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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ranking every band I saw in 2009 from 1-86

It's time for my year-end recap of every band I saw live. In 2009, I traveled all over the country, so only a handful of these shows were in Pittsburgh. The upside of that traveling was that I saw a ton of bands that never made it to the Steel City.

1 Leonard Cohen, Rosemont Theatre, October 29
The 75-year-old Rock N Roll Hall of Famer was in fine form, performing for nearly three hours and playing all of his biggest hits, including a theatrical performance of the greatest song ever written, “Hallelujah.” When Cohen read poetry, the silence in the theater – no sound but Cohen’s deep, booming voice – was moving and powerful.

2 Flaming Lips, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 19
It was total sensory overload when the Lips closed out the Pitchfork Music Festival with confetti, giant balloons, strange costumes, and lots of great music. Wayne Coyne didn’t quite stick to his agreement that the show would be entirely by fan request, but he did plays the fans’ top four choices - "Yoshimi," "She Don't use Jelly," "Fight Test," and "Do You Realize?"

3 Jay-Z, All Points West, July 31
Jay-Z calls himself “the new Sinatra,” and he lived up to that billing with this show at the All Points West fest in New Jersey. A late replacement for the Beastie Boys, Jay opened with the Beasties’ “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” and performed “Izzo” to the backing track from the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” as a tribute to Michael.

4 Elvis Costello, Beale Street Music Festival, May 2
Elvis never fails to deliver a great performance. He threw himself completely into this Memphis weekend, playing most of his biggest hits during his own set, joining Los Lobos for a few songs of their set, and showing up at Sun Studios and conversing with surprised fans during a studio tour.

5 The Hold Steady, Basilica Block Party, July 11
It was a triumphant homecoming in Minneapolis for Craig Finn and the Hold Steady. The setlist was a joy, beginning with “Constructive Summer” and including “Massive Nights” and “Southtown Girls.” The poor Counting Crows on the other festival stage couldn’t compete with this performance.

6 Andrew WK & the Evaporators, Neptoon Records, June 23
This Vancouver in-store performance was 30 minutes of total chaos. I can’t imagine anything more fun than this at 4 pm on a Tuesday. Andrew WK performed all of his party songs, and Evaporators frontman Nardwuar did a great deal of crowd surfing, nearly hitting the ceiling of this tiny record store.

7 The Duchess & The Duke, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 18
Saturday’s best Pitchfork performance was delivered by this duo, who combine an indie rock sound with a folk sensibility. Their beautiful harmonies were complemented by strings on "I Am Just a Ghost," which might have been the best song performance of the weekend.

8 Matt & Kim, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 18
If I was to award a prize for Artist of the Year 2009, it would go to earnest, adorable indie popsters Matt & Kim. At Pitchfork, they triumphed with a lightning-fast set of their sugar-sweet pop songs. Newer tracks "Good Ol' Fashioned Nightmare" and "Daylight" were received just as well as older favorites "Yea Yeah" and "5K."

9 Weezer, Aragon Ballroom, December 1
Weezer proved they are still a live force to be reckoned with, opening with four massive crowd-pleasers: “Hash Pipe,” “Troublemaker,” “Undone – The Sweater Song” and “Surf Wax America.” Their lively 90-minute set pulled tunes from every album, including “Tired of Sex” and “Why Bother” from Pinkerton.

10 Gogol Bordello, All Points West, August 1
The crazy gypsy punks bounced all over the stage, beat the hell out of their drums, and rocked the violin and accordion. Their typically energetic set included “Wonderlust King” and “Think Locally Fuck Globally,” some of their most electrifying songs.

11 Japandroids, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 19
Pitchfork-goers were impressed by the Japandroids, a manic garage rock two-piece from Vancouver. Many of their songs consisted of only a couple of lyrics repeated over and over, but their ferocious delivery was enough to captivate.

12 Vampire Weekend, All Points West, July 31
Ezra Koenig and company provided a quality set that included an impressive new song, “White Sky,” and the majority of their self-titled release.

13 The National, All Points West, July 31
The National took advantage of the rain. Frontman Matt Berninger strolled into the crowd during the band’s final number, “Mr. November,” getting drenched and endearing himself to the fans in the process.

14 Cobra Starship, Riviera Theatre, October 19
Singer Gabe Saporta moved around the stage with swagger and charisma and led his sassy emo-pop band through a set full of songs with anthemic, sing-along choruses at the height of their “Good Girls Go Bad” fame.

15 Jerry Lee Lewis, Beale Street Music Festival, May 3
The 73-year-old belied his grumpy, unpredictable reputation with an enthusiastic 12-song set, predictably sending the crowd away with “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire.”

16 Coldplay, All Points West, August 2
It’s been fun to watch Coldplay’s rise to arena-rock status. They covered the Beastie Boys and Michael Jackson, and the thunderous “Politik” was a climax at the end of their set.

17 Mgmt, All Points West, August 2
The eccentric Brooklyn duo clearly worked on their live show after last summer, when they got several awful concert reviews. “Kids” and “Electric Feel” sounded much better this time. And brand new song “It’s Working” was great.

