Various Artists | The Bootlegs Vol. 1 Celebrating 35 Years at First Avenue (SRO Productions)

First Avenue is one of the most-storied music clubs in the entire Midwest, a rock club constructed in 1970 inside of the 30-year-old Northland-Greyhound Bus Depot in downtown Minneapolis.

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First Avenue is one of the most-storied music clubs in the entire Midwest, a rock club constructed in 1970 inside of the 30-year-old Northland-Greyhound Bus Depot in downtown Minneapolis. The first club in the downtown area to serve up both cold beer and hot rock music, First Avenue and its neighboring sister club, the 7th Street Entry, hosted a rock revolution in the 1980s that began with Prince—whose Purple Rain was filmed at First Avenue—and continued with a slew of influential punk and indie bands, from the Replacements and Hüsker Dü to the Jayhawks and Soul Asylum, in addition to serving as a welcome destination to national touring acts.

First Avenue and the 7th Street Entry are still going strong after a brief brush with bankruptcy in 2004, and this compilation pays tribute with a healthy dose of live recordings from the club’s long history. The “35 years” part of the title is a bit misleading, as the vast majority of the recordings found on The Bootlegs Vol. 1 are from the last six years. The setlist is pretty evenly split between local favorites, such as the Jayhawks (“Better Days”) and Trip Shakespeare (“Diane”), national artists like Joe Jackson (“Is She Really Going Out With Him”) and Richard Thompson (“Cooksferry Queen”), and journeymen Midwestern performers like Guided by Voices (“Queen of Cans and Jars”) and Jay Farrar (“Windfall”). While Prince himself doesn’t make an appearance, the compilation tips its hat to non-rock performers with underground hip-hop sensation Atmosphere (“The Woman With the Tattooed Hands”) and the funk new-wave of the Suburbs (“Every Night’s a Friday Night (In Hell)”).

The “Bootleg” part of the title is also a misnomer, as the sound quality on this collection—no doubt culled straight from the soundboards—is impeccable. The production is top notch, each song blending into the next like one long, all-star concert. The only dip into bootleg-quality sound comes on the two oldest and most historically important cuts, the Replacements’ 1981 barnstormer “Love You Till Friday,” and a sloppy but thrilling run through Hüsker Dü’s “Books About UFOs” from 1985.

Bootlegs Vol. 1 makes a fine argument for the club’s vital place in rock history, although it is far from a complete document due to the absence of both Prince and Soul Asylum, two of Minneapolis’ biggest success stories (a problem hopefully corrected in the hinted future editions). The album succeeds as a compilation, offering a wide variety of artists with high-quality live performances. There’s even a smattering of funny stage banter from the likes of the Old 97’s and proto-punk goddess Patti Smith, who gave her own take on First Avenue following her lovely 1998 performance of “Redondo Beach”: “You have a great club here with a great sound system,” Smith remarked. “They just need a little more ventilation.”

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