It’s tough to be the opening act. On a Wednesday night, 20 minutes before the eight o’clock show, the small house at Fine Line Music Café on Minneapolis’s First Avenue is far from full. Aside from a half-dozen tables surrounded by bar stools, there’s no seating, so most people mill around in front of the stage. The lower level of Fine Line isn’t much bigger than Macalester’s Loch, though a wrap-around balcony above opens up the space. The dark room with its long black bar and brick walls is cool and sophisticated (most shows are 18 plus, some 21 plus), effectively avoiding that deathly “trying-too-hard” vibe—something tonight’s opener, Royal Teeth, toes the line of.
Royal Teeth, an indie-pop group formed in 2010 in Louisiana, takes the stage at 7:55 amid the sounds of people chatting, recorded music playing over the speakers and ice being scooped into clear plastic cups at the bar. The members of Royal Teeth (a play on words, the name is meant to sound like “royalty”) are eager to be here, eager to warm up the crowd for SafetySuit, the group most of the audience came to see.
“Amateurs,” the title track of Royal Teeth’s most recent EP (released November 18 of last year), is the first in Royal Teeth’s seven-song set. “I have dreams and they are gigantic,” lead vocalist Nora Patterson sings smoothly, as drummer Josh Hefner commits his entire upper body to banging away at his percussion set and guitarist Thomas Onebane nods along to the beat in the background.
All are enthusiastic throughout their half-hour on stage, but none more so than guitarist Gary Larsen. “Move a little bit,” he asks, persuading a few in the crowd to sway half-heartedly. He has more success in promoting sing-along; when the band pauses in the middle of “Hold Me” (from Glow, Royal Teeth’s first and only full-length album thus far), creating a hopeful silence, the audience is still audibly singing along with the “Oh, whoa, oh.”
Newcomers continue to filter into Fine Line throughout the set and Larsen asks the slow-growing crowd to clap along. At one point in the show, he takes his hands from his guitar during a song to pull out a smart phone and take a photo of the crowd—it’s a millennial band, after all. The other members of Royal Teeth take the photo shoot in stride, continuing to play, and Larsen has to hustle to get his fingers back to the strings in time.
“Is It Just Me,” another song off the Amateur EP, is the best of the set, if only because it’s different from the rest. It’s Royal Teeth’s percussion at its most inventive, the guitar riffs at their most developed, and it’s all carried by Patterson, whose voice manages to be simultaneously forceful and ethereal.
Nearing the end of the set, Larsen speaks for the band, thanking the audience profusely for coming out. Royal Teeth exits stage right, amid substantial applause, so SafetySuit’s equipment can be brought on.
Royal Teeth has appeared on American Idol, played at Bonnaroo, Firefly, SXSW and Austin City Limits music festivals. Their song “Wild” has over 7 million plays on Spotify. But all that notwithstanding, the band members are still selling their own shirts. After the set at Fine Line, Patterson and Larsen stand out at the table to sign a half-dozen or so albums and to pose for pictures with brand-new fans.
The two are friendly, their faces admitting no signs of exhaustion. Tonight, February 8, is only their second appearance with SafetySuit. Over the next twelve days they will play in eight more cities, from St. Louis to Nashville to Philadelphia.
Larsen is enthusiastic about being on the road. It’s something he says the Amateur EP allowed the group to get back out and do—but looking ahead, he says that Royal Teeth needs to get back to the recording studio and start thinking about a new full-length album.
“We put a lot of energy into our music,” Larsen says. He hopes that people feel better when they hear Royal Teeth’s songs. “It’s trying to be positive.”
That positivity seeps into Larsen’s attitude towards the music industry as a whole. His advice for aspiring artists? “Try to really enjoy it as much as possible. To me it’s the best job I could have.”
Patterson chimes in. “Just say ‘yes’ to opportunities,” she says, since there’s no telling what a seemingly small gig could lead to.
The Fine Line will host big names in the next few months—Thundercat on February 24, JoJo on March 7, Daya on March 24—and predictably, all of those shows are sold out. However, several shows—Jens Lekman with guest Lisa/Liza on March 8, Save Ferris with guests Umbrella Bed and Baby Baby on March 11 and The Revivalists with guest The Ghost of Paul Revere on March 15—still have tickets available (as of Feb. 13).
Go to these shows and show up early enough to see the openers, not just because you’ll see two acts for the price of one. Go because it’s something different, something special, to see a group at a stage when the members still sell their own shirts and thank the audience for listening.