At The Barbecue: Favorite Concert Of ’09

Frankly, just being able to talk and about this show in the months leading up to it, not only with friends, but on emails, and with all the people on HT, made the whole thing so exciting. I’ve seen a lot of standout concerts and a lot of monumental sporting events in my day and nothing will ever come close to the energy level in the crowd that night. I think this one might just end up on top of my all time list. You could probably argue that musically, this one doesn’t hold a flame to some other stuff, but while you’re busy arguing, I’ll probably just tune you out while playing air guitar and singing the last lines of Fluffhead in my brain.

Luke Sacks – Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert – MSG

The setlist for my favorite show of the year, pretty much speaks for itself. It would be hard to cram more legends, classic tunes or interesting collaborations into two nights than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame did for its 25th Anniversary celebration at Madison Square Garden in late October. I caught the second night and for nearly four hours watched some of the biggest acts in the game hit a rotating stage with interesting film snippets in between.

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Highlights for me were every note Jeff Beck played (especially his instrumental take on Day in the Life), Metallica and Lou Reed stomping through Sweet Jane and an unbelievable Gimme Shelter with Mick Jagger and U2 and Fergie belting out the backup vocals. To be fair, the night had some strange moments as well – Aretha Franklin’s entire set was sort of strange and U2, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith gave the Because the Night two tries, neither of which came off very well. But overall the show was an incredible chance to see some collaborations that may never happen again and some kick ass rock and roll.

A.J. CrandallBonnaroo Music & Arts Festival – Manchester, TN

Every year, the challenge is made of writers far and wide. Make a list of your favorite (fill in the blank) from the calendar year; we want to know your favorite. It requires at least some element of quantifying my experiences, assigning my own, arbitrary rating system. The only set of checks and balances being my own. I love the feeling of power that gives me in the beginning, but, before it’s all said and done, it isn’t easy for me. I love live music, and do my dangest to see whatever I can and still not alienate my family or cost me my day job.

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Bonnaroo, outside Nashville every June, attracts music lovers from around the globe, myself included, because of their ability to run an orderly festival,  bring in a huge variety of talent and keep it interesting year after year. This year’s lineup pulled out all the stops. Booker T’s backup band was the Drive By Truckers for cripes sake. Two Phish sets, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Snoop Dogg, Beastie Boys, Gov’t Mule, NIN, MGMT, moe., Public Enemy, Mike Farris, The Lovell Sisters, Wilco, Jimmy Buffett, to name just a fraction. More guest appearances and one of a kind sets than you’ll ever see in one place.

I mean, c’mon, what’s not to love here? Four days of music from early afternoon till early morning at a well run facility with relatively clean ‘facilities’ make for one hell of an annual road trip. Every year since 2005, we each make the venture east to Bonnaroo. He from California, me from Oregon, we spend an adventurous, long weekend together each June, getting caught up on the past twelve months, rating the highs and lows of our own lives, reaffirming the love, the blood that binds us as brothers. One long weekend where we get to hang with each other, learn from each other and lean on each other. Ed and I share a love of music we inherited from our parents, but that I learned mostly from Ed. So his opinion holds some sway for me. But, it’s mostly about spending time together. And let me tell you, for this one weekend a year, we have got the most amazing soundtrack in the world. And I see us meeting there as long as the three of us are still around, me, Ed and Bonnaroo.

Rock On Through The Fog At The Barbecue

Jennifer KirkCharlie Louvin / Those Darlins – Cumberland Caverns

Far and away the coolest concert experience of not only this year, but maybe of my lifetime occurred in September this year. Hands down, it would have to be Those Darlins with Grand Ol’ Opry legend Charlie Louvin playing the Cumberland Caverns. It was a rock show in a cave. Let me repeat that – a rock show 333 feet below sea level.

While I can’t provide a setlist from the show (though I do recall a rousing rendition of the Velvet Underground’s Lonesome Cowboy Bill among several other Darlin originals) it was more the atmosphere than anything. The acoustics were probably the best above or below ground. There’s not much more to say, so I’ll let my pictures do the talking. Again, what can be better than a ROCK show in a cave? Okay, it’s not the Dead at the pyramids, but I think it might just be the next best thing.

