Black Diet at First Ave’s Best New Bands Showcase: A Shameless Account of Adoration
By Giggles, the Smoking Monkey
Disclaimer: This is a highly biased, cheeky account of our experience at one of our favorite annual events, which for the first time featured a Pinata Records artist: the lovely and talented Black Diet. We were ecstatic. Although I tried a little, I did not give all of the artists equal attention, and I make no apologies. Also, I’m not a real journalist. I’m just a smoking monkey with a laptop.
About our history with this event: We go to this every year, not just the years that our best friends play. It’s a tradition. And why? As someone who is completely surrounded by musicians, the elusive/fake/much sought after gratification of “Success” comes up every so often, mostly with a large dose of sarcasm. People make music and create bands for a handful of reasons, and it seems like a good idea to put “getting noticed” low on the list. This city feels like it has more musicians than audience members, and if you get too caught up in the swirling hopes that hard work will be repaid in Main Room shows, you are headed straight to the bitter musician’s corner; It’s best to keep it an enduring yet somewhat distant wish. But once a year, a handful of excited folks, who often have never been on that big stage, get to live it up and feel for a moment that it has paid off, if only for one night. They gather everything they have to offer, and nervously, seriously, rock out. And it’s adorable.
About the night: It was becoming quite the chilly evening as I hustled out of work and rushed to get downtown. With a wind-chill of as low as 35 below predicted to strike near midnight, I was curious about how many freezing drunk girls with poorly chosen outfits we’d see at the night’s departure. I had considered joining their ranks with my favorite tight-stretchy-booty dress, but the common sense that rears its head intermittently in my decision making said “Wear some real clothes.” Pffff. Fine.
Southwire..And so I got there and had just barely missed the first band of the night, Southwire. This was something of a bummer to me, because I like to give the first group as much attention as possible, given that they usually get the short end of the audience-attention stick. So I failed, but I CAN say their name a few times and hope that you will look into them and do your own investigation in lieu of mine. Southwire. Southwire. They hail from Duluth. They’re on Chaperone Records. Look ‘em up.
Fury Things…This song is stuck in my head: “Into The Surf”, a bon-a-fide pop tune that is simultaneously light with breathy, melodic chorus and heavy with wailing, emotional guitar and headbanging drum flooded enthusiasm. It gives me goosebumps. I will definitely be buying both of their albums.
Black Diet…And so we come to the part of this story where I got all weepy and proud and, let’s face it, buzzed. We were there one year previous, watching John Mark Nelson and just aching to be noticed as musicians in the scene. I had just met Black Diet a few months earlier (as JT and the Sloppy Seconds) and we were tending the beginnings of an epic band/label bromance. A year into the future, and I’m standing with my fellow Pinata Records founders, peeking behind the screen partition and blowing kisses as we watch our favorite little band dance around and prepare themselves for the crowd, and what felt like the most important show they’d ever had. They spotted us, waved excitedly, and Jonathan poked his spiky head around the corner and looked out at all of the people there. Friends who had pushed to the front row yelled out, feeling the inevitable happy anxiety.
As the partition lifted, they touched into the beginning of Don’t Sleep Alone, a sparse, vocally powered deception that stretched further the wait and anticipation, with full delivery as they moved into Nothing To Say, arguably their most hair raising and attention grabbing song. It was during this that my personal waterworks started. Front man Jonathan Tolliver was visibly emotional and fiercely powerful in his delivery, in fact the entire group seemed at this moment already to be glowing with something much brighter than the fancy First Avenue light show. They then moved into Thrown Stones, a haunting, percussive croon smoothed with floating backups (Sean Schultz, Margaret Keller) and seductive trickles of electric piano (Also by Mr. Schultz). Next was a cleverly chosen cover of All My Friends by LCD Soundsystem. The few people who were not already moving in the crowd started to wake up and take notice at this point, as they absorbed the flawless continual build of the tune by BD. By the end, they were all moving, something that I almost never see at these showcases (MN crowds are resistant to dance), and certainly never this early in the night. Then they returned to their original catalog with Cry, a slow and anguished tune that shows off Tolliver’s impressive range and showmanship. Just before the pivotal high note, he removed himself from stage and sang to the audience at their level, giving hugs and high fives without missing a beat. The set closed with the raucous Slow It Down, which, of course, is their fastest song. I knew things had gotten crazy when I looked to my left and saw Schultz playing keys while standing and jumping up and down on his chair. This was the end of the set, and they had aced it. Their excitement was palpable, and as the last notes were struck, everyone was feeling changed. It was a good time to be alive.
BBGUN…Charming hipster Americana. Sentimental and rocky.
Allan Kingdom..I LOVED this. I got up close and danced like I HAD worn my booty dress. He is my new favorite local hip hop artist, no joke. Very unique, (he’s Canadian, that’s always the reason.) I usually walk away from these events with a new musical crush, and Allan Kingdom stole my heart with his dense, hop-scotch flow, lanky dancing, and high pitched space man singing.
GRRRL PRTY…They certainly don’t feel like strangers to First Ave, but despite not seeming giddy for their first chance up there, they put a great show on, and the fans were definitely in tow.
Frankie Teardrop…Started the set by mumbling out something like….”Fuck this city, this song's called Chicago..” Charming, how he doesn’t care if we like him! But he was good, I think that by that time, my attentions were being taken up by the need for a safe ride through the cold. He wore sunglasses and seemed a bit overly personified. The music is noisy, experimental, but not without its hooks and catches (maybe more of the latter were shown off at this particular show than in their recordings), and I like it.
All in all, this was once again a fantastic time, made even greater by the wee little drama and romance of our own Black Diet. We danced, drank, cried, poked fun, and now we’re all off to the next little touchable dream. I hope to see the likes of Southwire, Fury Things, BBGUN, Allan Kingdom, Grrrl Prty, and Mr. Frankie Teardrop again, and I hope you, gentle reader, will take a moment to check all of these groups out, as well. And until next time, keep your ears open and your eyes on the prize…
Pinata Records…the surprise is inside.