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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ranking every band I saw live in 2008, from 1-120

This year I saw a personal record 120 bands, and it’s time to rank them all.

1 Metallica, Bonnaroo, June 13
I am not a metalhead by any means. The only Metallica CD I own is the black album. But there was no denying their might at Bonnaroo, where they ruled with a mix of their biggest hits and lesser-known favorites. The 1-2 punch of “One” and “Enter Sandman” was an amazing display of brute force to close the set, as was the encore of “Seek and Destroy.” This was a great band at the very top of its game.

2 Black Keys, New American Music Union, August 8
The Akron blues-rock duo created an insane amount of noise and mayhem and blew everyone else out of the water at NAMU. They mellowed out briefly for a cover of Captain Beefheart's "I'm Glad," and then it was back to the face-melting solos. I'd seen the Black Keys once before and wasn't impressed, but this time they absolutely killed.

3 Sigur Ros, Bonnaroo, June 14
Sigur Ros played most of their new album, bringing out a mariachi band at one point on “Sé Lest.” Seeing “Gobbledigook” live for the first time was great - the pulsing, tribal beat really brought the song to life. The quiet beauty of the band’s music came out in the hills of Tennessee at 1:30 in the morning.

4 Kanye West, Lollapalooza, August 3
Kanye closed out Lolla in memorable fashion, performing with a live band and backup singers, and the electric guitars made the dark, moody “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” frighteningly intense. “Put On” was one of the most mind-blowing moments of the festival, Kanye saluting his hometown of Chicago with fury and sincerity.

5 Gogol Bordello, Bonnaroo, June 14
Possibly the festival’s most electrifying show. For 90 minutes, the zany gypsy punks bounced around the stage, beat the hell out of their drums, rocked the violin and accordion, and showed everybody a good time.

6 Avett Brothers, Point State Park, June 21
The Avett Brothers’ high-energy bluegrass-punk was easily the highlight of this summer’s Arts Fest. It’s thrilling when I don’t know any of a band’s songs but they still leave me wanting more. (Needless to say, I’ve since caught up on their earlier work.) The fact that it was a free show just made it that much better.

7 Okkervil River, Lollapalooza, August 2
Okkervil’s live show is phenomenal. The spontaneity between Will Sheff and his bandmates and the way they played off each other was great to witness. Sheff’s passionate delivery took the band’s best storytelling tracks like “Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe” and “The President’s Dead” to another level, proving (as if we didn't already know) that Okkervil River are one of the more exciting bands in rock these days.

8 New Pornographers, Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead, April 12
My first New Porns show was a treat thanks to Neko Case, whose wonderful voice was the star of the show on “These are the Fables” and “Stacked Crooked.” AC Newman was also in fine form, leading an ass-kicking cover of ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down.” “The Bleeding Heart Show” was a glorious show closer.

9 Vampire Weekend, Bonnaroo, June 12
"We're a jam band, we just play really short songs," said singer Ezra Koenig. "Oxford Comma," "A-Punk," "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa"... pretty much every song they played sounded terrific. "M79" rocked even without the strings. Best show of the first night of Bonnaroo.

10 !!!, Bonnaroo, June 13
Just like last year at Lollapalooza, !!! delivered an insane dance rock show. Singer Nic Offer did his hysterical gyrating and crazy-man dancing, and they closed on a high with one of their best, “Heart of Hearts.”

11 Gogol Bordello, Lollapalooza, August 1
The only reason this show ranks lower than their Bonnaroo performance is that the Lolla set was 30 minutes shorter. It was just as intense, and the fans knew all the words to every song. A searing performance in the scorching heat.

12 Elvis Costello, Post-Gazette Pavilion, July 28
Elvis rocked hard and made the most out of his 45 minutes as the Police’s opening act. He dueted with Sting on “Alison” and closed his set by indulging the crowd’s unspoken wish to hear “(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”

13 The Go! Team, Lollapalooza, August 1
The colorful British ensemble perfectly replicated their lively dance-pop tracks from 2007’s Proof of Youth like “Grip Like a Vice” and “The Wrath of Marcie.” The Go! Team’s singer Ninja gripped the crowd like an overzealous aerobics instructor, providing dance moves and encouraging audience participation.

14 Chromeo, Lollapalooza, August 3
These Canadians are the coolest dorks on the planet, as evidenced by the combination of pre-recorded electronic elements and live guitars and keys, with late ‘80s-style dance music and sleazy love songs that had fans at the MySpace stage dancing their asses off.

15 Okkervil River, Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead, April 12
Okkervil was supporting the New Porns here, and this was one of the better performances I’ve witnessed from an opening act. The band brought the seated crowd to its feet and managed to talk the audience into participating in a sing-along on the emotional closer, "Westfall."

