Continuing my year-end wrap-up, here are my ten favorite live performances I saw this year.
Jesus Lizard, Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, GA, November 6, 2009
My top choice reflects my musical biases. As much as I liked the next two performances on the list, I find it difficult to not list an amazing rock act first. Ten years after their breakup and coinciding with the reissue of their first four albums, The Jesus Lizard reformed to play a couple of summer festivals and a short fall tour. I missed this band the first time around and have regretted it ever since. Their live reputation was stellar and as much as I enjoyed the records I always wanted to see the live show. I was certainly not disappointed. One song in, I was thinking "This band is fucking awesome!" A couple more in and I was convinced it was the best show I'd seen all year. By the end of the set, I had decided they are the best rock band I've ever seen. Period. I'm convinced they reformed just to show up a bunch of guys half their age. The tour is over now and allegedly they will be returning from whence they came. If they hit the road again, there is no question I will be there. They are everything great rock and roll should be: intense, loud, slightly dangerous and unrelenting.
Leonard Cohen, BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, FL, Oct 17, 2009
I came late to the party on Leonard Cohen. My friend Bill, who is a huge Cohen fan, turned me on to the I'm Your Man album a few years back and more recently I have started to explore the rest of his catalog. When I found out he was playing locally, I couldn't pass up what is likely to be my only opportunity to see a living legend. The show was all-around amazing. The lower bowl of the arena was turned into a makeshift theatre, giving it a bit better atmosphere for the music. The sound was incredible. Cohen's band is stellar, in particular Spanish guitarist Javier Mas. And Cohen himself is engaged, self-effacing and funny on stage. He played a two-and-a-half hour show from throughout his catalog, from first album to most recent.
Tinariwen, North Beach Bandshell, Miami Beach, FL (Heineken TransAtlantic Festival), April 25, 2009
I picked up on Tinariwen from Henry Rollins' radio show on Indie 103 in Los Angeles (he's now on KCRW). He has been playing tracks from them for several years. I finally found one of their albums in a store early this year. I played the disc incessantly and soon after found out they would be playing locally as part of the TransAtlantic Festival. They were opening for Cuban-American singer Cucu Diamantes and it was pretty obvious early on that it was her crowd and hardly anyone there had any idea who these guys were. Little matter as the band had the crowd all dancing within five or six songs. Group leader Ibrahim skipped the tour, opting to go into the desert to recharge. No matter, as his songs were sung ably by younger member Intidao. Tinariwen will be back in the United States early this year. We will be catching them in Brooklyn in February.
Phish, American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL, December 28-31, 2009
I cheated on this run and put the whole run as one show rather than have three shows by the same band in the list. In almost any other year, the December 30 show would have been at the top of the list. Barring performers I know personally, Phish is the one I have seen the largest number of times (24). I was in the swamp ten years ago for their New Year's Eve set, which began at five to midnight and ended at dawn. For a number of reasons, the band lost their way following this show. They took a hiatus after 18 years as a band to recharge, came back two years later and then broke up within two years. They reformed early this year and played their first shows in March. They've spent the year becoming re-acquainted with each other and regaining what they'd lost as a unit. These shows are proof that they are back one hundred percent. Reviewers are calling the December 30 possibly the best pre-New Year's Eve show of all time and the whole run found them playing well, having fun and pulling out all the stops. The complicated songs were tight, the jams were focused and well-developed, their sense of humor and spectacle were well intact and on display. Unlike some of their late pre-breakup shows, these were an affirmation of why I continue to return to see this band. There is simply no one else who can do what they do.
The Pogues, Pompano Beach Amphitheatre, Pompano Beach, FL, March 7, 2009
One of the crushing disappointments of Langerado's cancellation is that I wasn't going to be able to see The Pogues. That is, until they got a replacement booking in Pompano Beach. Liz and I spent our wedding anniversary with The Pogues and had a marvelous time. They haven't written any new music since reuniting a few years ago, but they're still getting on and still playing amazing shows. The music always felt older than the band and I feel like their age is just now catching up. That said, they're a lively bunch. The whole band is in great form, including singer Shane MacGowan, who was originally tossed from the band for being drunk and unpredictable.
