Since we’re smack-dab in the most boring part of the year — no sports, no good movies, no concerts in this neck of the woods, cold-ass weather keeping us all indoors and out of trouble — it seems fitting to break out a few new music-related essays.
The first in the series was the “three best concert shouts.” Up now: my three favorite concerts.
#3 — Prince @ the Xcel
I saw Prince in 2004, a full 20 years after Purple Rain, from the second-to-last row in the upper deck at the Xcel Center. I wasn’t expecting much. While I dig Prince’s music more than most, the show seemed destined to fall into the over-produced, fireworks-heavy, farewell-tour variety. I am proudly allergic to artificiality.
While the show did have its fair share of big-budget inanities — choreographed group dances, Prince doing a Minnesotan accent impression to howls of laughter — all I really remember is the talent of one Prince Rogers Nelson.
Each and every song was a moment, a statement, impeccably pulled off, whether he was backed by the horns or sitting by himself playing the acoustic (“Cream” was so perfect I almost cried).
He hit every vocal note, his dancing was both flawless and effortless (I didn’t know he had the chops), and his work on the guitar remains the most impressive I have seen to date. No kidding. He played every song I loved and very few songs I don’t.
While the mood of the concert was anything but organic — typically a top priority for me — Prince’s awe-inspiring talent and showmanship more than made up for it.
#2 — Wilco @ the Orpheum
My behavior at the Wilco show was perhaps my most embarrassing display as an adult; I’ve covered it already and don’t really want to talk about it anymore. Leave me alone, people.
#1 — Iffy @ First Ave
Ah, Iffy. I could go on for days. Have you heard of them? Seen them in concert? You’d remember if you had — it was quite the experience.
The year was late aught-two or so, if I remember correctly. Iffy’s album hit the local scene with little fanfare, but picked up steam once people heard it and rightfully deemed it the soundtrack of the summer. Maybe the soundtrack to every summer.
“Biota Bondo” was the brattier sibling to Beck’s “Midnight Vultures,” a dance-y, electronic album with elements of both Prince and the Replacements thrown in. Driving. Fast. Uptempo. Kick-ass.
And the album was nothing compared to the concerts. You’ve seen bands that inherently know how to step the album’s energy up a notch without reshaping the songs beyond recognition. Iffy was that band in spades. (Did I just say “in spades”? Oh no. I’m in full-on fanboy territory and there is no turning back now.)
Ten seconds into the first song, most everyone in attendance was dancing. And I’m talking about whitebread Minnesotans here — most shows, we do our best mannequin impersonations. But with Iffy, we were bouncing, shaking, twisting, turning, pulling out whatever lame moves we had in our holster. Were there sprinklers? Oh yes, there were sprinklers.
It was momentous, I’m telling you, and not just for me. During those halcyon days when Iffy was playing every couple of weeks, I dragged numerous friends to the shows. Not one person left unimpressed. This was it — that feeling when you discover a band you know is the shit, and will soon be playing bigger shows in front of thousands.
Iffy’s best show was at First Avenue, in late 2002 (I believe). The gig was sold out, an impressive feat for a band with one album, containing songs rarely heard on the radio, with no marketing muscle behind it, a band that typically played at outdoor shows or opening up for the established vets.
I remember where I was standing at the First Ave show — back center of the floor, right in front of the soundboard. I remember the electronic beats that served as the songs’ foundation making my bones vibrate. I remember lead singer Kirk Johnson’s sing-speak vocals perfectly cutting through the instruments. I remember each and every song starting in one place and building, driving, ending up somewhere new, somewhere more frenzied, more intense. I remember halfway through the show looking to my dozen-or-so friends in attendance and exclaiming that this was the greatest show I’d ever seen. The band kept playing, played the entire album and a couple covers (Bowie? I think there was some Bowie thrown in). All in all, my enjoyment and energy level was turned up to 11 from the first note to the last.
I have forgotten the order of the songs they played and many other moments from that night, but I will never forget how much goddamn fun I had. Most music lovers will describe a similar experience. This was mine.
Postscript: Iffy was in and out of our lives in a flash. After the success of “Biota Bondo,” Iffy claimed they were working on their sophomore album. They even played new tracks off the album, which were expectedly kick-ass. I still remember two of them: “Hijacked Nation” and “Don’t Tell Me.” Safe to say I was excited for the new album.
Iffy slowly, expectedly began to fade from the local concert calendar, and we fans were left sitting on our hands waiting for the new album. We waited, and waited, and waited, and….well, we’re still waiting.
There was no follow-up album. I emailed their website numerous times asking for an update, even found a couple of the members on MySpace asking if they were ever going to release those new songs. I begged for the songs, offered to pay. No word. It’s been over six years since anyone heard from Iffy. I still have no clue why they gave up. Unprofitable? Internal arguments? Lack of new material? We’ll never know. Bummer.