Sunday, January 18, 2009

Favorite Live Shows 2008

"I bought a whiskey for the gypsy
And she turned my leather back into skin
Just a fleeting sense of that rare suspense
I once thought made the world go 'round
But now there's no one to talk to
When the lines go down"
-James McMurtry, "Hurricane Party"

So yeah, like everybody else, I'm trying to blog somewhere that's not Livejournal. Also, since this is standalone and not principally social networking, my hope is that it'll force me to write more often and more substantially.

So if you don't know me, welcome, if you know me, welcome back. This'll be basically about what I'm experiencing culturally, mainly but not limited to the Columbus area. A possible detour or two into what my friends are doing but I can't imagine anyone not me would really be that interested. Not that they're much more interested in what I thought of a concert/movie/etc, but if nothing else, it helps me remember.

Last year was the first year I've felt like I missed more concerts than I went to but even so I had a hard time narrowing this down to 15 and there were definitely shows that in any other year probably would've made a top 10 list (Supersuckers at Ravari, Fleshtones at Bourbon Street, Chris Thile at the Southern, Zakir Hussain at the Southern, David Torn and Tim Berne at the Wexner Center, Gaslight Anthem at Bernie's, Robert Forster at the Wexner Center). Anything you think I'm wrong on or if there's a show I should be kicking myself for missing, leave a comment (already kicking myself about, so you'd just be throwing salt in the wound: Nalle at Skylab, Nelson Slater at Skylab, The Cute Lepers at Bernies, The Black Hollies at Carabar, and both times the Golden Boys played in town).

Without futher ado, my favorite 15 live shows of 2008. Venue is here in Columbus Ohio unless stated otherwise.

1) The Pogues, Roseland Ballroom, Manhattan - A band that first set my hair on fire when Tun Kai Poh loaned me a Best Of while I was in high school but I never thought I'd get to see them live with Shane Macgowan fronting them. And not only did I get my chance after the last few years of reunions not syncing with my ability to get to the East Coast, they were better than I ever hoped they'd be. With Macgowan in strong voice and the band playing with an energy that would make most bands half their age green. Reveling in those songs and just being together, while a crowd mirrored that, people moshing one row away from people making out. Perfect.

2) Jimmy Scott, The Iridium, Manhattan-Much the same, I remember when I first heard Jimmy Scott on Lou Reed's Magic and Loss and the next weekend went to Singing Dog and bought that compilation with "Everybody's Somebody's Fool". I'd never heard anything so ethereal and potent at the same time, with the clean enunciation of Sarah Vaughan and, later, the raspy emphasis of Ray Charles (who produced my favorite Scott record, Love is a Wonderful Thing). And there he was, in a wheelchair with a five-piece relatively anonymous but perfectly adequate and charming behind him, singing "I"m Afraid this Masquerade is Over" with so much force and heat my bourbon aged in the glass. I'd tell you I didn't cry but I'd be lying.

3) Terrastock, Mellwood Arts Center, Louisville - Fou nights of psychedelia in a broad sense but even more than that, all the acts at this festival - the first I'd ever made it to - were creating a personal language out of their grappling with tradition. The tradition of Celtic and Scottish balladry in the case of Sharron Krauss and United Bible Studies, with Krauss sounding the way I always wished Lorena McKennitt did rich and warm and dark and UBS not only joining her for a righteous stomp through her song about mid-Summer but doing a set of thier own that was all mystery and fog and beautiful misdirection. Motorpsycho, I wish would've done a little more of their three-minute Husker Du-ish material amidst the jams, but when the jams are that righteous, who really cares? MV and EE and band taking Neil Young's lead and drip-painting with the raw sonic material, with a rhythm section including the godlike Tim Barnes on drums and a bass player with a tone so rich and distorted it sounded like the tuba in Louis Armstong's Hot Sevens. Weather threatened but never got terrible, the food was good, I got to see Clayton Oliver who I hadn't seen in years, and hang out with some Columbusites I like a lot but that ol' debbil shyness always kept me from really getting to know, a perfect weekend.

4) Jandek, Wexner Center - Friends I talked to after this were to varying degrees annoyed by how little vocal presence there was in this show, with at least one suggesting he was phoning it in to make for easier touring since his bands are always pick up bands. And I think that's a fair accusation, but the songs he did, a linked suite it seemed, were more spacious by their nature. Words bob up and reveal themselves and then disappear in the storm. I thought it was gorgeous, and there couldn't have been a better band for him, with Ryan Jewell on drums and percussion, C. Spencer Yeh on violin and vocals, and Derek Dicenzo on bass. For the hour and a half they were on stage I was somewhere else but also couldn't take my eyes off Jandek.

