Favorite concerts of 2010.

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 DCHeavyMetal.com 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. Read the rest of this entry »

70 albums: 4 April – 10 July 2010

July 12th, 2010

An (extremely long!) list for now; perhaps I’ll include some thoughts next time…. It’s a long entry, so look beyond the jump.
Read the rest of this entry »

Favorite albums of the first third of 2010.

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.

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.

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…. Read the rest of this entry »

15 albums: 21 February – 13 March 2010.

March 14th, 2010

Things have gotten a bit hectic here at the Autumnshades HQ, and while I’ve been holding up my goal of listening to 5 albums per week that I’m not reviewing, I haven’t gotten the chance to write about ’em. Today is, unfortunately, no less pressed for time; therefore, I offer 4-word reviews of the 15 non-review albums I’ve been listening to over the past 3 weeks.

7 March – 13 March 2010
1) Nico: The End… (Island, 1974). Cale + Eno + Nico = swoon.
2) Mogwai: Young Team (Jetset, 1997). Indeed, Mogwai fear Satan.
3) Sparklehorse: Good Morning Spider (Capitol, 1999). Rest in peace, Linkous.
4) Camera Obscura: Let’s Get Out of This Country (Merge, 2006). Ready to be heartbroken.
5) Aimee Mann: @#%&*! Smilers (SuperEgo, 2008). Delightfully wry, acerbic pop.

28 February – 6 March 2010
1) Tom Waits: Small Change (Elektra, 1976). The piano’s been drinking.
2) Jay-Z: the Blueprint (Roc-A-Fella, 2001). H to the Izzo.
3) Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: Cold Roses (Lost Highway, 2005). Gets even better retrospectively.
4) Samara Lubelski: Parallel Suns (The Social Registry, 2007). Ethereal, moody, pretty, sweet.
5) Bowerbirds: Hymns for a Dark Horse (Dead Oceans, 2008). Not quite as remembered.

21 February – 27 February 2010
1) Jonatha Brooke: 10¢ Wings (MCA, 1997). Sweet, Lilith folk-pop.
2) Son Volt: Wide Swing Tremolo (Warner Brothers, 1998). Uncle Tupelo’s better half.
3) Jonatha Brooke: the Works (Bad Dog Records, 2008). Woodie Guthrie improves anything.
4) Richard Hawley: Truelove’s Gutter (Mute, 2009). He could sing Broadway.
5) Black Eyed Peas: The E.N.D. (Interscope, 2009). Make it stop. PLEASE.

5 albums: 14 February – 20 February 2010.

February 21st, 2010

This week is a “catching up on promos” edition:

1) Levon Helm: Electric Dirty (Vanguard, 2009). Not sure why I don’t listen to more Levon Helm– or why it took me so long to get around to this one– but there are some great moments here: the droney “Golden Bird” and the nice vocals on “You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had”. I feel like this album took a few songs to nestle into its groove, though.

2) Laura Veirs: July Flame (Raven Marching Band Records, 2010). Laura Veirs is an artist who, much like Nina Nastasia, doesn’t connect with me as much as she should. Of the two, Nastasia has a few records that I go back to more often than Veirs does, but it might just be a recording thing: there was much about Veirs’s live show that I quite enjoyed when I saw her a few years ago. There’s something about Veirs’s albums that just doesn’t stick with me, though, and unfortunately, July Flame didn’t have much lasting power to my ears, although a few tracks (namely, “Wide-Eyed, Legless”) were lovely.

3) Four Tet: There Is Love In You (Domino, 2010). Hey, remember how a few weeks ago, I wrote about how much I love Fridge and bemoaned that I just couldn’t connect with Four Tet in the same way? Well, I take it all back: There Is Love In You is fantastic and beautiful and haunting and powerful and resonated with me from its very first note.

4) Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté: Ali & Toumani (Nonesuch, 2010). It’s always weird listening to someone’s last recording; I felt that last week as I was writing about Jack Rose‘s excellent Luck in the Valley, and I feel it even more so on Ali & Toumani. I’m not sure why this album took so long to come out (it was recorded in 2005, and Touré passed away in 2006; Diabaté is still alive), but there’s just such a quiet intensity here, and you can feel the friendship and respect between these two Malian musicians in this album.

5) Emma Pollock: The Law of Large Numbers (Chemikal Underground, 2010). Admittedly, I was never the hugest Delgados fan, but I enjoyed Pollock‘s first solo album. This new one is pretty and sweet, and I enjoyed the nearly-a cappella intro on “The Loop”. Plus, well, I’ve gotta love an album that’s named after probability theory.

5 albums: 7 February – 13 February 2010.

February 13th, 2010

As always, in roughly chronological order:

1) Mazzy Star: She Hangs Brightly (Capitol, 1991). I always said that I’d like Mazzy Star if “Fade Into You” weren’t so freakishly annoying. I’m not sure that She Hangs Brightly has really held up over the years, but Hope Sandoval’s voice is just beautiful here.

2) R.E.M.: Out of Time (Warner Brothers, 1991). R.E.M. is a band that wasn’t super-important to me growing up the way it was for some of my contemporaries. Don’t get me wrong: I liked them well enough, but I was still stuck in the ’60s and ’70s during most of the early ’90s, so I didn’t gravitate towards this as much. Still, these albums are always a familiar place to which to return, and every time I do, a different song grabs hold of me and won’t let go. This time, it was “Country Feedback” (“It’s crazy what you could’ve had” &c.).

