The Year in Review: The 10 Best Live Performances of 2006
10. The Black Keys @ The Avalon (9/14/06)Right now, I'd rather see the Black Keys live than Clapton. I blame this on the fact that Clapton hangs out with John Mayer. Bad move Clapton. Maybe he should hang out with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys instead. The truth is he's Clapton's worthiest successor. Not Cream-era Clapton. But the early stuff. 5 Live Yardbirds, the John Mayall and the Bluesbreaker's, when he was a young raw strictly blues guitarist. If you see these guys live you'll know what I mean. Both own their instruments like few musicians working. The Akron, Ohio-based two piece are live music at its most primal, soulful and vibrant.
Excerpt from The Black Keys @ The Avalon
"This band doesn't hide themselves in an array of pre-packaged sonics, the Keys wrap their songs in gritty and blistering guitar licks, in simply written but effective lyrics, and in their art that obviously means so much to them. Live, they are nothing short of a revelation, as Auerbach draws from a grab-bag of vicious guitar riffs both haunting and savagely brutal. Patrick Carney pounds the drums with a primal fury that hasn't been seen since John Bonham or Keith Moon. He may be the best drummer in rock music today."
The Full Review
MP3: The Black Keys-"Strange Desire"
9. Grizzly Bear @ Spaceland (9/29/06)On the first few listens to Yellow House, Grizzly Bear's songs tend to seem frozen and faraway, but live, with the rhythmic almost jam-band like drums of Christopher Bear, they come alive with warmth and energy. It doesn't hurt that lead singer Ed Droste and his partner Daniel Rossen have the best harmony section of any duo I saw this year, except for Graham Nash and David Crosby.
Excerpt from Grizzly Bear @ Spaceland
"But Grizzly Bear live was anything but dull, as the band tore through a captivating hour-long set, brimming with energy, their songs pregnant with emotion and subtle textures often unnoticeable on the album. Lead singer, Ed Droste displayed ample charisma, often engaging in sarcastic banter with the crowd, when not unleashing some Beach Boys, CSNY-esque harmonizing with partner Daniel Rossen. Meanwhile, Chistopher Bear (I sincerely hope that name's a coincidence) is the group's secret weapon, keeping a steady rhythmic drumbeat throughout, always managing to keep the tempo afloat. Simultaneously, Chris Taylor whirled around on a grab-bag of instruments, playing the keyboards, woodwinds and the occasional flute solo."
The Full Review
MP3: Grizzly Bear-"On a Neck, On a Spit"
8. Beirut @ The Troubadour (10/20/06) Odds are you can jack Zach Condon, the 15 year old lead singer of Beirut for his lunch money. Odds are he also has written more great songs by the age of 20 (his real age) than some musicians write in a lifetime. I was skeptical of the kid until I saw him play live with a full brass band, who helped fill the hauntingly beautiful songs on Gulag Orkestrar with even more emotion and baroque detail than apparanced on that staggeringly good album.
Excerpt from Beirut @ The Troubadour
"Not many musicians can craft songs both uplifting and tragic, it seems as though you either get the pop sensibility and unadulterated fun of acts like the Go! Team or the maudlin moroseness of Sufjan Stevens. Despite his tender age, Condon seems to have a preternatural knack for doing both, at times even during the same song. At any age that's a rare thing. The band has just completed its first-ever US tour, save for a few dates in New Mexico. However, the next time they come through your city, go see this band, they're definitely worth checking for. The hype is for real."
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MP3: Beirut-"Elephant Gun"
7. Belle & Sebastian and The Shins @ The Hollywood Bowl (7/6/06)
Stuart Murdoch's come a long from the frail If You're Feeling Sinister days. Performing with the LA Philharmonic, B&S steered clear from the Sinister material and The Life Pursuit stuff, instead drawing from the more orchestral Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Each tune sounded phenomenal. So did the The Shins who opened, previewing songs from Wincing the Night Away (which is awesome by the way). With those two acts on the bill, an 80 degrees and perfect California night and box seats at the Hollywood Bowl, it was pretty much impossible not to have a great time.