Wade WilbyPhoenix – Aragon Ballroom – Chicago, IL

The little Electro Clash band that could stormed into Chicago this September on their tour supporting Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. The show, originally scheduled at The Riviera Theater sold out in hours, prompting Jam Productions to move the show to The Aragon. That show sold out in a few days making this particular evening Phoenix’s biggest show in the Midwest to date and they rose to the occasion like the bird of their namesake.

phoenix

[Photo by Jeremy Gordon]

Hailing from France, this quartet is one of the only bands in the world with the brass balls to not have a permanent drummer and it doesn’t hamper their sound at all. The drummer on tour sounded just like the programmed beats from the album and was certainly the best sounding drums I had ever heard in the Aragon. The lighting design was a gobo-less affair, blasting the crowd with strobes and solid color chases that accented the dance grooves perfectly.

The performance, lead by Thomas Mars’ golden voice, was full of energy and sexuality that created a dance club vibe with all the trappings of a killer rock show. The peak of the show came when they dropped into Rome and went into an older song (sorry for my gnoobishness, still don’t know the song) and brought the peak of Rome back for a big rock finish that left the crowd screaming bloody murder for more. The show was about 75 minutes long, which like the new record, is just the perfect length to make you want to do it all over again.

Electro clash bands come and go, as the style is becoming a fad of the decade, but these guys are legit and here to stay. Research the older records and go see them immediately. You will not be disappointed.

Scott BernsteinBruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – MSG – NY, NY

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed as if it were their last show on November 7th at MSG and you could feel the intensity from my spot far from the stage in the 300 level. I hadn’t seen The Boss in about 24 years and it’s incredible to see he’s still emptying the tank every night. Not only was the band firing on all cylinders, the crowd was more into this concert than any other crowd I’ve seen this year and the happiness was contagious. I left the “World’s Greatest Arena” with a mix of emotions that night – I was incredibly happy to have seen such an unbelievable performance but I was also kicking myself for passing on dozens of Springsteen concerts over the years. Hopefully I’ll get my chance to see The Boss and his band once more.

Chad BerndtsonLeonard Cohen – Beacon Theater – New York, NY

There have been some extraordinary shows this year, and for me, almost all of them came close to the beginning. Edmar Casteneda blew my mind at the Jazz Standard (1/8), F*cked Up, Pissed Jeans and the Vivian Girls erased it at the Market Hotel (1/20), and Murder By Death absolutely blew the doors off Bowery Ballroom (2/6) with their unique brand of country-punk of insanity. Jason Isbell (2/26) and Robert Earl Keen (2/28) were as mesmerizing — and fun – as ever, and I was privileged enough to attend three of the justifiably legendary Beacon run shows on this year’s 40th Anniversary Allman Brothers Band celebration, including the first Clapton night (3/19).

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But I’ll wind back to a cold night in February, also at the Beacon, and the first return stateside appearance of Leonard Cohen (2/19). It was a nearly flawless evening: a brilliant, versatile band that was so deft – and sweet – it threatened smooth jazz at times but never lost its grip; a packed, swooning house and one of the first sellout crowds at the refurbished Beacon, and the aging master himself: affable, gentle, dramatic and most of all, unhurried.

Three hours went by like nothing; Cohen and his band held sway and moved through a panorama of his finest poetry, adding in everything from Celtic songs to three- and-four part harmonies, Spanish guitar, psychedelic organ, cozy soul and bittersweet folk. Every song, from Famous Blue Raincoat and In My Secret Life to Tower of Song and Hallelujah (rescued from its vanilla, over-covered ubiquity) was loaded, and every one resonated. One of the finest concerts I’ve ever attended.

Andy KahnYo La Tengo – The Vic Theatre – Chicago, IL

Veterans Yo La Tengo on any given night know exactly what they want to do and more importantly exactly how to accomplish whatever goal they wish to realize. Having seen the trio from Hoboken on various stages and at a variety of venues, getting to see them settle in to The Vic turned out to be quite a treat. The show itself probably doesn’t stand out as particularly E.P.I.C. or eventful as far as Yo La Tengo shows go, but nonetheless it was a nearly perfect example of why the group is still one of the best live acts on the planet to see.

