Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Top Shows of 2011: The Top Ten

Live music is better (bumper stickers should be issued). And after this year I’d have enough bumper stickers to cover the rental car fleet at O’Hare International Airport. While all y’all were out partying over New Year’s Weekend I was toiling in the mothership, trying to make sense of it all and seeing if I could rank them. I almost took the easy way out and said I liked them all equally, like a parent when asked about their favorite child, but that’s bullshit… I know parents have to have favorites. And I indeed have some favorite shows. Here are my made up rules:

A. This was a snapshot over this last weekend. If you asked me today, the order might change depending on my memory, the weather or this week’s guest on Meet The Press.
B. I did not separate out opening bands; however, I did list the ones who influenced my ranking of the show.
C. I excluded local bands, festival sets, shows at the CSO and other assorted noise that would confuse my fortissimo addled brain.

Without further ado, let's unleash this dragon:

1. Holmes Brothers – SPACE: I like venues loud and dirty, and SPACE is neither; yet these storied gents made me forget I was in the nurturing bosom of Evanston and transported me to a plane previously reserved for mind-altering drugs and tantric sexual sessions with Sting himself. Wendell, Sherman and Popsy have been at it for over 30 years, which is longer than I’ve been waxing my chest, but they still find joy in the music and share it like a dirty needle in a crack den. But I mean that in the best possible way. They’re number one, after all.

>Watch The Holmes Brothers

2. Wilco – Riv/Vic/Lincoln Hall: I confess, I got sucked into the Wilco hype the same way I was crashing weddings every weekend in 1996 just to do the Macarena. But instead of going home with a sense of shame after groping bridesmaids in the coat room, I left each of these shows with a greater appreciation for a band that combined strong songwriting and solid musicianship in so many ways that I’m pretty sure I know exactly how the Renaissance crowds felt when Michelangelo switched from his Sunday comic strip to house painting to sculpture.

>Watch Wilco

3. Arctic Monkeys – HOB: I liked these guys, but skipped their last show in town because I was too put out and snobby to go to the Riv. That would be like turning down Sofia Vergara because you didn’t like the color of her dress. Of course, I didn’t realize the error of my ways until I scored tickets to their Lolla aftershow at House of Blues. It was hot, sweaty, loud and the floor shook harder than the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. I felt like I was in a music video; not that A-ha where the guy turns into a comic book drawing, but Arctic Monkey’s own Brianstorm video.

>Watch AM

4. Arcade Fire / The National – UIC: Either of these bands would have been a top ten show on their own. Together on one bill was mind-boggling. It’s like the guy who invented a la mode. Wait, this pie just isn’t good enough… how about we put some motherfucking ice cream on top? The gentle intensity of The National followed by the musical orgy that is The Arcade Fire made for an evening so complete that I was able to forego my usual post-show kiddie cocktail.

>Watch AF
>Watch The National

5. Dave Alvin (w/Chris Miller) – Old Town School: I was reintroduced to Mr. Alvin a few years ago and my mancrush grows stronger with every show. His songs are stories that draw me in like a moth to a flame, and then he singes my eyebrows with his guitar while his cohorts, be it the Guilty Women, the Guilty Men, or only Chris Miller, mop up the floor. I found myself standing next to him during his opener at a fest this summer and was too awestruck or respectful or downright smitten to say a word. Here he is later that night:

>Watch Dave

6. tUnE-yArDs – Lincoln Hall: The upper and lower case spelling of this band’s name is so damn ridiculous that I used to ignore it. But as their music grew on me and after seeing them live, I decided to suck it up and give them the proper respect by spelling like an underage Romanian prostitute on MySpace. The music, largely a product of Merrill Garbus, is out there, but give it a chance. She is a complete freak showing up on stage with a painted face and a ukulele, looping drums and vocal riffs into a primitive, often dissonant tapestry that you might want to ignore at first because you haven’t seen it in Good Housekeeping magazine, but you need to take it home with you because it’s going to pull that room together in a way that you’ll never want to leave. I’m not sure what the hell that all meant, except that I love Merrill.

