Wednesday, December 28, 2011


10) Skrillex, Austin City Limits Music Festival, Zilker Park, Austin, TX 9/17
I know how to use the Interwebs, so I looked up the definition of “dubstep” on Wikipedia:

“A genre of electronic dance music that originated in south London, England. Its overall sound has been described as ‘tightly coiled productions with overwhelming bass lines and reverberant drum patterns, clipped samples, and occasional vocals.’’

I don’t know, to me it sounds like techno from 1997. I am hardly an expert in dance music trends, so I guess I’ll trust Wikipedia…wait, wait, that might not be a good idea. In any case, Skrillex is one of the leading purveyors of this type of music in the U.S. Well, I guess he’s sort of doing this type of music, as Wikipedia says he’s best known for “brostep.” Definition please, ye old Wiki:

“Brostep is a post-dubstep trend that has recently received increasing exposure, with the American producer Skrillex becoming something of a figurehead for the scene. In September 2011 a Spin Magazine EDM special referred to brostep as a ‘lurching and aggressive’ variant of dubstep that prevails in the United States. Elsewhere it has been described variously as ‘dubstep with more anger to it’ and ‘Americanized, garbage dubstep.’”

Um, okay, it’s dance music for folks that like Limp Bizkit then?

I’m not here to slam what Skrillex does—I’m here to praise how he can work a crowd. This dude had about 10,000 people jumping up and down and going crazy with every switch of beat or sound or tempo he did while mixing songs. It was fun to listen to and even more fun to watch as people just lost their fucking minds. I don’t see it lasting more than a couple of years, but during that time these kids are going to have fun destroying their knee cartilage.

  9) Nicole Atkins & the Black Sea, Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY 2/9
Nicole Atkins has a powerful and sultry voice that many female vocalists would kill to have. Well, maybe not kill; perhaps just maim someone enough to steal their vocal cords. This release show for her new album Monde Amore showed off another side to Atkins—her funny personality. She joked with the crowd, her band members (and the enormous amount of guests that tripled the amount of musicians on stage) and even flirted with the old man featured on the album cover. (And she knew when it was time for him to leave the stage as he was creeping out some folks just sitting there, drinking some booze.) And my goodness, that voice. When she broke into “The Way It Is” there was actual goosebumps all over my arms. What a stunning performance.

  8) Delta Spirit, Austin City Limits Music Festival, Zilker Park, Austin, TX 9/16
I first saw Delta Spirit at the ACL Festival in 2008 on the second smallest stage at the venue. That show set me on the path to being the fan that I am today. So I based my entire first day at ACL on staking out a good spot to see them play at the biggest stage in Zilker Park. And they didn’t disappoint. Frontman Matt Vasquez and guitarist Will McLaren (who I had not seen play with the band since he joined in late 2010) commanded the big stage, running all over to get the crowd involved by clapping and singing along. If they could transfer their concert prowess into one radio hit, they could be headlining that stage in the near future.

  7) Electric Six, The Bell House, Brooklyn, NY 6/2
This show took place on the night Mitt Romney officially announced his candidacy—and Electric Six frontman Dick Valentine made note of it by making cracks about the power of Richard Nixon; the power of rock; and the power of nearby drinking establishments. (A Brooklyn only note—he said that their star-studded afterparty was at Jackie’s 5th Amendment. I almost choked on my beer. Those not in Brooklyn—picture the saddest dive bar you can, the one that opens for regulars at 8:00 a.m., and you’ll have an idea of what Jackie’s is like.) In short, Valentine was just as goofy and charismatic as he’s been throughout the band’s career. I’m not sure how Tyler Spencer (Dick Valentine’s offstage name) can continue to pull off this act night after night. He has a knack for speaking off the top of his head about various topics that never fails to make me laugh—or shake my head in puzzlement. He’s one of the Top 5 frontman working today, and his stage banter is surpassed only by one of the artists in the next entry.

  6) Robyn Hitchcock/Minus 5/John Wesley Harding, The Bell House 11/19
When this doubleheader show was announced, I figured it would be a long night of music. I didn’t anticipate five plus hours of standing. Shows like this, my friends, are where my body feels much older than its 42 years. That being said, it was a great five hours of standing. Hitchcock did his 1990 solo acoustic masterpiece Eye in its entirety (along with some of the album’s bonus tracks from various reissues) and his in-between song banter was as puzzling and entertaining as ever. The tone of collaborations was set for the evening when ex-Harvey Danger singer Sean Nelson came out to supply gorgeous harmonies on “Cynthia Mask.” The Minus 5’s Scott McCaughey came on later in the set to play piano “Clean Steve,” a track that people at my college station WICB jokingly said was about me. (It’s not. My kitchen floor is a shining example of that.) Hitchcock’s set closed out with Nelson, McCaughey on bass, Peter Buck on guitar and The Decemberists drummer John Moen for a great version of “Madonna of the Wasps.”

