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

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