Thursday, December 30, 2010

Remembering 2010: Top 10 Concerts

Well, it's the end of the year, which means I'm compiling all my favorites across a wide variety of genres. (As we listmakers are wont to do.) My plan over the course of the next few weeks is to share my top 10 in each of these categories. We'll start with one of my biggest expenditures for 2010, concerts:

10. THE DOOBIE BROTHERS / CHICAGO (Verizon Wireless Music Center) - This was a last-minute kind of thing, where a friend of mine scored very cheap tickets a few days before the show and invited me to go along. Having never seen either band, I went expecting very little since both groups peaked in the mid 80s. The less said about the Doobie Brothers set, the better. (Quick rundown: It was a bunch of album tracks and b-sides, precisely what I didn't want to see from them.) But Chicago gave the crowd what they wanted, nothing but the hits performed in an energetic manner. Sure, it was a bit staged, and I could have done without a local contest winner stumbling her way through the lead vocals for "If You Leave Me Now," but overall I had a lot of fun revisiting their catalog. I don't think I'd ever pay to see them again, but for what it was it was perfect.

09. THE BLACK CROWES (The Murat Theatre) - Earlier this year the Crowes announced they were taking a hiatus after they wrapped up their current tour. Having seen them in 2009, I wasn't going to go until, again, my friend scored some cheap tickets a few days before the show. While the show was a bit different than the other times I've seen them - the first act was acoustic, the second act electric and it totaled three hours - I was happy they performed songs from their entire catalog, concentrating on their early stuff. I'd be lying if I said I would miss them during their hiatus, but this show was a nice stop-gap until they eventually tour again.

08. BILLY BRAGG (The Vogue) - It's nice that Bragg veered into red state territory to bring his one-man liberal act to The Vogue. While I'm not a passionate fan of his music - I own his two disc retrospective, and that's enough for me - I will admit that I walked away a bigger fan than when I entered. Some of that was me realizing his songs are extremely well constructed, but most of that was because he was just so damn entertaining. Between each song he would rant and rave and talk to the audience about whatever was on his mind which, this being Bragg, was mainly politics. It was a fascinating, intimate show that both entertained and educated.

07. TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS (Verizon Wireless Music Center) - I love me some Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. If you want a sturdy, catchy rock song, you should look no further than Mr. Petty. Every time I've seen him live - and I've seen him a lot - he always puts on a great concert, showcasing his treasure trove of songs and always inviting the audience to join him for a great time. And this show was no different...except for one thing: For the first time, I noticed that it seemed the band was sick and tired of playing the really old songs. The tempos were down a bit, the interaction with the audience during these songs was limited, and everyone onstage seemed to have their eye on the setlist, hoping to get to the newer stuff soon. It was an off night to be sure, but it was still a worthy concert.

06. ROGER WATERS (The Schottenstein Center) - When news broke that Waters would be touring a full-fledged performance of Pink Floyd's 1980 masterpiece The Wall, I knew I had to get tickets. Sadly, he didn't come to Indianapolis, but he did make a stop in Columbus, Ohio, only three and a half short hours away. The show itself was visually amazing, a piece of theatre that rivals any theatrical show I saw this year. And, for once, the message of The Wall came in loud and clear as opposed to on the record, where I think it's muddled at best. My only complaint about the show was that there was no spontaneity in the performances, that the musicians had to play to the stuff going on all around them instead of getting lost in the music. So it was a bit canned, but, man, was it a trip to watch.

05. JOHN MELLENCAMP (Hinkle Fieldhouse) - Mellencamp released the album No Better Than This in 2010, which he recorded at various historical sites around the country using old 1950s equipment. The record has a long-lost sound because of that and almost sounds like some kind of weird time capsule. To mimic the disc, Mellencamp basically reconfigured his stage show into a 1950s concert, the effect being that if he were around at that time, this is what he would look and sound like. That's a huge gambit, but the shocking thing is the entire thing worked: This is easily the best Mellencamp show I've ever seen. A lot of his hits had been reworked to emulate the sounds of the 50s - "Authority Song" was performed as a rockabilly hit, for example - and while that was jarring at times, once you got over the fact that you were watching a musician stretch and grow instead of perform the same version of "Small Town" for the 3,000th time, it was riveting to watch.

04. THE DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS (The Vogue) - This show was fierce. That's the best word I can use to describe it. They came onstage, said hello, plugged in their guitars, turned on their amps, and proceeded to tear the roof off the joint. I'm not exaggerating when I say they put on one of the most highly energetic shows I've ever seen. They tore it up. Even the songs I didn't know - and there were many, since I only own their most recent disc - blew me away. I walked into the concert a casual fan of the Drive-By Truckers, but I walked out a devotee. I can't wait to see them again.

03. DEVO (The Vogue) - Devo has never really gotten their due for the paths they trailed in the late 70s and early 80s. Their songs are catchy as hell, but if you listen closer you'll hear the subversiveness in them that makes them the punks that they are. In other words, they are much more than "Whip It." I have been dying to see them for years and immediately jumped at the chance to buy tickets when it was announced they'd be playing The Vogue, a tiny nightclub. We got there early so we could be near the stage. And when they came out, dressed in modified versions of their classic yellow jumpsuits - don't worry, those made an appearance later - it was easily my favorite concert moment of the year. The show was short but sweet, a quick run-through of all the songs they're known for as well as two tracks off their latest album. Even Booji Boy made an appearance. It wasn't cheap - $60 per ticket - but it was so, so worth it.

02. CAKE (The Vogue) - While I admire other bands on the list more, the Cake show was easily the most fun concert I saw all year. I knew from the second song ("Comfort Eagle") that this was going to be a great one. Everyone in the audience was singing along and dancing to the music, like it was one big house party. For me, it also made me realize that I love the band and have never given them the credit that they deserve. My only complaint was when the lead singer, a devout environmentalist, took way too long to give away a tree toward the end of the show. I've been listening to their stuff pretty solidly since then, and I can't wait to buy their new album in a few weeks.

01. THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS (Buskirk-Chumley Theatre) - I have been in love with this band since I heard the first few notes of their Twin Cinema album and have been wanting to see them live since then. They finally made a stop in Indiana - not in Indianapolis, of course, but in Bloomington - so a road trip was made so I could cross another band off my Concert Bucket List. The venue was an old theatre that had been converted into a concert hall, which worked perfectly for the band and their retro pop music. They played nearly every song of theirs that I love, always a plus. And Neko Case, who records with them and sometimes joins them at shows, was in attendance, and it's always nice to see Neko. I had high expectations for the show, and they were more than met. I would see them again in a heartbeat.

All in all, it was a great - and expensive - year for concerts. But I wouldn't trade a penny.

Up next: My top 10 theatre shows of the year.