John Wesley Harding and The Minus 5 (this time out The Decemberists minus frontman Colin Meloy) had a tough act to follow after that. McCaughey’s two mini Minus 5 sets were really diverse as he threw in songs he rarely gets to play on tour. And Harding and this lineup recorded an album—The Sound of His Own Voice—that’s enjoyable, but I found his acoustic set of newer songs even more entertaining. The evening closed out with some fine covers, two of which really stood out. First Harding and the Minus 5 finished their set with Roky Erikson’s “If You Have Ghosts,” a song I had totally forgotten. Harding’s cover was released on 1990's Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye and we played the hell out of it at WICB. I had to dig out that album after the show and made sure to rip in a few tracks into iTunes. After a brief break, Ted Leo came out and led the Minus 5 through a blistering take on Paul McCartney's "The Back Seat of My Car." Leo originally recorded it for the 2009 WFMU benefit album called Tom, which was a track by track cover of Macca's Ram. As great as that was, it wasn’t the best performance I’ve seen this year by Leo…

  5) Ted Leo and The Pharmacists, South Street Seaport, New York, NY 7/9
Ted Leo is one of the few musicians that I've been turned onto during the past decade that I respect even more for his non-music deeds. The man is very hysterical (but at times, deadly serious) tweeter. He wrote an incredibly honest essay about how hard it is to survive as an indie musician that made a lot of bloggers think. He also made one of the best videos of the past five years with “Bottled in Cork.” Leo increased my respect for him even more with his pre-show prep for this July concert. He announced that the Pharmacists were going to play their 2001 album The Tyranny of Distance in its entirety at their free South Street Seaport show. Sure, lots of bands have done this “entire album to mark its 10th anniversary” gig. But Leo explained his reasons for it better than any other act I've seen tackle this album performance gimmick and shared some great tour stories and photos about the experience on his website. His writing about the Tyranny tour genuinely got me excited for the show—and he and the band delivered the goods. It was, in a word, outstanding. And the epic “Stove to a Whale” had me bobbing my head so much I think I pulled a muscle.

  4) Bob Mould, The Bell House, Brooklyn, NY 11/3
Here’s a phrase I never thought I’d use when I first heard Hüsker Dü’s “Hardly Getting Over It”—Bob Mould can be really funny. Seriously. During this singing-slash-reading appearance I laughed a whole lot. And it wasn’t a “he’s reading dark passages from his autobiography that make me uncomfortable so I need some sort of tension breaker soon” kind of laugh. Mould found a lot of humor in poking fun at certain parts of his own life. I was really impressed how he could transition from lighthearted moments like that to blistering, soul-crushing performances of songs like “Brasilla Crossed With Trenton” or Sugar’s “Hoover Dam.” This was the first time I’ve seen an author-musician do a show like this, and I can’t imagine anyone else doing it this well.

  3) Superchunk, Radio City Music Hall, New York, NY 3/8
Jeebus I was so excited to see these guys (and gal) again. It had been a full decade since I’d seen them perform and even being far back in such a large venue I was reminded of just how great this band is when on stage. Jon Wurster’s powerhouse drumming; Laura Balance’s deadly combination of bass playing and pogoing; Jim Wilbur and Mac McCaughan’s intertwined guitars came through loud and clear (and usually drowned out the kids behind us who were whining about their seats and waiting for headliners Bright Eyes to come on.) I’m sure I looked odd jumping up and down in my seat, and I totally didn’t care.

  2) The Figgs, Bastards of Melody, The Rock Shop, Brooklyn, NY 4/16
Let’s see, it’s a show with my favorite band and the original project of my Bunnie England bandmates on the same bill? Was there any doubt it would be on this year’s list the moment it was announced? The Bastards did a great set and won over a bunch of hardcore Figgs fans. As for Mike Gent, Pete Donnelly and Pete Hayes, they made it an massive night. In 2 hours and 40 minutes they touched upon almost everything in their catalog, debuted new songs, did an acoustic set, played some covers and jumped off stage into the audience to play. It was an epic, draining (in a good way, like a Springsteen show) night. And I was so happy that I wasn’t the only one that felt that way. During his solo acoustic set that ended the night, Gent told the crowd, “It sounds so good I could play all night.” I was inclined to agree with him.

1) Middle Brother, Dawes, Deer Tick, Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY 3/5
In July 1986 I saw Bob Dylan and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers perform together at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC, as those in the Capital District call it) in Saratoga Springs. It was not only the first time I drank vodka; it was the first concert I attended that was hyped up because of the promised crossover between the two artists. Alas, the vodka robbed me of remembering much of the first few songs. What I can recall is that it didn't mesh as well as I had expected. That's the problem with many high profile collaborations and “supergroups”—they never live up to our expectations.

I had a belly full of fried chicken, not vodka, when I went to the Middle Bother/Dawes/Deer Tick show. This was a show that outpaced all my expectations. Middle Brother, Deer Tick's John McCauley, Dawes's Taylor Goldsmith and Delta Spirit's Matt Vasquez, These three singer-songwriters crafted an album that equals and at times surpasses the work of their main bands. The relaxed and friendly vibe of their self-titled debut carried throughout the night, as Deer Tick and Dawes delivered outstanding performances that proved the buzz behind both is well deserved. Vasquez's bandmates were back in California working on Delta Spirit's next album, so he delivered a miniset backed by Deer Tick. Vasquez is one of my favorite new frontmen of the past 5 years. He’s got stage presence by the truckloads, and when he led the band through a fast-paced and raucous take on Bruce Springsteen's “Racing in the Street” I wanted to jump for joy. (Alas, that chicken kept me grounded.)

After that miniset almost the entire roster of musicians came out to perform a passionate and fun take on Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me.” I thought they couldn't top that the rest of the night, yet I was mistaken. Deer Tick delivered for the rest of their set, obviously energized by the on stage collaboration. Dawes was just as good as when I first saw them at last year's ACL. And the Middle Brother set was just a ball. Everyone on stage was in good spirits (and drinking good spirits) and that vibe was infectious. The only downside of the night came when country parody act Johnny Corndawg did a mini set with Dawes that ground the momentum to a halt. Yet that misstep couldn’t detract from the best show of this year.

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