>Watch tUnE-yArDs

7. Fishbone – Bottom Lounge: “It wasn’t hip-hop, it wasn’t funk; it was just some different shit.” ~ Ice T. Yikes, the 25th anniversary tour. I saw them about 20 years earlier and remember it being insane. But they certainly couldn’t be as good as they were back then. After all, I get sore these days after going bowling. But any concern was instantly dismissed as I got kicked in the face by the lead singer Angelo as he crowd surfed overhead during the first song while the rest of the band tore it up on stage. And it just got better. The energy never waned. They kicked the stuffing out of that stupid Energizer bunny and proved that perpetual motion is indeed feasible despite what the physics books might lead you believe.

>Watch Fishbone

8. Bettye Lavette – Old Town School: A senior citizen has never given me chills before, but I’ll keep paying my Social Security taxes as long as a part of it goes to Bettye. If you ever write a song, make sure Bettye never gets a hold of it, because she will do it better than you could ever dream of. Just watch her do Love Reign O’er Me while Roger Daltry sits there feeling like a fraud.

>Watch Bettye

9. Twilight Singers – Metro: You remember the Afghan Whigs, right? Of course you do. Unfortunately, when they fell off the radar I also lost track of singer Greg Dulli until someone told me about his not so new band The Twilight Singers. Obviously not so new because there is no way a bad ass like Dulli would name his band after a bunch of pussy vampires. But I digress. Fortunately I found out about Dulli in time for his new record and tour. He brought the swagger as strongly as he did in his AG days… women swooned, men harrumphed, and children cried. It was beautiful.

>Watch TS

10. Screaming Females – Schubas: This, my friends, is what rock and roll is all about. Guitar, bass, drums. Make a record, draw some t-shirts, load up the van and hit the road, play guitar ‘til your fingers bleed, make noise, beautiful noise and help your fans pick out a t-shirt after the gig. It’s my new favorite t-shirt and Marissa is my new favorite rock star.

>Watch Marissa

Top Shows 2011: 11 thru 20

11. Ruthie Foster – MAC: From Screaming Females to the opposite end of the spectrum, Ruthie will not make your ears bleed or sucker punch you if you’re not paying attention. Ruthie will merely take the stage, endear herself to you in a way that you wish she was your neighbor so that you could share a cup of tea with her every afternoon, and then spew enough joy through her music that if you aren’t smiling then you must be super self-conscious about your teeth or something. Go see a dentist because that’s unacceptable at one of her shows.

>Watch Ruthie

12. Rhett Miller – Schubas: I own an acoustic guitar and I make horrible noises with it. But even if I knew how to play the damn thing, I’m fully aware how incredibly difficult it is to keep someone’s attention with just an acoustic guitar and irritatingly good looks. But Rhett is one of the few I’ve seen who can pull it off. He keeps the energy high, never lets off the gas, and his songs will keep you engaged as you round each verse with him as if riding a high banked race track in high gear. At the end, you can’t believe 90 minutes has passed, and Rhett is more sweat-soaked than an NBA team in the fourth quarter.

>Watch Rhett

13. Wild Flag – Subterranean/Empty Bottle: Anytime you start a band with 2/3 of Sleater-Kinney, you’re on the right track. These four women look like they’re on their way to a PTA meeting. But instead of talking about bake sales, they decide to kick the principal in the nuts, hit the road and pay for the new playground equipment by rocking out and selling merch to adoring fans across the country. Those kids are going to have a kick ass playground.

>Watch Wild Flag

14. Cage the Elephant/Florence & the Machine/Black Keys – Marcus Ampitheater, Summerfest, Milwaukee: I am a total music and concert snob now, and if the venue holds more 2,000 people I tend to turn my nose up and move along. But this triple bill was too good to ignore so I grabbed some tickets, played hooky from work and took a road trip to the land of cheese and bratwurst. The little dude from CTE flung himself around the pavilion like a Frisbee at an Ultimate tourney and stole the show, while Florence filled the airspace with a voice so strong you could almost see it, and then the Black Keys came out but I missed most of their set because I was caught up in my own thoughts of the irony of the band name given the fact that they don’t have a piano or keyboard player in the band. Then I started thinking that maybe I’d take piano lessons and tried to remember where the power adapter for my Casio was. Pretty soon the show was over, but the people around me told me it was spectacular. Too bad half of them were morons and missed CTE.

