Wednesday, December 16, 2009


10) Big Star, Masonic Temple, Brooklyn, NY 11/18
I first saw the reconstituted Big Star back in November 1995. My memory of that show is a bit hazy now, yet I know for certain it didn’t approach the heights of this year’s show in the gymnasium-like Masonic Temple in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood. There were points where drummer Jody Stephens felt a bit out of step with his bandmates (especially on the intro to “September Gurls”), yet he recovered rather quickly. I’ve seen Alex Chilton be magnificent and maddening (during the same song) during solo shows. On this outing he was on his best behavior, singing with gusto on opener “In the Street” (that song you know as the theme to That ’70s Show) and “Don’t Lie to Me” and bringing out the aching loneliness in “Thirteen” that probably had couples clutching each other. (I couldn’t see any couples in front of me because of the dude that was twice my size just to the right of me. I think his body absorbed most of the high end from the speakers.) The PosiesJon Auer and Ken Stringfellow did a great job filling the shoes of the late Chris Bell and the retired-from-music Andy Hummell. Auer’s vocal on “I Am the Cosmos” (the Big Star-ish track from Bell’s only solo album) was particularly breathtaking, leaving my friend Vanessa stunned by his talent. The night would have been a complete success if I hadn’t caught Vanessa’s cold.

9) Change Begins Within (featuring Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Friends) Radio City Music Hall, New York, NY 4/4
I really couldn’t leave a concert where Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr perform together off this list. I mean, it is two Beatles…on stage at the same time. How often are we going to get to see that again? Even though it was only three songs, I am pretty sure I will never again see that many phones in the air, taking picture after picture, at any Radio City show I attend for the rest of my life. The two of them sharing the mic for “With A Little Help From My friends” was pretty damn magical. (As was watching Starr bash away on the drums during “I Saw Her Standing There.”) McCartney and his crack band (seriously, the guys he’s had the past decade are his best post-Beatles band, by far) were in great form before Starr ever hit the stage, ripping through “Band on the Run,” “Jet” and “Can't Buy Me Love” as if only a couple of years have passed since McCartney recorded them. Yet even with all this history, the highlight of the night had to be Ben Harper and Relentless Seven along with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder covering the Queen and David Bowie collaboration “Under Pressure.” It’s one of my favorite songs from the early ’80s and I’ve heard (and one time during Dick Swizzle karaoke at Union Hall, was a part of) some atrocious covers of it. This version was so passionate and unexpected that had to watch it multiple times on YouTube just to confirm I didn’t imagine the whole thing. If I didn’t have to sit through painful and inane conversation from David Lynch (whose foundation benefit from the concert) and Laura Dern and a cringe-worth appearance from Mike Love, it would have ranked a bit higher. (Oh, and fuck Mike Love.)

8) Nada Surf, The Bell House, Brooklyn, NY 4/15
Let’s see…seeing Nada Surf for the first time in my hometown…in my favorite venue to see bands…with two of my favorite Brooklyn people (Moria the concert pal, Vanessa the bartender)…one of whom had never seen them before (Vanessa)…with one of my friends working the bar so the free beers were coming around with a bit of frequency (thanks, Josh)…yeah, this was pretty awesome. I even tried to run up on stage when people started dancing during “Blankest Year.” Wisely the nice security guy stopped me before I made a mess of it all. Wow, what a night of fun.

7) Boris the Sprinkler, Insubordination Fest, Sonar, Baltimore, MD 6/26
I had heard one Boris the Sprinkler album before heading down to Baltimore. It was called (well, still is called) Mega Anal. The disc is enjoyable and I always got a kick out of how after the album ends it starts over again, with the songs in alphabetical order (and some of them in slightly different versions). That’s the way to use the space on a CD. I was not prepared for how much fun is contained in the Boris the Sprinkler live experience. Frontman Rev. Norb started the set in a hot pink spandex outfit, complete with a mask that covered his face and almost choked him. His in between song banter—delivered almost as fast as that guy from those Fed Ex commercials from the 80s—was as over the top as his outfit. And this lineup of the band, which hadn’t played together since the release of Mega Anal, was a non-stop punk rock machine. Every song was crisply delivered and combined with a ferocity that was admittedly surprising for a bunch of guys older than me. Kudos for the Insubordination Fest masterminds for convincing this band to get back together. (See item number-two on this list for more on that.)

