Tuesday, January 18, 2011

2010 - The Year in Music

My past year in music was all about live shows.  Three festivals and a slew of gigs led to a very memorable 2010.  As a result, what follows is a bit of a departure from my usual format for the annual year in music review.  Instead of a top ten list counting down my favourite albums or singles, this is a brief run-through of my hi-lights from a very busy year in concert going.  Along the way I’ll mention some of my favourite releases from the past year. 

2010 started “down under”, as in January my buddy Gary and I headed to Melbourne for some Australian Open Tennis, some sunshine, and the odd beer.  An extra bonus turned out to be the 5th annual Laneway Festival.  What had started as a few bands playing in the alleyways of Melbourne’s CBD (central business district) has now become a full fledged festival playing all the major cities in Australia. 

I was disappointed to learn that 2010’s headliners Echo and the Bunnymen had cancelled due to “sudden illness” (c’mon Ian, you drink a bunch of booze and you get a splitting headache – you should know that by now), but the rest of the line-up was still strong. 

It was my first chance to see The XX (whose single “Crystallized” made my list last year), and despite a pronounced lack of stage presence they played an enjoyable set. 

I had also been looking forward to seeing buzz band Mumford and Sons, but apparently so had everyone else.  The festival grounds were arranged so that each stage had a relatively small viewing area, so it wasn’t set up for every last person in attendance to try and jam into the band’s set.  I got close enough to see what I thought might have been the actual stage and heard some muffled Mumford coming through the crowd noise before I gave up and headed elsewhere.  Not to worry though, I’d see them later in the year.

It seemed that the Laneway Festival was not prepared for such a large crowd period.  They ran out of food by mid day, and with “no ins our outs” we left early.  We still managed to see some good performances by Frightened Rabbit, Hockey and Dappled Cities, but missed The Dirty Three and Daniel Johnson.

Back in Vancouver, the concert season got going in earnest when Black Rebel Motorcycle Club hit the Commodore in March.  These guys are often dismissed as nothing but Jesus and Mary Chain clones, but I love that band and they hung ‘em up long ago so if someone else is going to step in and carry the torch, more power to them!  Their 2010 release “Beat The Devil’s Tattoo” was on heavy rotation in my various music players all year long.  A very strong release and an equally satisfying show.  I even gave myself a bit of whiplash with all the head thrashing.

The May long weekend has been home to the Sasquatch Festival for a decade now, and 2010’s line-up wasn’t only the best in the festival’s history, it was one of the better line-ups I have ever seen anywhere!  I won’t bother listing the bands, but suffice to say I wanted to see almost every one, which led to many scheduling conflicts.  If you’re interested, below is a poster from the festival listing all of the acts.  Click on it to enlarge and start cursing that you weren’t there.
Sasquatch is held at The Gorge, a natural amphitheatre in a stunning setting along the Columbia River in Washington State.  There’s a main stage, two smaller side stages and a DJ tent.  This year’s headliners were My Morning Jacket, Massive Attack and Ween.  You couldn’t find three more dissimilar bands, yet all put on great shows that kept capacity crowds entertained right to the finish of each night.  My Morning Jacket played an extended set of their energy filled anthems, while Massive Attack offered precision renderings of old and new material.  (Their new album Heligoland was one of my favourite releases of 2010.)  And Ween?  Ween was just Ween.  Sloppy.  Stoned.  Awesome!

There were too many great performances to mention, including sets from Laura Marling, Mumford and Sons, New Pornographers, The Hold Steady, Band of Horses and on and on.  Two of the crowd favorites from a “get yer dance on” standpoint were Miike Snow and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.  The bands are a contrast in styles, with Miike Snow leaning towards pop-synth while Edward Sharpe belts out hippie tinged rock, but both had massive crowds bopping from start to finish.

Many people’s choice for best performance (including mine) came from LCD Soundsystem.  Their latest release This Is Happening is undoubtedly one of my favourites from 2010.  Their live shows have become legendary, combining James Murphy’s personality and sharp lyrics with unparalleled beats.  They had the entire amphitheatre at Sasquatch dancing and screaming along as the sun set behind the stage.  Utterly brilliant.

And a shout out to Deadmou5.  I’m not an electronica dance guy (hell, I don’t even know what the current terms are for categorizing dance music), but his midnight show was a visual extravaganza.  I planned to watch for a song or two, but stayed for the whole set, mesmerized by the visuals and light show while the young kids danced their faces off.

One considerable drawback to the Sasquatch Festival is the accommodations.  Your choices are camping, camping or camping.  Even though we were in the “VIP” area, it was still over crowded, with line-ups for showers starting at 5 AM and the inevitable disgusting toilets.  I’m not sure I’d do it again without a luxury motor home.  Still, many thanks to Shannon for bringing along all of the camping gear.  Without her I may not have survived!