>Watch CTE

15. Split Lip Rayfield – Double Door: This one was a huge surprise. It was an impromptu stop on the way home because Suzanne Vega nearly put me into a coma and I felt dirty after sitting amongst all those old, clean Evanston-ites. I chose the Double Door because Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers were opening, but I stuck around for SLR and was blown away. Banjo/guitar, mandolin and a homemade stand up bass made out of a gas tank and piece of hickory. There was drinking, dancing, making out… and that was just me and the band. Some good-time thrash-grass music and seriously fun show for everyone there.

>Watch SLR

16. The Joy Formidable – Metro/Double Door: My buddy told me about this band. The day of the show. Thanks for the head up there, buddy. I’m a busy man. Actually, I’m not and I could have gone, but I skipped it and made him go alone to prove a point. I showed him! And I missed a surely awesome show at Lincoln Hall. Fortunately, he drove me to their free Lolla aftershow at the Double Door later in the year, and I also got to catch them headline a show at Metro. Ritzy looks demure in her coiffed platinum hair, well-appointed make-up and conservative dress. (Can make-up be well-appointed? I don’t think so, but I think you know what I mean, so stop being a stickler, will ya’?) But as soon as the music starts she tears into her guitar like a Tasmanian devil, blowing through songs like an EF-5 tornado (that’s the highest intensity tornado on the Enhanced Fujita scale, in case you aren’t a weather geek like me). Oh, and they’re Welsh and swear a lot. It’s loud and fun. And that’s all I ask. I’m a simple man.

>Watch TJF

17. Don Dixon & Marti Jones – Abbey Pub: Einstein said, “For us trusting physicists, the separation between past, present, and future is a bare, yet stubborn illusion.” I’m not a physicist, nor very trusting, so although that doesn’t apply to me it still was apparent that I was unable to attend more than one of the shows going on at the same time the night Don Dixon came to town. Fortunately, Do312.com helped me make that decision by putting me on the guest list. I discovered Don in 1992 when he took a break from producing bands like REM and Smithereens to put out some of his own material. Not the type of stuff you’d find on B96 between En Vogue and Billy Ray Cyrus. I first saw him on 120 Minutes, an awesome show on MTV that aired on Sunday nights for music geeks who weren’t jumping around to Kris Kross every night. His raw voice, songwriting and catchy hooks kept him a mainstay in my collection for nearly 20 years, meaning we’re both old and just happy to be alive. But I’m still going to pubs to see live music and he’s still enjoying playing it, and all was right with the world for those 120 minutes two decades later. It was just a bonus that he brought his talented wife Marti and turned out to be a genuinely nice guy to meet.

>Watch Don & Marti

18. Le Butcherettes – Subterranean: Mexican garage rock performed by a badass girl wearing a bloody apron. I’m going to leave it at that.

>Watch Le Butcherettes

19. Meat Puppets – Double Door: You might know them from their semi-crossover hit Backwater after Kurt Cobain insisted on including them in his Unplugged session. After that, brother Cris took the drug use to new level and ended up eventually getting shot for starting trouble at a post office. You know you’re fucked up when they have to shoot you at a post office. Somehow they got their shit together and are back on the road. The sound is still completely unique, the songwriting solid, and the set list was deep and wild, covering their whole catalog and then some. It went on way longer than expected but I loved every minute, like bottomless cup of resonance served up by a weathered truck stop waitress that still calls you hon’ no matter how long you sit at her counter.