6) Wilco, Yo La Tengo, Keyspan Park, Brooklyn, NY 7/13
I’ve seen so many Wilco shows how that it’s almost hard to separate them from one another. What makes this one special is 1) that it was (up until a few days later at the Wappingers Falls concert) the longest Wilco set I’ve ever seen, clocking in at 2:20 spread over 26 songs (Wappingers Falls had 29 songs over 2:30); 2) It featured the most guest appearances of any Wilco show I’ve attended. Feist was on stage for four songs, including a beautiful version of “You and I” from Wilco (The Album), and Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste chipped in on three tunes. Their contributions were exceeded then by all three members of Yo La Tengo (who did their own fantastic opening set), as they joined in on a “this is what the end of the world should sound like, unless it’s directed by that dbag who did 2012 and Godzilla” version of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” that clocked in at 16 minutes. And 3) seeing the Mermaid Avenue tracks “California Stars” and “Hoodoo Voodoo” performed just blocks from where Woody Guthrie penned the lyrics it was as if Jeff Tweedy and company were bringing those songs home.

5) The Baseball Project/Minus 5/Steve Wynn Four, Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY, 9/23
Two sets of songs from Scott McCaughey and Steve Wynn from all of their respective projects; new songs from McCaughey and Wynn’s collaboration The Baseball Project; Peter Buck grabbing the 12 string to replicate the psychedelic thrill of early Dream Syndicate songs; and a guest appearance by Steve Wynn and the Miracle Three guitarist Jason Victor to close the first set with the Minus 5 rocker “Lies of the Living Dead” and the Wynn guitar workout “Amphetamine?” Holy crap, I could watch that every night for a month and not get enough.

4) The Posies, The Bell House, Brooklyn, NY 6/12
3) Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3, The Bell House, Brooklyn, NY 6/11

I must give a shout out to my pal Jack McFadden (a.k.a. Skippy) for booking such great back-to-back nights of rock at The Bell House. First was a stellar set from Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3. The next day it was The Posies performing their great 1993 album Frosting on the Beater in its entirety. What joy each of these nights brought me. It was the fourth time I've seen Hitchcock and the Venus 3, and it was by far the best. I don’t know if was the extra attentive crowd or the magic the venue seems to have, but even the band seemed to realize that it was a great show. (I saw bassist Scott McCaughey afterwards and he said to me, “Wow, what a great show. That was by far the best of our tour. Wow!”) I hadn’t seen The Posies since 1996 at Coney Island High on St. Mark's Place in Manhattan. (And Coney Island High has been gone for a decade, which just makes me feel older.) When the Beater set was over, Ken Stringfellow, Jon Auer and company came back and did a great mini-set of songs from their other albums—and they played every single one of my favorites from their catalog (save the production heavy “Golden Blunders.”) Oh, power pop heaven, how I love thee.

2) Egghead., Insubordination Fest, Sonar, Baltimore, MD 6/27
In 2007 my friends in Egghead. reunited after a decade long split at the urging of the folks who book the Insubordination Fest in Baltimore. They played a show in Brooklyn to warm up for their festival appearance, which was guaranteed to be the biggest audience they ever played to in their career. And just as the trio was to hit the stage in Baltimore, the power went out. And it didn’t come back. The promoters scrambled to find a place for some of the bands to play later that night, but their opportunity for a triumphant return was lost. Two years later the people that ran the fest invited them back. And to make up for their doomed set they gave them a slot on the main stage at Sonar (capacity in that room is 1400 people) at 7:00 p.m. on a Saturday. I’d never seen my friends Mike Faloon, John Ross Bowie and Johnny Reno look nervous before a show, yet this time it was coming off of all of them loud and clear. Fortunately the power stayed on and the guys used their nervous energy to deliver a set that was, well, I think well received doesn’t cover it. The crowd (which I estimate had to be about 450 to 500 people) ate up every moment they were on stage. It was a sight to behold, watching three of my best friends in the world getting to experience all that a large crowd had to offer. When I saw complete strangers singing along to almost every song, well, let’s just say I was one happy man.

1) Steely Dan, Beacon Theater, New York, NY 8/10
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