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Favorite concerts of 2010.

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Entries from previous years: 2000-2009 | 2009

In 2010, I went to 77 concerts at 28 venues in 6 states and saw a total of 195 bands. Here are some of the most memorable, in no particular order:

1. the Pitchfork Music Festival (16-18 July 2010, Union Park, Chicago, IL)
Yes, the P4k festival makes my list every year, and it’s partly because of the experience of catching up with old friends and partly because of the bands themselves: seeing killer sets by Robyn and by LCD Soundsystem, finally getting to see the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (I know, I know– where was I during the 1990s?!), talking politics and religion with a good friend during Pavement‘s fairly boring set, shooting photos of Sleigh Bells from the foot of the stage, running into a friend I hadn’t seen in 10 years during Beach House‘s sunny afternoon set, and seeing Lightning Bolt spit out its noisy attack from an actual stage. Not to mention the best chai tea latte on the planet, a gigantic slumber party in the P4k HQ, debates about Can-Neu!-Faust-Cluster, and learning how to keep up our perpetual groove. More, please!

2. Joanna Newsom (22 March 2010, the 6th & I Historic Synagogue, Washington, DC)
Newsom’s Have One On Me is one of my favorite albums of 2010, but it wasn’t just the strength of her songs that made this show (my review for Express is published here) so fantastic: it was her presence and the hushed silence of the venue that heightened the intensity of this show.

3. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan (15 October 2010, the Rock & Roll Hotel, Washington, DC)
Lanegan has made my list two years in a row– his show with Soulsavers was on my favorite concerts of 2009 list last year. His three albums with Isobel Campbell are hit-or-miss, but his voice is absolutely breathtaking, and his presence live– barely cracking a smile, barely making eye contact with the audience, tattoos on every phalanx of every finger– heightens the pain in his seductively gravelly voice.

4. Isis and the Melvins (16 June 2010, the 9:30 Club, Washington, DC)
Despite being a huge Isis fan, I’d never seen them live, but their final tour ever seemed like a good enough time to break that streak. This show was great– I can’t even begin to capture the details here, but our friend Chris over at has a nice review posted here. The band was poorly-lit, but listening to the show in the darkness, I realized that it sounded as though Isis was playing with Travis Beans (i.e., my favorite guitars of all time). Once the lights went up, I saw that they were in fact EGCs, but hey, close enough– don’t know why I’ve been so out of the loop about Isis’s gear, but it just goes to show that these aluminum-necked beasts have one heck of a distinctive sound.

5. Arcade Fire and Spoon (6 August 2010, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD)
This concert remains memorable for me not so much because of the music (which was great, don’t get me wrong– my review for Express is posted here) but because of the experience. It was the first time in my concert-going career where I had a roadtrip/tailgate at a concert with a big group of friends. They all had seats up on the lawn, but they passed around my extra close-up ticket, so every 3-4 songs, I had a different friend standing next to me. It was such an incredible experience, watching everyone’s different reactions to the view and sound from close up, and it was pretty incredible to experience sharing music with other people when my concert-going ventures are usually solitary.

6. Swans (29 September 2010, the Black Cat, Washington, DC)
There’s so much I could say about this show; I said a lot of it in my review for Express, which is posted here. It’s almost impossible, though, to capture in words the experience of seeing live a band that I’d been waiting to see for 15 years, that I never thought I’d get to see. (see also: seeing the Jesus Lizard in 2009).

7. Jay-Z (3 March 2010, the Verizon Center, Washington, DC)
It’s no secret that I’m not really a huge hip-hop fan. I like some of it, sure, but it’s not what i seek out on a regular basis. Still, even I could appreciate how much Jay-Z absolutely killed it at his Verizon Center show in March (my original review, for Express, is posted here). After having just seen the Black-Eyed Peas phone it in at the same venue a few weeks earlier, it was refreshing and energizing to see a performer so invested in his live show.

The full list of bands I saw (alphabetically) is after the jump. Bands I saw more than once are listed in bold. (more…)

Favorite albums of the first third of 2010.

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

Can’t believe the year is one-third over already! Here are the 5 albums that have made the biggest impact on me so far this year. May come back and do a concert round-up later as well.