Excerpt from Belle & Sebastian/The Shins @ The Hollywood Bowl
"Seeing them in person made it very clear that Belle and Sebastian are a great live band. Stuart Murdoch, the band's lead singer, has undeniable charisma (way more than I'd expected) and the ability to engage even the most jaded audience member. Constantly joking with the crowd and always energetic, Murdoch is an unlikely rock star: rail-thin and dresed foppishly but sharp, he looked more like a newspaper reporter from the 1940's. But sometimes on-stage, it all comes down to confidence and magnetism. And though Murdoch's lyrics might often contain dark themes, he displayed none of these morose tendencies on-stage, bouncing across the wooden Bowl floorbeams, strutting across the catwalk out in front of the pit, even rushing into the crowd."
The Full Review
MP3: Belle & Sebastian-"Sukie in the Graveyard"
6. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young @ The Hollywood Bowl (7/31/06)
This one was pure cliche: the old whippersnappers teaching us young folks a thing or two,. Well, except for Graham Nash. He still sucks. At any age. But Neil Young is still top-five all time in my book, Stephens Stills is dangerously underrated and David Crosby, well he looks like the Walrus from Alice in Wonderland at this point. But I will say this. He is one fine singing walrus. CSNY are still a fantastic live show and perhaps the only 60s icons still worth going to see at those steep "baby boomers will fork over anything to re-live their youth" ticket prices.
Excerpt from CSNY @ The Hollywood Bowl
"Crosby's high point of the show came on "Almost Cut My Hair," which managed to not sound ridiculous despite the fact that Crosby is very very bald. Follicular difficulties aside, the man can still sing and Neil Young's presence seemed to really energize his performance...The high points of the show came from Young. From his fiery rendition of anti-war classic "Ohio," to his cover of Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner," to the concluding song, "Rockin' in the Free World," Neil Young proved that even at 61 years old he still may be the best performer in rock music. Where Bob Dylan's voice has been ravaged over the years, Neil's frail slightly off-beat falsetto still rang clear and crisp up into the starless Hollywood sky and for a moment every withered hippie in the bowl believed that it was 1969 all over again."
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5. The Raconteurs @ The Henry Fonda (6/7/06)
I'm still partial to the White Stripes, but that doesn't change a thing about the The Raconteurs being a brilliant live band. In one of their first shows together, the sorta' supergroup tore the roof off of the intimate art-deco Henry Fonda. Their album might not be mind-blowingly orinial but it's a good fun record and live, the tunes gain layers and complexity. Plus, Jack White plays the most savage guitar licks in rock today. Watching him shred is worth the price of admission alone.
"Jack White is the Star. And he more than proved it Wednesday night, stretching out the tight poppy arrangements of the album tracks and turning them into blistering, awe-inspiring guitar solos and singing in a plaintive howlin' haunted brimestone and fire wail. The high point came when they played a cover of Love's "A House Is Not a Motel," one of my favorite songs off one of my favorite albums of all time, Forever Changes....The band played a very passionate and touching cover, made particularly poignant by Arthur Lee's near-death condition. You couldn't help but get a tad emotional and think that in a way, White was doing his own tribute. One that seemed to mean a lot to him."
The Full Review
MP3: The Raconteurs-"A House is Not a Motel" (live)
4. Wolf Parade @ The Wiltern (8/25/06) I saw Wolf Parade three times this year. More than any other band. What struck me most was how much they improved each time. And it's not like they weren't good to begin with. If I hadn't seen them again, their January El Rey show would've placed high on this list. Out of all the albums I'm excited about hearing in the next year (Spoon, Wilco, Arcade Fire) this might be my most anticipated.