>Watch Meat

20. Ted Leo – Pritzker Pavilion: I’ve dug Ted for quite a while and he’s responsible for one of my favorite tunes, but I had never seen him live. I’ve either been out of town or working or deathly ill or meeting with my Antique Road Show Fan Club. And the last time I made the fatal mistake of underestimating his popularity and it sold out before I could snag a ticket, and all attempts to get on the guest list by parading topless in front of his tour bus went ungraciously ignored. But thanks to the City of Chicago, this one was free and I got a nice seat up front and finally enjoyed in person the greatness of Ted. Apparently he gave security a heads up to make sure I kept my shirt on.

>Watch Ted

Top Shows 2011: 21 thru 30

21. John Hammond – Old Town School: You know those white boys doing Mustang Sally and all those other blues covers down at the dive bar in town? They should be ashamed of themselves. Hammond is the real deal.

Watch Hammond

22. Old 97’s – Lincoln Hall: It’s like a hip barn dance, but not at all, really. It’s not like that at all. If you like country, if you like rock, if you like fun, you’ll like an Old 97’s show. If you like barn dances you’ll probably like the show as well, even though it’s not like that. Actually I’ve never been to a barn dance so I guess I can’t really say with authority what it’s like. So forget I said anything. Generally a good policy any time I’m speaking.

Watch Old 97's

23. X – Bottom Lounge: The first couple of punk: John Doe and Exene Cervenka. Been a fan for a long time so I jumped on these tickets like a punk jumps on purple hair dye for his Mohawk. My first thoughts were, shit, John and Exene look old. My second thought was, yeah, they are old. At this point it was turning into a conversation with myself. I really need to find more people to go to shows with. But then I made an indisputable argument with which I could not even argue: They still sound bully. If you don’t know who they are, make an appointment with my secretary to come over so I may introduce you. We’ll have tea and listen to Los Angeles. Good times.

Watch X

24. Amy LaVere – Schubas: A petite girl in heels playing a standup bass twice her size and singing dark songs in a small club… a man swoons stage right.

Watch Amy

25. Hindi Zahra/Dessa – Lincoln Hall: Hindi was my new music crush this year and I made it clear to anyone who would listen that I would be leaving town with her after her show on October 11th. I would most likely settle with her in Morocco where I would make my fortune in phosphorus mining and continue to inspire her to make beautiful music. I’m still here, so it didn’t exactly work out that way, although the music was indeed beautiful. I also hate to admit that opener Dessa stole the show with her engaging, genuine personality and lyricism. Too bad following her back to Minneapolis doesn’t have quite the same romanticism as French Morocco.

Watch Hindi
Watch Dessa

26. John Doe – Old Town School: Yeah, the same John Doe from X back there in #23. He’s like my favorite kid and can do no wrong no matter what his siblings or teachers or neighbors say. I saw him with X, his side project The Knitter, and now solo, and I’d probably even go see him if he joined the Jonas Brothers. Are they even around anymore?

Watch Mr. Doe

27. Heartless Bastards – Schubas: Someone recommended HB to me earlier this year and I fell in love with Erika’s voice. She’s from Ohio, and there’s something about it that suggests Chrissie Hynde in attitude and timbre. And she won’t make you feel guilty about wearing your fur coat to her show.

Watch HB

28. Fitz & the Tantrums – Metro (2): I go through phases where I’m totally into the old school soul and R&B stuff. Since time travel has not yet been perfected and there’s always the chance of ending up in the Dark Ages, I’ve had to settle for some of the neo-soul stuff out there. Fitz captures some of that soul and keeps it fun.

Watch Fitz

29. Lykke Li – Metro/Vic: My first impression was that Avril Lavigne was going through a Goth phase and also got way into the whole Twilight madness. Fortunately Lykke is able to easily transcend that first impression as soon as the music starts. I’m sure she was a strange little kid, but weren’t we all? No? I digress. Wholly original tunes, ranging from haunting to funkadelic and dirty.

