Tag Archives: first avenue

(Not) Angry Anymore: Ani DiFranco at First Avenue

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It’s difficult to explain how much Ani DiFranco meant to me when I was a teenager without sounding cheesy. Suffice to say, she was my hero. I read her lyrics like poetry and turned to her albums for solace and inspiration. My friend Lisa shared my obsession, and in 2009 we were finally able to see her in concert. We had second row seats at the Fargo Theater, a night that I still describe as one of the happiest experiences of my life.

Despite being less enamored with her new music, when Lisa suggested that we go to the concert at First Avenue, I was immediately on board. A common theme of Ani’s career is that she’s a better live performer than she is an album artist. While her albums have meant a lot to me, I would agree that nothing can compare to the energy of her live shows. She draws from her extensive back catalog with a smattering of new songs mixed in. Whatever our opinion of her new music, Lisa and I knew that the show was likely to be phenomenal.

First Ave is general admission, which makes for a far different experience than assigned seating at the Fargo Theater. I was surprised by how much I liked standing at an Ani show. At both of our concert experiences, we’ve been befriended by other audience members. I think that says a lot about the type of fans Ani attracts. So when the time came to dance along with her more high-energy tunes, it was fun to share that experience with the crowd. And was it ever a high energy show!

The first real treat was the night was “Marrow,” arguably one of her most lyrically impressive songs. She played it with all the intensity that the song requires. “Marrow” was followed by “Shy,” the first song to really make us dance, and it was probably around this time that I fell effortlessly back into my fangirl days of yore. “Not A Pretty Girl” was another treat because it doesn’t often pop up on live albums, not to mention being a touchstone song for her 1990s philosophy. She ended the night with “Gravel,” a classic that shows off her guitar wizardry, as well as whipping the crowd into a frenzy.

As I look at the setlist, there are plenty more songs that makes me say, “Oh, that was amazing too!” But that might not be the most interesting blog post. She also played five songs from the upcoming album that’s set to be released on November 4. Before the show, I said to Lisa, “She’ll probably play three songs from the new album tops.” I guess that’s what I get for being a know-it-all. The new songs sound good live, but I will have to report back after listening to the album. There were two songs in particular that got me excited for the prospect.

Ani’s tank top was drenched in sweat by the end of the show. She gave her all for us, and she was visibly appreciative of the crowd’s enthusiasm. As it turns out, she’s still my hero.

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Tegan and Sara, Closer Than Ever

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My anticipation seems to follow a pattern. I get excited for a future event too far in advance, but eventually I’m forced to accept that I have weeks or months to wait. Then I distract myself so effectively that the event itself sneaks up on me. That was the case with the Tegan and Sara concert at First Avenue. I was pumped when I bought my tickets in December, but the three months until March 6 felt like an eternity. Then suddenly, it was one week, and then one day away!

I saw Tegan and Sara back in 2010 at the Orpheum Theatre. I knew that my second experience would be very different because First Avenue is a standing venue. Considering their dance-oriented new album, this change seemed appropriate. I decided to really embrace the experience, arrive early and stake out a spot close to the stage. My roommate Katie graciously agreed to this plan. Many other fans had the same idea, but after waiting in line for twenty minutes, we managed to get within five or six rows of the stage, slightly to the right. (Or as I called it, “the Sara side of the stage.”)

I learned a little about myself from standing in the crowd. I don’t really consider myself claustrophobic, but I do have a personal space bubble. The crowd filled in around us until it would have been an ordeal to get to the bathroom and back. In preparation for the heat and the crowd, I wore just a tank top under my coat, with the unforeseen side effect that my bare arms came into contact with many strangers. I found that sensation surprisingly unpleasant.

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All that faded into the background when Tegan and Sara took the stage. It was worth brushing against strangers to see one of my favorite bands up close. They opened with a spirited rendition of “Back In Your Head,” followed by another old favorite, “Walking With A Ghost.” The setlist included all ten songs off the new album. Judging by the crowd’s reaction, fans are embracing Heartthrob and excited to hear the new songs. One of the highlights was dancing and singing along to “Closer,” the last song before the encore.

Although I love them as a band above all else, I have always been more of a Tegan loyalist. Blame it on standing on her side of the stage, but I left the concert with a new appreciation for Sara. For one thing, she just looked rad in a cropped leather jacket and leggings. More importantly, she wrote some of the most powerful songs on Heartthrob. Seeing her belt out “How Come You Don’t Want Me” and “Now I’m All Messed Up” was spine-tingling.

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I might think twice before wading back into the First Avenue pit, but I definitely don’t regret this experience. I sang along (quietly) with “The Con,” arguably my favorite Tegan and Sara song ever. I took some quality concert photos. And I got a little bit closer to two artists whom I deeply admire.

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Up Close with Anais Mitchell

I moved to Minneapolis back in August. Like any starry-eyed girl moving to the city, I had certain fantasies about what my new life would be like. One of my ideas was that, with access to the Minneapolis music scene, I would be going to a lot more concerts. Two factors made that more difficult than I expected. One, I’m an AmeriCorps member, so I can’t really afford to drop money for concert tickets any time I like. Two, my job is exhausting and often time-consuming.

