Minnesota’s brave new rockers

Empty champagne bottles left over from last weeks Minnesota Music Academy Awards may now be gathering flies, but if you walked into The Entry today at noon, the walls would still be pulsing – oozing the musical stylings of six of the Twin Cities “best new bands.”

Last Monday, Minnesota Music Academy members and various local music lovers gathered in the dark and crowded innards of the 7th St. Entry, while a gala event, complete with an MC and candlelit tables, went on in the First Avenue main room. They were there to rock, they were their to listen, and they were their to honor or rather dig the music of Alva Star, Tin Porter, Faux Jean, Kid Dakota, Sunset Black and The Crush – six bands that formed this year, who were lucky enough and good enough to be nominated by the Minnesota Music Academy as this year “best new band.”

If you asked Mean Larry, who has been involved with MMA for over five years and is largely responsible for getting this years award show of the ground, he’ll tell you that this years ballot had “definitely the strongest best new band
category” that he’s ever seen.

A long nomination process involving over 1200 forms being sent out to MMA members, industry professionals, heads of music organizations and local music activists is the what the MMA committee used to pick the of nominees for the award’s prodigious number of categories.

The best new band category was no exception, and yet it’s hard to think of any of these incendiary artists being catalogued or even categorized. After all this rock ‘n’ roll, not taxes. So, if you’ve happened to have your head in the sand this year and missed these bands, take a look at how at they really earned it – on stage.

A star is born

Its been a week now since the awards, and we all know that newly formed passion-rockers Alva Star took the honors in “the best new band” category. But what we don’t know is just what that means. According to John Hermanson, frontman of the group, it means “being thrilled to be in the company of so many great bands both on and off the ballot, ” but it also means getting sincere pats on the back by your fellow nominees.

“We got the biggest congratulations from bands that were on the ballot with us. It’s good to be in a scene that is genuinely excited about each other’s success,” said Hermanson.

Formerly a lone singer-songwriter and one half of the Storyville duo, Hermanson who is originally from Montana, formed Alva Star with guitarist Darren Jackson of Kid Dakota (also up for best new band), drummer Peter Anderson and bassist Brian Roessler.

Monday night’s performance saw them in full pop form. And attendees were able to witness the quartet’s almost spectral chemistry. Although Alva Star can slide from fever-stricken slow-rock that’s heavy on the lyrics, to fired-up rockers with ease, they chose to lean on their more up-beat material and gave the crowd some of what they do best – smart pop you can shake it to.

Alva Star play the Elbo Room in Chicago on Friday, June 29 and are planning playing more dates throughout the Midwest. Their debut album, Alligators in The Lobby, was released this winter, and they are planning putting out an EP sometime this fall.

You can catch them on the Friday, July 27th at the 400 Bar.

-Cara Spoto

Porter – My ukulele please

It would be easy to dismiss Tin Porter right away. The guitar is baby blue, the singer’s t-shirt is pink, the bass player has his guitar in his armpit and they use a ukulele on stage. But appearance isn’t even a consideration when you hear the vocal ammo Tin Porter have with Patrick Tierney.

Sometimes they could let loose a bit more, maybe dig in a bit deeper, and although the $10 Goodwill ukulele probably sounds great fired up on a back porch, it unfortunately got lost in a mix of drum and bass Monday.

What’s perhaps most admirable about Tin Porter is that they strictly play for fun. They don’t have any grandiose plans for the future – they haven’t taken any steps toward building a bigger audience and they don’t want to become rock stars. They are perfectly happy exactly where they are.

They play the 400 Bar tomorrow night in support of their debut release, Shiver.

-Matthias Skeppstadt

Pop – Vegas style

Faux Jean have a John Spencer Blues Explosion knack for persona rock, and after topping the “best new band” category in the City Pages “Picked to Click” readers poll and recently appearing on MPR’s Word of Mouth, their new record Kiss Life on the Lips seems like a fitting title. A stage presence that’s equally fun and edgy, Monday night’s brief performance saw some of their most well coifed stylings.

Beach Blanket Bingo meets Cabaret, Faux Jean’s smoky performance had the feel of a secret show that was leaked to masses by an errant groupie. The audience was pasted into the corners – thick with bulging eyeballs and straining necks. Full throttle guitar rock with a shimmy was what they got. Lead singer Faux Jean worked the mike a la Captain Beefheart – equally gruff and smooth, and Jean Angel (Nicole of The Meg) piped out a yellow falsetto reminiscent of some hepcat parrot and did things to a tambourine that surpass description.