Watch Lykke

30. The Damned – Metro: Legendary punks, The Damned, hit the road for their 35th anniversary. Makes Fishbone seem young. Dave was looking a little old, but it didn’t show in his vocals. Captain Sensible was anything but sensible and still keeps the crowd entertained. I definitely missed Rat Scabies, not because the current drummer can’t handle the duties, but just because I wanted to be able to say that I saw a guy named Rat Scabies (and the original lineup). After all those years they can still bring it, but needed a brief intermission for a nap. Honestly, I think the show would have been better if they had pared it down to one awesome set instead of two pretty damn good ones.

Watch The Damned

Top Shows 2011: 31 thru 40

31. Airborne Toxic Event – Riviera: I was on the fence last time they came through town and missed out when they sold out two shows at Metro. I was still on the fence for this one (Riviera, capacity 2400), but Jam made it easy for me by putting me on the guest list. The music was strong and the band seemed genuinely appreciative of the audience and the support. It wasn’t, “Thank you, Chicago, we’ll call you!” It was more like, “Hey, I dig you guys. I had a blast, so let’s go to Chuck E. Cheese tomorrow and play some Skee-Ball. I’ll pick y’all up in our bus at, say, 4:30 p.m.” I’m off the fence and on their lawn now.

Watch ATE

32. Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Lincoln Hall: I’m a Black Crowes fan. I recognize Robinson as one of the great rock vocalists, so I’m not sure why I passed on this show and watched it sell out before my eyes. Sometimes you do get second chances in life, so when they release some extra tickets, I grabbed them. These guys are good. Way good. But I have a feeling it would have moved way up on my list if I had been properly prepared with some Scooby snacks and a little more background in jam band material.

Watch CRB

33. U2/Interpol – Soldier Field: It’s an impressive production, like I said two years ago the first time it came through town. And U2 are some fine boys, but Soldier Field is really for football and not music. They make the list just on the strength of their catalog and that giant Lego spider they build for the show. You know it’s a good year for music when the biggest concert event of the year ends up as #33 on your list.

Watch U2

34. Imelda May – Park West: An Irish rockabilly lass should rank much higher on this list, but I got spoiled by seeing her in a small bar last year. And I was also annoyed by the douchebags talking through the whole show. Seriously, if you want to talk, I can lead you by the fucking ear to countless bars around the corner where you won’t have to pay a $25 cover to yap away, Slappy. But I still love you, Imelda.

Watch Imelda

35. Corin Tucker Band/Mecca Normal – Media Club, Vancouver, BC: I was at a mind-numbingly boring work conference last spring and ready to throw myself down the Winter Olympics luge run just to put myself out of my misery when I decided to check out the music listings in town. Corin Tucker Band… hey, isn’t she 1/3 of Sleater-Kinny, I asked myself. Yes, she is, I answered. So I told my colleagues to go fuck themselves for the evening while I went to rock out for a bit. Okay, so I didn’t exactly say that, but I felt it. It was a sparsely attended weekday show (which is really no excuse), so I got to hang out with the opening act for a bit and had a nice convo with Corin after the show. Thanks, Canada. Eh.

Watch CTB

36. Acoustic Africa (Oliver Mtukudzi, Habib Koité, and Afel Bocoum) – Old Town School: Three of the top African guitarists, all with a slightly different sound and from different regions. Individually any one of them could have put on a decent show, but having the contrasting styles and personalities kept it fresh and gave it a slight competitive feel. I even sensed a little nationalistic pride, so I guess this could have been considered the Olympics of African guitar. But I don’t want anyone’s feelings to get hurt so I’ll take a lesson from little league and give them all a gold medal. Ah, screw that: Gold – Habib, Silver – Oliver, Bronze – Afel.

Watch Acoustic Africa

37. Architecture in Helsinki – Metro: Another one I was on the fence about until Metro put me on the guest list, and I’ll gladly pay for the next one. Pretend the B-52’s were born in Australia about 20 years later, and came to the scene with just a little less camp but still retaining the fun. Then you might have AIH. I feel that description cheapens their music and is off, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind. The same way that a bag of chocolate chips is the first thing that comes to mind for breakfast every day.

