Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Best Concerts I Saw in 2010 (of a rock and related ilk)

On casual recall, 2010 didn't seem like a year where I saw that many rock concerts or remember too many as being truly exceptional.

But upon flipping through my ticket stubs (my affection for which I expressed here), a database I keep of all the shows I see and a glance at the reviews I posted here, it turns out my year in live music has been surprisingly and sufficiently fertile.

I attended 22 "rock" concerts--including those in blues, country, folk and classical piano (Christopher O'Riley, who plays Radiohead & Elliott Smith songs) veins. This is down from 28 in 2009 and didn't include as many huge shows, obvious favorites, travels beyond Milwaukee or multiple dates--last year, I saw Bruce Springsteen five times, Pearl Jam and U2 twice, Paul McCartney, Elton John/Billy Joel and Green Day--but covered a nice breadth of performers and venues, including several shows by longtime personal favorites in rather intimate settings.

Although a few shows I saw were relatively disappointing--Muse's visual feast outweighed the depth of their material (review); an atrocious sound system at the shed in Tinley Park ruined any enjoyment of Aerosmith (review)--there were none I completely didn't like or wasn't glad I attended.

As with all my "Best Of 2010" lists, this one is obviously limited by what I saw versus the hundreds of concerts I didn't. So I've asked an even more avid concertgoing friend to weigh in with his picks, which hopefully he or I will share in the comments in the coming days. But for what it's worth, these are my choices for:

The Best Concerts of 2010 

1. AC/DC - April 15 - Bradley Center, Milwaukee (my review)
Sure, they're dinosaurs who have been playing the same three chords for 35 years. But nobody does low-brow arena rock on a higher plane than AC/DC.

2. Rush - July 3 - Marcus Amphitheatre, Milwaukee (my review)
I've loved Rush from way back but have often been somewhat lukewarm about their live shows. But this year's Time Machine Tour, featuring a full play-through of the Moving Pictures album, was outstanding. 

3. Buddy Guy - January 28 - Buddy Guy's Legends, Chicago (my review)
The Chicago blues legend was better than I'd ever seen him when I caught him during his January residency at his own club (which has now moved down the street).

4. Stone Temple Pilots - March 27 - Riviera, Chicago (my review)
Relatively speaking, STP doesn't have that many songs that I love, but they played nearly all of them at a rip-roaring concert at the Riv, making the paint peel even more.  

5. Ray Davies - March 13 - Riviera, Chicago (my review)
On the flip side, the former head Kink could play for 5 hours without running out of songs I'd want to hear. His mostly acoustic show in March offered a great smattering of Kinks Klassics.

6. Jason & the Scorchers - October 13 - Double Door, Chicago (my review)
Returning to the road after many years off, Jason et al. showed no rust in showcasing their unique mix of hard rock and country twang. Extra points for their playing one of my favorite songs (When The Angels Cry) at my request.

7. LCD Soundsystem - October 26 - Riviera, Chicago (my review)
Sound and Vision. The rock/dance/electronica blend masterminded by James Murphy was even better live than on their three meticulously excellent studio albums.

8. The Ike Reilly Assassination - November 27 - Fitzgerald's, Berwyn, IL (my review)
I was largely unfamiliar with Reilly and his material, but it didn't matter. A tremendously hard-driving rock show in a venue perfect for it.

9. John Prine - March 6 - Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago (my review)
I was also far less familiar than I should have been with this longtime Chicago folk legend, but even with a voice ravaged by time and cancer, Prine's exquisite songwriting made me a fan.

10. Graham Parker - April 17 - Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago (my review)
Similar to my above two comments, Parker's fine show won me over with obvious quality despite a lack of familiarity with much the material he played.

Honorable Mention

Roger Waters - September 20 - United Center, Chicago (my review)
Playing The Wall album in its entirety on its 30th anniversary, Waters' show featured exhilarating visuals to accompany much tremendous music. But it felt a bit too much like theater, a bit short on spontaneity and emotional heft. 

Alejandro Escovedo - October 12 - Lincoln Hall, Chicago (my review)
A typically fine show by the outstanding Austin-based singer/songwriter supporting his great new album, Street Songs of Love.

Teenage Fanclub - October 6 - Lincoln Hall, Chicago (my review)
The veteran Scottish band were exceptionally amicable in a club show combining their fine new album Shadows with chestnuts from throughout their career.

Cheap Trick and Squeeze - July 10 - Ravinia, Highland Park, IL (my review)
A wonderfully comfortable evening out on the lawn featuring many hits from two great long running pop-rock bands.

