Saturday, January 9, 2010

best in shows 2009

Live music is one of my favorite things in this pretty little universe. Here are the top 20 concerts that dropped my jaw in 2009.

20. White Denim - High Noon Saloon, 11-5

On record, White Denim are crazy. In person, they are absolutely on fire. Playing most of their songs in 'medleys' (they actually called them that!), they flew through songs you had to sort of look for to recognize.

19. The Books - The Majestic, 11-30

I went to this with pretty little knowledge about the visual aspect of the Books' live show, so I was was really pleasantly surprised to see that they had projected video to accompany all of their songs. The found-clip aspect was pretty Tim & Eric-y, and provided humor and oddity to add a new level to their songs.

18. Ramona Falls - High Noon Saloon, 9-10

Riding a thin line between 'intimate' and 'awful turnout', this Tuesday-night show was one of the most personal I've enjoyed in quite a while. Brent Knopf (of Menomena) knows how to be in a band by this point, and was relaxed and conversational throughout. In between songs, he offered up pieces of a chili chocolate bar to the audience. Oh, and the music was good, too.

17. The Thermals - High Noon Saloon, 4-28

They are awesome, that is all. This show was unsurprisingly wild. A lot of crowd sing-a-longs etc. And Kathy was sporting a healthy crop of armpit hair, which is pretty bad-ass.

16. Asthmatic Kitty Community Theater - DM Stith, Osso, The BQE - Project Lodge, 10-30

As if seeing Sufjan Stevens at the Majestic wasn't surreal enough, here we were: in costume, sitting in this tiny room sneaking peaks at Sufjan while listening to Run Rabbit Run and watching his film. And I talked with him afterward about his movie and his future, which is always more rewarding than reading about it on pitchfork.

15. The Rural Alberta Advantage/Roadside Graves/Daredevil Christopher Wright - The Terrace, 8-22

Any show opened by Daredevil Christopher Wright has the big task of not being a letdown (see: bowerbirds, probably). That being said, all three bands were fantastic. To me, this was a perfect terrace show. Listenable and always engaging.

14. Animal Collective - The Riverside, 5-19

Fireworks. Banshee Beat. Brother Sport.

13. Andrew Bird - Overture Center, 9-19

I've thought about it, and A. Bird is one of the musicians I'd most like to be. His live show was incredible--so complex and always so clean. In a year so full of lo-fi upstarts, it was refreshing to see someone who knew what he was doing with his loop pedals.

12. Diplo - The Rathskeller, 4-11

Diplo is king, and no one seemed to care about how strange it was that he was in the Rathskeller. One thing that set this dj set so far above (most of) the rest I saw this year was being up against his table and being able to see what he was doing. And with the number of afterparties I've seen crash and burn this year, this one shined like a beacon of hope and love for mankind. Shone?

11. Los Campesinos / Titus Andronicus - The Rathskeller, 2-6

By this time, my fall '08 Titus Andronicus curiosity had grown into a full fledged love. This show was a nonstop exhausting mess of sweaty awesomeness. Totes crowdsurfed to you! me! dancing!.

10. Wavves - Project Lodge, 4-4 / Pitchfork 7-18 /Corral Room 9-19

I couldn't pick my favorite Wavves show of the year. Was it the stereotypical small club/awful performance at the Project Lodge? The 'triumphant phoenix-from-the-ashes' broken-arm performance at P4k 2k9? The bar-basement middle of the night Forward Music Fest closer, with one PA and Zach Hill on drums? I suppose no one cares about Wavves anymore except Patrick Tilley (Wavvves' 'best new music' didn't get it into even Pitchfork's list of 25 honorable mentions) but one can't deny that he was a 2009 staple worth recognizing. Especially if that 'one' is me.

9. Sufjan Stevens - Majestic, 9-28

One of the most surprising tours of the year, supporting 4 or 5 epic new unreleased songs, brought the sweet sweet sounds of Sufjan to 600 lucky people (although it always feels like 30 when you're in the front row). I can't deny the brilliance of Sufjan and his band or how cool it was to watch him play as many new songs as old favorites.

