Friday, December 21, 2007

--2007 Concerts

10) Hoodoo Gurus, BB Kings, New York, NY 3/20
The Police. Genesis. Hoodoo Gurus. Okay, the first two sold hundreds of thousands of tickets because they reunited for the first time in many years. But I was absolutely ecstatic to see the third act return to the U.S. after a 14 year absence. I was so excited that I even went to B.B. King's (bleech) in Times Square (double blech) to see them. For a band marking the 25 year anniversary of their debut single, they rocked just as hard as groups half their age. And seeing “Like-Wow Wipeout” in a New York club was thrilling. I couldn't help but scream along to these words frontman Dave Faulkner penned about the band's first trip to the Big Apple: “I kiss the ground on which you walk/I kiss the lips through which you talk/I kiss the city of New York where I first met you.” And with the crowd’s reaction to that song, I’m pretty sure New York’s love affair with the Gurus could continue for another couple of decades.

9) The Figgs, The Parlor, Philadelphia, PA 2/23
When this show popped up on the Figgs itinerary, I knew I had to make it down there somehow. It had been eight months since I had seen the band play anywhere, which is the longest I have ever gone in between Figgs gigs in 12 years. (12 years!) I scored a ride down to the show with Figgs drummer Pete Hayes. I had to meet Pete at his office before we went to his car, so on my train ride in I listened to a great bootleg from the second leg of the Sucking in Stereo tour. Recorded at the Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco in March of 2001, the show is just smoking. They were in the middle of a lengthy tour, they were feeling ragged and the generator in their truck was on the fritz—yet they still deliver a great gig. I chuckled out loud on the C train when bassist Pete Donnelly said, “We can play that, and I know Mike [Gent] wants to do a guitar solo and he can do it in this song.” The band breaks into “Reject,” which at the time was the template for any lengthy jamming the guys did. And oh does Gent rip one balls-to-the-wall solo. It’s a work of sonic riff art.

Now back to the story of this gig. The Parlor is a former funeral parlor turned into performance space/dance studio. The gig was a release party for a local band Pete D knew and The Figgs were headlining. And this was a par-tay—a great appreciative crowd into all of the night’s music; free food, beer and wine; a girl wearing a low cut shirt that almost made me and my buddy Dave snap our necks staring at her; and a drunk (and I think kinda insane) woman yelling in my ear while I was trying to dig the guys cover of Talking Heads’ “Love->Building on Fire.”

The show was a blast, even if the guys were a bit sloppy at times. But the best part was when Mike said he wanted to solo (and yes, I did laugh to myself, recalling my subway trip early in the day) and he started playing the riff to “Gonna Get Out.” This version (which I estimate clocked in at around eight minutes) was the best performance I have ever seen of this song. And I mean ever. Here's what we saw:

--Mike singing along to the slowed down riff of the tune, stating that he was doing it “like George Benson.”

--Mike changing the line “we’re not gonna be here” to “we’re still gonna be here” as if it was a statement of defiance.

--Mike and Pete D jumping off the stage into the crowd during the solo, in which they did a kind of dueling riff battle in front of a bunch of worshiping fans.

--While that was going on, one of the people working the event brought a six pack of beer up to the stage. Pete H started yelling at the guy to get his attention and then motioned repeatedly for this dude to open the beer and then put it up to Pete's mouth. At first this guy was kind of thick—Pete had to yell what he wanted at least five times before the guy caught on. Once the precious beer was in Pete’s mouth, he proceeded to keep playing and at the same time downed more than 2/3 of the bottle. As a fellow beer drinker, it was a sight to behold. The crowd started yelling, which in turn caused Mike and Pete D to turn around and see what caused all the commotion.

--After Mike and Pete D climbed back on stage, Mike suggested that they switch instruments and that Pete do a solo. So we were treated to a great guitar solo from Mr. Donnelly, this one a wall of noise that made me think of Sonic Youth, of all bands.

Finally they switched back to their regular instruments and they brought the song to a thrilling conclusion. After that performance, I think The Figgs should just retire “Gonna Get Out.” It's never gonna get more entertaining than that night.

8) The Music of Bruce Springsteen, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY 4/5
(Ed note: For this entry, I’ve decided to link to my Hold Steady-heavy take on this tribute to The Boss I wrote for Stereogum that I penned a couple of hours after the show, riding high on a 24 ounce can of Bud and great rock.)