16 !!!, Rex Theatre, July 22
Playing in Pittsburgh for the first time in several years, !!! provided a nonstop dance party from start to finish. Though the crowd was smaller than anticipated (maybe 300 people tops), the band still gave its all. Which means singer Nic Offer climbing onto the speakers, two (and sometimes three) drummers pounding away, and Shannon Funchess shaking her sizable booty all over the stage.

17 Solomon Burke, Bonnaroo, June 15
Seated on a custom-made throne, the 68-year-old Rock N Roll Hall of Famer belted out hits of his own and a medley of "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" and "Mustang Sally," dedicated to his fallen friends Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, and Bo Diddley.

18 Girl Talk, Lollapalooza, August 3
Girl Talk’s parties keep getting wilder. He brought out giant balloons and toilet paper cannons to accompany his mash-ups. Being on a small, crowded side stage facilitated lots of sweating and dancing, and the ending was classic, as he surfed the crowd in an inflatable raft to Journey’s “Faithfully.”

19 Iron & Wine, Bonnaroo, June 14
Finally, a much-hyped artist lives up to his billing. Samuel Beam played much of his recent album The Shepherd’s Dog, and impressed with beautiful, poignant words and melodies.

20 Rage Against the Machine, Lollapalooza, August 2
Rage owned Grant Park, rocking like it was 1996 and they were in their prime. Singer Zach de la Rocha was a commanding presence, and Tom Morello’s shredding was a sight to behold. As might have been expected, de la Rocha got political, claiming, “It’s our very government that is the terrorist organization we’ve been hearing about.” But mostly, Rage let their music do the talking.

21 Fiery Furnaces, Bonnaroo, June 13
I don’t know how they so effortlessly play their intricate, complex songs
22 Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Bonnaroo, June 15
Started off very mellow but kicked into high gear as the set wore on
23 The Police, Post-Gazette Pavilion, July 28
A highly-percussive “Wrapped Around Your Finger” was the best moment
24 Flogging Molly, Lollapalooza, August 3
We loved when singer Dave King dedicated a song to himself
25 Amanda Palmer, Mr. Small’s, November 29
Entertaining show, and her voice sounded as strong as I’ve ever heard it
26 John Vanderslice, Andy Warhol Museum, April 11
Offbeat, captivating show that moved into the lobby for an unplugged encore
27 The Hold Steady, Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead, Nov 13
America’s bar band triumphed, even in a dry venue
28 St. Vincent, Andy Warhol Museum, February 25
Annie Clark’s quirky songs sounded great, thanks in part to her terrific band

29 CSS, Lollapalooza, August 1
“Alala” and “Rat is Dead” offered the energy we were expecting
30 Radiohead, Lollapalooza, August 1
Still good because it’s Radiohead, but they're capable of so much more
31 Holy Fuck, Lollapalooza, August 1
Slowly built up “Lovely Allen” into a massive climax
32 Iron & Wine, Lollapalooza, August 3
Exquisite guitar noodling at the end of “Upward Over the Mountain”
33 Cobra Starship, Warped Tour, July 29
Their sassy pop was a “Guilty Pleasure” on Warped Tour
34 Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Lollapalooza, August 2
She invited a young man onstage and taught him some dance moves
35 MGMT, Bonnaroo, June 12
Extended jam of “The Handshake” followed by “Electric Feel” was great
36 World/Inferno Friendship Society, Belvedere’s, September 23
Jack Terricloth almost hit the ceiling while crowd surfing

37 Tokyo Police Club, Mr. Small’s, April 10
Shortest encore in history – a spirited, 2-minute “Cheer it On”
38 Nicole Atkins & the Sea, Lollapalooza, August 3
Her strong voice was matched by her delightful personality
39 The National, Lollapalooza, August 3
Made sure to point out that “Mr. November” was not dedicated to McCain
40 Matt & Kim, William Pitt Union, November 21
Brooklyn indie pop superduo was fired up for the last show of their tour
41 Nine Inch Nails, Lollapalooza, August 3
“Discipline” and “March of the Pigs” were strong
42 Panic at the Disco, Tower City Amphitheater, May 16
I don’t think the kids knew what to make of their new Beatles sound
43 Ghostland Observatory, Bonnaroo, June 14
Glow sticks, laser lights, and a 3 am dance-rock party
44 MSTRKRFT, Bonnaroo, June 13
One of the better DJ sets I’ve seen at a festival