8. The Tallest Man on Earth - High Noon Saloon, 3-31

I went to this on a whim, not knowing anything about the Tallest Man other than having heard a few songs once or twice. I was absolutely blown away with how loud he sang and how captivating he was. I'd recommend seeing all the performers on this list, but few will grab your complete attention like Kristian Matsson.

7. Crookers / Kid CuDi / Major Lazer / Simian Mobile Disco - Congress Theater, 8-7

A bit of background- I woke up early in the morning, drove from Madison to Milwaukee and Milwaukee to Chicago, experienced a full day of Lollapalooza in the rain in a t-shirt, and then skipped out on Kings of Leon with John to meet up with Gabe and Trubes (you read that right) and head to the Congress. So I was pretty exhausted, but this double header featuring some of my favorite names of electro (plus some bro rapping) was worth hitting a second wind for. One highlight: the predictable but (patrick) awesome transition of Kid Cudi's set into Crookers' with 'Day n Nite'. wawawawawawawawa wah wah wah wah

6. Ponytail - The Terrace, 7-17 / Pitchfork, 7-18

One of those bands that really can't be appreciated to the fullest until you see them live. Ponytail is absolutely wild and I really lucked out being able to see them twice in two days. I think I was supposed to have a similar epiphany when I saw micachu & the shapes, but I didn't.

5. Bat For Lashes - Lollapalooza, 8-9

I didn't expect Bat For Lashes to translate well to the summer festival setting I saw them in, but this ended up being one of the biggest festival surprises of the year. They had the bass high in the mix, which helped bring attention to how danceable many of their tracks are. It was really windy, which fit in perfectly with the atmosphere of their music. Insert pretentious comparison to Shakespearean weather reflecting conflict here if you're into that kind of thing. Highlight: the massive backdrop flying loose during my favorite 'Siren Song'.

4. Atlas Sound - Overture Rotunda, 9-18

One of the most intimate performances I've been to in my life. Bradford was casual and honest and the last-minute change of location to the Rotunda Stage brought everyone together sitting on the ground in a way similar to the Asthmatic Kitty showcase (or kindergarten). Sitting right across from him allowed a great view of his mastery of pedals. Listening to Logos always brings be back to this.

3. Grizzly Bear - Pabst Theater, 6-8

This was fantastic. Not like you don't already know this, but Grizzly Bear is one of those bands that truly deserve terms such as 'brilliant', and their live show showed off all of their best qualities.

2. Dan Deacon - Lollapalooza, 8-9

Festival time is precious but after seeing Dan Deacon at the Majestic this spring I didn't have to think twice about staying put when Bat For Lashes finished and much of the crowd dispersed. At the peak of my Dan Deacon fan-ship, this show melted my brain in a way words can't describe. Mashed up against the cheese grater of the crowd barrier, people were being passed over me and being caught by security throughout the whole set. Dan played with his Bromst orchestra, AND brought on an additional brass band to play on his last songs (woof woof, of the mountains, crystal cat). I foresee very few future moments in my concert-going life that are as blissful as these last three songs were. The fact that I've gotten this far without mentioning Snookered should get the point across: I liked this show a lot.

1. The Flaming Lips - Pitchfork, 7-19

AND THE LIPS TAKE THE CAKE. After being on heavy rotation through middle school, high school, and college, I finally had the opportunity to see them this year. I laughed, I cried, but mostly I stood there beaming like a fool. Few overwhelm like Wayne Coyne & Co, and I thank them for that. (for more blither-blathering about this show)

11 Very Honorable Mentions

Daniel Johnston


Fleet Foxes

Hercules & Love Affair DJ set

Local Natives



of Montreal




What did I miss? Any agreements? Did you think this list was kind of dumb? Can I get an amen? etc


  1. good write up! also, i would say i still care about wavves.

    where/when did you see local natives?

  2. thanks john, good to have you on the team : )
    Local Natives played with snowblink, catfish haven & sslyby in an attic on henry street in july as part of the first daytrotter barnstorming tour. I hope they make it back here soon!