7) Bright Eyes, Town Hall, New York, NY 5/30
One of the best decisions I made in 2007 was getting tickets to two shows during Bright Eyes seven night stand at Town Hall. One of the worst decisions I made was not getting tickets to more shows during Bright Eyes seven night stand at Town Hall. The shows I saw on May 28th and 30th were damn entertaining. Like the entire run, both nights had great special guests (the 28th, Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis; the 30th, Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard), great live versions of songs from the fine new album Cassadaga (“Soul Singer in a Session Band” kicks ass live), a great mix of covers and older tunes and frontman Conor Oberst in a really great mood. Props go to the Bowery Presents folks who convinced Oberst to do this run and try to make it something special every night. I thought the show on the 30th was slightly better because of the closing song, a shake-the-rafters-and-rip-the-seats-out-of-this-joint take on “Road to Joy.” When Oberst yelled, “Let’s fuck it boys, make some noise,” the 17 people on stage (yeah, that's right, seventeen) made a cacophony of sound that was still ringing in my ears and my brain the next day. I was so pumped after “Road to Joy” that I forced my fellow Bright Eyes fan Moria the concert pal to high five me. (And yeah, it was kind of awkward looking, as women generally don’t high five as much as us dudes.) When we got on the F train to head to Brooklyn, I couldn't help but think I had witnessed an artist taking a leap up to a higher level and that fans will be talking about these Town Hall shows in the same way Bruce Springsteen fans reminisce about those legendary shows at the Bottom Line in 1975.

6) Wilco, ACL Festival, Zilker Park, Austin, TX 9/16
What a difference six years makes. The last time I saw Wilco in Austin was back on September 22nd, 2001. Flying down to visit my friend Stacy would have been nerve-wracking at any time (my fear of flying was at its peak then), but 10 days after watching the towers fall was almost impossible. (Thanks to my other friend, beer, I was able to do so.) Once I got to Austin I was still in a daze from all that had happened the previous week and a half. And when Wilco hit the stage the next night, they seemed like they were in a daze too. They were playing only their second ever show as a four piece and the hole left by Jay Bennett's departure seemed too vast for them to overcome. It’s still the worst Wilco gig I've ever seen. This time Wilco in Austin was a joyous experience. (Well, except for the three stupid kids who bullied their way in front of us and insisted on talking and hitting beach balls. They stopped when I yelled at them, “What are you, 12?”) The band was having a blast, feeding off the crowd’s energy that was still very up for the third day of the festival in the Texas sun. And when Jeff Tweedy and company broke out “Too Far Apart” from A.M., I was dumbfounded. It took until the chorus to register that I was seeing Wilco do a song I had never seen them do live. And this is a band I have seen over 20 times the past 10 years. I looked over at Stacy and we both broke into huge smiles and started singing along. Three songs later, they unveiled a four song set closer we hadn’t heard since the days of Summerteeth: “Red-Eyed And Blue” into “I Got You (At The End Of The Century)” into “Casino Queen” into “Outtasite (Outta Mind).” As much I have enjoyed the Wilco of the 21st century, those four songs are the shit as far as I’m concerned. I was so happy I almost forgot I could barely walk because of my back pain. Yeah, I can see the slogan now—“Wilco, better for back pain than Doan’s Pills.”

5) Buffalo Tom, Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY 7/13
In the nine years between their last two studio albums I’ve seen almost every Buffalo Tom gig that’s happened in New York. They were all good. This one was great. The trio blended new songs and their classic material effortlessly. Well, that’s perhaps a wrong choice of words. There was nothing effortless about singer-guitarist Bill Janovitz’s performance. The guy has always looked like he was leaving everything on stage by the time he was done—his soul, his sweat, his guitar picks, everything. At the Bowery when the trio broke into the Big Red Letter Day track “Treehouse,” it was as if the song had possessed him and he had to get every lyric and note through every part of his body and get it all out to the crowd. He threw his head back, closed his eyes and sang as loud as he could until all of the energy in his body had been expounded. It was one of those magical moments you hope for at every concert yet rarely ever see. The rest of the show was fantastic, yet after that mid set moment, it all felt like one long encore.

4) LCD Soundsystem, ACL Festival, Zilker Park, Austin, TX 9/14
Right before flying down to Austin for my second Austin City Limits Festival I looked over the schedule and made a mental plan of the five acts I needed to see--Wilco, Cold War Kids, Spoon, Crowded House and LCD Soundsystem. Crowded House and LCD Soundsystem were both on the Friday and they were right after each other. The two bands played on stages placed conveniently near each other so you could watch one band and then when their set was over turn to the right and watch the next band. After Crowded House’s energetic hour I slowly walked down towards the LCD stage. The first song didn’t do much for me and I considered walking away to go score some prime real estate for Spoon’s set across the park. Then LCD frontman James Murphy started talking to the crowd and he made me laugh. Loudly. I scribbled down some of his wit once I got back to Stacy’s house later that night. As the band was playing on the AT&T Blueroom stage, Murphy cracked, “When I was a punk rocker in 1983, all I dreamed about was playing here, with five bars of rock. Then the band went into their next song (the title escapes me) and it rocked and made me want to dance at the same time. I wasn’t the only one, as I could see on my perch from the top of the hill that thousands of people were pogoing and dancing ecstatically to this great beat. Then Murphy started screaming like a punk rocker over it and these people went apeshit in the Austin sun. And it proceeded to get better from there. Murphy kept making cracks about the sponsorship (at one point yelling, “Free phones for everybody!”) and his crack band kept delivering these intoxicating rhythms that just mesmerized me. By the time they broke into most folks favorite Sound of Silver track “All My Friends” I had snuck down to the edge of the dancing mass, soaking up a tremendous amount of energy the band and the audience had created together. Of course, I paid for my fun the next two days (actually, the next two weeks—getting old sucks) when my back hurt when I moved, breathed or even thought about breathing or moving.