Tussle, Revolution Live!, Fort Lauderdale, FL April 12, 2009
I saw these guys open up for Ratatat and ended up liking them a lot more than the headliners. Tussle play a more indie rock version of electronic music, stripped down and sparse. The songs are built over bass lines, filled out with percussion and electronics. I enjoyed the show so much, I bought all three of their albums and a number of singles, which were all excellent.
Judas Priest, Hard Rock Live, Hollywood, FL August 17, 2009
Judas Priest was the headliner for the first arena rock show I ever saw (Broome County Arena in Binghamton, NY, Jan 1991). I actually went to see the openers, Megadeth, but I was interested in seeing Priest as I had liked their most recent album, Painkiller. New drummer Scott Travis, at 21 years old about half the age of the other members, was kicking their asses live and they were high energy, playing even their slower mid-80s material at a faster tempo. The band had a huge set of ramps on stage, which they would run up and down throughout the show. The stage was smaller and there was no running, on ramps or otherwise, but their set this year was every bit as good as that show eighteen years ago. The band was touring for the 20th anniversary of the classic British Steel album and as such the set consisted of the entire album and then a bunch of mostly 70s Priest classics, with one Painkiller track, a couple early 80s tracks and one from their newest album. Maybe the show was so good because the set concentrated on a lot of their best material. Or maybe they just still have a lot of energy in their 60s. A side note: I think Glenn Tipton is still wearing the same pants as the first time I saw them.
All the Saints, Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, GA, November 6, 2009
I saw All the Saints open for The Jesus Lizard. Having never heard of the band, I didn't know what to expect, but I was impressed with the show. All the Saints are noisy indie rock in the vein of Jesus and Mary Chain or A Place to Bury Strangers. Detached vocals, loud guitars and lots of feedback rule the day here. This was the second time in the year I was impressed with an opener I've never heard of.
Dangerous, The All Heavy-Metal Tribute to Michael Jackson, NorVa, Norfolk, VA, August 28, 2009
Dangerous was formed for one show by members of 2 Skinnee J's and Tragedy, the All-Metal Tribute to the Bee Gees. As 2 Skinnee J's are one of Liz and my favorite bands and Tragedy was one of the best bands I saw in 2008, when they added a couple extra shows including one at the NorVa, we made the trip. The trip was well worth it, as the metal arrangements of the King of Pop's biggest hits were as brilliant as Tragedy's metal arrangements of the Bee Gees disco hits. I'm still hoping they do an album.
Unwigged and Unplugged, The Fillmore at the Jackie Gleason Theatre, Miami Beach, FL, May 5, 2009
Not so much a concert as a bit of musical theatre, the Unwigged and Unplugged tour featured Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer playing songs from their various films and projects including This Is Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind and Waiting for Guffman. The show featured only the three of them playing mostly acoustic, and included stories about the making of the films and the music as well as some concept pieces, including a dramatic reading of the NBC censor's report on This Is Spinal Tap. The tour was promotion for the new Spinal Tap record and was likely done in this fashion because it was easier to do than mounting a big arena rock Spinal Tap tour. However, it was actually a quite brilliant show. It was a lot of fun, funny as hell and well played and sung.
The Gray Girls
Mr. Entertainment and the Pookiesmackers
Both of these are local groups I saw this year. I'm pretty sure the Gray Girls haven't been around too long. The bands really aren't too similar although they share a member. Gray Girls owe a debt to the shoegaze of the 90s. Mr. Entertainment are more cabaret, I think. In any case, I'm looking forward to seeing more of both this year.
I always thought Lars Ulrich was overrated and now, having seen Metallica live, I know he's the worst drummer in metal. I've seen grade-school children with a better sense of dynamics. He hits full-force all the time, even during what are supposed to be the quiter songs (Nothing Else Matters, etc.) They kept away from most of their recent albums, barring the latest one, which made me happy, but the execution just wasn't there. Lars was crap, plain and simple, and the whole band seems like they're going through the motions a bit. A huge disappointment.
Saturday, January 02, 2010
Continuing my year-end wrap-up, here are my ten favorite live performances I saw this year.