Bon Jovi - July 30 - Soldier Field, Chicago (my review)
The Jersey boys have never been among my absolute favorites, but with tempered expectations, I couldn't deny their stadium show--with Kid Rock opening--made for a highly enjoyable evening. 

Special Mention

American English - August 1 - Proesel Park, Lincolnwood (my review) and August 29 in Skokie
The best Beatles cover band I've ever seen kept a smile on my face for two entire shows within a month's time.

ADDENDUM - Another Fan's Take 

As I referenced above, my friend Paolo--who saw more concerts in more locations than I did--put together his list of Top Concerts of 2010. Tonight he's heading to see his longtime #1 favorite Elvis Costello, so I hope I hear tomorrow that he has a revision to the rankings below. (And indeed he did, so his Top 10 now "goes to 11.")

1.   Elvis Costello @ The Chicago Theater – Of the 30+ shows I’ve seen Elvis play—and I’ve seen him play acoustically at least a half dozen times—this show stands out as the 2nd best ever (only bested by the 1998 ‘Painted from Memories’ tour with Burt Bacharach). It is rare to see any artist stripped down and vulnerable; and these days there aren’t many artists willing to risk their ‘talent’ by showing their musicianship—in the age of the auto-tune and digitized music.  Elvis is the best singer/songwriter of his generation. A singular poet and musician, he played a valentine to his legion of Chicago fans.  Concert of the year!
2.    Green Day @ Lollapalloza – Simply the most energetic show—by both band and crowd—of the year. I don’t care what Greg Kot said. Wanker!
3.    U2 @Stade de France, Paris – Notable because I had seen the 360 Tour in Chicago in the fall of 2009, and the show—post Bono’s back surgery—had been completely revamped including new material not yet recorded.  For a serious fan, it was an eye-opening experience, even though they dropped my favorite song ‘Unforgettable Fire’ from the set list.
4.    Ben Folds @ The Riviera – One of four Ben shows I saw this year. He played 3 nights in a row at the Riv, and I cannot pick one night from that residency as the best; they were all superb.
5.    The New Pornographers @ The Metro – A completely underappreciated band, that highlights Neko Case’s singing. Totally genius live…
6.    Dr. Dog @ The Metro – One of my favorite indie bands, slowly playing to bigger and bigger houses, and developing a rabid following. Think Beatles meets XTC.
7.    Stone Temple Pilots @ The Riviera – Probably my favorite college-era band. With Weiland momentarily quasi-sober, they can kick rock-and-roll ass with the best of them. And, boy did they!
8.    Hole @ the Riviera – Let’s be honest. Courtney Love is a hot-mess…and as a broken rock-goddess idol it somehow works. Haven’t seen a more earnest show all year. Also, I happened to take the best concert picture all year at the gig.
9.    Mumford and Sons @ The Riviera – Most times the hype for a rookie band does not live up to the live show…in this case it did and then some. Toughest ticket to score all year, and well worth it.
10.    Supertramp @ Roman Amphitheater in Verona, Italy – A life-long fan, I had never seen them play (they haven’t toured the States in 20+ years). So when this show went on sale, I booked my tickets. Did not disappoint, even though it poured throughout most of the show. It was their 40th Anniversary tour.
11.   DeadMaus @ O2 Arena, London, England – I know, I know, he’s a DJ. But, it is such an event, such a crazy jamming, dancing, throbbing…oh well , you get the idea. Good times.

Honorable Mention 

Lady Gaga @ Lollapalooza – Too weird a show--both uneven and wonderful--not to list. And absolutely the WILDEST crowd at a concert I’ve seen in many a moon. Like the guy next to me in head-to-toe silver body paint and butterfly wings (and little else) crying the entire show.
Devo @ Lollapalloza – I’m a spud. Enough said.
Cypress Hill @ Lollapalooza – When Snoop walked on stage the crowd went insane. These guys are much more than insane in the membrane.
The Cult @ House of Blues – Ian Astbury still kicks serious ass, and “She Sells Sanctuary” is one of the all-time rock anthems.
Super Diamond @ House of Blues – Make my list every year. Actually now, way BETTER than real Neil.
B-52s @ House of Blues – Still awesome live…somehow not surprisingly so.
Psychedelic Furs @ The Riviera -  Completely on-point. They sound better than their recorded music.
Widespread Panic @ Chicago Theater -  I went for the very first time to see them wearing a suit (didn’t have time to change after work). After an initial stare-down by neo-hippie crowd, we bonded over ‘brownies’ and set lists. I get an invite a week to go see a show somewhere in the US from the people I met at the show…cool cool band, and even cooler people who go to their shows.

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