18 Yeah Yeah Yeahs, All Points West, July 31
Karen O’s band opened with “Heads Will Roll,” perhaps my favorite song of 2009. They played most of their excellent new album, while sending giant beach balls that looked like eyeballs into the crowd.

19 The National, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 18
The only band with two shows in my top 20, The National earned that distinction with a quality show-closing set during the second day of the Pitchfork Fest.

20 John Lee Hooker Jr, Beale Street Music Festival, May 2
Perhaps the best set in the Blues Tent during the Beale Street Festival. The son of the legendary blues man is deservedly earning acclaim on his own.

21 Green Day, Last Call with Carson Daly, June 3
Band played 7 songs, including 3 as their alter egos Foxboro Hot Tubs

22 Ghostland Observatory, All Points West, August 2
A glowstick-tastic set that sadly didn’t include “Silver City”
23 Fall Out Boy, Beale Street Music Festival, May 3
Still not the best live band in the world but they have great energy
24 Snoop Dogg, Beale Street Music Festival, May 3
A fun show, though it included a weird cover of “Jump Around”
25 Akron/Family, All Points West, August 2
A large group of musicians created songs that ranged from tribal music to hard rock
26 Kathy Griffin, Chicago Theatre, October 11
Comic claimed to be “wearing a Kevlar vest…as well as Kevlar panties”
27 The Duchess & The Duke, Reckless Records, December 6
An enjoyable, relaxed show at a Chicago record store

28 St. Vincent, All Points West, August 1
Talented multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark captivated with tracks from her latest album Actor
29 Final Fantasy, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 18
Owen Pallett used creatively-looped violins and keyboards to build stunning crescendos
30 Fleet Foxes, All Points West, July 31
Owned the main stage with their haunting folk balladry
31 Lykke Li, All Points West, August 2
Li covered Lil Wayne’s “A Milli,” singing, “Throw your muthafuckin hands in the air!”
32 James Taylor, Beale Street Music Festival, May 3
Set was too low-key but "Sweet Baby James" and "Carolina On My Mind" were impossible to resist
33 Ra Ra Riot, All Points West, July 31
Indie rockers surprised many with one of the best performances of APW
34 Grizzly Bear, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 19
Delivered a satisfying set of some of their most exquisite songs

35 Trailer Choir, Greeley Stampede, July 4
Country band features a 380-pound overall-wearing vocalist who dances around like a madman
36 The Ting Tings, All Points West, August 1
Delivered an infusion of pop music to an excitable crowd
37 Miranda Lambert, Grant Park, October 3
Rowdy country singer of “White Liar” and “Gunpowder and Lead” sizzled on a freezing night
38 The Steve Miller Band, Beale Street Music Festival, May 1
Steve could use a lesson in spacing out his hits – he saved most for the very end
39 Los Lobos, Beale Street Music Festival, May 2
A cameo from Elvis Costello made a solid performance even better
40 Tokyo Police Club, All Points West, August 1
How come a band this damn peppy hasn’t exploded yet?
41 Pharoahe Monch, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 19
Brought hip hop to the hipsters, with "My Life" and "Desire" especially standing out
42 Bar-Kays, Beale Street Music Festival, May 2
Their lively Memphis soul was a Beale Street Fest highlight

43 Frightened Rabbit, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 19
Acclaimed emotional rock came off as bland at first but the energy picked up later
44 Tokyo Police Club, Mr. Small’s Theatre, February 28
“Cheer it On” is always great to hear live
45 Rise Against, Beale Street Music Festival, May 1
Band’s political punk diatribes got the crowd moshing
46 Carbon Leaf, Easy Street Records, June 19
Five-song acoustic performance was short but engaging
47 Mogwai, All Points West, August 2
Appealing rock instrumentals from the celebrated Scottish band
48 Tool, All Points West, August 1
Technically proficient, but scared away some fans by opening with three 10-minute songs
49 Peaches, Henry Fonda Theater, June 7
Entertaining, but surprisingly tame; she neglected to play her most explicit sexual songs
50 Boys Like Girls, Riviera Theatre, October 19
Songs weren’t catchy enough to justify their status as a headliner
51 Harlem Shakes, Mr. Small’s Theatre, February 28
“Strictly Game” was a catchy track
52 M83, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 19
Band’s dreamy electropop was the perfect late afternoon soundtrack
53 Al Green, Beale Street Music Festival, May 2
The white-suited Reverend isn’t such a great singer these days, but he was still a showman

54 Green River Ordinance, Basilica Block Party, July 11
A satisfying brand of Our Lady Peace-meets-All-American Rejects rock
55 Lindstrom, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 18
Norwegian DJ found his groove after a very slow start
56 Black Lips, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 18
Offered some catchy choruses but generally weren’t entertaining
57 George Clinton & P Funk, Beale Street Music Festival, May 2
George Clinton mailed it in, singing about every 10th word & letting the backup singers do the rest
58 Ponytail, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 18
High-energy rock band that didn’t live up to all the hype
59 Fucked Up, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 18
A letdown, thanks to the freak show behavior of frontman Pink Eyes, who rarely bothered to sing
60 Yeasayer, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 18
This is one blogger-approved act that has never blown me away