1) Beach House: Teen Dream (Sub Pop, 26 January 2010). I’ve always liked Beach House; the group creates such a dreamy, atmospheric mood. But Teen Dream is a step change from previous albums; the duo puts a structure around those hazy watercolors without losing any intensity. Stunning. (My album review: Washington Post Express, 25 January 2010).
2) Roky Erickson & Okkervil River: True Love Cast Out All Evil (Anti-, 20 April 2010). It needs to be said: most of the time, collaborations and/or supergroups just aren’t as good as the sum of their parts. But this one works astoundingly well, perhaps because these are all old Erickson songs, just re-orchestrated by Okkervil River. Whatever the reason, though, it succeeds, and Erickson’s demons– while still fresh in his memory, seem to be a thing of the past. (My album review: Washington Post Express, 19 April 2010.)
3) Jónsi: Go (XL, 6 April 2010). If collaborations don’t always work out as planned, then solo albums by the frontman of a distinctive group are certainly risky business as well. Jónsi manages to transcend the Sigur Rós sound while still remaining quite true to it. (My album review: Washington Post Express, 6 April 2010).
4) Joanna Newsom: Have One On Me (Drag City, 23 February 2010). As if Ys didn’t make it totally apparent, Joanna Newsom is hugely influenced by prog. Still, despite its 3-LP length, Have One On Me doesn’t feel overwhelmingly massive; each disc stands on its own, and there are many charming moments here.
5) Jack Rose: Luck in the Valley (Thrill Jockey, 23 February 2010). I was out at a friend’s birthday dinner in December of 2009 when I started getting a ton of emails on my phone citing rumors of Jack Rose’s death. As much as I’d like to dissociate Luck in the Valley from that event, it’s impossible: this is his last planned album. I got to see him in venues as expansive as the 9:30 club and as tiny as someone’s living room, and every time, I just fell in love with his intricate finger-picking guitar style. We are lucky that he left us this album (and so many others) by which to remember him. (My album review: Washington Post Express: 22 February 2010).

15 albums: 14 March – 3 April 2010.

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

It’s been another hectic 3 weeks here at the Autumnshades HQ, so we’re doing a mega-roundup. Three weeks in one post!

14 March – 20 March 2010
1) Red House Painters: Ocean Beach (4AD, 1995). I love Mark Kozelek, and I love RHP, but sometimes this music is just a little bit too sad.
2) Yo La Tengo: And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (Matador, 2000). I’ll admit it: Painful is the last YLT album that really resonated with me (yes, apparently I am still stuck back in 1993). Every few months, I go back to one of their newer records in the hopes that it’ll click.
3) Emiliana Torrini: Fisherman’s Woman (Rough Trade, 2005). There are a few songs on this album that I quite like (“Sunny Road”, for one), but as a whole, this album doesn’t stand up quite as well as I’d hoped.
4) Tara Jane O’Neil: A Ways Away (K, 2009). I love both Rodan and the Sonora Pine, but I always seem to be the last to find out about new Tara Jane solo records.
5) Mastodon: Crack the Skye (Reprise, 2009). So this album might have been a little too conceptual– even for Mastodon. But despite the utterly absurd story behind it (y’know, a soul that escapes through a wormhole and ends up in an underground Russian Orthodox sect and then gets put in the body of Rasputin), this album still completely slays. Let it go! Let it go! Let it go! Let it go! Let it goooooooooo!, indeed.

21 March – 27 March 2010
1) Judee Sill: Heart Food (Asylum, 1973). Sill’s music is just so devastating. And maybe part of that devastation comes after-the-fact, since we know how her story ends. Either way, this album is still beautiful after almost 30 years.
2) PJ Harvey: To Bring You My Love (Island, 1995). In some ways, I react to PJ Harvey much in the same way as I do YLT (see above)– none of her later albums resonates with me quite as acutely as this one does.
3) Sigur Rós: () (MCA, 2002). For a long time, I didn’t think I ever needed another Sigur Rós album beyond the stunning Agætis byrjun. And I probably don’t. But I picked up () super-cheap at a certain record store’s going-out-of-business sale, and it’s a nice addition to the group’s beautiful, cinematic sound.
4) Joanna Newsom: the Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City, 2004). Love.
5) Joanna Newsom: Have One On Me (Drag City, 2010). Holy cow. Newsom kinda lost me with 2006’s Ys (which is a weird thing to admit, since I love prog, and I bet I’d love Ys if I revisited it now), but this new one– despite its 3xLP length– takes her prog inclinations and channels it into more distinct songs, a la her 2004 debut the Milk-Eyed Mender. I doubt I’ll ever sit and listen to all 3 LPs in a row again, but each one works on its own. Favorite track of the moment: “On a Good Day”.