When you add in the powerhouse drum work, and band members with names like Grinder and Faux Wayne, you got rock ‘n’ roll – Vegas style.

Inspired storytelling crafted by anonymous talent make the Faux Jean bio at their website read like a mythic tale. But, embellishments aside, the band, minus newly added guitarist Grinder, has been playing together since their first gig at the Bryant-Lake Bowl in September. Most members hail from the Minnesota, with exception of Jean Angel who’s from Wisconsin and bassist Faux Wayne who comes all the way from the Lone Star state.

When asked if they were surprised by their nomination, frontman Matty said that they were, “You never really know who’s paying attention.”

Faux Jean’s CD release party for their debut album is on Saturday, May 26th at the 7th St. Entry with Rank Strangers, Jan, Sherman Electric and DJ Christian Fritz.

-Cara Spoto

Just another kid from Dakota?

I know they are all cliches, but I can’t help it, so let’s just get it over with: hypnotic, beautiful and majestical, there you have it! Kid Dakota can brag about a drummer who has a clean, understated style. Extremely refreshing, the absence of the drums create songs that reflect pure, primitive moods. Kid Dakota sounds like a cross between Shellac’s start and stop arrangements and the utter beauty of Will Oldham and The Cure. Kid Dakota’s singer and guitar player, Darren mentions Codeine, Elliot Smith and Neutral Milk Hotel as influences – influences that are prominently displayed in their music.

Supporting their debut album, So Pretty, Kid Dakota will play at the Dinkytowner Cafe on Sunday, May 27th.

– Matthias Skeppstadt

House of the rawest rock

Call it heavy rock with a real pulse, the amplified eye of the storm, hell – call it plain loud, but whatever you do, don’t go near with industry terms or heavy metal namesakes.

Sunset Black is a troupe of hardworking and hard-rocking musicians who formed in St. Louis in 1995, and have been playing steadily in the Twin Cities since 1999. When asked about their nomination, lead singer and guitarist Brandon Samans said he was both surprised and not surprised: “We’ve been working our asses off, playing three shows a week for the last year.”

In the past year Sunset Black has toured local and regional venues throughout Minnesota and the Midwest, acquainting music fans with their feverish brand of heavy emotion rock. Like a bipolar big brother to Emo-core, Sunset Black has tapped the rawest nerve of the beast. Driving chords, pounding drums and bone rattling bass lines sent jolts through the audience during their Monday night performance at the MMA while the band members took stage jumping to the level of interpretive dance.

Perhaps what makes Sunset Black rock better than your average heavy metal fare, is a penchant for the uncanny, seen in the inspired, almost light guitar work, that snaked through several numbers and the focused and nearly operatic vocals delivered by Samans.

Sunset Black have an EP due out this August on the Blue Worm label, and are starting an East Coast tour with Red Over Lunar in September.

Try to catch them Friday, June 1st when they play Quest for Melody at the Quest Club.

-Cara Spoto

“Crush, with Budwieser”

“We’re way too fucking drunk to do this.”

Are you sure? You could’ve fooled me.

Who could’ve blamed ’em really, they were the last band to play at a quarter to one in the morning on a stage that already saw nine bands.

So what if the bassist fell over once or twice and the lead singer kept knocking the mic stand in the opposite direction of his mouth – after all this is punk rock. What would the crowd at CBGB’s do? They’d join in. So, people did.

Between extended pauses and ruddy-faced quips, The Crush launched into frenzied thrashing rock with chugging rhythms. Like a Jaguar going from zero to 60 in seven seconds, they went from near silence to a holy-sh*t sound storm in an instant.

The beer came first, but the ice-cubes were soon to follow – flying through the air catching the stage-lights, and showering the band in an endless supply, while they rocked cocked eyebrows, reverb and cataclysmic, school-is-out, drunken punk.

The interview proved to be inconclusive, but this much is known: The Crush’s next show is yet to be announced, and their EP and album Tonight Will Ruin Tomorrow are available through Blood of the Young records and at Extreme Noise.

-Cara Spoto