61 Matt Nathanson, Basilica Block Party, July 11
Most memorable parts of his set were oddball covers of “Laid” and “Jessie’s Girl”
62 Neko Case, All Points West, August 1
Neko was ok but her backup singer wouldn’t shut up. No one wants to hear banter from backups
63 Silversun Pickups, All Points West, August 2
Nothing from their new record has been able to match the appeal of “Lazy Eye”
64 Crystal Castles, All Points West, August 1
Apparent mic problems made the first half of their performance accidentally instrumental
65 Blake Shelton, Greeley Stampede, July 4
The highlight was when he brought out Miranda Lambert for a duet
66 Counting Crows, Basilica Block Party, July 11
Adam Duritz sang “Mr. Jones” in a shockingly lifeless manner that suggested he no longer gives a shit
67 The Cult, Beale Street Music Festival, May 1
If I hadn’t known they were a legendary band, I wouldn’t have figured it out from this show
68 G Love & Special Sauce, Beale Street Music Festival, May 1
G Love’s laid back sound was right up the Beale Street crowd’s alley

69 Bucky Covington, Greeley Stampede, July 4
Former American Idol relied too heavily on covers
70 Jack’s Mannequin, Aragon Ballroom, December 1
Like The Fray, if they were emo
71 Great Lake Swimmers, Schenley Plaza, August 28
Too mellow; it worked fine as mood music for those sitting on the lawn
72 Yo Majesty, Henry Fonda Theater, June 7
Hip hop group came off like a novelty act
73 Blitzen Trapper, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 19
Pitchfork set was not even remotely interesting
74 The Maine, Riviera Theatre, October 19
Non-descript emo included a less-than-stellar cover of “Pour Some Sugar on Me”
75 The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 18
Another Pitchfork act that just didn’t take advantage of the opportunity
76 Arctic Monkeys, All Points West, August 1
I only caught part of their set, and it wasn’t very impressive
77 Jamey Johnson, Grant Park, October 3
Stunningly boring - this man is not in the same league as the outlaw country greats of the past
78 Versaemerge, Riviera Theatre, October 19
Forgettable female-fronted opening act for Boys Like Girls
79 Vivian Girls, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 19
Proof that punk rock can indeed be boring

80 The Mae Shi, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 19
Massive disappointment; it took them 15 minutes to play something discernable as a song
81 Wavves, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 18
I don’t even remember being there
82 A Rocket to the Moon, Riviera Theatre, October 19
It’s hard to believe they somehow got signed by Fueled by Ramen
83 Bowerbirds, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 18
Their quiet songs didn’t translate well to the festival environment
84 Thriving Ivory, Beale Street Music Festival, August 2
One of the few acts on the Beale Street bill that didn’t deliver
85 Cymbals Eat Guitars, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 18
They have potential but they just don’t have it together live yet
86 Drums of Death, Henry Fonda Theater, June 7
This dude – an opening act for Peaches - painted his face to look like the Phantom of the Opera, then DJed a set of electronic music and danced awkwardly around the stage by himself. At first, I thought maybe the performance would be interesting, in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way. Then I realized it was just bad.


Anonymous said...

I attended the July 4th Greeley Show and thought Blake was great and so was Bucky. I did not see nearly the amount of artists as you but I have an album of pictures from the 12 shows I attended and the pictures show alot. People were up on their feet at that Greeley show and the ground was messy and muddy. People had fun. I rate the show #3 of my 12.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmmmm lets see....you liked Coldplay because of their covers. You did not like Bucky Covington because of his covers. I attended the Greeley show and thought it rocked as did the rest of the rain-soaked crowd on the 4th of July. Blake is a lot more than his relationship with Miranda, or their duet.

Scott said...

Coldplay's covers were tributes - to the late Michael Jackson, and to the Beastie Boys, who had to withdraw from the festival because a member got cancer. Plus, Coldplay have a decade's worth of material that proves they're a great band.

Bucky Covington has nothing except a history on American Idol singing other people's songs. He needs to get away from the covers altogether and establish his own music. I will say he appears to have great potential.

Diane said...

I saw Leonard Cohen in San Jose last fall. I've played his music to myself when I wanted to cry, to wonder, to think and not to think. But Cohen live was one of the most spiritual times in my life and I'm an agnostic. His humble, generous performance was extraordinary with his slow controlled straight down falls to his knees doffing his hat to the audience, and then his again controlled straight rise back up to his feet--no hands. The man is 75. I cannot imagine what strength it takes to do that and make it appear effortless. During intermission I was so glad to see the wide range of fans he had from teens to grey-hairds. And for me it was a joy to see young women down front pulling off their shirts and throwing them on stage to him. Oddly, he does continue to seem very urbane and sexy.
I played Timberlake's and Blake's covers of his Hallelujah. They both have sweet, charming voices, but cannot match Cohen's deep voice that carries the perfect sounds to express his words. His words and his voice become one, like a man and a woman become one. His is the voice of one who has learned from hard lessons, from doing wrong and having wrong dealt back to him. The union of his song/voice expresses his pain and then grasps toward ecstasy and wryly, humbly accepts redemption.