This is why I love First Avenue

It’s been a while since I posted a Minneapolis love sonnet and since I’ve actually left my building almost daily this past week, I’ve got some good material that has nothing to do with dangerously low temperatures or the spread of a non-hand-washing influenza pestilence of such magnitude that even the bible didn’t have the guts to foretell it.

Like my fawning post about the Current, I’m not exactly uncovering a well-kept secret here. First Avenue not only boasts biblical longevity, but it also has the street cred to back it up, proudly displayed, coincidentally, right on the street in case you had any doubt. Walking around the club’s fa�ade is to see a veritable roll call of every great band in modern history, who inevitably played at the Ave before they hit it big – and many times after.

First Ave is no longer just a great club, it’s historical. I expect that the Smithsonian will arrive some day soon, construct a tent over the whole building and start charging admission. I imagine that tours will go something like “These are the beer bottles that Black Flag peed in back in the day when there was no bathroom backstage. And here’s the chair that Prince busted his head on when he slipped on his mascara brush. Five stitches.”

Whatever your opinions on live music clubs and current tastes, no one in their right mind can disparage nearly 40 years of saga-like live music, starting with Joe Cocker on opening night in 1970 and enduring through last week when I stepped foot in the joint for the first time in six years to see Bob Mould.

A lot has changed while I was away from the Ave. First and most heartening, the Minneapolis smoking ban has made a night out at local bars/clubs a lovely and civilized experience, rather than a toxic fume bath that took days of showering, clothes laundering and 12 hours in a pure oxygen chamber to recover from. First Ave was especially affected by the ban, as it had the air circulation of a 19th-century colonial bank vault. So, to simply walk in the door and not have my eyeballs burst into flames and my blood-oxygen levels drop 50 points was inexpressibly pleasurable.

Also, they serve Strongbow now, which is the difference between four stars and five stars as far as I’m concerned. In an effort to modernize, they’ve hung flat panel TVs all over the place, which I’m not sure was absolutely necessary, but at least it wasn’t offensive. The same can’t be said for their “sight line seating” reservation scheme though, where one can reserve a three-seat table by the upstairs railing for $45 (in addition to the price of the tickets to the event). I understand the urge to maximize potential revenue streams, but is this bourgeois element really necessary?

A final notable difference is that they apparently took a portion of their tiny indoor parking/dock space and turned it into the VIP Room, for strict DJ music and smaller special events. I didn’t get to check out the VIP Room myself, but a few smokers standing outside as I passed seemed quite pleased with venue.

Embarrassingly, this was only my first time seeing the iconic Bob Mould. The man can still rock his balls off. No messing around or idle chit-chat between songs either. That’s not how the Mould rolls. Apart from introducing the band during a late pause and the token mention of how bloody cold it was outside, the man’s segues averaged about 1.5 seconds. All about the music, which was hard, loud and testosteronily charged, evidenced by the male/female ratio of the crowd; about 2,000 guys and five women, including the two that I brought with me. I’m told the term is “sausagefest”.

On a side note, it was quite nice to have my grand return to the Ave coincide with a Bob Mould show, because the median age of the audience was like 42, which made me feel all youthful and spry. Those people were old, man. If I’d brought my father to the show, I don’t even think he would’ve been the oldest in the room. It was a far cry from typical First Ave shows where only about 5% of the people in there have actually shaved.

So, now that we’ve established that First Ave is one of the greatest live music venues since the dawn of humans, I just have one, humble query. A trifling matter really, but nevertheless, I was just a little curious about WHY IS THE MUSIC SO F*CKING LOUD???????

Dear Lord all mighty in heaven, what are you people thinking? I had a profound hearing loss for over 48 hours after that goddamn show! Is that really necessary? Huh? Really? What the f*ck?

Don’t get me wrong, the music should be loud enough to drown out the conversation of the drunks in the back, but Jesus Harold Christ, I felt like I was being attacked by an anti-riot aural cannon. When did you guys replace audio quality with stupefying wattage? Do you really think your patrons are too dumb to tell the difference?

By the fourth song I was literally too dazed to pay attention to the show. My eyes were involuntarily rolling into the back of my head and I had to lean on my lovely companion’s wheelchair to keep my knees from buckling under me. The distortion was so bad that you could only discern about 25% of the lyrics that poor Bob had agonized over.

Now I’ll admit that I’m somewhat to blame, because I forgot my earplugs, but equally earplugs shouldn’t be necessary if you don’t crank the volume to ’13’ and focus a little more on sound quality. The wretched audiophiles in the audience were nearly in tears, both emotionally from the butchering done to the music and also due to the physical agony we withstood from that god-awful sound.

It wasn’t always like this. I happily went to shows at First Ave for about 10 years before I started to become uncomfortable with the volume and Wednesday’s show broke every audio distress assault I’ve ever withstood.

Get it together people. Fire whatever self-trained, tone-deaf jackass that’s running sound for you now and get someone in there that actually knows something about the fundamentals of acoustics, not to mention the upper tolerance limits of the human ear.

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Music | 10.03.2008 10:18 | 6 Comments

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