3) Cowboy Junkies: Pale Sun Crescent Moon (RCA, 1993). I loved this album when it first came out, but it’s only with time that I’ve realized how utterly cheese-tastic some of these songs are. There are just so many swoony love songs on the first side of this album (“First Recollection”, “Ring on the Sill”, “Anniversary Song”, “White Sail”, etc.). But then things take a darker turn, with songs of abandonment (“Seven Years”), stalking (“Hunted”), and just general sorrow (“Pale Sun”, “Hard To Explain”). It’s a bizarre mood-shift, but strangely, it works: just when you’re lulled into thinking that all is happy and sweet in the world, the Timmons siblings and their band change gears into something more troubled and sinister. Plus, this album contains one of my all-time favorite Cowboy Junkies lyrics: “Memories are just dead men making trouble.”

4) Tortoise: Millions Now Living Will Never Die (Thrill Jockey, 1996). I’m not sure I can even put into words how important this album was to me as a music fan or how hard the song “Along the Banks of Rivers” still hits me, to this day, with its sighing swells and lyricless perfection.

5) Gillian Welch: Revival (Almo Sounds, 1996). Love.

5 albums: 31 January – 6 February 2010.

February 6th, 2010

the SnowtoriousB.I.G. edition of 5 albums for this week; in roughly chronological order:

1) Silkworm: Italian Platinum (Touch & Go, 2002). This album really hit me hard, both at the time and in retrospect. At the time: I was a longtime Silkworm fan, and I remember getting this right when it came out– and listening to it over and over and over again. I don’t think it left my car stereo for weeks. There are some epic, fantastic songs on here (“A Cockfight of Feelings”, “(I Hope U) Don’t Survive”, “The Ram”, etc), and I just could not get enough of it. In retrospect: this is probably the last album I remember just throwing myself into and listening to almost nothing else for days/weeks on end. Writing about music has changed the way I listen to music, and this album somewhat symbolizes that for me. And then, of course, there’s the sad end to the Silkworm story; the Chicago model named Jeanette Sliwinski who got in a fight with her mom and tried to commit suicide by driving 90 mph, running three red lights, and ramming into the back of a car carrying SKWM drummer Michael Dahlquist, the Returnables’ John Glick, and the Dials’/EXO’s Douglas Meis. Such a crappy end to such a great band.

2) Benji Hughes: A Love Extreme (New West, 2008). This album was recommended to me by a friend who compared it to the Magnetic Fields. That was enough to pique my interest, so I picked it up this week. To my ears, it’s a little more Beck than S.Merritt, but that’s hardly a complaint; this album has more than enough of Beck’s genre-jumping and weirdness to make this listener happy. The other great thing about it: I couldn’t make it through from start to finish in one listen; I kept rewinding to listen to a few songs over and over (“Neighbor Down the Hall”, “Waiting For an Invitation”, “Vibe So Hot”, “So Well”, etc). I’m betting that most reviews of this album talked about how “ambitious” it is to release a 2-disc album as a debut– and it certainly is, and he probably would’ve also been fine with a little editing to make this into one disc– but I’m also pretty stoked to hear what he does next.

3) Robyn: Robyn (Konichiwa/Cherrytree, 2005/r:2008). Man, am I ever glad that Robyn crossed paths with The Knife. It took me until now to shake the sound of “Show Me Love” from my head whenever I hear the name ‘Robyn’, and this album is just delightful pop.

4) Glasvegas: Glasvegas (Sony, 2009). Disappointingly average UK indie-rock.

5) The Horse’s Ha: Of the Cathmawr Yards (Hidden Agenda, 2009). I love Janet Beveridge Bean and all her various bands (currently Freakwater and Eleventh Dream Day), and so i expected to love this. Instead, I merely like it.

5 albums: 24 January – 30 January 2010.

January 30th, 2010

1) and 2) Massive Attack: Protection (Virgin, 1995) and Mezzanine (Virgin, 1998). So much of my mid-90s was soundtracked by the Bristol trip-hop scene. As much as I loved these records at the time, they don’t resonate with me as a whole the way they did at the time (and the way Portishead’s Dummy still does), although several songs are still immensely mood-inducing.

3) Thalia Zedek: Been Here and Gone (Matador, 2001). Zedek has one of the awesomest voices in indie-rock, and I do miss Come.

4) the Decemberists: Her Majesty (Kill Rock Stars, 2003). My favorite Decemberists album overall is probably Picaresque, but Her Majesty certainly has a few of my all-time favorite Decemberists songs on it.

5) Josh Ritter: the Animal Years (V2, 2006). Ritter is such an under-rated songwriter, and this is probably my favorite of his releases. I always get a chuckle out of the fact that my mentioning his song “Girl In the War” in my “Best of 2006” round-up for the Washington Post‘s Weekend section got me mentioned on newsbusters.org, a blog dedicated to “exposing and combating liberal media bias”, for my (and I quote) “liberal/radical picks”. Ha! Sure, my political views are probably apparent in some of my writing, but c’mon, people– I’m just a music critic!