Watch AIH

38. Death From Above 1979 – Metro: I confess, I missed DFA the first time around but checked them out when I saw all the hype around their Lolla reunion. I grabbed two tix to their aftershow and was blown away by the noise from just two dudes on drums and tripped out bass. Sometimes you just need a good dose of raw and primitive music to cleanse all that other crap that didn’t get properly filtered throughout the year. DFA is the colon cleanse of the music world. I mean that in a good way.

Watch DFA

39. Devotchka – House of Blues: First caught this band opening for Gogol Bordello and made a point to catch them headline. Kind of soundtracky at times, which is probably why they’ve been featured on some soundtracks, but it’s a band you need to hear live. Violin and tuba solos. Accordian. Upright bass. Just chill out and enjoy.

Watch Devotchka

40. Rocco Deluca – Villain’s: Remember that episode of 24 when Jack Bauer gets suspended and uses his idle time to start a record label and signs that guy who plays slide guitar and sings about rainbows or something, and then everyone gets annoyed by that song totally getting overplayed, so then Jack bails on him and then goes back to save the world from total destruction? That guy turned up at a neighborhood tavern this summer playing for tips, and I have to admit it was pretty damn good. Never doubt Jack Bauer.

Watch Rocco

Top Shows 2011: 41 thru 50

41. Lissie – Reggie’s: I knew a few of her tunes, so when WXRT sponsored a free show at the club less than a mile from my place I decided to waltz on over to check it out. It took me a while since waltzing isn’t the most efficient mode of travel, but I staked out a good spot and hoped for an unsucky show. Not only was it unsucky, but I’d go as far as saying it was rather good. I mean I’m not the president of her fan club, but I’d consider being an officer.

Watch Lissie

42. Poi Dog Pondering – Metro: Damn, another 25th anniversary show? I’ve been a fan since the early 90’s largely based on my purchase of one CD – Volo Volo. After that they apparently relocated to Chicago and I lost track of them a bit. So when they booked two nights – one for their Austin music and one for their Chicago music – I thought about a ticket for the former. Metro made it easy by giving me one, so I went and doggy-poi’d the hell out of it. Meaning you stand there, bob your head and sway along to the music and sing along when requested. It was nice.

Watch Poi Dog Ponder

43. Jim Jones Revue – Schubas: Prior to this year, the only Jim Jones I knew was the crazy one responsible for the annoying expression “drinking the Kool-Aid”. This Jim Jones is way better. I read a review describing his music as “Little Richard with a chainsaw and a nosebleed”. I can’t do better than that.

Watch JJR

44. City and Colour – Vic: Okay, this one was way out of character for me. C&C is really an alias for a singer/songwriter type named Dallas Green. Get it? Dallas (City) and Green (Colour). All that alone should disqualify him from this list. But something about this knucklehead’s songs connected. Maybe just the one about not sleeping, since that’s something I rarely do. I was even half expecting to be bored at his show, but the songs came alive and the arrangements worked. The dude knows what he’s doing, whether I care to admit it or not. Fine, I admit it.

Watch C&C

45. Broken Social Scene – Wrigleyville Rooftop: Another free show from WXRT, and another band I thought I might like just because they’re one of those incestual Canadian bands with way too many people whose members seemingly come and go as they please, but somehow always manage to have enough people in the right place when it comes time to record or perform. Amazing how those Canucks pull off shit like that.

Watch BSS

46. Fleet Foxes/Walkmen – Chicago Theater: I liked the new record but wasn’t sure how it would play live until I heard them impressively nail it outdoors at Pitchfork. So I grabbed tickets for the Chicago Theater, thinking it would be even more amazing at a venue like that. It was, but they suffered the same affliction as Hindi Zahra and were too damn mellow for their own good. It’s like eating the best damn risotto in town, but never really getting the main course. But it was still some damn good risotto.

Watch Fleet Foxes

47. Cowboy Mouth – House of Blues: I want to rank these guys higher, because no band on this entire list is more committed to making sure that the audience has fun and leaves everything behind for those 90 minutes while they’re on stage. The music isn’t terribly original, but there are several catchy tunes and they indubitably accomplish their goal of delivering a solid and fun rock and roll show. Like Mardi Gras in their hometown of New Orleans, a Cowboy Mouth show is something everyone should experience at least once. Or Fred will track you down and kick your ass.