28 March – 3 April 2010
1) and 2) Norah Jones: Come Away With Me (Blue Note Records, 2002) and Feels Like Home (Blue Note Records, 2004). I never jumped on the Norah Jones bandwagon back in the early ’00s, but these albums are quite pleasant.
3) Converge: No Heroes (Epitaph, 2006). I’m really not sure why it took me so long to embrace Converge.
4) Sade: Soldier of Love (Sony, 2010). By contrast to Norah Jones, Sade put forth a laid-back vibe that I can really get into– even more so here than their earlier albums.
5) Carrie Rodriguez: Love & Circumstance (Ninth Street Opus, 2009). It probably says a lot about Rodriguez’s aesthetic that I had completely forgotten this was a covers album until I got to her take on Lucinda Williams’s “Steal Your Love”.

Favorite concerts of 2000-2009.

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

I realize that it’s a little late to be looking back on the last decade, since we’re already about 25% done with 2010. But I’ve got a little time to kill, so I thought it might be fun to look back on the nearly 500 concerts that I saw from 2000 to 2009.

Let’s start with some statistics, shall we?
Total # of concerts attended: 498
Total # of (unique) bands seen: 906

First concert of the decade: November Project and Nancy Falkow at the New Market Cabaret, Philadelphia, PA (15 January 2000).
Last concert of the decade: Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles and Eilen Jewell at Jammin’ Java, Vienna, VA (12 November 2009).

Most active concert-going year: 2005, with 90 concerts
Least active concert-going year: 2000, with 16 concerts
Most active concert-going day of the week: Saturday, with 120 concerts
Least active concert-going day of the week: Monday, with 27 concerts

Most popular day to see a concert: 22 June – Emmylou Harris (2008), Michelle Malone (2004), the American Analog Set (2003), the Dismemberment Plan (2002), La Zona Rosa Songwriter’s Circle (2001).

States where I saw the most shows: DC (245), Virginia (147), Texas (35)
Other states where I saw shows, listed alphabetically: California, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania

Venues where I saw the most shows: the Black Cat (62 mainstage, 27 backstage), the 9:30 club (62), Jammin’ Java (30)
(seriously?! Didn’t realize I’d been to so many shows at Jammin’ Java.)

Band I saw the most during this decade: Low (16 times)
Best live Low experience: Going on tour with them for a week in 2001.
Weirdest live Low experience: Seeing them open for Wilco at Merriweather Post Pavilion (11 June 2007) and instigating a Nels Cline jam on “Do You Know How To Waltz?”
Best guest appearance during a Low show: Gerry Beckley from America joining Low at the Black Cat, 12 October 2002.
Smallest audience at a Low show: myself, Scott “Starfire” Lunt, and Hollis watching the band film a Yahoo! in-studio performance in Dallas, 25 January 2001.
Best Low opening act: It’s a tie between former Swan Michael Gira at the Bowery Ballroom (19 October 2001) and Death Vessel at the Black Cat (4 February 2006).

Other favorite bands I saw multiple times this decade: the American Analog Set (7), Sonic Youth (5), Rye Coalition (5), Mastodon (4), Mogwai (4).

Bands I never thought I’d see once this decade: Mission of Burma (and yet, I saw them 4 times!), the Jesus Lizard, Slint, Gang of Four, Unrest, Eggs, Laibach, Os Mutantes.

Bands/artists I saw this decade that I will never see again: Jack Rose, Vic Chesnutt, Peter Paul & Mary, the Sun City Girls.