3) The Figgs, Magnetic Field, Brooklyn, NY 12/16
Let’s add up the factors that clinched this gig a spot on this list: My favorite band + my favorite bar + I got to introduce them + their sound guy (thanks Mike Moore!) made them sound better than any band I’ve ever heard in that club + a packed house on a Sunday night + my beer glass seemingly always filled + they did my favorite Pete Hayes composition (“1000 People Grinning”) + they did that Small Faces cover again (“Song of a Baker”) + the best ever version of “Cheap Cassettes” + a couple of my friends being converted into fans = a fantastic night.

2) Electric Six, The Temptress, Hudson River and New York Bay, New York, NY 7/19
It seemed simple enough at the time--my friend Dave from Philly emailed and said, “Electric Six are playing on a boat up there. Do you wanna go? I’ll buy the tix.” Little did I know that a simple “yes” would bring about one the craziest concert experiences of my life. These rock bands on a boat cruises have grown in popularity here in New York over the past five years. There are now two competing companies shoving off from different piers in Manhattan, plying fans with tons of expensive beers and the chance to enjoy nature and rock at the same time. When Dave and I stepped aboard the Temptress, I immediately felt seasick for the first time in my life. We quickly determined it was the waves slamming the boat into its dock that was making me nauseous. After one overpriced Red Stripe filtered through my system, I felt better. I felt so much better than I didn’t even realize the boat had left the pier. After an interesting opening act (they played a very odd arrangement of “Purple Rain” as their closer) Dave and I moved up closer to the stage. Ha, stage--it was basically a place where the band set up on the floor behind some metal barricades. The way the performance area was laid out you couldn’t see the band at all unless you were within five to seven feet of the stage—I mean playing area—because the second deck of the ship hung over the edge of that area, blocking any good looks at the antics of frontman Dick Valentine. So the band climbs behind the barricades, breaks into “I Buy the Drugs” and the crowd gets a bit rowdy. Not that bad, just some people jumping up and down and pressing those of us up front just a bit closer to the barricades. The band’s second song was “gay bar.” And the boat exploded into a ball of human energy. A huge mosh pit (well, as huge as a pit could be on a boat) broke out next to me. For the first time in ages I found myself picking up kids from the floor and pushing them back into the pit. The crowd was whipped into such a frenzy that I lost sight of Dave for a while. I honestly thought he had been crushed. Just when I thought the scene couldn’t get any more insane, I looked up above me to the left and saw someone climb over the balcony and dive right into the pit. I swear, I looked like this kid (well, dude in his early 20s) was practicing to be the next Greg Louganis. It was—to put it bluntly—fucking crazy. I don’t know if it was the water vapor from the Hudson or the overpriced drinks or the fact that people could be stupid as they wanted without being kicked off that made this crowd ignite. I doubt I will see such a frantic scene at a concert ever again. (Well, unless they do another show like this next summer.)

1) Egghead., Lost and Found, Brooklyn, NY 7/5
Back on June 5th, 2006 I wrote this on the Top 20 blog when I tapped Egghead.’s “Donna’s Always Mad at Me” as the Song of the Week:

“Egghead. was a band comprised of three of my best friends in the world—singer-guitarist Mike Galvin (a.k.a. Johnny Reno), singer-bassist John Bowie and drummer Mike Faloon. Part of my reason for moving to New York was so I could see them play more often. They played smart punk/power-pop songs, were lots and lots of fun to see and pretty much were always in my musical thoughts. ‘Donna's Always Made at Me’ was instantly one of my favorite songs when I first heard it. And listening to it the past week was like welcoming an old friend back home, one that was a bit less jaded and had a lot less damage done to his liver and couldn't stop smiling and laughing at every Egghead. show. I paid a lot to see the Pixies reunite—I'd pay a lot more for one more Egghead. show.”

So on July 5th of this year the unthinkable happened, as Egghead reunited for a New York show. (And it was for free!) It couldn't have been any better. (Well, if the beer was free I guess, and it was happening closer to my house.) It was, simply put, about as life-fulfilling a night as I’ve ever had in the five boroughs. I recall saying to someone during the show that it was like going to a high school reunion, but you actually were happy to see everyone and spend a night in their company. Time usually drains bands of their flair and their passion for performing. Not these guys. In fact, I think it’s safe to say I’ve never seen them play finer as a unit. I never thought I could approach musical nirvana (the concept, not the band) in Greenpoint. Somehow I did.

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