Watch Cowboy Mouth

48. Tinariwen – Lincoln Hall: Desert blues from Mali. How cool is that? Too cool. As in so cool, that it’s best left for playing at home or on your iPod while you chill out. These guys are good, but it’s not much of a stage show. You know when you go to a restaurant and get a meal and you’re like, hey, I could have whipped this up at home in 20 minutes and saved myself $20…. that’s Tinariwen.

Watch Tinariwen

49. Robyn – Riv: Sorry, I’m a sucker for bad dance music from the last century. I was shocked to see Robyn at Pitchfork last year since I only knew her from her hit back in 1997 and was completely unaware of her big comeback. Mostly because I’m not gay. But I’m questioning that since I’m apparently I’ve been the only straight man in the crowd at her last two shows. Not that there’s anything wrong with that….

Watch Robyn

50. British Sea Power – Lincoln Hall: I like these guys. The music was good. The songs are good. It was good. I wasn’t blown away. I want to be blown away. I know not every band can be and EF-5 tornado, but at least give me enough of a breeze that my hair gets a little messed up. You’ve got the world “Power” in your name, fer crissake!

Watch BSP

Top Shows 2011: 51 thru 63

51. Ezra Furman & the Harpoons – Subterranean: Not sure how this show fell out of the top 50! Ezra was one of the more likeable frontmen, the songs were catchy and his band was solid. Maybe because it was an all ages show. Which meant that I have t-shirts older than some of the girls who were there, and there were more than a few dispshit frat boys who thought it was a PBR drinking contest instead of a show.

Watch Ezra

52. Southern Culture on the Skids – Old Town School: I heard SCOTS put on a good show but this did not seem like the best venue for it. Old Town is perfect for the gentle musings of a Suzanne Vega, not for throwing fried chicken. I went anyway and I was right. Which should come as no surprise to those who know me. Even though they are classified as a semi-novelty act (I found a whoopee cushion on my seat), I was impressed with their musicianship and catalog. It was no barn dance (unless they play surf music at barn dances), but I still managed to have a good time.


53. Jeff Beck & Imelda May – Cadillac Palace: Argh. I respect Jeff Beck. He’s really damn good in case you didn’t know. But it’s still not the kind of music I can listen to all afternoon at home, you know, like White Zombie. So a couple years ago he toured with Beth Hart and I went, thinking she might bring something new to his music, but she only did a handful of songs and I wanted to punch him in the face. And that wasn’t very nice of me. This year he toured with another favorite, Imelda May, so I decided to go again. This time I was full ready for a Jeff Beck show with a hint of Imelda and thyme, but it was all Imelda and her band with Beck basically an added guitarist. Good stuff, but I wanted a Beck show. Not two turntables and a microphone, but Jeff Beck, you moron. I’d never punch Imelda in the face, but I was still a tad disappointed and would likely express it to her in the form of a haiku.

Watch Jeff & Imelda

54. Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Old Town School: Damn, these guys sound amazing live, but as I write this I’m realizing that most of this world music stuff I’m seeing has been a tad disappointing. Not musically, but performance-wise. I don’t think I’m so shallow that I need you to start the club on fire like Great White, but surprise me a bit. Don’t make me feel like I’m sitting on my couch at home watching a DVD. Go crazy… I promise we won’t revoke your visa. We let the Sex Pistols stick around, after all.

