The Lemon Twigs. Photo by Autumn de Wilde.
“I think I’ve given you enough doom,” folk artist Haley Bonar told the First Avenue crowd on Saturday.
She readied her acoustic guitar for an encore, to cap off a set that had featured some heavy songs from her new album, Impossible Dream—including the anxiously introspective “I Can Change,” about the fear of wasting potential. She’d also intoned “Last War,” from her 2014 album of the same name, preceded by advice: “The only place you should be silent is in a [expletive] library.” The Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter closed with her silver-lined deep-cut, “Down Sunny Roads.” But angelic vocals couldn’t remove an image from earlier that night, of Bonar’s thin, dimly lit figure in a black, sleeveless jumpsuit, gargoyle-hunched over an electric guitar during an instrumental breakdown.
Bonar was there to headline a celebration of the Current’s twelfth birthday, along with the Lemon Twigs, ZULUZULUU, the Sam Roberts Band, and Monica LaPlante—a lineup that featured ’60s rock, Minnesota funk, and garage pop. The sold-out show’s high notes felt politically charged and cathartic, all genres aside. It made for a raucous birthday suitable to the station, meaning it had plenty of edge and even some unintentional melancholy.
Starting with Monica LaPlante: The local rocker strummed through brooding lyrics, kookified here and there with some loopy Lene Lovich-like vowels, while either staring dead into the dark balcony seating or catching an audience member’s eye and smiling—part of a stage presence that, despite a black lace tank top, jabbered shyly between songs and then apologized for jabbering, not Minnesota nice so much as Minneapolis sweet.
The Sam Roberts Band brought Montreal indie rock, running through songs from its latest record, Terraform. About rebirth and starting over, the album packs surprising funk—surprising given the band’s skater-tinged, T-shirts-and-jackets aesthetic, but not given its track record of dance-inflected rock. Sam Roberts crooned atop enough pounding beats to pass over the groove to ZULUZULUU’s more experimentally funky sounds.
The six-member hometown group, sporting African textile patterns, carries a legacy of Minneapolis funk—also known as that Prince-marshaled genre of tight, popping synthetic grooves that did one thing with ’60s funk while disco did another. And sure enough, ZULUZULUU filled First Ave with Parliament-style vocals and Sun Ra synth blips, warping complex, hip-hop-infused R&B into fist-pumping Afrofuturism. Lyrics stayed epically broad, about changing your fate and owning your history. Their urgent delivery got the night’s loudest response.
Next up, the Lemon Twigs changed the feeling in the room—to one of nostalgia. On the one hand, the high school-age brothers who pen the group’s songs name The Beatles and the Beach Boys as two of their biggest influences. On the other, their stage presence felt warmly familiar, like the friends who invited you over after school to play songs in the basement. The younger D’Addario brother, hair over his ears like an Osmond, tugged his too-long T-shirt down to the thighs of his powder-blue bell-bottom jeans for comfort. The older wore a red sweater, the sleeves maybe having drawn up in the wash, and hopped across the stage, hair flopping over his face like one of those vultures from The Jungle Book. If you remember the cartoon brothers from Steven Spielberg’s Animaniacs in the early ’90s, you’ll have a good idea of their rapport. Along with a shier keyboardist and a bassist who stuck her tongue out at them when they introduced her, the group magnetized the crowd, toggling through harmonies, rhythmic shifts, and hopping, kicking, mugging theatrics—under the fuzzy feeling of a simpler time.