Strange as it might seem, 30 years ago the Twin Cities were considered a minor outpost in the national live music scene. But even then, the music community was toiling out of the spotlight, nurturing talents (oh, you know….Prince, The Replacements; nobody special) that would go on to rack up equal volumes of sales and critical acclaim.
Amazingly, live music in the Twin Cities has only become more vital and diverse in the intervening three decades. When a scene can produce not one but two reigning hiphop cartels (Rhymesayers
) and watch with pride as one of its products sells out an eight-show run at its signature club (as Atmosphere did at 7th Street Entry in 2005), you know it's not resting on past laurels.
If you'd like to reconnect with the scene, or are going to be visiting our towns, let the following be a thumbnail guide to finding some sublime sounds to take home, or down the road, with you. First Avenue/7th Street Entry
(701 First Ave., Minneapolis). Any discussion of vital live music in the Twin Cities starts here. Since 1970, when it was known as Uncle Sam's (trivia: The first headliner was Joe Cocker), First Avenue has been the perfect blend of big and small, presenting a dizzying array of legends and up-and-comers in an intimate setting that still boasts enough elbow room for servers to make their way through with cases of beer for sale. First Ave's little brother, the Entry, is a showpiece for a wide range of scuffling indie bands; it's cheap, cozy, and you can stand an inch from the bandstand if you like. The Triple Rock Social Club
(629 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis). If you like it fast and loud--and would you be reading if you didn't, at least a little?--then the Triple Rock is a must. The 12-year-old venue attracts punk, meta,l and related hybrid loudness from throughout the U.S. and beyond, with bills usually numbering three or four bands. The Triple Rock's secret weapon? Early shows, and lots of 'em: Sundays are generally guaranteed to contain a 5 p.m. lineup. Oh, and did we mention Free Bacon Wednesdays? Lee's Liquor Lounge
(101 Glenwood Ave., Minneapolis). At the other end of the spectrum is Lee's, a folksy, somewhat seedy place whose specialty is country, rockabilly and oddball tribute bands such as the have-to-see-'em-to-believe-'em E.L.No. Trailer Trash's Christmas shows at Lee's have become the stuff of legend, but drop in any weekend night and you're sure to find fun on the menu. (But not much food, alas; eat before you arrive. Another tip: Plan ahead on parking if the Twins are in town--Target Field is mere footsteps away.) The Turf Club
(1601 University Ave., St. Paul). St. Paul's unassuming answer to Minneapolis's musical mileposts is the Turf, nestled on the city's main drag amid pawn shops and sex-toy stores. The Turf's trump card is a knack for drawing acts that are bursting with potential, yet still humble enough to warrant a $10 ticket; fans still rave about a marathon 2000 show by then-obscure Ryan Adams. Super-friendly staff, cheap drinks, tremendous sightlines, and occasional celebrity drop-bys (such as Lady Gaga recently) seal the deal. The Dakota Jazz Club
(1010 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis). The Dakota has outgrown its name in a way, offering shows by R&B, country and rock luminaries (Booker T. and the MGs, Marty Stuart, Aimee Mann) as well as a steady rotation of jazz legends and youngbloods. The Dakota is also known as a place to duck into for musicians passing through; settle in some night and you might find the celebrities aren't just on the stage. The Kitty Cat Klub
(315 14th Ave. SE, Minneapolis). A youthful contender for your music dollar, the Kitty Cat is a great option if you find yourself near the University of Minnesota campus. It offers live music every night, with a roster of local and national headliners that has done nothing but grow in prominence and hip cred. A full menu of apps and entrees will keep your tummy as full as your ears, too. Cedar Cultural Center
(416 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis). Perhaps the Twin Cities' most diverse musical offerings are to be found at the nonprofit Cedar, which boasts shows in a dazzling array of categories. A typical week might offer folk, chamber, punk, electronic, or international sounds. And, if you're weary of standing at any of the above venues, it offers reserved seating.What's In Store
Our towns aren't just a haven for live music; the area is extraordinarily rich in the number and variety of that beloved dinosaur, the record store. Two of the granddads in this category are the Electric Fetus
(2000 4th Ave. S., Minneapolis), dubbed
one of the 25 best record stores in the country by Rolling Stone
, and Cheapo
(main location: 1300 W. Lake Street, Minneapolis), both of which offer tons of new and used vinyl and CDs. Smaller but no less passionate are Roadrunner
(4304 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis
) and Treehouse
(2557 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis), which cater more to the fanatical end of the fan spectrum. In the old-is-new category is Hymie's
(3820 E. Lake Street, Minneapolis), a renowned collector's haven, also featured
on Rolling Stone
's list, that recently moved into a new space. Filling stylistic niches are Fifth Element
(2411 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis), a must-stop for DJs and other hiphop heads; and Extreme Noise
(407 W. Lake Street, Minneapolis), a volunteer-run co-op punk resource that offers the latest indie releases on everything from 7-inch singles on up.Dan Heilman is an independent writer and editor based in Saint Paul.
Photos, top to bottom:
The punk/metal-prizing Triple Rock Social Club is on the West Bank, a major Minneapolis entertainment district since the early 20th century.
Inside the Triple Rock.
Retribution Gospel Choir onstage at the TRSC.
Saint Paul's funky Turf Club, on University Avenue
Lady GaGa found a seat in the Turf Club after a recent Twin Cities show.
Dietrich Poppen of Prozac Rat riffs onstage.
All photos by Bill Kelley