(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Top concerts of 2010 - Jester Jay edition

My Favorite Live Shows
I saw fewer concerts in 2010, but there were still plenty of high points. There's a special kind of magic abou a live show. An artist that seems decent on CD can reveal deeper qualities on stage. It's a chance for performers to connect with us as people at the same time as they show their own transcendent connection to their music. I raise a toast to all the musicians I saw this year, even those that didn't make this short list.

Muse with Passion Pit (2 October, Pepsi Center, Denver)
Muse missed their show in April when weather blocked some of their show gear from making it her. They rescheduled for October and it was all for the best. Passion Pit opened the show. Their dance-centric pop was okay, but not a great match. That didn't matter much, since the beginning of Muse's set reset the audience's memory. The show was sheer spectacle. The stage set up featured three large elevator pillars, intense lighting, and lasers. The music was more than strong enough to equal the presentation. Muse's heavy post rock sound kept the audience engaged and energized. The combination rivaled that Pink Floyd show your dad told you about.

Red Sparowes with Caspian and Fang Island (26 April, Larimer Lounge, Denver)
Another great evening of post rock intensity. These three bands meshed together relatively well. Fang Island opened with a looser, more joyous set. Caspian built a wall of throbbing guitar sound. Their stage energy was thrashy, in contrast to their tight arrangements. The drumming provided the focus to channel the guitars and the emotion. Red Sparowes were more inwardly focused, which gave their set a a more detached feeling. The carefully layered textures and the swirling hypnotic sound built a psychedelic trance that served as the perfect ending for this concert/trip.

OK Go with Earl Greyhound and the Booze (14 April, Bluebird Theatre, Denver)
What a weird line up. The Booze provided a mod, mid-'60s vibe. Their polished set and tight arrangements were nice. They led into one of my favorite new bands, Earl Greyhound. Their hard rock, power trio sound built up the energy for the show. Kamara Thomas' bass work and singing continues to amaze me. Earl Greyhound sounds great on CD, but their live show is simply stupendous. Their bombast contrasted nicely with OK Go's tight power pop. OK Go may be one of the more recent bands built by the internet, but Damien Kulash and the band showed that their gimmicks (the treadmills, the light up guitars, etc) are in service to crafting great songs. The show and the sound were tight.

Macklemore with Binary Star, Observatory, and Jimmy Hands (12 November, Aggie Theatre, Ft. Collins)
The openers here were good. Binary Star, in particular, built up the energy. But Macklemore's triumphant return to Colorado was the main event. His stage persona was so genuine and warm that an audience couldn't help but connect with him. His joy at being on stage and getting to do what he loves came through. At the same time, his flow and insightful perspectives made the songs click just right. His producer, Ryan Lewis joined him and laid down some sweet backing tracks, too.

Bisco Inferno [Disco Biscuits and friends] (29 May, Red Rocks, Morrison)
The friends included a long list of interesting electronic artists: Pnuma Trio (from Boulder), Belgian DJs Aeroplane, Crystal Method, Glitch Mob, and German duo Booka Shade. The rhythms and jams continued from the afternoon til late in the night. All the acts were fine, but I particularly enjoyed the Pnuma Trio's jazz dance mix. Crystal Method worked the crowd and built up some great energy. Also, the Glitch Mob's set was impressive, with instrument swapping, laptop solos, and trippy soundscapes. Of course, the pinnacle was two full sets of the Disco Biscuits. The lighting, the costumed crowd, and the hypnotic jams created a neo tribal ritual. Biscuit shows generally meet this description, but the Red Rocks setting added its magic as well.

Gomez with One eskimO (8 March, Ogden Theater, Denver)
One eskimO opened the show weak on stage presence, but strong in sound. Kristian Leontiou's voice and the intriguing musical arrangements pulled their set together. Their big single, Kandi, was the high point of their show. Gomez nailed their songs with a looser, jam feel than the studio versions. The progression of songs seemed effortlessly inevitable: choreographed, yet casual. Their balance of psychedelia and pop was also perfect.

Flobots with Digable Planets and Air Dubai (10 December, Aggie Theatre, Ft. Collins)
Air Dubai, from Denver proved to be a promising opener. They featured a tight rhythm section and band backing a pair of talented rappers. Speaking of tight bands, Digable Planets was backed by an incredible set of musicians. Cee Knowledge recreated the band's original jazz hop vibe. The Flobots, though, owned the stage. Their music and stage choreography were fluid. As good as their records are, they must be seen live to truly appreciate what they have to offer.

Cymbals Eat Guitars with Bear in Heaven and Freelance Whales (1 April, Hi Dive, Denver)
Freelance Whales brought their shimmery, indie pop, packed with interesting instrumental arrangements. Bear in Heaven played a synth-touched, post rock sound. These guys are great musicians and their set was exciting. Cymbals Eat Guitars transcended their studio sound to land somewhere between Pavement and the Replacements. Their great dynamics were just a bonus.

Good Gravy with Jonestown Potion (22 January, Aggie Theatre, Ft. Collins)
Both of these local bands were standout. They each had the right dedication to the groove, even though they leaned towards radically different genres. Jonestown Potion's progressive jazz was mind blowing. Good Gravy continued their ongoing improvements to deliver two strong sets of jam grass. The group was more comfortable than before, without sacrificing any of their chops.

Honey Gitters with Novalectric (18 August, Aggie Theatre, Ft. Collins)
Novalectric's southern fried rock was good, if a little out of balance. The Honey Gitters expanded on their core jam grass sound to get a little wilder. This show featured more freeform jams than I've heard them explore before. These guys could easily appeal to fans of the String Cheese Incident and other favorites of the festival circuit.

There you have it. Ten wildly different shows, but all hitting the spot in a way only live music can.

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