WFOETYLs #2: Ten live sets from ’10

Entertainment Column
Written by Nathan Mattise

If you thought the top albums of 2010 were solid, the top shows really gave you reason to find a downloading means and put your funds towards tickets. Tons of big names came through CNY’s preverbial back yard (give it a 2.5hr driving radius) and I’m not even including Justin Bieber at the State Fair.

A few guidelines to start:

  • The act did not have to release an album in ’10, but it can only help my excitement for a show if the material is somewhat recent.
  • Top sets is not top albums or top songs. Just because your professional recordings are solid does not mean your live performances are too (sorry Passion Pit… and I saw them again this year. Admittedly much more enjoyable than last year).
  • I know there are a million factors outside of the band’s hands that can impact the effect of a live set (crowd energy, venue, just an off-night, etc.). I also know there are dozens of other acts I wanted to see but couldn’t due to a lack of local dates or just date conflicts (the bands I regret not seeing most this year… Gwar in ‘Cuse, Herbie Hancock in Rochester,  Yeasayer in Ithaca, Kid Cudi at Cornell). All that means I recognize the subjectivity of this list.
  • This is a list of individual sets so regardless of who opened the show (or who closed if this band was the opener), acts are judged individually. It may even increase the value of a set if one act upstages a notable other.
  • Finally, what are a few things that make up an ideal concert experience for me? I hope the sound is clean, the energy is high and the band gives you a moment that makes you remember that night long after the drive home. Simple enough but certainly not every show has you talking to friends about it long afterward.

10. Phantogram (Sept. w/ Ra Ra Riot) in Geneva

This was the second time I saw Phantogram in ’10… and the first time I drove 2.5 hours and got there late to see them open for Minus The Bear (who I was completely disinterested in). If I felt that was worth the hassle, this Geneva show was off the charts. The show was boosted by a great space (a converted factory turned art gallery) and the timing of it. I caught the band after they’d been touring all summer but right before they added the live drummer. I’m not sure their set could get any tighter.

9. Ra Ra Riot (Sept.) in Syracuse

It’s a testament to how many good shows came around CNY this year that our hometown heroes and their triumphant comeback are this low on a list of highlights. I’ve seen Ra Ra Riot more than I’ve seen any other band and it’s a completely different experience seeing them in Syracuse (even after all their peers have graduated). It always feels intimate, there is always strong interplay with the crowd and the band seems to let themselves go a little bit and reach an honest, vulnerable level of fun. They even closed with a crowd-suggested encore of  a song off their original EP (“Everest“) – how many bands do you know that will do that? Literally, only in Syracuse.

8. Phoenix (Oct.) at Cornell University

Seeing these guys in Boston last year was No. 2 on my ’09 list but it again speaks to the strength of the calendar in 2010. Everyone’s favorite French rock outfit was no worse this year than last, simply different. A year of touring as one of the most buzzed bands in the world has turned Phoenix into a polished, stadium ready act (if you thought everyone, even annoying Top 40 loving bros, was singing along to “1901” last year, they have the entire “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” album now). If you’ve seen them before it leaves the experience feeling a little less organic and exciting, but there’s no denying the energy and level of musicianship they still bring.

7. YACHT at Hamilton College

Seeing YACHT perform was the biggest surprise of 2010. Not only was the concert announced one day in advance (or at least the week of but we only found out the day before), but I knew nothing about the band except for an episode of Dinner With The Band.  MNDR opened and eventually became the more buzzed about band, but YACHT totally blew her out of the water on this night. There were non-stop theatrics on the stage with dance music that caused non-stop movement off it. I’m eagerly awaiting their next release because, based on their live set, YACHT is ready to… sail(?) to new heights soon.

6. Flaming Lips (June w/ The Black Keys) in Canadaigua, N.Y.

Like Phoenix, The Flaming Lips cracked my list in 2010 for getting to witness their New Years Freakout live. Unlike Phoenix however, this set by the Lips easily topped their last one. It helps that the venue was small but still outdoors in the summer (as opposed to an arena for NYE). Wayne Coyne just sucked everyone into his circus so fast in close quarters. The crowd made animal noises and sang about pink robots even without an overpowering smell of weed on the premises.

5. Neon Indian (March) in Buffalo

I’m not sure how their album got so readily overlooked in ’09, but I’ve listened to it consistently ever since catching the band live. Their recorded sound makes you think it took a lot of studio magic to become so catchy, but the folks in Neon Indian can flat out play (watching guitarist Ronnie Gierhart shred during a solo is mesmerizing). They reminded me of a good jazz band in the way they could all hit a groove pocket together and transition to whatever comes next seamlessly. Add to that Alan Palomo’s weirdly charming dancing and you can’t help but enjoy them live.

4. Broken Social Scene (Sept) in Ithaca

BSS doesn’t come through this neck of the woods too often, but they’re known for a legendary stage show. The performance was more orchestra than seedy night club band as they played a two hour set with no slipping throughout. Seeing “Stars and Sons” live was one of two pseudo-religious rock experiences I had this year.

3. Sleigh Bells (April) in Syracuse

A band with a Top 20 album in 2010 (with a Top 10 live set) played at a local art gallery that can’t possibly hold more than 80 people. What?

Sleigh Bells plays such a visceral and raw live show that I can’t even describe it with full sentences:  Loud. Sweaty. Kind of Erotic. Hard. Fuck. Insane.

Criticize the sound quality of their album all you want, but live that is as unique a concert experience as you can have.

2. The Black Keys (June w/ The Flaming Lips) in Canadaigua, N.Y.

Initially I thought this night belonged to The Flaming Lips. Looking back on it though I remember the feel of last minute of “Tighten Up” or clarity in the note runs of “Your Touch” more than I do any individual moment from The Flaming Lips. There is something to be said for making such a commanding sound with just two people and The Black Keys rose to the top of that category in 2010. No one plays the drums harder (or with more precision) than Carney, and no one can wail quite like Auerbach. It’s no wonder they’ve always had a loyal fan base despite limited commercial success.

1A. LCD Soundsystem (Oct. w/ Sleigh Bells) at Hamilton College

1B. LCD Soundsystem (July) at Camp Bisco

“All My Friends,” Hamilton College, 10/1/10 – Musical religious experience No. 2 for 2010

I couldn’t bring myself to bump one of the other acts from this list, but honestly the  best two sets I saw in 2010 both came at the hands of James Murphy. He has this undeniable alluring everyman quality when he performs, like your slightly overweight, slightly drunk uncle decided to perform during your family holiday gathering. The only difference is Murphy becomes the maestro of a large disco/punk band that performs as a singular unit. I’ve never seen extended solo or groove sections like what LCD Soundsystem produces (and I caught Dave Brubeck live).  I know I pronounced seeing The Yeah Yeah Yeahs in a small Albany club as the best rock experience I’ll ever have, but perhaps I jinxed myself and spoke too soon.  Seeing LCD headline a major festival and then at a small 100-person venue (where I was close enough to touch Murphy each occasion) was unbelievable. If the band really is calling it quits, than the gravity of the situation only rises. I’m not sure there’s a way to top this one in 2011.

The End.

Others in serious consideration: Caribou (July – Camp Bisco), Steve Aoki (Oct. – Syracuse)

(Links today from NewsHouse, YouTube, Wikipedia and 20 Watts)

Have an argument to make with the list? E-mail it.
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