15 December 2010


the annually rejiggered pitchfork readers poll (now closed) – which somewhat arbitrarily requested five songs and albums of the year, yet a full top ten of favorite songs out of from their best of the 1990s list [a fun and interesting task..i ended up with the magnetic fields' "the book of love" on top, but it might have been different another year] – also asked us to pick the year's top three live acts.

that's always a hard one, and maybe even more so since i saw more live music this year than possibly ever, thanks to a steady stream of CP assignments. robyn came pretty quickly to mind – her august show with kelis at the trocadero was the apotheosis of an emphatically summer-pop-summer, and a great reminder that she's as much of an effortless bad-ass as a performer as she is as a record-maker. (one particularly brilliant bit of stagecraft: eating a banana during the lengthy build-up of "don't fucking tell me what to do" – finishing in time to deliver just the title hook vocal live – in, if this is possible, a relatively non-sexualized, or other-than-sexualized fashion.) it also showed a fairly dramatic progression from the intimacy and simplicity of the first time i saw her into a dazzling, larger-than-life-feeling pop-star spectacle, though the difference was as much about a clear shift in her way of relating to the stage and the audience as added production fireworks (not to mention the perhaps-unfortunately ballad-free setlist.) will be interesting to see how that evolves when she comes back to play an even larger venue, the electric factory, in february. anywhow, a world-class performer, no question.

i'd thought about lcd soundsytem (whom, like fellow top-tenners joanna newsom and vampire weekend, i saw for both the first and second time this year) until i remembered about mayer hawthorne [& the county], from this vantage point easily my favorite new artist of 2009 [and that's not even accounting for the weirdly lackluster live performances of jj and the very best], whom i saw for the first-through-fourth times this year, at four substantially different venues [the most recent time, regrettably and frustratingly preventably, occasioned my missing a chance to see easily my favorite new artist of 2010, allo darlin', for the second time – but first real-full time – all in one day...], and he consistently killed it every time. the mayer hawthorne show is a well-oiled, spit-polished thing of beauty, and those four performances were far more similar than they were distinct [though the latest included some very exciting sneak previews of his new material], but i hardly minded the chance to re-experience it.

for the third slot, i picked a band i'd just seen, and really only recently listened to: stornoway, about whom i wrote this preview for city paper. the first two (and best) songs on their debut album, beachcomber's windowsill – which probably oversell the extent to which they can be categorized as "indie-pop" – bookended a set that demonstrated both rock-solid chops (instrumental and vocal) and considerable musical range, from moody, arty chamber-ish pieces (some of it verging on slightly tedious) to straight-up (and very british) folk (including a really lovely new one, "november song," performed solo and acoustic by frontman brian briggs) to a surprising amount of rocking out, particularly on the big swelling codas to a few songs. there was also briggs' endearingly nervous/nerdy banter, including recitations of inventions made in philadelphia (the slinky, lemon meringue pie...) but the best part was almost certainly the two-song encore, performed entirely unplugged and un-mic'd, which elicited some of the most genuinely enthusiastic crowd-love i've witnessed in a while. [videos of the encore songs are here and here, thanks to my cp compadres.] it was truly a heartwarming feeling to be in that crowd.

let alone recapping the year in live music, this past week alone has been stellar. last friday i watched two fake-local groups – my buddy tom's band via audio and their piano-popping pals jukebox the ghost [aka cutebox the most] – sock-rock a fun-happy beatles-loving crowd that seemed to consist primarily of teens and their parents, some of them in white astro-jumpsuits, with (respectively) songs about slacking, godzilla, pitch-corrected divas, and babymaking, as well as some lovably dopey banter and a frenzied rendition of "what's this" from the nightmare before christmas (also glad i stuck around for the night-closing panda-monium-inducing team-up cure cover.)

on sunday i saw the utterly ineffable nellie mckay kick some life into the bewilderingly all-over-the-place tunes from her new album – from the latin-kitsch/broadway melodrama "¡bodega!" to the meat-is-murder "unknown reggae" – as well as a bunch of the doris day numbers (and some other assorted jazz standards), a few old faves ("dog song"! "sari"!), a possibly new (?), typically beautiful/insane seasonal political number – an anti-christmas tree eco-rant inexplicably wrapped around a broken-hearted love song – and a wtf tom waits cover (awesomely, if unsurprisingly, she can do a pitch-perfect waitsian growl.) i think this was the first time i'd seen her play with a band, a trio of game if non-smiling jazzbos who set a highly amusing contrast to her preposterous, precociously giddy/girlish and befuddlingly anachronistic stage presence. her albums may be (increasingly) hit-or-miss, but her performances never fail to remind me of her truly limitless talent, eccentricity and charm. it's hard to put it words.

finally, last tuesday i trekked up to hoboken with rae to catch night seven of yo la tengo's annual 8 nights of hanukkah at maxwells [ira's account is there], something i hadn't done since 2002, when the band were very memorably joined by ray davies (whom, incidentally, i would have seen in boston over thanksgiving if hadn't, very sadly had to cancel for health reasons...) this show was similarly a pretty transcendent experience, if only because it reminded me how much i dearly love this band (you wouldn't think i'd forget something like that, having written something like this, and i didn't, really, but i maybe hadn't thought about it in a while...)

this is what they played:

HOME = "feels like going home," from ...beat your ass, a really sweet gentle one which i really should have included on home, why did i not do that? [wasn't] BORN 2 FOLLOW is a carole king cover that i didn't know, but almost of the others were familiar YLT favorites, really a solid setlist of classics, if maybe a tad obvious, but just perfect for not having seen them in a while... definitely heavy on the soft pretty ones (season of the shark, last days of disco, shadows, little eyes, black flowers) but that's kinda how i like it, and helped set off the totally awesome noise/drone freakouts that bookended the set (the last and first tunes, respectively from the last two albums.)

they were joined for their entire set (except for "tom courtenay," since he broke a string wailing out during the late-set punk-out patch) by the amazing mr. nels cline (of wilco, nels cline singers, and assorted out-jazz excursions), in a rad eyeball t-shirt, which made the whole thing all that much more awesome, even if he sometimes made it hard to see georgia. then they came back and played two ramones covers – "pet sematary" (james on vox!) and "sheena is a punk rocker") – and were joined by openers bonnie prince billy + the cairo gang (who were also awesome! even though i barely recognized any of the songs they played...need to brush up on billy's last half-decade) to close the night with lou reed's "heavenly arms" (which tbh i only know from el perro del mar's closer.) heavenly indeed...

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