Still, it’s not too hard to convince me to catch a show if the price is right. Even if I’m not familiar with the band or musician, I almost always enjoy live music. Once in college I drove my friend Amy to see the Shout Out Louds and wound up becoming a big fan of the opening band, Freelance Whales. So when my roommate Lisa invited me to see Anais Mitchell, a former member of Ani DiFranco’s record label, I figured I was bound to enjoy myself.

Anais was playing at 7th Street Entry, a smaller venue within First Avenue. I had never been there before, so I was excited to check it out. When it comes to 7th Street Entry, intimate is an understatement. There’s nothing separating the musical act from the audience except a low platform of a stage. You can tell people aren’t used to that level of closeness because the crowd gave the stage a wide berth at first. Cuddle Magic, the opening band with a comical name, actually asked everyone to take two steps forward. During the opener, I looked to my right and saw Anais herself standing near the wall. Intimate indeed.

Anais cites Ani DiFranco as her mentor, and I could definitely see that influence when she was onstage. Her songs are thoughtfully and beautifully written, the kind of songs that make fans feel an intense emotional connection. In other ways, though, she is very different from Ani. While Ani often has a boisterous stage presence, Anais seems to be a more soft-spoken performer. Her unique voice also resists comparison. As she sang, the word that came to my mind was “troubadour.”

Of course, there I was just feet away from a talented musician, and for once I hadn’t brought my camera. Not to be deterred, I managed to get a few decent shots with my phone camera.

I now consider myself a full-fledged Anais fan. If her beautiful songs weren’t enough, one moment at the concert solidified it. Midway through the set, her band left the stage so that she could play a few songs solo. She said if people had any requests, this was the time to say them. As if they had planned it, my roommate and the girl next to her yelled out, “Old-Fashioned Hat!” And play it she did. That’s quality, folks.

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The Best Time I Met A Reality Show Contestant

In my limited experience, seeing famous people in real life is always surreal. That feeling is compounded by seeing them in everyday situations, as opposed to at a concert or scheduled appearance. I once saw a local news anchor at K-Mart and was actively creeped out. He may have been wearing his TV makeup, which gave his face an unnatural glow, so I’m sure that didn’t help.

Okay, in that example I’m using the term “famous person” very loosely. But last night I had an encounter with someone from a nationally televised show. I was out dancing with my roommates. While busting a move, I tend to periodically scan the crowd. A man on the edge of the dance floor looked oddly familiar. Then I blatantly stared. It was none other than Mondo from season eight of Project Runway.

As you may recall from a previous post, I was a big fan of Mondo last season. When he didn’t win, I was in a full-on tizzy. I may have even expressed the desire to have him as my best-gay-friend, assuming Tim Gunn is unavailable.

So what is the proper reaction in this situation? Well, first I stared until I was sure it was him. Then I let out a little scream. Then I pointed him out to my nearest roommate. She told me to go talk to him, but I couldn’t. I COULDN’T. I mean, he was a contestant on a moderately popular reality TV show. It’s not like I was running into Lady Gaga or something. Still, I was overcome with shyness.

I also had the vague idea that the cool thing to do when you see famous people is pretend not to care. That’s what New Yorkers do, right? Then again, we weren’t in New York City. We were at a dance bar in humble Minneapolis, which made his presence considerably more unexpected. Would I be respecting his personal boundaries if I just said hello? While I pondered these questions, I did what any normal person would do and stalked Mondo with my eyes. Physically following would be creepy, but visually monitoring him seemed only mildly so.

To be fair, he wasn’t hard to spot in the crowd. During his Project Runway stint, I always liked that he dressed himself in outfits almost as quirky as his designs. In real life his fashion sense did not disappoint. His hair was styled in a thick mohawk. He wore a pink tank top and white skinny jeans. Neither piece was unadorned, but I couldn’t describe them across a dark, crowded room.

I had told one roommate about the Mondo sighting, but the other was out of earshot at the time. Later in the evening, we were doing some crowd-watching, and she said, “I love that guy with the mohawk.” Naturally I had to explain who he was, and she also insisted that I should talk to him. It was almost time to catch the bus home, so it was now or never. As I walked across the room, I vowed to keep the conversation short and sweet. Annoying Mondo would be worse than not talking to him at all!

And talk to him I did. What follows is a rough transcript of our conversation.

Me: (light tap on the arm) Are you Mondo?!

Mondo: (sounding less than enthused) Yes I am.

Me: Oh my gosh, I love you!

Mondo: Thanks. (slightly more friendly) I was just checking my nose for boogers. I’m actually really sick right now.

Me: Oh yeah, you sound sick! (He did!)

Mondo: (tilts back head, the better to show me his nostrils) Am I okay?

Me: (two thumbs up . . . I wish I was kidding) You’re good! . . . Anyway, just wanted to say hi!

Did I ask him why he was in Minneapolis? Did I tell him that I love his designs? Heck no! But I did check his nose for boogers. And I can tell you that his nostrils were surprisingly large, as were his face and head in portion to the rest of his body. And I still think he’s awesome.

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