45 Gnarls Barkley, New American Music Union, August 9
Cee-Lo was dancing up a storm until he got winded
46 Dave Matthews Band, Post-Gazette Pavilion, May 31
Way too many ballads, and not enough solos from Boyd or Tim Reynolds
47 Kanye West, Bonnaroo, June 14
It was amazing to watch the sun rise at 5 am during his show
48 Chris Rock, Bonnaroo, June 13
Tore up the presidential candidates, especially Hillary
49 Raconteurs, New American Music Union, August 9
All four members brought their own talents, but Jack White dominated
50 MIA, Bonnaroo, June 13
Most crowded festival tent ever; I wish I could’ve seen the stage
51 Tegan & Sara, Bonnaroo, June 13
Played a nice version of "Nineteen" dedicated to Cyndi Lauper
52 Okkervil River, Mr. Small’s, October 9
Didn’t quite measure up to the other two times I saw them in ‘08

53 Shwayze, Warped Tour, July 29
Hilariously stupid rhymes about weed and women
54 Explosions in the Sky, Lollapalooza, August 2
Instrumentals don’t typically play well at festivals, but they persevered
55 Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Bonnaroo, June 14
Sassy old school soul, Sharon will always show you a good time
56 Nicole Atkins & the Sea, Bonnaroo, June 12
Cover of Patti Smith’s “Pissin’ in a River” was powerful
57 Say Anything, Warped Tour, July 29
Emo’s poet laureate, Max Bemis, delivered on “Shiksa”
58 Bob Schneider, Diesel, May 10
One of the most under-appreciated singer-songwriters around
59 Best Fwends, William Pitt Union, November 21
There was a lot of screaming, and silly costumes, and somehow it rocked
60 Against Me!, Warped Tour, July 29
Solid performance, but they feel so 2007

61 DeVotchKa, Diesel, May 21
"How it Ends" was majestic, Nick Urata's vocals soaring over exquisite strings
62 Basia Bulat, Diesel, May 21
Reminds me of Regina Spektor with an autoharp, or Feist with a smile on her face
63 The Roots, New American Music Union, August 8
“The Seed 2.0” was a letdown, played at warp speed and without any hip hop elements
64 Motion City Soundtrack, Tower City Amphitheater, May 16
“This is for Real” and “It Had to be You” are quality
65 Mindless Self Indulgence, Mr. Small’s, April 30
I can’t justify why I like this band on an intellectual level; I just do
66 Grizzly Bear, Lollapalooza, August 1
Half the songs were engaging, half were uninteresting
67 Pennywise, Warped Tour, July 29
I didn’t realize they were named after a monster in a Stephen King novel
68 White Rabbits, Diesel, January 16
Not as energetic as usual, but most of the band members were sick
69 The Whigs, Lollapalooza, August 3
Their powerful guitar riffs and catchy melodies packed a real punch
70 Eli “Paperboy” Reed & The True Loves, Lollapalooza, August 3
Nifty ‘60s R&B sound with a big band
71 Gnarls Barkley, Lollapalooza, August 3
Unfortunately didn’t get to watch much of their set

72 Spoon, New American Music Union, August 9
Hard to dislike, but there’s nothing exceptional about them either
73 Mike Doughty, Mr. Small’s, April 13
Mike was pretty good even though he yelled at some girl and called her a cunt
74 Drive-By Truckers, Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead, November 13
If they’d stopped after 30 minutes it would’ve been a much better show
75 The Duke Spirit, New American Music Union, August 9
Sexy garage rock fronted by harmonica-playing vixen Liela Moss
76 Steel Train, Bonnaroo, June 13
Hand-clapping rock and power pop, and a decent cover of “1979”
77 Vermillion Lies, Mr. Small’s, November 29
I wish I’d seen more of them… “Global Warming” was hilarious
78 Motion City Soundtrack, Warped Tour, July 29
It’s too hard to hear the synths when they play live
79 Jack Johnson, Bonnaroo, June 14
Decent music, but I wonder how in the world he got so popular
80 The Academy Is…, Warped Tour, July 29
Didn’t hit their stride until the end
81 Innerpartysystem, Lollapalooza, August 2
Their emo-electro was the early highlight on the second day of Lolla

82 Does it Offend You, Yeah?, Lollapalooza, August 2
At least the vocoder-heavy “Doomed Now” lived up to its potential
83 Ladytron, Bonnaroo, June 15
If you’ve heard the first 30 seconds of a Ladytron song, you’ve heard the entire thing
84 Cat Power, Bonnaroo, June 14
She turned the jazzy “Lived in Bars” into a strange up-tempo freakout
85 B.B. King, Bonnaroo, June 14
Great to see the 82-year-old legend while he can still rock
86 Dierks Bentley, Lollapalooza, August 2
The only country act I saw this year
87 Phantom Planet, Tower City Amphitheater, May 16
Gotta love that O.C. theme song, if nothing else
88 Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet, Bonnaroo, June 14
Bela Fleck is the undisputed banjo king
89 Kid Sister, Lollapalooza, August 3
She capably brought the hip hop but came off like a lesser M.I.A.
90 Icy Demons, Rex Theatre, July 22
Brought the funk with tracks like “Crittin' Down to Baba's”
91 Foreign Born, Andy Warhol Museum, February 25
Part spacey, part jam band, part sensitive acoustic folk rock