A striking juxtaposition to Sasquatch is the Austin City Limits festival, held annually in September in Zilker Park, Austin, Texas.  Whereas prospects for food and comfort are abysmal when the music ends at Sasquatch, ACL is in the heart of one of the great towns in the US, so the end of a day at the festival is only the beginning. 

The 2010 ACL headliners were anything but inspiring.  I suppose Muse is bearable, but the jam-band guitar wank of Phish is anything but.  And The Eagles?  Are they still alive?  Those bands couldn’t get me out of bed, let alone thousands of miles away to a festival.  Yet that’s the beauty of ACL.  The festival is full of other interesting bands to keep you occupied during the day, and when you leave the park, the city of Austin awaits with its great restaurants and bars.  Even better, many of the bands do aftershows, providing the opportunity to see them doing a longer set in a small club.

A couple of standouts from this year were Beach House and Broken Bells. I mention Beach House primarily on the strength of their 2010 release Teen Dream, a beautiful collection of atmospheric, dreamy pop.  It may very well have been my most listened to release this year.  (Either it or the new BRMC – toss up.)  Unfortunately, their live performance didn’t quite live up to the album, but hey, the lead singer is a stunning French woman, so how bad can it be?  Broken Bells, on the other hand, played a set that was at least as interesting as their strong self titled 2010 release.  The album is by the Shins' James Mercer with producer and Gnarls Barkley member Danger Mouse, and it’s a fun if not slightly melancholy pop record.  They perform live as a full band, providing for lots of opportunities to stray from the album and mix it up, which they did wonderfully at ACL.

There were a number of repeats from the Sasquatch festival at ACL, plus many other good performances from the likes of The Flaming Lips, The Soft Pack, The Black Keys, Nortec Collective, Richard Thompson, Spoon and many more.  Sonic Youth played a loud late night set at a small club, just to round out the weekend with a bold exclamation point.

The fall concert line-up in Vancouver was truly great (including a Black Angels/Black Mountain double bill), but the two shows I’ll finish with happened south of the border in Seattle.  The first was Gary Numan (yes, THAT Gary Numan) playing the entire Pleasure Principle at a small club called Neumo’s.  Now, most people only associate Gary Numan with “Cars” his electronic hit from 1980, but seeing him live shows that many of today’s artists, from Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson to Moby, owe a lot to Mr. Numan.  The man has been prolific over his 30 year career, and many artists claim to have been influenced by his heavy, synth driven style.

His Seattle show was rather appropriately on Halloween night, so an audience that would have already been a bit freaky was downright out there.  The concert was full of energy, extremely loud, and had probably the brightest light show I’ve ever seen in a club.  And because of that, I must give full kudos to Renee, who only four days earlier had undergone major invasive eye surgery, yet made the trip to see Gary all the same.  She is a huge fan and knew this was an opportunity not to be missed.  Her Halloween costume was perfect.  She dressed as a patient who had recently undergone major invasive eye surgery, complete with hospital blues and eye patch.  Probably not the most appropriate interpretation of medically ordered convalescence, but well worth it!  Right Renee?

And lastly, a New Years Eve show to remember – X at The Moore Theatre.  I am normally Scrooge on NYE, preferring the comfort of an intimate dinner party over drinking bad champagne with hordes of people who otherwise never go out.  But it took the coaxing of my buddy Dave to remind me that this was in fact X, with the original line-up, doing their 1980 album “Los Angeles” from start to finish.  So, despite the fact that I was leaving the country for six months in 4 days and hadn’t packed or cleaned, and was hosting a party in 2 days, I did what any sane person in my position would do; I hopped in Dave’s car and went to Seattle.

And so the year ended, with me in bliss singing along with John Doe and Exene Cervenka to every word of each song they played.  They may be getting older, but those guys will rock into their hundreds.  (Mind you, Exene was diagnosed this year with MS, so the days of X shows may be numbered.)  They played as hard and fast as they ever have, blistering through “Los Angeles” in about a half hour, followed by an extended set of their greatest hits.  A suitable end to an amazing year of live music…

For true X fans only, attached are two videos I took at the show.  Apologies for the poor sound and video quality, but you get a sense of just how stoked the crowd was, as was the band for that matter.  And if you listen carefully, you just may hear yours truly, as well, in utter ecstasy.


Judy R. (Not Mrs. Grinderman) said...

A wonderful stroll down memory lane, Dave. But I see no mention of the "Grinderman" show here.

Is that because your ears are still bleeding, and that the accompanying short-term loss of vision also wiped clean your musical memory banks?!

Me---I felt better after they used the paddles on me, though I remember thinking that "do not resucitate" would have been a blessing.

Looks like you are having a fantastic time. Please bring me back a koala.

Dave said...

You're right Judy! I completely forgot the Grinderman show! Not necessarily your cup of tea, but a near religious experience for me. And Grinderman 2 was one of my favorite albums from 2010 as well.