Excerpt From Wolf Parade @ The Wiltern
"While the concert as a whole was summarily excellent, the high point came during the second encore, when the band tackled the Krug composition, "Dinner Bells." A 7 and a half minute piece on the album, the band seemed to stretch it out even further and more beautifully in the live setting. Amping the song's already eerie and haunting quality, the band turned it into an almost funereal dirge evoking themes of a long-gone childhood. While the album version may have sounded a bit thin and a bit slow, live, every bell, clap and chime sounded crystal clear, each twisting jagged guitar chord sounded more immediate, drenched in emotion and passion."
The full review
MP3: Wolf Parade-"I Don't Know" (Live in Providence)
3. The Hold Steady @ The Troubadour (10/16/06)Whenever somebody tells me that they don't like the Hold Steady, my standard response is: "Have you seen them live?" Somehow, everything just makes a whole lot more sense that way. In an indie music world often lacking in sincerity, Craig Finn and Co. have a more genuine bond with their fans than any other band out there. Going to their shows always feels special. Like more of a reunion with old friends than a concert. All pleasantries aside though, the bottom line is that this band rocks. Hard.
Excerpt from The Hold Steady @ The Troubadour
"Craig Finn looks more like a law school professor than perhaps the greatest rock star in the world, rocks and flails, claps his hands maniacally, whirls across the stage guitar slung across his back, smile strapped on his face, burning bright with the pure joy that comes from getting to be the pointman for this transcendence. Tad Kubler stands to his left, looking more like Chuck Klosterman than one of the best lead guitarists in indie rock. Delivering bruising but beautiful guitar licks that pierce the smoke burning from the hot stage lights, the whiskey-chugging Kubler plays Jimmy Page by way of Bruce Springsteen, the ideal sidekick to Finn's dynamic lead."
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MP3: The Hold Steady-"Stuck Between Stations"
2. Edan @ Spaceland (6/30/06) Your guess is as good as mine in figuring out how the guy pictured above is the best live performer in rap these days. He looks like a dude who I went to Hebrew School with. I think his name was David Rosenblatt or something. But I'll swear on a stack of Torah's that Edan has a fresher live show than nearly any rapper you've ever seen. Not only could does he spit like a vintage LL Cool crossed with the lyrical science of the GZA, but he DJ's and raps simultaneously on-stage. He also plays a guitar. He also plays a kazoo. I swear it sounds terrible but it's fucking brilliant. Don't believe me. Go see Edan and tell me otherwise.
Excerpt from Edan @ Spaceland
"The moment Edan walked on-stage, any doubts that I might've had about his merits were cleared. One of the most unique talents to have entered the world of hip-hop in recent memory, Edan delivered a taut and ferocious 50 minute set, one of the most jaw-dropping I've ever seen a rapper deliver. In its course, Edan rapped while simultaneously scratching on the turntables, manipulating a voice modulator and somehow never missed a beat. The performance was one of the most commanding I've ever seen. At one point, he walked into the crowd, leaving the mic smoking for five minutes, delivering brilliantly constructed flows for five minutes straight, never taking a breath, never even relying on a hook. Anyone who knows rap couldn't help but be wildly impressed."
The Full Review
1. My Morning Jacket @ Coachella (4/29/06) My Morning Jacket are the best live band in the world. They announced this to everyone in April at Coachella when they delivered the finest performance in a weekend full of brilliant performances. In front of a small audience (thanks to being pitted against Kanye West), MMJ delivered thrashing, powerful rock n' roll the way it was meant to be played. How good were they? Good enough to have me driving up to San Francisco in two weeks to catch the Dec. 29 and New Year's shows at the Fillmore.
Excerpt from My Morning Jacket @ Coachella:
"Running through a variety of tracks from their catalogue (though slanting harder towards stuff off of "Z"), every song by My Morning Jacket seemed about 10,000 times better live than on their albums. And I'm a big fan of their albums. I don't think I could even begin to do justice to how incredible the performance was, Jim James' celestial voice echoing loud and crystal-clear into the early evening air, the palm trees lilting in the background, as the band roared and wailed hard. It was mind-blowing."
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MP3: My Morning Jacket-"One Big Holliday" from Okonokos live album