92 Duffy, Lollapalooza, August 1
You call that soul? She sounds like a cross between Paris Hilton and Porky Pig
93 Wednesday 13, Rex Theatre, July 16
Interesting goth metal show
94 Jakob Dylan & the Gold Mountain Rebels, Bonnaroo, June 15
Played just one Wallflowers track, a slowed-down “3 Marlenas”
95 Willie Nelson, Bonnaroo, June 13
Willie’s a living legend, but at this point he’s mailing it in
96 Gym Class Heroes, Warped Tour, July 29
Can this band ever produce a hit that doesn’t have Patrick Stump singing the chorus?
97 Katy Perry, Warped Tour, July 29
Not much substance beyond “I Kissed a Girl”
98 Brazilian Girls, Lollapalooza, August 3
Fun to sing along to “pussy pussy pussy marijuana”

99 MGMT, Lollapalooza, August 2
Bored everyone silly with a shockingly joyless performance – biggest letdown of Lolla
100 Mayday Parade, Warped Tour, July 29
I like their studio stuff but I don’t even remember seeing them at Warped
101 Pfunkt, William Pitt Union, November 21
Solo rapper at least gets points for enthusiasm and energy
102 NASA, New American Music Union, August 8
DJ duo spliced together songs, but not as well as Gregg Gillis
103 What Made Milwaukee Famous, Lollapalooza, August 3
Nothing set them apart from countless other indie rock acts
104 The Builders & the Butchers, Mr. Small’s, November 29
Easily the least-interesting opener Amanda Palmer has ever had
105 Mates of State, Lollapalooza, August 1
I didn’t have the patience for the easygoing, relaxed pop Mates of State were serving up
106 Broken Social Scene, Bonnaroo, June 15
Strip me of blogger cred if you want; I just can’t get into this band
107 The Birthday Massacre, Mr. Small’s, April 30
At least they earn eye candy points for being attractive
108 State Radio, Post-Gazette Pavilion, May 31
Wasn’t terribly impressed by Dave Matthews’ opening act

109 Aimee Mann, Bonnaroo, June 15
Very disappointing. She’s not bringing a lot to the table when it comes to live performing
110 The Walkmen, Diesel, January 16
I don’t get the acclaim for these guys; I find them boring
111 Stephaniesid, Bonnaroo, June 12
A mediocre late-night show on a smaller stage
112 The Hush Sound, Tower City Amphitheater, May 16
I’ve seen them twice now, and I’ve had my fill, thank you very much
113 Crooked Fingers, Mr. Small’s, November 29
I’m sorry, this band does nothing for me
114 Bob Dylan, New American Music Union, August 9
He doesn't even sing anymore; he just talks the lyrics, in completely unintelligible fashion
115 Umphrey’s McGee, Bonnaroo, June 13
I don’t know how anyone can like this shit unless they’re high (but maybe that’s the point)
116 The Panderers, Mr. Small’s, April 12
First band Mike Doughty signed to his label… oops!
117 Dark Star Orchestra, Bonnaroo, June 13
Opened with the least-inspiring cover of “Stir it Up” in history
118 Hollowboy, Mr. Small’s, April 20
Very lame openers for Mindless Self Indulgence
119 Tiny Masters of Today, New American Music Union, August 8
Teenage brother-sister punk duo has great potential - I’ll leave it at that
120 Spanish Prisoners, Andy Warhol Museum, April 11
John Vanderslice’s openers were awful. They offered rambling, painfully boring banter that never led anywhere. Their songs were mostly quiet, which made their laughable lyrics stand out even more. The singer doesn’t have a singer’s voice; it’s too weak and colorless. The worst song was the one about living in NYC, which they wrote right after moving there, which made them come across as the biggest posers ever. ‘Hey, let’s move to Brooklyn and write a song about living there, so we can act like we’re actually from there and pretend we’re part of some scene…’

Check out last year’s list:
Ranking every band I saw live in 2007 from 1-101

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Mae Shi - HLLLYH

I love December, because bloggers make their end-of-year lists of the best songs and albums of the previous 12 months, and I inevitably discover some music I'd missed.

My best discovery this year is the album HLLLYH by L.A. rock outfit The Mae Shi. "Run to Your Grave" is the song that stands out, with its catchy hook and walls of vocalists singing together, but the entire album is a solid collection of pop songs with a punk edge.

The lyrics are Christian in nature, which is not normally my bag, but the music is so good it doesn't matter. Pitchfork aptly described the sound as a "caffeinated anxiousness."

