Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Best Concerts of 2011

Posted By on Thu, Dec 22, 2011 at 2:03 PM

The first concert I saw in 2011 was Dean Wareham plays Galaxie 500 at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey. The last: next Tuesday’s eighth night of Hanukkah Yo La Tengo show, also at Maxwell’s. (I really like it there.) In between, I saw dozens of other concerts in multiple states with hundreds of other performers—a fourth of which came from CMJ probably—at festivals, bowling alleys, and churches.

These are my five favorites from the year. (Northside excluded, for conflict of BLAH BLAH BLAH).

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5. TV on the Radio and Das Racist
Williamsburg Waterfront, April 12

On the same day that Nine Types of Light was released, and a night before heading into Manhattan to play Radio City Music Hall, TV on the Radio performed a much smaller show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. The new songs, including the funky “Caffeinated Consciousness” and sexy slow jam “Will Do,” already sounded comfortable nestled in the set list with older selections, like “Satellite,” given an especially fuzzy rendition, and the stomping “Wolf Like Me.” TVOTR sounds best in an intimate setting (as I can attest to after seeing them headline the final night of Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival), and they were literally right at home with this one.

4. Fucked Up and Titus Andronicus
(Le) Poisson Rouge, November 14

Combined, I saw these two bands 10 times in 2011 (six for Titus, four for Fucked Up). Clearly, I’m a fan, but even my sky-high expectations were too low for last month’s show “in the round” at (Le) Poisson Rogue. In their first post-Amy Klein New York show since the guitarist/violinist left the band, Titus played for nearly an hour, raging through a batch of new, unreleased songs that coupled the style of the group’s first album, The Airing of Grievances, with the confidence of The Monitor (including one about an eating disorder) and some “greatest hits,” too, like “A More Perfect Union,” with assistance from an audience member who delivered the album-opening speech. After front man Patrick Stickles thanked Fucked Up for showing him that it’s OK to write seven-minute plus punk songs, the Canadian hardcore band came on and played all 18 songs from David Comes to Life. My body still hurts. Though the string orchestra on hand might have suggested otherwise, this show was just as bruising as any other in Fucked Up’s career — both physically and musically. The band’s tight sound, driven by three guitarists (Mike Haliechuk, Josh Zucker, and Ben Cook) playing one crushing riff after another, never let the set’s intensity drop, and Damian Abraham’s charred voice was unrelenting. (As per usual, he shirtlessly snaked his way through the crowd, doling out high-fives and hugs, throughout the evening.) I was slightly unsure about what my favorite album of 2011 was... until I saw this show.

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3. Sonic Youth, Wild Flag, and Kurt Vile
Williamsburg Waterfront, August 12

It’s impossible to think of this waterfront show now, which unofficially celebrated Sonic Youth’s 30-year anniversary, and not wonder, “Was this Sonic Youth’s final U.S. show?” At the time, I wrote for The L, “It was the most enthusiastic I’ve ever seen the band, with three encores, and it serves well for the next 30 years.” Oops? But if it was their last stateside gig together, at least they went with one helluva concert. After opening bands Kurt Vile and Wild Flag (one of three times I saw them this year, all great) performed, Sonic Youth dug into their back catalogue for some rarities: “I Love Her All the Time,” “Ghost Bitch,” “Starfield Road,” “Physic Hearts.” Right after finishing set-closer “Inhuman,” with the band looking at the NYC skyline from across the East River, Thurston said to the crowd, “Anything is possible through the power of love.” And with that, they were gone, possibly for good. Speaking of...

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2. LCD Soundsystem
Madison Square Garden, April 2

I have no idea what this “show” means (meant?), whether it was the end of one era or the beginning of another, whether it was a celebration or a funeral. It doesn’t really matter, though, because after everyone went through so much shit to even get tickets—remember this?—only to get seats literally as far away from the stage as you can at MSG, it was all worth it to be among the tens of thousands of people who erupted at once when the twinkling intro to “All My Friends” began, the evening’s highlight. Or maybe it was when they played all of “45:33.” Or maybe when “Dance Yrself Clean,” after a slow, clacking build-up, finally exploded. Or maybe when Aziz Ansari crowd-surfed to “Yeah (Crass Version),” turning the song into an all-out World’s Greatest Arena rave. Or maybe it was seeing how spent, yet resilient, drummer Pat Mahoney looked after every song. Or maybe when members of Arcade Fire assisted LCD with “North American Scum.” The list goes on and on, and we’ll be able to revisit them all when the DVD comes out next year. The only thing I didn’t like about the set, seats notwithstanding: “New York, I Love You, but You’re Bringing Me Down,” because that meant it was time to say goodbye to one of my favorite bands.

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1. Our Band Could Be Your Life
Bowery Ballroom, May 22

Ten years after author/historian Michael Azerrad wrote Our Band Could Be Your Life, which profiled 13 of the best bands from the indie rock scene between 1981 and 1991, 14 of today’s best contemporary indie rock groups came together at the Bowery Ballroom to celebrate its well-read legacy. The Dirty Projectors played Black Flag fast and furious (Moshing! Dirty Projectors! Really!), Titus Andronicus brought out the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn and tore through pre-Let It Be Replacements songs (“Fuck School,” indeed), Merrill Garbus looped Sonic Youth’s “The Burning Spear,” etc. But the real highlight of the evening was St. Vincent‘s shredding version of “Kerosene,” Big Black’s ode to setting shit on fire, including yourself, because there’s nothing else better to do in small-town life. For everyone who’s said Annie Clarke puts on an act with her self-aware alternative Disney-princess persona, I recommend watching this—the way she stabs and scratches her guitar and hoarsely screams “SET ME ON FIRE” can only come from someone who’s way more aggressive than we give her credit for. (Though, I must admit, all the “Girl Plays Big Black!” articles and comments soon after were tired subject-fodder before they were even written.) Honestly, I wasn’t a total believer in St. Vincent, either, until seeing this performance, my favorite concert moment of 2011, at my favorite concert of 2011. Everyone coming back on stage during the encore to sing Nirvana was pretty great, too.

Photos by Nadia Chaudhury

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