2010 Favorites (2 of 2): Shows

Janelle Monáe (Photo came from here)

10 Favorite Shows of 2010

As with my list from last year (and unlike my recent favorite albums + songs post), presented below is a ranked Top 10 of concerts I saw in the past year. Choices are subjective insofar as they are one man’s opinion, however the man in question is one who listens to a shit-ton of music and goes to every show he possibly can. That said, certain mitigating factors (money) precluded me from going to every last show I wanted to see in 2010 (Gorrilaz, Jonsi, The Walkmen, Black Mountain). All were in the D.C. area this time, spread across six different venues. Enjoy!

10. K’Naan / 9:30 Club / Oct 10

Fresh from a tremendously fortuitous star turn at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa (his “Waving Flag” was featured in numerous promos), it was fun to see a slightly higher profile K’Naan last fall. Something tells me success will never truly ruin this guy: The larger the room, the more his message resonates. The singalong on “Waving Flag” at the 9:30 club was one for all time.

9. Sharon Van Etten & Marissa Nadler / DC9 / Sept 8

I went on a lark after watching a promising clip of Van Etten from backstage at the Pitchfork festival. Very warm room that night with not too many people. Marissa Nadler got things off to a good start with a spookily gorgeous solo set. Sharon was next, and though her band came off a bit too Brooklyn-y, the crowd were treated to a nice preview of the singer-songwriter’s newest songs, most memorably the lilting harmonium ballad “Love More“.

8. Megafaun / IOTA Club & Cafe (Arlington, VA) / Jun 8

Megafaun unfortunately made my list of “duds” last year for a Twin Cities gig in which they seemed a bit too comfortable wanking out the jazzy drum solos. This year’s show in Arlington found the group fighting for their supper a little more, and highlighting songs from this year’s excellent Heretofore that are a bit more in the straight country-rock vein to begin with. Really great moment when the guys came into the crowd and played “The Longest Day” sans amplification.

7. The Black Keys / DAR Constitution Hall / Jul 26

I’d seen the Keys a few years back at a smaller venue, and might say I preferred that experience. But in general, this is a band that has grown at its own pace and is now enjoying a well-deserved popularity. As I wrote about in my live review, I would have preferred the songs from this year’s Brothers to have been peppered in among the back catalog instead of having their own set in the middle of the show. But why am I complaining? Whenever Auerbach and Carney rip in to “I Got Mine” and you’re lucky enough to be in the building, all is suddenly right with the Universe.

6. The Books / 9:30 Club / Sept 3

The Books’ blend of guitar, cello, and electronics is so inviting you often forget you’re listening to experimental music. This is especially true whenever Nick Zammuto’s chant-like vocals rise through the mix, as on concert standouts “Smells Like Content” and “An Owl with Knees“. But I suppose The Books live are most famous for their use of synced-up video to accompany each song. Clips from 2010’s The Way Out (including “I Didn’t Know That” and “Group Autogenics“) were especially fun. Also, guest multi-instrumentalist Gene Beck was on hand to tackle the tricky guitar part on “Tokyo“!

5. Midlake / Black Cat Mainstage / Apr 4

Show good, album bad. More in my live review.

4. The Joy Formidable / Black Cat Backstage / Nov 11

Seeing a band that’s big overseas yet unknown in America is a special treat. They have the chops to play the huge festival stages back home, but are forced to play hole-in-the-wall clubs in the States until they’ve paid their dues. I stumbled across The Joy Formidable’s debut EP A Balloon Called Morning on emusic and just knew the Welsh trio would blow the roof off the Black Cat’s intimate Backstage. They started with album opener “The Greatest Light Is the Greatest Shade” and never let the energy falter throughout a tight, driving set. Singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan’s effortless stage presence was a definite highlight, carrying songs like “The Last Drop” that would crumble in the hands of less experienced acts. Look for these guys to have a big 2011 once their LP, The Big Roar, finally arrives.

3. David Bazan / Black Cat Mainstage / Sept 25

My first-ever time seeing Bazan live. He sang at the top of his lungs the whole night, eyes closed and mouth gaping open, and I never saw him stop for a drink of water or re-tune his guitar once. An incredibly impassioned performance by a well-oiled touring machine. Might like to see an acoustic Bazan show next, but for an introduction, this full-volume band set SERIOUSLY delivered.

2. Tame Impala / Black Cat Mainstage / Nov 16

For all the swirling, echo-laden trippiness of their breakout debut Innerspeaker, Tame Impala live was an experience marked not by chaos, but unusual discipline and taste. Take the setlist: It went single-album track-single-album track for about an hour, then ended on a medley of tunes from the self-titled EP (Including the glorious “Half Full Glass of Wine“) for the fans who have been following the band for a while (like me). This is how every rock band should assemble their sets, though I suppose it helps when your album is four-deep with kick-ass singles (“Solitude Is Bliss“, “Lucidity“, “Expectation“, and “Desire Be Desire Go“). Elsewhere, the pretentious noodling associated with “psychedelic” jam bands was completely absent, in it’s place four kids from Perth cooking up some incredibly sturdy grooves, then (and only then) hitting the peddles and leaning into a minute or two of earned face melting. Double gold stars go to drummer Jay Watson for adding just enough syncopated high-hat whilst keeping things safe from the brink of improvisational jazz odyssey. Can’t wait to see this band again, as soon as possible.

1. Janelle Monáe / 9:30 Club / Sept 14

(pictured at top)

You’ve maybe heard the old hipster axiom of how every person who listened to The Velvet Underground and Nico back when it came out must certainly have gone out and started a band? Well, I’d posit that every single female concertgoer (hell, maybe some of the guys too) who bore witness to Janelle Monáe’s blistering opening set on last fall’s of Montreal tour at least considered (hell, maybe went ahead and did it) what her hair would look like done up in that retro mohawk-poof thing that Janelle wears, an act by which said concertgoer would be able not just to pay tribute, but secure for her own the ONLY element of Miss Monáe’s unfathomable cool that is in the least bit transferable. (See what I did there with the VU reference?)  During “Come Alive (The War of the Roses)“, she smashed her microphone stand into the stage like a punk rocker, then walked out to the middle of the crowd (right by us!) and started screaming at the top of her lungs. This was a Tuesday night, and the tour had 10 more shows to go over the following 12 days. Heaven help us when Monáe comes back to headline the 9:30. Her band is only going to get tighter, the songs more stage-ready, and the visuals more striking. Oh, and in the meantime, Janelle is going to be touring with my #1 from 2009. So the explosive vocal talent, electric stage presence, and inimitable style we experienced back in September just might also — impossibly — have room to improve.


1 Response to “2010 Favorites (2 of 2): Shows”

  1. 1 Jeff
    February 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    I love this picture 🙂

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