The Mae Shi has an insanely high turnover ratio among its membership. I'm not sure what's up with that, but hopefully the lineup remains intact to produce another record as good as HLLLYH.

MP3: The Mae Shi - Pwnd (from HLLLYH)

Video: The Mae Shi - Run to Your Grave

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The lowdown on my first 200 (and one) shows

This post may be of interest to no one other than me, but blogging is a somewhat narcissistic endeavor, so here goes...

Last month's Matt & Kim show was the 200th concert I've ever seen (I've since attended a 201st), and because I'm into analyzing numbers and statistics, I had to break it down. So, here goes.

A couple notes:
-I only count national acts. Including local bands would be a cheap way to artificially build up the concert count.
-I count massive multi-day festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza as one concert, even though in reality it's much more than that.

Concerts attended: 201
Totals bands seen: 537

-My first 5 concerts were country shows my grandmother took me to as a kid – 3 Lee Greenwood shows & 2 Oak Ridge Boys.
-The first concert I went to of my own choice was the legendary triple bill of Spin Doctors, Cracker, and the Gin Blossoms in 1994.

16 - Dave Matthews (15 Dave Matthews Band, 1 Dave Matthews & Friends)
8 - Mike Doughty
5 - Radiohead
5 – Amanda Palmer (1 solo, 4 with Dresden Dolls)
4 - Sophie B. Hawkins
4 - Motion City Soundtrack
4 - Lee Greenwood
3 - Patti Smith
3 - Sigur Ros
3 - !!!
3 - Damien Rice
3 - Okkervil River
3 - Nine Inch Nails
3 - Nicole Atkins
3 - Ben Folds (2 solo, 1 with Ben Folds Five)
3 - DeVotchKa
3 - White Rabbits
3 - Fall Out Boy
3 - The Academy Is…
3 - Pete Yorn
3 - Sondre Lerche
3 - My Chemical Romance
3 - New Found Glory

-I went through my frat boy DMB phase in college. They would come to Pittsburgh twice a year, and I'd see them both times, so that's how my DMB concert count got so high.
-Since I started going to shows in the late '90s, Radiohead has not played Pittsburgh, so I've had to travel to see them – twice to Cleveland, once to NYC, once to Bonnaroo and once to Lollapalooza.
-The rest of the list isn’t particularly reflective of my favorite bands. For instance, I’ve never paid to see Motion City Soundtrack – they showed up twice on the Warped Tour and twice as an opening act for somebody else.


35 – Post-Gazette Pavilion
17 – Mr. Small’s Theatre
16 – Point State Park
13 – Club Café
9 – Bryce Jordan Center
7 – Chevrolet Amphitheater
6 – Club Laga
6 – Rex Theatre
6 – Mellon Arena
6 – AJ Palumbo Center
5 – Byham Theater
5 – Diesel
4 - Metropol
4 – Ponderosa Park
3 – Andy Warhol Museum
3 – Madison Square Garden
3 – Hammerstein Ballroom

-I worked security at Post-Gazette Pavilion for 9 shows in the summer of 2001 - that’s when I really got the concert bug. I quit when they told us everyone had to work Ozzfest. I attended as a fan instead.
-I can’t say I have a favorite venue, but I used to like Metropol and Club Laga. Club Café would be my favorite venue, but since Jon Rinaldo stopped booking the place it’s been shit. I’ve only seen two shows there in the past 3 years.

166 Pennsylvania
15 New York
12 Ohio
2 California
2 Illinois
2 Tennessee
1 Oregon
1 West Virginia

-All 15 of my New York shows were in NYC, 14 in Manhattan and 1 in Brooklyn (Mike Doughty at North Six.)
-In terms of cities Pittsburgh ranks first with 108 shows, followed by Burgettstown, home of the Post-Gazette Pavilion (35), then New York City (15), State College PA (14) and Cleveland (5).

Number of shows I saw for free: 58
19 of these were free outdoor concerts. Of the other 39 times where I managed to not pay, I was on the guest list 23 times; was given a ticket or had a ticket purchased for me 14 times; won a ticket once; and simply didn’t pay once (this was a Mike Doughty show outside WYEP studios, where I just stood nearby and listened.)

Number of shows seen outdoors: 82
I’ve been extremely fortunate weather-wise. It’s only rained at a couple of these. The worst was an Aerosmith show I worked, in which there was a torrential downpour, but I was inside the pavilion. I also saw KISS, John Mayer, and Metallica in the rain. I don’t remember any other shows where there was more than a sprinkle. Amazing.

Number of shows I attended alone: 34
The first show I saw alone was David Gray. I almost didn't go because I was embarrassed to be by myself. But it was an incredible show. After that, I decided I would never let the lameness of my friends keep me from attending a show I really wanted to see.