Best pre-inauguration show: the Big Shoulders Inauguration Ball (19 January 2009) with Jon Langford & Sally Timms, Eleventh Dream Day, the Waco Brothers, Andrew Bird, Tortoise, Ken Vandermark with John Herndon & Jeff Parker (performing songs of Sun Ra), Freakwater, and more.
Best post-inauguration show: Noise Against Fascism (20 January 2005) with To Live and Shave in L.A., Chris Corsano/Paul Flaherty, Mirror/Dash (Kim Gordon & Thurston Moore), Double Leopards, Magik Markers, and more.

Best Valentine’s Day show: Black Dice, Orthrelm, Dorkestra, and Nautical Almanac at the Ottobar, 2004.
Best birthday show: the Antiques at the Velvet Lounge.
Best St Patrick’s Day shows: SXSW 2001: Mogwai, Sally Timms, Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel, the New Pornographers, Jim and Jennie and the Pinetops, Flare.

Three memorable concert experiences:
• Built to Spill, Windsor for the Derby, and Explosions in the Sky at the Union Ballroom, Austin, TX (20 April 2001): Obviously, this was a great lineup, but this show was most memorable just for being in the company of good friends on the night before I got laid off from my dot-com job.
• Einstuerzende Neubauten at the 9:30 club (23 April 2004): There aren’t many artists who could take too long to get out on stage, come out and immediately insult the (extremely restless) audience, and still win everyone over within seconds of starting to play.
• Sigur Rós at the 9:30 club (25 September 2001): This was my first show at the 9:30 club, and it was also two weeks after September 11th. Sigur Rós’s music was just the perfect antidote for the mood in the city (and country) at the time.

Favorite house shows:
• Pretty much everything at 611 Florida, but especially Sir Richard Bishop in 2005 and the annual Free Folk Phantasmagory (including Sharron Kraus in 2004, Fursaxa and Samara Lubelski in 2005).
• Yellow Swans at Tarantula Hill, Baltimore, 31 May 2004.
• the Finnish folk tour (Lau Nau, Islaja, Kuupuu) on Frankfort Ave., Philadelphia, 3 September 2005.

You wanna see the full list of bands I saw this decade? It’s embedded behind the cut…. (more…)

Favorite albums of 2000-2009.

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

So Pitchfork did a huge P2K feature on the decade in music, and I’ve finally gotten around to posting my 100 favorite albums of 2000-2009. It’s been a few months since I submitted my list to my editor, so I’m sure things would change around a bit if I started my list from scratch today. There’d probably be more of 2009 albums on the list, although 2009 was by far not the least-represented year on the list (that would be 2004, with only 4 albums on my final list). Plus, this was a list submitted for tabulation with other writers’ lists, so there was some anticipation of others’ tastes going on (in other words, I would’ve put more than one Mastodon album on my list if I thought that more than one would make it onto Pitchfork’s final list).

It’s interesting to look back and see how my #1s did for each year; I don’t have my top 10 lists from before 2004, but here’s a summary of my #1s from 2004 through 2009:
2004: Joanna Newsom: The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City) – placed #16 overall on my decade list.
2005: Sufjan Stevens: Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty) – #3 overall.
2006: Mastodon: Blood Mountain (Reprise) – did not place, because I went with Leviathan instead.
2007: Iron and Wine: The Shepherd’s Dog (Sub Pop) – #5 overall.
2008: Earth: The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull (Southern Lord) – #8 overall.
2009: Mastodon: Crack the Skye (Reprise) – did not place (see 2006, above). This album also didn’t really sink in with me until much later in the year.

Favorite labels, based on their representation on this list: Sub Pop (7 albums), Touch & Go (6 albums), and Matador/ Merge/ Secretly Canadian (4 albums each).

There were a couple of really great years in this decade; I’m surprised at how many albums from 2001 still really hold up over time. A lot of those have personal significance (Girls Can Tell and Know By Heart remind me of living in Austin; the Argument reminds me of moving to DC; and Things We Lost in the Fire reminds me of going on tour with Low), but I think that music is always associative, and there are probably many albums from other years that I tie to significant moments in my life. Ever since I started writing about music (in late 2001), though, I began consuming and absorbing music differently, and it’s weird to reflect on the decade and see how my listening habits have changed over time.

