May 17, 2018 Anderson East made a stop at First Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota as part of his Encore tour. The only thing I didn’t like about that night’s performance is that it ended. I left wanting more. On the way home I had my friend open up his upcoming tour dates.. “List them off to me”, I said. He starts listing them off, “Chicago, Alabama.. London, Paris, Amsterdam, Ireland, Germany, Sweden…” Good Lord is he ever going to be nearby again? I thought to myself. Then he started listing U.S. locations again and got to North Dakota. I cut him off, “Oh! Where in North Dakota?” He replied, “Fargo.” I said,“that’s not even a 5 hour drive for us.” He asked me, “would you actually go to Fargo to see him?” I asked him, “would you not?” All I heard was silence. I rested my case. This guy is good. Good to the point where I’m trying to find the words adequate to describe what I experienced.
I knew his name, but it wasn’t until more recently that I had been introduced to his music. This guy had to have a following though because the concert was to be at the Fine Line Cafe, however there was such a demand for tickets that they had to move it to the iconic First Avenue. I had never been to either place but I can imagine Fine Line Cafe was a much smaller venue if the demand had increased so high that they had to move it. I had been to 7th Street Entry, a part of First Avenue for a CD release party a few years back. That section of the building had the feeling of being in a basement almost. A much smaller venue with a lower ceiling. Very dark and closed in. I was excited to see what the rest of this place was like.
Originally a Greyhound bus depot, this place is steeped in musical history. According to their website, they celebrated 45 years of being in business a few years ago, and they don’t show any signs of slowing down:
Having celebrated its 45th Anniversary in 2015, First Avenue is one of the longest running independently owned and operated clubs in the United States, as well as one of the most celebrated. San Francisco has the Fillmore. New York has the Bowery Ballroom. D.C. has the 9:30 Club, and Minneapolis has First Avenue and the 7th St Entry.
I wouldn’t be a true Minnesotan if I didn’t bring up that one huge piece of First Avenue’s history is the fact that the late Prince used to use this venue as much as he could:
No description of the ’80s at First Avenue is complete, without a nod to Prince, who made the club his regular venue, his testing ground for new material, and both the set and the setting of his movie, “Purple Rain”.
I myself was personally surprised that I had gotten this far in life and had never attended even one show in the main room at First Avenue, but I was finally there. I got inside and I noticed there was a second level to this section of the building. It wrapped around the open floor area so you could span out and watch the show at any angle if the crowd size allowed. The floor area was open and there was a screen acting as the curtain, covering the stage from the crowds wandering eyes. Upcoming acts at First Avenue and other local venues flashed on the screen while patrons continued to filter in. I located the merch table first and then tried to scope out a spot. “This guy can’t be country” went through my head as I took the venue in. First Avenue just doesn’t have the country music vibe to it, not even “today’s country”. I knew right away, any thought that might have been had about this guy being a country music artist was now invalid. That’s okay. I’m a fan of all music and my excitement level remained unchanged. My friend Patti (also a Think Country contributor) raved about him to me as I found my spot. She was excited for me, she wanted to be there, she couldn’t have said anything more nice about this guy that I was about to see. The more she talked, the more excited I got. I staked my spot in the front. I was happy I did. The opener, J.S. Ondara came out and did his thing. He didn’t make much contact with the crowd aside from small talk between his songs, but, that was okay. I appreciated his music and his own talent that he shared, but all this talk from Patti had me ready to see this Anderson East guy.
Now going into this show I didn’t know much about him. I knew that his music was good from what I had heard from his albums, “Delilah” and “Encore”. What I know now is that I wish I had known more about him previous to this because where has this guy been? He came out, band crushing it and rocked straight into, “Girlfriend”. This song had me hooked the first time I heard it. It opens up with the keys, saxophone and trombone like no other modern day song I had heard. The energy he had already in this song before he even started the show showed me that I really was in for a treat and I knew I was ready for more. He went into “Surrender” next. Reminiscent of a James Brown tune he put his voice into it. With a tambourine echoing in the background of this uptempo song he wailed the lyrics and reached for it with his soulful raspiness that had the crowd digging the longer held notes that he let out. Nothing was slowing down as he continued straight into “Sorry You’re Sick”.
A brief break brought him to address the crowd. He explained that he was from Athens, Alabama to which he joked that it sounded like about three people knew where that was based on the reaction. He continued, saying that he currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and since they are from there and from the south everyone thinks they are a country band, but they aren’t. However, to keep things confusing they cover a Willie Nelson song, and they did that next with Willie’s song, “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces”. He slowed things down a little longer by heading into “King For a Day”, and “Devil In Me”. Next up he swayed into “Learning”. Another throat buster that had him throwing the chords out and landing them each time. I just have to add a side note, that I am so incredibly glad I was able to snag a setlist. Not only because who doesn’t love to do that, but, I found myself so lost and immersed in his show that I honestly don’t know if he stuck to the list or changed anything. At least I had a guide to go off of. That’s what an Anderson East show does. It throws you off your tracks. When you think you have an idea of what to expect he blows you away. Completely.
He began to “wind down” his set by doing his song, “All On My Mind” and then headed straight into what I considered the song of the night, “This Too Shall Last”. I don’t even know where to go with this song. How he sang it, the emotion he brought to it. That chorus line, “this too shall last” how he held the last word, which is ironically, last. It’s a naturally slow song and it just feels so right coming from him. He placed quite the instrumental break in this song. Each band member got to showcase their own skills, and he slayed it on a guitar solo of his own that made you just stand there in awe of what you were witnessing. I’ve watched a lot of great guitar solos before, but none of them have captured me like this. I have to wonder if he really knows what he’s going to play next or if he lets his emotions carry him into the next chord that he’s going to strum. He physically looked like he was feeling the song and letting his own emotions in the moment guide him through the song as to what chord to lay down next. If that’s not the way he does it, he had me fooled. Whatever works for him works. He added a nice little ode to Prince in his guitar solo with a touch of “Purple Rain” thrown in there. I’m not entirely sure the whole crowd picked up on that note, but we sure did.
One thing that I couldn’t help but notice during this instrumental break was the way he presented himself on the stage while the other band members played their parts. Most artists just wander around and jive with the music. Anderson didn’t just jive with the music, he stayed in the music and in the moment. He took in the reactions of the crowd and often ran his hands through his golden locks and held his hands on his head as if he couldn’t believe he was up on that stage doing what he was doing. There was a humbleness in his response to the crowd’s attention on him and he carried it with such grace. He’s a natural talent that’s gotten to where he is with hard work, no doubt.
As “This Too Shall Last” faded away, the band cleared the stage to a room full of screaming fans begging for more. The encore was next, so, I figured we’d be in for one or two more songs and the night would be over. I was wrong again, four songs later the show wrapped up and he went off into the night. Anderson came back out to start his encore set with with one of Prince’s hits, “I Would Die 4 U”. The crowd already going nuts, lost it when they heard the intro to this one as the purple lights shined on the stage in the background. It seems like the way into a Minnesotan’s heart at a concert is a good Prince cover, and this was no exception. He added on “If You Keep Leaving Me” and “Satisfy Me” and then closed the night with a crowd favorite, “House is a Building”. The amount of fans that reacted to this song around me saying, “This is the one!” “This is my favorite!” “This is the one I told you about!” in addition to the constant roar that didn’t die down for a second had me convinced this was definitely one of his top hits.
After experiencing that show, knowing his music, and reliving it after writing this review, I can only reiterate it so many times, go see Anderson East. To my friend who asked, and anyone else wondering “Would you really drive that far to see him?” Again, I ask back, Would you not? You not only should, you need to.