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What I love about the band and what I loved about the show is how flawlessly they can meander from genre to genre ranging from 15 minute feedback guitar jaunts to concise lullaby-like ditties. The band wasted no time showing off their chops opening with the funky Motown sounding, Periodically Double or Triple, from this year’s excellent Popular Songs followed by the extended and extensive, More Stars Than There are in Heaven. The latter opus is my choice for song of the year and at The Vic it delivered by sending the audience into a state of rapture with everyone focused intensely on the stage as the wash of feedback and haunting rhythms enveloped the room. Easily the best 15 minutes of live music I saw this year. And then there’s the rest of the show.

The meat of the set was a blend of tunes from Popular Songs like the laid back and grooving, Here to Fall, and the mellow Georgia Hubley sung, When It’s Dark, along with a mixture of selections from their many albums. The common thread between them, the “Yo La Tengo Sound” created an atmosphere of familiarity which the silently attentive crowd became absorbed in. The set concluded with the extended psychedelic freak-out, The Story of Yo La Tengo, from I’m Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass that went well past the 10 minute mark with guitarist Ira Kaplan spastically bouncing around the stage in a manic burst of sonic energy. The double encore featured Devo and Neil Young covers (again, showing the range of this band) and an appearance from members of Tortoise adding whistling to, My Little Corner of the World.

What started as just a random autumn night on a Tuesday in Chicago turned out to be a moving and memorable performance from a top notch band. I left having gone through a whirlwind of emotions and introspection feeling totally satisfied by what this band offered and what I received.

Jonathan “Kos” KosakowPhish – Comcast Theater – Hartford, CT

After being preoccupied with other bands for five years, fans rejoiced when Phish announced they were coming back. Of course, it took them a while to settle in, and it wasn’t until August at the Comcast Theater in Hartford, CT that they proved to be capable of creating the magic of ten years ago. The first set was classic Phish: Punch You in the Eye opener, the rare Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird, complimented later by Lawn Boy and Stash. And just to sweeten the deal, a roaring Character Zero to end the set with near unparalleled energy.

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[Photo by Jeremy Gordon]

But it was the second set that really brought down the house. It’s unfair to mention one song without mentioning all of the others. Rocking crowd favorites (Down With Disease, Wilson) rolled into open-ended jams (Slave to the Traffic Light, Piper, Water in the Sky, Ghost) and rare gems (Psycho Killer, Catapult, Icculus) before they finally released us from their grasp with a never-failing-to-lift-your-spirits downright dirty Phish classic (You Enjoy Myself). But perhaps the most satisfying thing about this show was witnessing how much fun the band was having on stage. The smiles on the faces of Trey, Mike, Page and Fish were clearly visible even from back on the lawn. The spirit and energy of the Phish we had all come to know and love was back, finally. The crowd could barely contain itself in any sort of civilized manner. Looking back on that show, it’s still hard to believe that only music was responsible for the electricity in the air that night.

Jeffrey GreenblattRodriguez – Bowery Ballroom – New York, NY

In a year that I saw more live music than I ever had in a single 365-day span choosing a favorite gig was a bit of a daunting task to wrap my head around, but a handful of shows quickly came to mind. The one that seemed to stand apart was a mid-May concert from the recently rediscovered 1960s singer-songwriter who simply goes by the name Rodriguez – who prior to this year had never toured the US. The 67 year-old Detroit native, who is as cool as they come, brought his brand of  psychedelic-soul and folk-rock to a crowd of enthusiastic fans that ranged from hipsters to the older NPR set that seemed to hang on every word at the Bowery Ballroom that night. Rodriguez treated the crowd to selections from his two highly recommended re-released albums Cold Fact and Coming From Reality, all while doling out sage advice laced with humor about life and love.