NP: Codeine, the White Birch.

Favorite concerts of 2009.

Friday, January 1st, 2010

In 2009, I went to 44 different concerts at 18 different venues in 4 different states and saw a total of 127 different bands. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order:

1. Big Shoulders Inauguration Ball presented by the Hideout Chicago & Interchange (20 January 2009, the Black Cat, Washington, DC)
‘Twas the night before the inauguration, and I fell into a friend’s +1 for this great show, full of fantastic Chicago bands. It was a marathon, but there were so many great performances: Tortoise (who are always great, and their performance of “Along the Banks of Rivers” this night totally slayed), Ken Vandermark, John Herndon, and Jeff Parker (performing the songs of Sun Ra), Freakwater, Eleventh Dream Day, and the Waco Brothers. It also reminded me how much has changed just in 4 years; I know that’s such a cliché, but four years ago (20 January 2005) at the same venue was a very different kind of pre-inauguration show; it was called Noise Against Fascism and featured Mirror/Dash (Kim Gordon & Thurston Moore), Chris Corsano & Paul Flaherty, Magik Markers, and To Live and Shave in L.A. It was a great, great noise show, which I photographed for the Wire), but it was a totally different energy from this one– and even the people I go to shows with (and see at shows!) has changed dramatically since 2005.

2. Mastodon (12 May 2009 at the 9:30 club, Washington, DC, and 31 October 2009 at the Patriot Center, Fairfax, VA)
Things have changed a lot for Mastodon since I first fell in love with them, and I never thought I’d see them in a big basketball arena. on Halloween. with hundreds of people singing along. Both of these shows were great; I think the 9:30 club was probably better musically, but the Halloween show had such a great energy with the people there in costume (one was even dressed as the undead Rasputin, from Crack the Skye!). Both shows had such a great personal energy as well; stood outside the 9:30 talking to Chris until about 2 AM after the first show (thereby missing all of the deadlines I had for him the next day), and spent the round-trip drive to and from the Patriot Center nerding out about music and metal with Brandon (who totally reminded me how great that Orthrelm album is).

3. the Pitchfork Music Festival (17-19 July, Union Park, Chicago, IL)
It’s probably cheating for me to list this, but I do every year. It’s always a great time personally (this year, it was a weekend-long slumber party, turning the P4k HQ into a 9-person group house for those three days), seeing tons of old friends that I only get to see once a year. And, of course, a bazillion fantastic bands. Personal highlight this year was, of course, the Jesus Lizard, whom I’ve wanted to see ever since Goat came out in 1991. And ooh boy, it was worth the wait: within 1 second of starting the set, David Yow sailed right over me in the photo pit and began crowdsurfing. I lost one of my favorite earrings in the melée, but it was totally worth it. Other highlights: Bowerbirds, Lindstrom, the Very Best, Dianogah (with Rebecca Gates), and lengthy discussions of donk.

4. Soulsavers (20 September, the Rock & Roll Hotel, Washington, DC)
I rushed over to this show right after rehearsal and missed their first few songs (and Red Ghost’s entire opening set), but the addition of Mark Lanegan to this band just totally kills. That voice, that voice….

5. Neil Halstead (25 March, the Talking Head, Baltimore, MD)
I used to road-trip up to Baltimore to see shows all the time, but I went up for only two this year– this one and Jucifer/Mount Vicious at the Ottobar. There’s something about Neil Halstead’s hushed serenity that taks me to a calmer place, and even though his solo music hasn’t been loved by most critics, I just can’t get enough of it. And he played Slowdive’s “Alison”.

6. Future of the Left (29 October, the Rock N Roll Hotel, Washington, DC)
Rare is the rock show that entertains with words as much as with music– I wish I could remember all the hilarious things these guys said and did.

