Show Review: The Current turns 6 @ First Ave

Raghav Mehta


“Everyone here is all a little weird!” proclaimed Current DJ Mark Wheat to a roaring audience.

And in a way he’s right. There is something a little weird about hundreds of people crawling out of their homes on the coldest night of the year to pack into Minneapolis’ iconic music venue. But the collective excitement saturating the club early on in the night was palpable and considering that tickets for the Current’s musical soiree sold out at warp speed, attendees’ sentiment didn’t really feel all that, well, weird.

But the show wasn’t just a party. It was an endurance trial. A five hour musical marathon of Twin Cities big wigs topped off by an epic rendition of the classic disco romp “Funkytown” led by Free Energy who were flanked by an all star crew that included Jeremy Messersmith, members of Roma Di Luna and a line of Current DJ’s.

Music kicked off at eight thirty with local bluegrass lynchpins Trampled by Turtles. The Turtles proved to be a worthy opener, catering to a receptive audience and compensating for an lethargic performance by Roma Di Luna.

The venue was was packed by the time beloved Twin Cities songwriter Jeremy Messersmith took the stage. Following a long-winded introduction from Mark Wheat, David Cambell and Mark Mallman, Messersmith and his band entered dressed uniformly in white. Opening with “Novocaine” ­– the single that jump started his career – the band plowed through highlights from Messersmith’s “Reluctant Graveyard” LP to a chattering, booze-fueled crowd.But speaking as someone who’s been a loyal fan for years, there was something underwhelming about the performance. Messersmith visited tracks that covered ground from each of his three albums but the set lacked a desired liveliness. It felt stiff and at times even dull, ending on somewhat of an anticlimactic note.

As the group wrapped up their set, the crowd was becoming noticeably tight. It was obvious that the majority of attendees were here to witness their favorite koran thumping Rhymesayer back in action. Joined by Atmosphere’s Ant, Brother Ali carried the crowd like a seasoned First Avenue vet. It’s no doubt that Ali is a gifted performer. Not only does he boast a near immaculate flow, his ability to move and energize his audience so effortlessly is something worth applauding for in and of itself. Drawing from mostly new material Ali’s set was a feel-good affirmation that the man had not lost the swagger and showmanship he is loved for. But before closing with his key track “Forest Whittaker,” Ali delivered what was probably the most poignant moment of the night – a cover of the late rapper Eyedea’s “Smile.” It was unexpected, cathartic and left plenty of the audience misty-eyed. And just for a split second this reporter was sure Slug was about to join him on stage. 

When Ali exited a good chunk of the audience left with him. But there was a sizeable crowd left for Free Energy. While St. Paul-born, Philadelphia-based didn’t play more than five songs but they reminded me of an important lesson that I learned long ago: there are few things in this world as satisfying as grabbing your best friend and screaming rock ‘n roll lyrics into their ear.