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Radio K's Best New Bands of 2004 Showcase (Wednesday, January 19th, 2005, First Avenue Minneapolis)

Members of the Doomtree collective stir things up from the First Avenue stage at the 2004 Best New Bands Showcase Wednesday night. See full set of photos in the gallery.

By David de Young and Cyn Collins

See also: photos

Radio K’s Best New Bands 2004 showcase at First Avenue was a great way to shake off the pre-inaugural day blues with 5+ hours of great local music. Featuring The Deaths, Doomtree, Ova!, Thunder in the Valley, The Get Up Johns, The Chariots, and the Olympic Hopefuls, it was a chance for music fans to see bands they might not normally see, especially not all on the same night on the same stage. This year's event was co-hosted by KQ's Dave Campbell and Cities 97's Jason Nagel, with a special appearance by Radio K's Sarah Sandusky.

For some Minnesota music fans, Wednesday marked the first time they'd been to First Avenue since before the holidays. Many were surprised to find that most of the plexiglass, which obscured both view and sound from much of the upstairs balcony for years, had been removed. This change for the better opens up tons of great new viewing and listening spots in the club and creates a classier, less claustrophobic environment. And speaking of class, First Avenue now prominently displays a wine list, one from which red wine drinkers can actually specify a preference for a merlot over a cabernet/shiraz blend.

Club-goers should also note First Avenue is now charging $1 for admission with all comp tickets, a dollar well spent if it continues to go towards club improvements which are becoming more and more obvious upon each visit.

But enough with the intro, below are two accounts of how the night played out.

The Deaths (

The formerly Fargo-based The Deaths kicked off the evening around 7:30 with their kinky (as in Kinks-influenced) melodic rock. Catchy ballads like their own “Birmingham” were brought into focus by a cover of the Kinks “Rosemary Rose.” Christopher Danforth, a recent addition to the band on bass, reminded the audience at this longer than normal show to “Please, pace your drinking.” Later he and lead vocalist Karl Qualey joked that they had CD’s on sale, “but shhh, it’s a secret.” (Their CD release part y is actually Friday at the Entry.) - David de Young

Doomtree (

Hip hop collective Doomtree took the stage and sincerely asked us to come closer. The rotating cast of MC’s including Cecil Otter and SIMS, also included some terrific spoken word from Dessa (Miss Spoken Word Twin Cities 2001). Doomtree’s set evidenced how well the band keeps up on their politics, both current and historical. One memorable line delivered in Dessa’s tense monologue (possibly called “Vanishing Point”) was “I’d like to give the world to Gore Vidal to see if he could save it.” (A tempting idea on the eve of the second inauguration of George Bush.) - D.D.

Ova! (

Ova is a two-piece drums/guitar/effects all instrumental noise machine that reminded me of a death metal White Stripes. (Guitar player Patrick Dundon vaguely resembles and has a bit of the swagger of Jack White.) Rumbling feedback would shoot straight back into fast tight bursts of beats at the nod of the gum-chewing guitarist. Some audience members migrated upstairs after 3-4 songs saying they needed to “rest their ears.” Some people used less polite terms. What I want to know is: what the hell was that big thing with the huge springs behind drummer Jesse Stevens’ kit? (P.S. I dare you to try and navigate the Ova! website.) - D.D.

Thunder in the Valley (

Though I wasn’t overly taken by Thunder in the Valley’s stage presence when I first saw them in the fall of ’04, their performance at First Avenue Wednesday night showed them firmly in the driver’s seat. They even got the audience, which had more than doubled since the doors opened at 7 p.m., to clap above their heads on one song. Though they may seem overly derivative to the over 35 crowd, there aren’t many bands on the Twin Cities scene today offering such a diverse mix of what might be called vaudeville burlesque as this band. - D.D.

