,’ ” Memorich recalled. “And then he bought me a beer.”
Another beer-raising toast was definitely in order Friday. Here’s a rundown of how all the bands fared.
Biggest and best impression: The Bad Man played right in the middle of the 5½-hour showcase but was tops in both audience reception and musical output. As the quintet’s high-wired frontman, the raspy Memorich sounds like Fear’s Lee Ving, performs like Iggy Pop (shirtless and all) but looks like Fred Savage. He’s a lot of fun to watch.
The real stars of their show, though, are guitarist Patrick Davis and saxophonist Ben Hintz. Their interplay anchors the band, whether it’s creating a swaggering groove in the ska-flavored “Bonita” or a bluesy, fingerpicking-fueled grind in “Heavy Metal Motel.”
Biggest wait-and-see: After winning City Pages’ Picked to Click newcomers poll in November, Thomas Abban had the most discernible buzz going into the show, but deserved the most mixed reaction afterward. The 21-year-old guitar wiz is unquestionably talented. He played all of the instruments on his debut album, so he came to Friday’s show with a relatively untested and slightly disjointed band.
The bigger problem, though, was how his set sounded like a tryout for every kind of musical genre he could throw at us in a half-hour, with traces of Jeff Buckley-style willowy folk-rock, Michael Hedges-like acoustic guitar trickery, Hendrix and Zepplin blues-rock bombast and even Utopia-echoing prog-rock. Abban has the showman thing down well — he even played guitar behind his back — but he’d do better finding more focus in his songwriting.
Early Eyes’ set was similarly stymied by inexplicable instrumental tangents. Berglove is a compelling songwriter with a sensitive, boyish charm à la Hippo Campus’ Jake Luppen, but his songs too often veered off into three-guitar soft-rock jam-band interludes, sounding like dudes who really get off jamming out to George Benson and Stanley Clarke records.
The comeback kid: Coming right after the Bad Man’s hot showing, Dwynell Roland earned a conspicuously cool reception at first, starting his set with his most downbeat songs. “Just cherish this slow [stuff],” he humorously/cockily told the crowd. When he turned up the heat and the beats, though, he lit up the stage with a lanky, wiry presence, echoes of classic Tribe/De La Soul grooves and fun, often frantic wordplay, including the best self-aggrandizing rapper chant in years: “Stop, drop and Roland.”
Best use of a half-empty dance floor: In the final slot on such a cold night, Lady Lark was bound to face a dwindling crowd, but it worked to her advantage. The fans who did stay had room to swing and sway to her stylish throwback R&B sound, prompting flashbacks to a “Purple Rain”-era dance party as she and her cohesively funky band delivered their Commodores-meet-Jam-and-Lewis jams.
Just straight-ahead rock bliss: The other two bands, Sass and Blaha, both offered the kind of lo-fi, high-energy indie-rock expected on Best New Bands night, but each exceeded expectations. Blind Shake co-leader Mike Blaha’s new namesake offshoot quartet featured more melody and surf-rocky overtones than his better-known band, but with a similar fuzz and boom. Sass leader Stephanie Jo Murck’s Mary Lou Lord-like collegiate songwriter charm wasn’t lost amid her band’s crescendoing, Sunny Day Real Estate-style interludes — actually the most electrifying if not most virtuosic guitar noodling of the night.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658