Matt AndrewsRay Lamontagne – Fox Theatre – Atlanta, GA

In a year in which I’ve witnessed Phish’s triumphant return to form, playing with Bruce (not to mention playing The Stones). Umphrey’s epic, sprawling statement, Mantis and catching shows on its subsequent tour. The Avett’s performing the bulk of their latest and best release, I And Love And You before a sold out crowd at Sloss Furnace and, Derek Trucks guesting with funk band Lettuce at Bear Creek and setting the night afire. One performance stands out perhaps in its simplistic accompaniment and presentation. No lights, no guitar wizardry, no pyrotechnics. It was Ray LaMontagne’s performance in Atlanta, a little over a month ago.

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[Photo by Megan Case]

Out he ambled, in a somewhat disoriented and disheveled condition without an ounce of pretension and seemingly lacking the confidence to pull this gig off. It was the Fox Theatre, a Sunday and the day after Halloween. He’d sold out the joint almost instantaneously after announcing the show. It wasn’t a cheap show, but worth every penny.

A man, his guitar and an arsenal of love songs, delivered in his raspy-yet honeyed voice. Passionately delivered songs, rich in meaning and depth, yet poetic in scope. Hypnotic. Possessing perhaps the most awkward stage presence I’ve witnessed, it’s obvious he digs playing, but still isn’t comfortable with all eyes being on him at all times. Singing from the gut with lyrics straight from heart, his coarse whisper hung in the air under the twinkling of the Arabian night courtesy of The Fox’s overdone opulence. The songs? They’re mostly folkish love songs, odes to love, love lost, lover’s laments and the singer’s pain. Simply beautiful stuff.

We showed you ours, now it’s your turn – what was your favorite concert from 2009? Leave your thoughts in the comments section…

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15 Responses

  1. monotonix
    turbo fruits
    jeff the brotherhood

    Nashville,TN
    Exit/In
    10/17/09

    A great night of music with two excellent local bands. Jeff the Brotherhood is going to have a massive 2010 and they might be the best band in Nashville. If you enjoy live music then catching monotonix is essential…..there is nothing like a monotonix show.
    This picture sums up the show and notable figures from the Nashville rock scene….
    http://blogs.nashvillescene.com/nashvillecream/2009/10/spot_the_spin_at_the_monotonix.php

  2. Tons of great shows in 2009, but for many reasons, I am going to say that seeing the full and orginal line-up of God Street Wine get back together to play a memorial for a friend, takes the cake for me.

  3. I must say Ray LaMontagne was a favorite…..I almost dropped my camera when he started playing Jolene and I was 5 feet away. The man has a voice like a pipe organ and a soul that is palpable.

  4. Wow the one thing missing is festival 8. I mean come on the venue, the state, the band the date my 3oth bday it was all so special. Perfect in every way. You didnt have to walk 10 miles like the roo you had grass not concrete you had exile on main you had everything not only a phish fan would want in a concert but you also had a everything a music lover could want to. From hard rock to accoustic sets to big screen tv’s to happy people…. to you get my point!!

  5. My Morning Jacket on NYE. Technically the better half of the second set took place on 1/1/09, and I think their 12/31-1/1 gig at MSG was the best concert I saw in 08 or 09

  6. Of the 25+ concerts I saw this year, the best would have to be Phish’s first gig at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia on November 24. Though I saw five other Phish shows over the course of the year, Philly 1 stands out because a) it was a consistently great show start to finish without a single weak point, and b) the band covered a wide range of musical ground throughout the course of the set. Highlights included the fall tour’s only reading of The Curtain With, a beautiful, majestic Harry Hood, and the run of Mike’s>Simple>Slave>Weekapaug to close the second set.

  7. wow, no mention of 8 as a favorite concert experience? Probably the most exciting, relaxing, and FUN “show” of the year for me by far…and it was a good year!

  8. I first saw Michael perform live in July 2005, and I haven’t stopped talking about that experience yet!! : lol: Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to see him many times, Michael and his show improve with each new tour! Next weekend I’m gonna see him again since I can get cheap tickets so I can save some dollars to the next concert …I’m so excited!!

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