Monday, March 16, 2009

Lenka, Justin Nozuka and Missy Higgins @ First Avenue

Before I get to the review, this is your last reminder about the giveaway we got going right now - tomorrow is the last day you can enter! Check out more info here.

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Lenka, Justin Nozuka and Missy Higgins perform in one of Minneapolis' most famous venues, First Avenue. The place was absolutely packed with people of all ages and backgrounds, albeit a plethora of white college girls were the most represented group of the night, including a gaggle of girls behind me that were swooning for Justin Nozuka long before the show got started. But I digress.

First to the stage was Lenka, who decked out the stage with leaf-like cardboard cutout decorations and a cute spring-appropriate flower dress. She immediately brought a nice innocent and sweet vibe to the show and started kickin' things off with her tambourine in hand, singing crowd favorites "The Show" and "Trouble Is A Friend" with her charming and crystal voice. Lenka kept really good rapport with the audience, talking in between songs, sharing stories, and at one point offering a prize of chocolate coins to the top two audience members that sang the catchy hook "I want my money back" the best. My favorite moments include when she slung a mini-keyboard around her neck and definitively stated, "this is NOT a keytar" and when band-mate Danny "Afro" Levin played both the trombone and the keys at the same time. Her set was the perfect length and really got the energy up, definitely leaving the impression that a full show of hers would be a good time.

Next up was Justin Nozuka, a 20-year old Canadian artist whose debut album Holly (named after his mother) released last year. Now, a few things you need to know about this boy: he has what we like to call in the biz a "sex voice," meaning that his voice makes girls melt and also want to make babies, which is only further perpetuated by the fact he is trying his darndest to look like Johnny Depp. Also, Justin's aunt is actress Kyra Sedgwick, which means he's only three degrees to Kevin Bacon and can impressively refer to Kevin as 'Uncle Bacon' (I definitely would), and his brother George is an R&B sensation in Canada, so he's already got the cool factor going.

It was clear that he had entered the stage when the girly screams reached a collectively high resounding decibel, and with his acoustic guitar in hand, Justin brought out the chops. Justin rifts quite a bit on his album and definitely brought that to the stage, proving that he's not one of those musicians who need a few tries while recording an album in a studio to produce fanciful singing. He took the rifting to a small jazz scatting-esque level a couple times throughout the evening, exhibiting a nice range of vocal ability. Although appearing extremely personable in his performance, his set was extremely longer than I think anyone was expecting, and the volume of the chit-chatting crowd seemed to get louder and louder after each song. In fact, I'd wager that Justin played every song off of his CD. When he played his most well-known song "After Tonight," I thought for sure that'd be the closer, but he whipped out about 4 more before closing with the lesser upbeat "Criminal." Still, Justin put his heart into the show and he certainly is going to steal the fan base of male musicians like Jack Johnson and John Mayer. In fact, after he finishes up this tour with Missy Higgins he's heading out to perform at the Mayercraft Carrier, John Mayer's annual four-day cruise ship music festival. He'll join Mayer, O.A.R., Guster and Jessie Baylin and Justin says, "I'm not sure what to expect, but I know it will be off the hook."

After a long wait (perhaps because Justin Nozuka was meeting with fans and signing things right after he stepped off the stage), Missy Higgins finally took the stage with a melodica in hand. Now, if you're a regular reader, you know that I've seen Missy a couple times, as she frequents Minneapolis quite a bit, but this was her first time at First Avenue. Missy joked and said that the band watched a bit of Prince on the tour bus on the way over to get ready. Earlier that day, Missy was at the Mall of America to sign things and give a small performance and she said it was one of the weirdest experiences of her life, comparing it to what it would be like if there was an apocalypse and the remaining humans were content with their fate and decided to just join together and listen to music (presumably, the faint roar of people screaming on the roller coasters not too far away helped form this imagined scenario).

Early on into her set, Missy invited her fellow aussie Lenka on stage to accompany her on "The Wrong Girl" and joked that they planned to have a sleepover on the bus because Missy needed some more estrogen around, and the combination of Lenka and Missy voice's harmonizing together was beautiful. Missy played some of my all time favorite songs such as "The River," "Secret" (the song she composed the first time she was in Minneapolis) and the ever powerful "Forgive Me." Missy last night was the best I've ever seen her - she took her songs and morphed them into something bigger and better, adding improvs here and there and building up parts of slower songs to meet up with a crashing climax of drums and guitar rifts. Her voice went from soft and serene to raging wild and she never missed a beat or a phrase.

Overall, this is how last night's concert broke down: Lenka was darling and brought upbeat indie-pop that made everyone's mood improve, Justin melted girls hearts while rifting every song from his album in a long set, and Missy created absolute magic by reworking her songs into the type of live greatness you go to concerts to experience. They've got 5 more shows together, so if you live in Nebraska, Arizona, Missouri or California, I hope you've bought your tickets.

The Show - Lenka [mp3] (iTunes)
After Tonight - Justin Nozuka [mp3] (iTunes)
Secret - Missy Higgins [mp3] (iTunes)

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