7. Lady Gaga (29 September, DAR Constitution Hall, Washington, DC)
I don’t go to as many big-name, mainstream concerts since I lost my primary concert review outlet, but this show reminded me why I enjoy them so much: these types of shows are just such a great spectacle. There were so many girls and boys dressed up like Gaga (in other words: wearing barely more than their underwear), making for some of the best peoplewatching around. Oh, and of course, Ms. Gaga herself is always so enchanting to watch. She doesn’t have an amazing voice, but she knows how to use what she’s got in a way that’s hard to look away. It wasn’t about big stage sets (her props were fairly minimal) or legions of backup dancers (there were 3)– it was all about HER. And from the skimpy costumes to a tender hope that her dad would make it through heart surgery, you never quite know what she’s going to say or do next.

The full list of bands I saw (alphabetically) is after the jump. Bands I saw more than once are listed in bold. (more…)

Favorite albums of 2009.

Friday, January 1st, 2010

There is much opportunity to reminisce about the year that has just ended, but for now, I have just posted my top 50 albums of 2009.

My top 10 includes bands I’ve loved for years (Mastodon, Tortoise), bands that rose from the ashes of other bands I love (Future of the Left), bands that remind me of bands I grew up with (the Pains of Being Pure at Heart), and a band that gave a killer performance at the P4k festival (the Very Best).

Those in the 11-20 range include an artist that i wanted to see this year but couldn’t because I had made other plans months before her concert was announced (Rokia Traoré), bands/artist that I’ve listed on my year-end list just about every time they’ve released an album (Animal Collective, Antony & the Johnsons, Bill Callahan), another band that grew out of one of my favorite bands (the Wooden Birds), and a band that has been on the periphery of my radar for years (the Handsome Family).

Those in the 21-30 range include more bands that have been around forever (Yo La Tengo, Califone, Sonic Youth), an a cappella act that blew me away live (Sonos), a friend and talented artist (Zak Sally), and a solo act from a band that I’m still sad does not exist (Sir Richard Bishop).

Perhaps this post would’ve been more interesting if I hadn’t IDed the bands I was describing….

NP: Yeasayer, “Sunrise”.

“Cheer Up, Emo Dude”: my five favorite sad songs of the moment

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Here are five sad tunes that have been keeping me company over the past month, listed in reverse chronological order:

1) “Casimir Pulaski Day” – Sufjan Stevens (2005).

I’ll admit, I was slightly disappointed when I saw this on the Illinois album tracklist and realized that this song was not, in fact, a Big Black cover. But Soof won me over, despite his religious under-/overtones, because of that gorgeous banjo melody, his hushed mention of “cancer of the bone”, and the ripples of sorrow that permeate this tune.

2) “Have You Forgotten” – the Red House Painters (1996).

Sometimes, all it takes is just to remember the innocence of happier times to trigger pangs of sadness, and the seriously underrated Mark Kozelek is at his nostalgic peak (or, rather, nadir) here as he remembers the simpler moments of a childhood gone by. The simple question at the core of this song (Have you forgotten how to love yourself?) really cuts right to the core of our weakest moments: as easy as it is to blame our sorrow on the failings of others, our disappointments are more often rooted in ourself.

3) “Love Will Tear Us Apart” – Joy Division (1980).

This one is almost too obvious– I mean, read the title and you know it’s going to be a sad tune. But this one is sad to me not so much because of the content of the song itself but because of its obvious personal-ness: you hear this song, and you know exactly what Ian Curtis was going through. There’s almost certainly a reason his wife had these words inscribed on his tombstone after he committed suicide a few months later, but we’ll never really know if it was to broadcast Curtis’s obvious pain or to punish herself for not being able to fix it.

4) “Hey Hey What Can I Do” – Led Zeppelin (1970).

Let’s face it: if Robert Plant circa 1970 couldn’t keep his woman happy and satisfied, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

5) “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” – Bob Dylan (1963).

Admittedly, I have a love/hate relationship with Dylan: I love his songs but generally can’t stand listening to him sing them. I was reminded of this song recently by a haunting a cappella version, but it’s Dylan’s raspy, broken melodies that really channel his mood. Even as he ponders the ultimate choice (I gave her my heart, but she wanted my soul), he pretends that he’s able to pick himself up and move on. Of course, we all know better. You just kinda wasted my precious time, indeed.