The Return of First Avenue’s Best New Bands Show

On Friday, March 4, I made my way to First Avenue for the first time in years, since the pandemic ripped me of the joy of live music. I was one among many buzzing for the club’s annual Best New Bands Show, which usually takes place in January of each year. After being canceled in 2021 and postponed this year due to Minnesota’s COVID case count, it made its return this month.

Before the show, the Mainroom slowly filled in with people awaiting the flurry of seven genre-defying bands and musicians that have been gaining momentum in the local scene. After such a long hiatus, the crowd could only hope it could live up to the past Best New Band shows. But, boy, did we get what we asked for.

There was no time to coax me in: “Honk rock” quartet Vial took the stage and blew me away, cartoon-style, with their fierce opening set. Their edgy, bratty sound is comparable to other iconic punk bands like Bikini Kill or Minnesota’s own Babes in Toyland. But however bold their music is, it’s also fun, youthful, and refreshing. They don’t take themselves too seriously; bringing a kazoo on stage and supplementing their set with an extra punk rendition of Olivia Rodrigo’s Brutal.

Even though the crowd was still reeling from the first set, Papa Mbye kept our heart rates up. Papa Mbye’s un-labelable style combines his electric beats and silky voice, complemented with slight voice effects. Watching him own the stage is a cathartic experience—and I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. It took no time at all to get the crowd to go nuts, moshing to his masterful mixes of him. He was so in the zone that he appeared to lose track of time, and he was cut short and had to say a quick goodbye before leaving the stage.

Lanue made the trek down from Duluth to serve us with a welcome pause. Multitalented frontwoman Sarah Kruger took the stage in a beautiful homemade dress, which she told everyone was made out of old curtains. Her pretty vocals lured us in and poured over us like a heavy layer of nectar. Every line echoed through the dark venue, sure of itself and its meaning. The songs were a warm relief from the bitter Minnesota false-spring; it felt like sticking your head out of the car window with warm wind blowing through your hair.

While the night started with powerful head-bopping sets, that all changed when Kokou Kah bounded out. The Liberian American artist took the stage with a mission and an unmistakable presence. His contagious sizzling energy from him threw everyone in a dance frenzy. Definitely not one to blend in, Kokou Kah and his crop top–wearing band made an impression. He yelled at the crowd and they yelled back. And although his set was cut short as well, his genre-bending songs were distinct and memorable.

After every artist ended, I wondered how the next could possibly live up to the last—yet they all stood up to the plate. Honeybutter’s deliciously infectious and feel-good set had the whole venue snapping along like part of the backing band. The fun trio were joined by their full six-piece live show band and their equally impressive instruments. Lead singer Clara Wicklund pulled a double bass out of nowhere and Isaiah Ingram’s soulful trumpet completed the full sound. As their name suggests, their jazzy, bossa nova tunes make you feel just like you’re floating along honey and butter.

EVV followed up with a smooth and silky set. Adorned in flowers and a powerhouse on the guitar, EVV is an emerging rock star. They flowed from velvety, slow melancholic songs to upbeat, raging rock and every song built on their repertoire becoming a genre of their own.

Brother-sister duo Durry, who rose to viral stardom on TikTok last year, book-ended the night. The Burnsville natives raided the stage with a full band and threw me right back to my 2010s indie rock moment. They would fit right into my middle school indie playlist of Tame Impala and The Strokes. Their doorbusting attitude kept the crowd buzzing through the end, until they finished the night with a roaring encore and a cover of TheMiddle by Jimmy Eat World.

Reeling from a night of unprecedented music, I walked out into the first spring rain with the conclusion that it’s safe to say the future of the Twin Cities music scene is in good hands.

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