5) Wiley and the Checkmates, Ravari Room- God bless Funkdefy. Since transitioning from their already great DJ nights to booking shows, they've brought in at least one of my shows of the year every year, usually more. And this, with the great Herbert Wiley backed by as good a band as you'll see everywhere of any genre, tearing through a set from the new record they've done together, his '60s classics, and covers of his contemporaries like Joe Tex and Clarence Carter, including a blistering 10-minute Bo Diddley medley? I don't know anyone there who wasn't losing his or her mind and dancing the whole time.

6) The Dirtbombs, The Basement - One of my favorite rock bands today who had a big year, at the end of a leg of another long tour, coming out and kicking into "Wreck My Flow" off the new record until by the end long free-jazz vamps turned into INXS covers, the opening bands had joined them on stage, and one of the drummers had drug part of a kid into the mosh pit and was hanging from the rafter, keeping time on a cymbal in the middle of the floor? Sweat-soaked and righteous, full of the past but unmistakable.

7) Lewis and Clarke with Jerry Decicca, Surly Girl Saloon - One of the best solo sets I've ever seen Decicca do, followed by a band with members of Rachel's and Man Man playing delicate folk that wasn't shy, keening strings and spacious piano, a drummer playing banjo and beautiful, honey-dark songs.

8) D. Charles Speer and the Helix, Surly Girl Saloon - Speer made one of my favorite records of last year (and what would it take to get his main gig, the No Neck Blues Band, to town?) and his band took what could've been great straightforward baritone-voiced Kris Kristofferson poetic country and opening it up to include a piano player with hints of Art Tatum and Monk in his comping and solos, a guitarist and steel player who understands warm ambience and also played some leads that reminded me of Jerry Garcia in the early '70s, and a boiling rhythm section.

9) Gnarls Barkley, The Newport- THere's no songwriter or frontman I love more than Cee-Lo, and I liked the Gnarls Barkley records, especially the second one, but I wondered how it would work live. Two drummers, two players alternating between organ and guitar, an upright bassist, Dangermouse on everything else, and Cee-Lo taking everybody to church. The songs were recognizable but transformed, exactly what you want a big pop show to do.

10) Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, The Summit - I wish more than 15 people had come to this, but trust me, when the record comes out on Lost Highway produced by the guy from Spoon, you won't forget this voice. Neo-soul with a garage scrappiness that most bands are a little too reverent to pull off. Amazing Don Covay songs and originals, a horn section that wasn't too seamless and a drummer that knows you know more than one kinda dance. Fire.

11) Baby Dee, The Knitting Factory, Manhattan - Baby Dee was great with her full band playing with the Black Swans at Rumba Cafe here in Columbus in March, but this show with her playing piano and harp and accompanied only by a violinist in a small room, produced these hymns of sadness and the joy of discovery. Hearing her sing "Just because I can't have you / Doesn't mean that I won't love you just the same" might have been the most haunting thing I heard all year.

12) Gal Costa, The Blue Note, Manhattan - One of the great Brazillian singer-songwriters of the Tropicalia era and beyond, accompanied only by Romero Lumbambo on nylon string guitar was so phenomenal it overpowered the worst club I've ever been to, swinging and doleful, perfectly simpatico.

13) Raphael Saadiq, SOBs, Manhattan - This year Saadiq found something perfecty fresh and of the momet from a deep devotion to the soul of his childhood, and he executed it so beautifull with his five-piece band and two backup singers in NY that it proved how much his earlier work, with Tony Toni Tone and Lucy Pearl ("Dance Tonight" was a set highlight) was of a piece with and leading up to what he's doing right now.

14) Donewaiting 5th Anniversary Show, Skully's/Carabar - As with anyhting that's a good cross-section of Columbus' music scene, there was as much stuff I didn't like (Miranda Sound) as stuff I did, but what was great was way, way beyond great. Deathly Fighter's narcotic live dubstep and Sinkane's post-Mwandishi pop backed by Slide Machine at Carabar, Blueprint backed by Brainbow and Bob Starker at Skully's making music full of strong rap and real rock that wasn't anything like rap-rock, and Mike Shiflet backed by members of Lambsbread, Scenic Railroads, Moviola and Black Canary doing perfectly subtle soundscapes that filled the room, built on Reich-like cells of melodic invention.

15) Polwechsel, Issue Project Room, Brooklyn- A quartet straddlng composition and improvisation but not in the way you'd expect unless you've been following their evolution. Focused so deeply on the gesture that their abstraction feels like the fractal freezing of nature and the soul-fields of Rothko and the wash of streetlights. I don't know how to describe it, I'm not sure I understand it, but I don't think any other music would take me to this place.