Thursday, April 7, 2011

F is for.....

F is for First Avenue

Today's post is not about a street. The First Avenue I'm talking about is the classic rock n' roll club in Minneapolis. First Ave is the place where Prince and Morris Day and The Time threw down in Purple Rain. First Ave is hallowed musical ground, the way Wrigley Field and Lambeau Field are hallowed sporting ground. If you're a fan of live music, seeing a show at First Ave should be on your bucket list.

I moved to Minneapolis in 1992, and I saw a ton of shows at First Ave throughout the 90s. I can't say for sure what my first show was, but my earliest memory is tagging along with my roommates to see Sonic Youth. We weren't really fans, but tickets were cheap and available, so we figured, why not. It was an all-ages show, which meant we had to sit in the balcony to drink. I'll never forget the sight as Sonic Youth started playing, the high schoolers erupting into a crashing sea of teen spirit.

First Ave was beautifully seedy. The bathrooms were disgusting, but that should go without saying, we're talking rock n' roll here people. The place reeked of cigarettes and stale beer, a smell that should have been nauseating, but somehow became the smell I associate with great music. You came to First Ave for one thing, and one thing only: music. I don't see a lot of live shows these days, but when I do, I always wonder what the show would have been like at First Ave, the best place for live music in these United States.

Got any cool rock n' roll clubs in your neck of the woods?


  1. Here in Denver it was the Rainbow Music Hall. Seedy, dirty, disgusting, and the place to see live bands in the 80's. I remember seeing U2 play there for three dollars (yes, I'm that old).

    I'm seeing U2 this May at freakin' Mile Hi Stadium. Up the cost by a factor of one hundred, too. Ah, the good old days.

  2. U2-WOW! Very cool. I know they played First Ave, but those days were long gone by the time I was in Minneapolis.

  3. Wow! I haven't been to a cool rock-n-roll joint in too many years. When I lived in Atlanta, we went to them all the time in a place called Buckhead which no longer exists...I'm wrote a book about it that needs drastic editing. Someday!
    Happy F Day!

  4. The last seedy place I went to was a bar several years ago. There wasn't any act to see there per se, but at least my surroundings provided the perfect fodder for my writing.

  5. I've never been a big club fan, but here in the Dallas area, we have the world famous (whatever that means) Deep Ellum. Filled to the brim with seedy dives, I've only been to a couple places down there–mostly local bands.

  6. That place sounds like a couple of places that we have here in Houston.

  7. Tim..I was wondering what F was going to be (I check your blog every few days, but this alphabet thing has me checking daily). I didn't see First Avenue coming...completely caught me off guard. Excellent choice. I've seen a few bands there back in the day. Years ago..and this was mentioned in Rolling Stone..someone had written on the side of the building.."there's a little Paul Westerberg in all of us" I think of that whenever I think of First Avenue. em..but for me it's always going to be the Mats, Husker Du, Soul Asylum, etc. That Minneapolis punk thing was, and still is, amazing. I didn't catch U2 there..but I saw them in 93 at the Target Center. Prices were more than 3 bucks. I still get crazy stares when I tell people we paid $27.50 to see Madonna at Alpine Valley. They can't believe it was so low. I'm getting off track here...
    I hope that after you left the Sonic Youth show that you were a little bit of a fan.

  8. The last concert I think I saw was in 96. It was a festival called Hordefest, and featured a TON of great acts (Blues Traveller, Dave Matthews, Lenny Kravitz, rusted root...a few others I can't recall) I really only remember 3 things:
    1 - it was HOT. Arizona, summer. Ugh.
    2 - The smell of weed was in my clothes for days. Ugh.
    3 - Numbers 1 & 2 aside, It was AWESOME!
    It makes me think I should consider getting back out and seeing some more live music.
    Good post!

  9. Great post! I love places like this, although we don't have any good ones in my area. I would love to have seen U2 at this place. I saw them at the United Center when I visited Chicago some years back and it was great, but I needed binoculars to see the stage. I wish I could have seen them way back when!

  10. Squilla's AuntApril 7, 2011 at 2:35 PM

    I'm enjoying this A to Z challenge thing! I keep trying to predict what you're going to write about next, but so far I'm not having much luck. Will G be for "Government Shutdown"??

    I'll have you know that I was in a drugstore yesterday, an old-timey type....and I thought of your "D" post and looked for Drops. Didn't see any, unfortunately, but given that it looked like the Brady Bunch would come in any second, I'd wager good money they have some gathering dust on a shelf in the back room.

  11. First off... associating the smell of stale beer and cigarettes with great music is brilliant. My olfactory association with music is closer to whiskey and horse exhaust, but I get it.
    My sordid past took me to many venues, some in PDX, like La Luna and the Starry Night. The Starry Night was the location for several memorably low points in tours for two bands, The Replacements (Westerberg was to drunk to find a seedy bathroom... let alone play a set) and The Dead Kennedy's "Night of the Living Redneck" was taped after Jello Biafra was harassed outside the club. Husker Du at La Luna was a highlight.
    My favorite concert however has to be seeing The Chili Peppers just after they released their first LP at a beer garden in Eugene, they cleared the room, except for me and a couple of other knuckleheads... Real Men Don't Kill Coyote.

  12. Tara: I bet there were some great shows in Atlanta.

    Jeffrey: You can definitely find plenty of writing material in a good seedy club.

    Kris: The Deep Ellum huh, sounds like the place to be on a Saturday night.

    OT: A town Houston's size must have a vibrant music scene.

    Mike: Oh man, the Madonna show at Alpine Valley! Classic! I did get to see Westerberg at First Ave. I actually saw the Mats in GB. Got to see Sugar and Soul Asylum too.

    Mickey: 96!? You're right, you need to get back out there.

    Julie: A friend of mine actually has pictures of U2 from their show at First Ave on their first US tour-very cool-they were teenagers.

    Squilla: I thought about Gov't shutdown, but I went with something closer to my heart.

    Munk: Well, I saw the Mats a number of times, and I'd say drunkenness was a common theme. Love the Chili Peppers story!

  13. Squilla's AuntApril 7, 2011 at 6:44 PM

    Just call me '0 fer"....

  14. I was just at First Ave in mid-Feb for a concert. You'll be happy to know the bathrooms are still disgusting and it still reeks of cigarettes and stale beer. And it's still awesome.

    I'm going to guess Green Bay for "G." What else?!

  15. JANE! This is huge! And you're very close with the G entry.

  16. Lots of them here. Love that this is such a progressive music city. If I am ever there, I will have to visit.

  17. Tim, I hear you on the drunk replace-mats... but Portland's shows were legendary for their wastedness. As a result, Paul wrote a song for PDX and the band apologized with a "we're sorry Portland" stamped on the vinyl near the label of one of their later albums.