Thunder in the Valley’s East-Euro style punk always makes me think of one of my favorite bands the Knotwells, or Gogol Bordello without a horn section, fiddle, or dancing girls, and not nearly as raunchy (probably a good thing since there are many clubs Gogol’s not allowed to play in due to nudity and vulgarity.) But still, TITV, with their drink-sodden carnival-esque songs with ragtime keyboards, Klezmer rhythms, and oompa-pa swing got more people to dance, sing and swing their beers than any band I’ve seen in years. Except for the Knotwells. But I’d really like to hear a tuba or a trumpet and a fiddle in there to fill it out more. The ragged hobo features and cajoling instructions to the audience to dance by the bright dark-eyed vocalist Graham Smith were compelling aspects of Thunder in the Valley’s performance, which was clearly a crowd-pleaser. - Cyn Collins

The Get Up Johns (

Dave Campbell introduced The Get Up Johns as the “next last thing,” a tribute to the increasing interest in traditional music, which was further evidenced by the anticipatory applause of the audience. Campbell asked people to go to the back of the club if they wanted to talk, because Jake and Josh sing “old style” around a single mike. The crowd hushed as the duo tore into the rousing standard, “Cluck Old Hen” that showcased Jake’s fiddle talent. Now, I’m intimately familiar with the fiddle and this duet’s repertoire, and I can tell you their act can’t be beat. They captured several traditional spirituals and old-time tunes beautifully in the tradition of “the Louvin Bros, The Stanley Bros., and the Monroe Bros.” This intimate and quiet show still drew whoops after each instrument solo. I had no idea that this music would crossover audiences so well, making me wonder if each band had about 150 fans in the club tonight or if the 300 – 400 fans on the main floor enjoying the show were simply eclectic as hell like I am. The Get Up Johns covered songs such as "Stay Away Blues" (by the Dellmore Bros. and covered by the Louvin Bros. in their tribute album to them) "Trouble in Mind," and "Mole in the Ground" (which is also covered by David Hazledine and Charlie Parr.) - Cyn Collins

The Chariots (

Campbell and Sarah Sandusky introduced the Chariots, saying “they have great hair, and are really fucking LOUD”. Standing in the balcony, when they began with driving death metal punk guitars (I apologize to anyone wincing as I mix those genres, but that’s what I heard!) -- I felt the room’s energy shift into some vast, dark wild territory. Was this what it felt like at CBGB’s back in the day? The Chariots exhibited rhythmic and stylistic (though not vocal) elements of Jane’s Addiction. Travis Bos, formerly of Song of Zarathustra, (vocals/keyboards) has tons of charisma and rock star energy, and puts on a full-bodied, “raw power” sort of show. The band--which includes bass player Arthur Gandy (Exercise), guitarist Eric Odness (So Fox), and Matt Kepler on drums-- “really gets the job done, solid” one musician in the audience said. They’re loud, their instrumentation is interesting, and I expect the lyrics are as well if song titles such as, “Bored Housewife Syndrome”, “The Laundry Room in this Building is Equipped with a Burglar Alarm” (yes, that’s the title, not the entire song), “Twister Party Fails to Get Dirty”, and “Hips Unite” are any indication. I’m excited to see what the Chariots do in a small space like the Hexagon on February 28, and at their full-fledged CD release party in March at the Entry. - Cyn Collins

The Olympic Hopefuls (

Shortly after midnight, The Olympic Hopefuls took to the stage in their trademark red and orange tracksuits. They kicked off the set with “Holiday,” the song that contains the lyric that is the title of their album, The Fuses Refuse to Burn. Guitars/vocals Erik Appelwick (Vicious Vicious) and Darren Jackson (Kid Dakota), bassist Heath Henjum (Little Man, Vicious Vicious, The Beatifics), drummer Matt O'Laughlin (Friends Like These) and multi-instrumentalist John Hermanson (Alva Star ) shine brightly with their shimmery and bouncy pop. The Olympic Hopeful’s playfulness reminds me of being a ‘60’s child and listening to my first favorite groups: the Monkees, Bay City Rollers, the Beatles, The Association. The brightness of sound along with tongue-in-cheek lightness off-set vocalist Darren Jackson’s alter-ego performances as Kid Dakota. No better way to end a fun-filled night of music. - Cyn Collins