Number of times the band canceled: 2
I went to more than 150 shows before I experienced my first cancellation. CSS canceled at Lollapalooza, and Robert Randolph canceled his free show at the Arts Fest last year.

Number of shows I fell asleep at: 2
Brendan Benson and Beth Orton, both snoozefests (literally).

Number of shows I got drunk at: 1
I rarely drink at shows. I got into the spirit by tailgating before the Dave Matthews Band show in 2006, but that's pretty much it.

Most expensive ticket I bought: $75 (Dixie Chicks @ Mellon Arena)
This show was sold out for weeks, but the day before the show, a few seats opened up, including one in the front row, so I had to jump on it. I got to shake Martie’s hand during the show. They also made a DVD of this tour, and I keep looking for myself in it, but I don’t see me. I swear I must be on it somewhere.

Earliest show:
The Switches, started at 11:30 am, Lollapalooza 2007

Latest show:
Kanye West, started at 4:30 am, ended at 5:30 am, Bonnaroo 2008

Longest shows:
3 hours – Dave Matthews Band @ Hersheypark
3 hours – Bruce Springsteen @ Mellon Arena

Longest encore:
50 mins – Bruce Springsteen @ Mellon Arena
45 mins – Radiohead @ Bonnaroo
40 mins – Wilco @ Point State Park

Shortest encore:
2 mins – Tokyo Police Club (played 1 song)
2 mins – Polyphonic Spree (did not play a song, just begged people to buy merch)

Show I most can't believe I went to:
Insane Clown Posse & 2 Live Crew @ Bomb Shelter, New Castle PA, 2003

Show I have absolutely no memory of attending:
Maroon 5 & The Thrills @ AJ Palumbo Center, 2005
It's on my list, but I don't remember where I sat, who I went with, what songs they played, nothing. I don't even remember being there. According to my notes from that night, “The best part of this show was seeing the videos played between bands – Sondre Lerche, Phoenix, and Loretta Lynn with Jack White.”

Largest crowd:
~75,000 – Radiohead @ Bonnaroo
~75,000 – Radiohead @ Lollapalooza
~60,000 – Pearl Jam @ Lollapalooza
~60,000 – Metallica @ Bonnaroo
~45,000 – Dave Matthews Band @ Three Rivers Stadium

Smallest crowd:
20 - Brian VanderArk @ Club Cafe
35 - Sophie B. Hawkins @ Rex Theatre
40 – American Princes @ Garfield Artworks

Artists I've met at/after shows:

-Conor Oberst
-Pete Yorn
-Dresden Dolls
-TV On the Radio
-Okkervil River
-Phantom Planet
-Patti Smith
-Rufus Wainwright
-Damien Rice
-Mike Doughty
-Stefan Lessard of Dave Matthews Band
-Weird Al Yankovic
-Sondre Lerche
-Sophie B. Hawkins
-Jill Sobule
-Johnny Hickman of Cracker

I kept sending the picture of me and Conor Oberst to Blender Magazine, in the hopes they'd run it in that section where they print photos of fans with singers, but they never did. Those bastards!

Rock N Roll Hall of Famers I’ve seen:

-Patti Smith
-Bob Dylan
-Bruce Springsteen
-Paul Simon
-Bonnie Raitt
-Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
-Elvis Costello
-Buddy Guy
-Lynyrd Skynyrd
-Black Sabbath
-B.B. King
-Solomon Burke
-The Police

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I take it back: Crystal Castles belong in the top 10

Last week I posted my top 10 CDs of 2008, with the disclaimer that I was uncomfortable posting so early because the year wasn't over. Sure enough, my hesitation has been justified.

Over the past couple of weeks I've revisited the self-titled release from Toronto electronic act Crystal Castles, and it's better than I initially realized.

MP3: Crystal Castles - Courtship Dating (from Crystal Castles)

One other note about my top 10 list - I've discovered that some of my favorite Jay Brannan songs, which I thought were on his CD Goddamned, actually aren't. (This is what I get for not purchasing the physical CD.) So, I've had to drop that disc down a few pegs.

The revised list of my favorite CDs of 2008:
1 Sigur Ros, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
2 Girl Talk, Feed the Animals
3 MGMT, Oracular Spectacular
4 Amanda Palmer, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?
5 Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles
6 Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend
7 TV On the Radio, Dear Science
8 Lykke Li, Youth Novels
9 Jay Brannan, Goddamned
10 Metro Station, Metro Station

Monday, December 15, 2008

Elsewhere in blogworld...

It's that time when I give shout outs to others in the blogging universe.

Under the Rotunda recently talked with We Are Scientists.

Muzzle of Bees posts a review of the CSS concert in Chicago.

The Pop Eye posted the top 20 songs of 2008... a couple of these will be making my list as well.

Music for Kids Who Can't Read Good posts part 1 of a 2-part best-of list.

