Best new restaurants! Top sports plays of the week! 100 greatest guitarists of all time! There seems to be an awful lot of lists these days so I guess I’ll finish off the year with a little one of my own. However, when dealing with art or music, I wouldn’t presume to ever declare something the “best” of anything. There were many concerts that I missed, like M83 at Music Hall and Brooklyn Rider at Carnegie Hall. And there were smaller shows that were truly amazing, such as My Brightest Diamond at Littlefield and Tim Fain’s Portals at Symphony Space. But when looking back at 2011, there were three shows that stood out to me. These are them…..
#3 RADIOHEAD, ROSELAND BALLROOM, NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 29th Thanks to the greatest sound man on the planet, I was lucky enough to take in the second of two surprise shows by one of my favorite bands of all time. One could tell that they were still exploring how to perform certain parts of King of Limbs live, (noted by the onstage addition of Portishead’s Clive Deamer on drums) but this mattered not. The ‘heads opened the set with Bloom and the ballroom instantly filled with glorious synth waves and jagged drum and bass lines, with Thom Yorke’s trance like vocals soaring over the top of it all.
That night the audience was treated to a few songs from the Kid A/Amnesiac days, however the majority of the set drew from King and In Rainbows. During the second encore set they debuted a new song entitled Supercollider and finished off the night with a melancholy account of Nude. Even after appearances on Colbert Report, SNL, and two live shows, Thom Yorke still had the energy to go DJ the afterparty. Quite impressive sir.
Radiohead is still very much at the top of their game. In a day when virtually everyone we listen to sounds like someone else, they are unique in that they appear to be playing in their own world. A genre they control, evolve, and command, to whatever boundaries they feel like crossing or expanding. Radiohead has launched a tour starting in 2012 so do what you can to see them live, you’ll be glad you did. #thanks Jim!
#2 BON IVER, SHRINE AUDITORIUM, LOS ANGELES, SEPTEMBER 19th This was loud, this was beautiful, and this was nothing like anyone would’ve expected if all you had heard were the records. I saw the first version of this band a few years ago when they were on their way up. Justin Vernon singing Re: Stacks to a small crowd in Brooklyn that was so captivated and enraptured that one could actually hear the gentle mechanical whirl of the air conditioning vents. I remember thinking that this was one of the most sincere performances I’d heard in a long while. I certainly expected big things from whatever the future would hold, but little did I know at the time that this “guy from the cabin in the woods” would morph into a musical all star juggernaut.
This is quite possibly the most talented band in the world right now (think 1992 Dream Team in Barcelona if you need an analogy) and what they are sonically achieving is both equally ambitious and impressive. When I caught them in New York a month earlier, Bon Iver was still warming up, and the sound system just couldn’t handle all that was being thrown at it. However in LA’s massive Shrine Auditorium, the band was in full stride and the venue matched their intensity and volume with quality of sound. It was an incredible performance and the 5,000+ strong audience knew it. Ripping through tracks from from their latest record, imaginative renditions of previous songs, and a Bjork cover to boot (Who Is It), this 9 person version of Bon Iver is simply awesome.
Near the end of the set proper they played only a few bars of Beth/Rest and then decided to skip it after some technical difficulties. It somehow felt like it wasn’t in the cards that night and so they finished off with a gorgeous version of Emma. After hearing thousands of USC students begging for more, Justin indulged the crowd with Skinny Love, band members backing him up with their feet stomping and hands clapping. And then finally all nine multi instrumentalists picked up their tools and closed off the evening with a roaring read of Wolves (Act 1 and Act 2). The audience participated by screaming at the very tops of their lungs and the building shook with power and happiness. #thanks CJ & Rob!
#1 LCD SOUNDSYSTEM, MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, NEW YORK, APRIL 2nd I’m losing my edge, but I was there. I was there. At the final LCD Soundsystem show in New York City. They played 3 sets and 6 encores. 29 songs that lasted almost 4 hrs. I was there. Everyone was dressed in black and white and it felt like a funeral and a wedding. All at the same time. Everyone had glow sticks that they joyfully flung into the air when the synthesizer started blasting fortissimo at 3 minutes into the opening of Dance Yrself Clean. I was there. So was Reggie Watts, who sang part of 45:33. I was there. So was Arcade Fire, who sang the chorus of North American Scum. I was there. There was a men’s chorus wearing shiny outfits, there were robots and spaceships, and there were background girls singing harmony. There was a cowbell. There were bongo drums. There were people yelling and laughing and crying. I was there. There was pumping bass and four on the floor. There were arpeggiators and vintage synthesizers making cosmic sounds that no plugin ever could. There was distortion. And there was compression. There were guitars and there were Trials and Tribulations. There was Someone Great. I was there, at the final LCD Soundsystem show. There was dancing. Everyone was dancing. GIL! SCOTT! HERON! There was a well rehearsed band. A singer who was so mad that ticket scalpers had tried to take over his farewell party that he said “fuck you” (and booked 5 more shows leading up to this one). I was there. I heard that singer belting his heart out on top of a musical mountain that he had spent years building. I was there. And man it was cool. I was there, at the final LCD Soundsystem show! #thanks James!