Watch LBM

55. Shelby Lynne – Lincoln Hall: I walked in and found chairs on the floor of Lincoln Hall and in my best Tom Hanks voice from A League of Their Own I stated, “There’s no sitting at Lincoln Hall!” And then I took my seat. Shelby has an amazing voice, one of the best I heard this year, but, jeez, lighten up, Francis. I know life hasn’t been easy, but I use music as an escape from my own pathetic life and don’t need to be depressed about yours, too. Actually, the record is really damn good… I’m just angry that I’m not sophisticated enough to reconcile the beauty of the vocals with the raw sadness of some of the lyrics. That said, I’d totally see her again, so maybe this should be higher…

Watch Shelby

56. Booker T – Old Town School: I’ve seen him a few times before and it’s an enjoyable show. He’s a legend, full of talent, and the sound of that Hammond B-3 is literally music to my ears under his conservatorship. But once you see his show, experience that history, gain a full appreciation for his status; I’m not sure you need to see it again. Like Mardi Gras. Everyone should go once: Get blasted, throw beads, get naked, piss in an alley, make out with a stranger and wake up in the pokey with a fresh tattoo of Meat Loaf (the singer) on your back. Wow, that was fun, but I’m not sure I need to do that again.

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57. Monte Montgomery – Fitzgeralds: Oh, Monte, it pains me to see you down here. It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve seen you so many times and adore your playing, your humor, your gentle smile… oops, did I say that out loud? And your band is one of the best I’ve seen on the road. It was an impressive set. Maybe I was tired. Maybe it was because it was the second night you had to spend in Berwyn. But I wasn’t feeling the energy that I normally do. I’ll be back. And we’ll have mindblowing make up sex.

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58. Cold War Kids – Metro: I like the band name. I like the tunes. They definitely have a unique sound. I was excited to snag a couple tickets to their Lolla aftershow. So why did I leave the show thinking, “I should probably finish laundry when I get home.”

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59. Suzanne Vega – SPACE: I was on the fence for her show last year but went and was pleasantly surprised. She was likeable, her catalog was solid, and it was interesting hearing some of the tunes in a live setting. So when she came back to town this year, I was there. And bored. Silly. And annoyed by the crowd. Not because they were doing anything annoying, but they were just sitting there drinking their wine, wearing their sweaters and looking self-important because they were at a Suzanne Vega show. I know that’s probably not reality, but it was my reality that night and I can get in a weird place sometimes. But that experience did lead me to stop at the Double Door on the way home and see one of the best shows of the year, so I guess she came to town and served her purpose in that respect.

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60. Leon Redbone – Old Town School: I went to this one out of curiosity. Curiosity satisfied. He was charming, talented, and it was cool in an extreme retro way. The reading lamp was a nice touch.

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61. Richard Buckner – Schubas: After the Heartless Bastards show, someone had free tickets to the following Richard Buckner show. It’s music, it’s free, and what else am I going to do? Go home and practice drawing free hand maps of Minnesota? Try to create new recipes using that can of peaches in light syrup that’s been sitting in my cupboard for about four years? It was a solo show with fuzzy, looped guitar riffs, suggestive of a dark movie soundtrack, with trance like vocals mourning over the dirgeful noise. I liked it, but it got a little monotonous toward the end.

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62. Marcia Ball – Old Town School: I’m down with the boogie-woogie piano and the R&B influences and the whole Austin music scene and was really looking forward to seeing Ms. Ball. She looked grand, sitting behind her keyboard, casually sitting with one leg crossed over the other, gently rocking to keep time, while her fingers flew across the keys with the efficiency of a Japanese auto factory. But that was the problem. It was too polished. It didn’t seem risky and lost any sense of rawness that kind of music should have. I didn’t feel like I might trip and fall on the serrated edge of the melody, requiring a trip to the emergency room but making for a great story for years to come. Instead, I just felt like I had been handed a butter knife and asked Marcia to pass me a dinner roll.

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63. Cedric Watson – Old Town School: I spent a lot of time in New Orleans after Katrina, and I loved being able to take a walk down Bourbon Street after dinner on any weeknight and wandering into whatever random bar had Zydeco sounds leaking into the street. In those bars, I would, without fail, find a group of musicians who looked like they were having the time of their lives, whether playing an accordion, a washboard, guitar, bass or drums. The crowd, mostly local, also seemed to be living life, dancing with each other only to share the experience of the music they were feeling with another. I guess I wanted to recreate that feeling when I went to this show. Cedric was damn good, but it wasn’t the same. A trip to New Orleans is in order.

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