December 28, 2010

The Best Shows in 2010, Take One

This has been a big year for us: we launched in 2010.  We cut our teeth, got our first press passes, and successfully cultivated a following that includes very few, if any, of our actual friends.  We interviewed our favorite bands.  We were asked to cover shows, sat front row and stood backstage.  We geeked out facing opportunities that, prior to this year, we'd only dreamed of.  And so it's only fair for us to do a few best-ofs for 2010.

To start: a wrap up of best shows by score.  
And to be a little contrarian, I'm posting a top 15!  Because a top 20 is way too many, but a top ten leaves out some real contenders.  You'll notice that A. DAR climbed it's way out of the hell of my hatred, fielding two of the best shows of the year.  And B. There's no clear favorite venue in DC.  

It goes without saying that we couldn't catch everything, but here's the best of what we did (which numbered nearly 100 shows).  
It really has been an incredible year.  A couple of disclaimers: no band is included twice, nor are festivals, which will be highlighted in the take two. 

Wilco Review - Music Center at Strathmore - March 30, 2010 (9)
In total, Jeff et al played an incredible, 37 career-spanning song lineup in three mini-sets that ranged from face-melting electric tunes to an intimate, living-room-like acoustic set complete with standing lamps and upright basses. The lights dimmed at 8:13 PM and didn't come back up until 11:15.

New Pornographers - 9:30 Club - June 22, 2010 (8.8)
".. right before the show, it came up in conversation that there was no way we'd be completely satisfied, like an expensive dinner at a nice restaurant: full with the forced feeling of content that comes with spending money, but without genuine satiation.  Oh, and how wrong New Pornographers proved us to be.  The meal satisfied.

Belle and Sebastian - DAR - October 14, 2010 (8.6)
Fans and band have clearly aged together, from cynical to sentimental. Not hipsters, but intellectuals, music lovers and the in-betweens who appreciate thoughtful lyrics and purely pretty music.  And they showed and shared it by dancing: onstage, filling the aisles, swaying and bouncing at their seats in collective enjoyment.  It was a marvel.

The Avett Brothers - Pier Six - October 16, 2010 (8.4)
The Avetts took the stage a hair after 8PM and put up around two hours of foot-stomping, hand-pumping, hyphen-inducing country-rock... Just a fantastic experience.  I'm torn--part of me is happy the Avett's are seeing the success they deserve; the other part is angry that I have to share them with so many people now.  What's a music snob to do?

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - 9:30 Club - July 20, 2010 (8.4)
They start late.  Can't find Jade.  You can't decipher between the opener and the main event.  WHO CARES.  The bandmates have such chemistry on stage, you forget there are a million of them.  Anyone who can bring the crowd to their feet, then their rears (seated on a gross club venue floor) has quite a command and should be applauded.

Iron and Wine - Paramount Theatre (Charlottesville) - May 4, 2010 (8.4)
All this wonderful music, though admittedly a short set at about 1:15, peppered with colorful commentary from the usually silent singer.  Sam Beam embodies perfection in a singer-songwriter: he's what men want to be and women want to have.  It's easy to find yourself in his lyrics, emotionally... it's all about interpreting the metaphor.

Magnetic Fields - Lisner Auditorium - February 7, 2010 (8.2)
The quirky quality of this band doubles the entertainment value.  Merritt is almost a caricature of himself--no real interest in playing to the crowd, but chooses rather to express himself entirely through music, tics and all.  Claudia has moments of sparkle, too, but it's really Merritt's eccentricity that steals the show stage-wise.

Gayngs - Black Cat - October 5, 2010 (8)
Then there came Gayngs: two furry hats, one shark costume, one shirtless, one devil mask, one white tux, lots of shades, and Justin Vernon.  And two rotating spots on stage for bandmates taking a break to play the beer bottle.  Quantity equaled quality.  These neo-blue-eyed souls sang through a setlist encompassing their entire album, and a Sade cover.  

Megafaun - Black Cat Backstage - March 31, 2010 (8)
And last, but certainly not least (and if I could put more emphasis on that I would) was the encore.  An encore that in my history of showgoing has but a handful of rivals.  The gentlemen unplugged and proceeded to the middle of the crowd for the performance, which became a full-blown singalong. 

Arcade Fire w/ Spoon - Merriweather Post Pavilion - August 6, 2010 (8)
Arcade Fire came out swinging and never looked back.  While they opened with a one-two punch from the new record, they laid on the classics fairly thick.  Several Neighborhoods from Funeral and the peppier books from Neon Bible were all on the setlist, and all played superbly... Bottom line: the Arcade Fire is one of those bands you really must see.  Their energy and clear belief in their songs and performances inspire even the bros. 

11.  Lord He's Going Uptown
Justin Townes Earle - 9:30 Club - December 19, 2010 (8)
The substance abuse-addled JTE himself was absolutely delightful, speaking to the crowd about his recent battles with both candor and humor.  Booze, cocaine, and pills-- oh my!  JTE denied everything the audience may have read about his most recent incarceration post-Indianapolis green room destruction; everything, that is, except the drinking and destruction.... those two were true.  

The Hold Steady - 9:30 Club - October 4, 2010 (7.8)
A wall of vintage amps stacked six feet high, separated by a full-on rock kit complete with 40-inch gong; three Gibson solid-bodies, straps lowered, rock stance ready; stage devoid of glitz and glamor, only the band members and their instruments to focus on, and your focus is never tempted.  The lead singer owns the stage and all eyes fixate on him as the guitarists blast a well-worn riff.  And then Craig Finn sings... 

Wood Brothers - Jammin Java - March 18, 2010 (7.8)
It was so refreshing to be at a show that was all about the music. That's what these guys are, musicians - not actors, not icons, not the next 'it' band - musicians. There's no buzz about the Wood Brothers; there's no, "I discovered them first" hipster attitude. And I think that's what will make a band (and show) like this timeless. 

My Morning Jacket - Merriweather Post Pavilion - May 1, 2010 (7.8)
It was Kentucky Derby day, and Louisville's rock darlings were far from home... The boys came out strong with a fan favorite, "One Big Holiday" and the crowd responded, singing along through much of the song. After that there were more singing-alongs, white-dude fist pumps, and flip-flop shuffles than you could shake a stick at. And somehow it all worked. 

Vampire Weekend - DAR - April 3, 2010 (7.6)
I love how unapologetic the band is about, well, everything: the erudite lyrical references that half the hipsters have to google (you don't know who Jackson Crowther is, admit it)... I think aranciata > horchata, never had a Louis Vuitton (nor did my mother), and I give "a f**k about an oxford comma."  I cannot relate to their music at all.  But I sure as hell can dance to it, and sometimes, that's all a girl needs.


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