Finally, a word about two blogs I recently added to my blogroll:

Muruch writes a lot of interesting reviews, on books as well as music. Her most recent post is the top 21 albums of 2008.

AW Music is a Toronto-based music blog with lots of writers with all different kinds of tastes. What first caught my eye was a Warped Tour review they posted. I am always happy when bloggers don't fear the mainstream!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

We had a time: Music from My So-Called Life

I recently got the DVD box set of My So-Called Life. I was a teenager when this show first aired. I watched about 10 minutes of one episode and didn't get into it. It was in a sucky time slot on Thursday nights. When it was canceled after one season and MTV began airing the show in reruns, that's when I got hooked.

I could relate to Angela's angst. It was amazing to see a show about teenagers that actually felt real. The dialogue wasn't cheesy. The storylines weren't cliched. I would watch the show on MTV, and when it ended and the credits rolled, I'd sit there dumbfounded, thinking, How could ABC have canceled this show?

When I saw Jared Leto's band 30 Seconds to Mars in concert a couple years ago, after their set they snuck out into the crowd and stood next to us for a few minutes to watch the next band. I kept thinking, how weird is it that all these years later, Jordan Catalano is standing next to me!

Along with Freaks & Geeks, My So-Called Life is my favorite drama in TV history. I'm still in awe at the writing and the acting when I watch it today.

Here are a handful of the more memorable songs featured in the series...

MP3: R.E.M. - Everybody Hurts
MP3: The Ramones - I Wanna Be Sedated
MP3: Violent Femmes - Blister in the Sun
MP3: Cranberries - Dreams
MP3: Jared Leto as Jordan Catalano - Red
MP3: Toad the Wet Sprocket - Fall Down

Monday, December 8, 2008

Top 10 albums of 2008

I usually wait until the last week of December to post my year-in-review lists, based on the logic that you should wait until the year is actually over before making these kind of declarations.

But this year I'm giving in to peer pressure and going up early. Here are my 10 favorite CDs of 2008:

1 Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, Sigur Ros
This record retained the beauty and majesty the quirky Icelanders are known for, while deftly adding a bit of mainstream accessibility, with a few up-tempo tracks and their first-ever song in English. This is mostly a joyous album, though that English song ("All Alright") shows they can still do melancholy as well as anyone.
Essential tracks: Inní mér syngur vitleysingur, Gobbledigook, Festival
Video link: Gobbledigook (live with Bjork)

2 Feed the Animals, Girl Talk
A mind-blowing mix of more than 300 songs spliced together for maximum dance party enjoyment. The moment where Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" meets Nine Inch Nails' "Wish" and MC Hammer's "2 Legit 2 Quit" is my favorite musical moment of 2008. And mad props to Mr. Gillis for including such delicious '80s pop tracks as "Young Turks," "In a Big Country" and "Jessie's Girl."
Essential tracks: Here's the Thing, Hands in the Air, Play Your Part (Pt. 2)
Video link: Here's the Thing (unofficial video)

3 Oracular Spectacular, MGMT
One of last year's best albums saw a proper release in 2008, with promotional appearances on Letterman and performing slots at Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. Ambitious, ironic, and playful, MGMT's psychedelic pop sounds both retro and futuristic at the same time.
Essential tracks: Electric Feel, Kids, Time to Pretend
Video link: Electric Feel

4 Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, Amanda Palmer
The Dresden Dolls singer is known for poignant ballads, and there are plenty of those here, but her solo album is more musically adventurous, augmenting her band's simple piano and drums sound with strings, bass, percussion, and horns. There are a number of different styles here, from the hard-rocking "Guitar Hero" to the lullaby duet with St. Vincent's Annie Clark.
Essential tracks: Oasis, Runs in the Family, Ampersand
Video link: Oasis

Goddamned, Jay Brannan
This is the first full-length from Brannan, first seen as Ceth in the John Cameron Mitchell film Shortbus. His writes with a witty, contemporary style ("You said physical chemistry between us was bad/Then why are you still responding to my Craigslist ad?"), and his angelic voice makes the CD an incredibly pleasing listen.
Essential tracks: Can't Have it All, Half-Boyfriend, A Death Waltz
Video link: Can't Have it All (live)

6 Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend
I resisted Vampire Weekend's hype at first but the record eventually grew on me. "We're a jam band, we just play really short songs," singer Ezra Koenig said at Bonnaroo, and he was right on the money. Borrowing from Afropop, reggae, and ska, among others, the preppy Columbia grads crafted a thoroughly satisfying pop record.
Essential tracks: M79, Oxford Comma, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
Video link: Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa

7 Dear Science, TV On the Radio
The innovative Brooklyn-ites push the envelope on Dear Science by being normal - or at least, more normal than they usually are. Lush strings and a simple melody make "Family Tree" a welcome departure, while "Red Dress" is funky and danceable, and "Dancing Choose" has verses racing by at hyperspeed. Yeah, on second thought, TVotR is still pretty fucking weird.
Essential tracks: Red Dress, Golden Age, Family Tree
Video link: Dancing Choose

8 Youth Novels, Lykke Li
The Swedish indie chanteuse's debut effort is a memorable one. The marriage of her delicate voice with simple arrangements works really well, and the more complex songs are just as good - the rhythmic "I'm Good, I'm Gone" proves to be one of the album's highlights.
Essential tracks: Let it Fall, I'm Good I'm Gone, Little Bit
Video link: Little Bit

9 Stay Positive, The Hold Steady
It's not as consistent as their last release, Boys and Girls in America, but Stay Positive has several highlights, starting with the raucous title track, while the harpsichord in "One for the Cutters" is an unexpected delight. Craig Finn's stories are as fascinating as ever. These guys continue to do blue collar rock 'n roll better than anyone.
Essential tracks: Stay Positive, Sequestered in Memphis, Constructive Summer
Video link: Sequestered in Memphis (live on Letterman)

10 Metro Station, Metro Station
Easily my biggest guilty pleasure of 2008. The lyrics are juvenile, but songs like "Kelsey" and "Control" represent disposable emo-pop at its best, with hooks out the wazoo and a heaping of synths that separates this band's sound from the rest of the teenybopper pack.
Essential tracks: Shake It, Kelsey, Control
Video link: Control

Other favorites:
Conor Oberst, Conor Oberst
Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles
For Emma Forever Ago, Bon Iver
Weezer (The Red Album), Weezer
Partie Traumatic, Black Kids
Third, Portishead

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Brand new Dixie Chicks song - Lucky Ones

Where do the Dixie Chicks go next? Having been banished from country music in 2004, they went pop with Taking the Long Way, which won a ton of Grammys but was, artistically speaking, an utter disaster (This review pretty much hit the nail on the head.)

Several months ago they put together a new song for the film Lucky Ones, but due to squabbling over licensing and such, the song was pulled from the soundtrack. Now, the track has been made public. Bad news: It sounds like the boring, hook-free fluff of their last record.

But judge for yourself:
MP3: Dixie Chicks - Lucky Ones

Thursday, December 4, 2008

2009 Grammy nominee reaction

The 2009 Grammy nominees have been announced, and while I could spend plenty of time bashing the selections, let's instead look at what the Academy got right this time.

M.I.A. Though it should've been nominated last year, MIA's "Paper Planes" takes a rightful place in the Record of the Year category. Since the rest of the nominees in that field are crap, I'll be pulling hard for her to win.

Radiohead. Though I still maintain In Rainbows is their weakest effort since the '90s, Radiohead scored five nominations (seven, if you want to count Best Boxed Set Package & Producer of the Year). They usually appear in only the Best Alternative category, so seeing them in Album of the Year and Best Rock Song is quite refreshing.

Lil Wayne. Wayne is clearly the Artist of the Year, so his 8 nominations are deserved.

Jason Mraz. The Academy played a cruel joke on him in 2004, when it asked him to be one of the artists who announced the nominations, which usually means that he's going to get nominated himself (he didn't). So it paid him overdue respect with a Song of the Year nod for "I'm Yours," the year's best chilled-out rock song.

Kathy Griffin. Her campaign to get a Grammy nomination worked! She's up for Best Comedy Album, and she has a pretty good shot at winning, though George Carlin has to be considered the odds on favorite right now.

Rufus Wainwright
. Another one to place in the "overdue recognition" category. I didn't even hear his album of Judy Garland songs, but he deserves the nomination because he's Rufus Wainwright.

Robyn. The Swedish dance artist returned to the scene in a big way and snagged a Best Dance Album nod, beating out Madonna. Konichiwa, bitches!

The Jonas Brothers. Why the hell not? They add some star power to the Best New Artist field. It would be embarrassing if they won, but don't worry, they won't - Duffy is all over that shit.

Slipknot. I love when Slipknot gets nominated, just because seeing them on the red carpet is hilarious.

Stephen Colbert. He's nominated against Sidney Poitier in the Best Spoken Word category, for I Am America (And So Can You!) Maybe he'll win this time, since his award show nemesis Jon Stewart (and Barry Manilow) aren't in the same category.

Alison Krauss & Robert Plant. Alison gets way too many Grammys - she's already won more than any female artist in history, and she'll likely add at least 3 or 4 more to her total. But Raising Sand was a very good album.

Weezer. They get no Grammy respect, I tell ya. But at least they snuck into the Best Music Video field, for "Pork N Beans." Maybe it was the Chris Crocker cameo that sealed the deal?

The full list of nominees in all 110 categories can be found here.