Wednesday, December 31, 2008

50 Best Concerts, Shows or Sets of 2008

For me, 2008 was another consecutive year of hair-raising, barn-burning, foot-stompin', imaginative, creative and astounding off-earth concert experiences. Of course, I've only been back attending shows for the last three years, but the accumulation is getting overwhelming. Out of 171 concerts this calendar year, I've narrowed it down to 50. Consecutively listed, every one was an experience that made me glad to share this time and space conundrum in which we find ourselves. Here they are...

1. Brian Aubert (solo) at The Echo, Jan. 28. Amazing to hear Silversun Pickups songs done with just one voice and a guitar. Riveting performance. Also on the bill, Everest performed a sterling set.

2. Film School at Spaceland on Feb. 18. This was the first time I got to see a band I had been listening to for about six months and was dying to see live. They did not disappoint. In fact they blew my mind.

3. Grizzly Bear with the L.A. Philharmonic on March 1 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. With it's perfect acoustics, this was ideal for a band that sings in a harmonious, heavenly choir style and yet thrashes the amazing assortment of instruments they play. This one was really special.

4. Mountain Goats at the Troubadour on Mar. 4. Master songwriter/storyteller John Darnielle can do no wrong in concert and this night and Oct. 21, at the Troubadour also, were no exception.

5. Division Day at Spaceland, Mar. 7 played to their usual high standard and then ramped it up and astounded in the heat at the KCRW Pasadena Music Festival on June 21. This band is every bit as stunning live as on record.

6. Amnion and Fol Chen delivered a one, two punch, the likes of which I have rarely seen, on Mar. 18 at Boardner's at Joe Fielder's "Let's Independent!" First Fol Chen stunned with a pitch perfect set of the infectious rock they've become famous for, and this was only their second show. Then Amnion took me on a trip off-earth to a distant planet where there is only beautiful music. I haven't returned yet. This may have been the best concert experience of the year.

7. Le Loup and The Ruby Suns at The Echo, Apr. 5. Le Loup, from New York, charmed me and bowled me over with their inventiveness and the wide range of instruments and objects they played. And The Ruby Suns, whereby Ryan McPhun left southern California and teamed up with some charming New Zealanders to create an hypnotically arresting musical combine that's sweeping movie soundtrack rock. Beautiful music that drew me back to The Echo two weeks later to see them headline on Apr 23.

8. The Eels at the El Rey on Apr. 16 in a concert of personal reflection by Mark Everett. Beginning with a screening of the documentary about his father, Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives, he then played a concert of such personal intensity you just stood in awe. This experience was heightened by attending the book signing for Everett's autobiography at Book Soup on Oct. 28 and getting to meet him.

9. Elbow at Avalon on May 9. My second time ever seeing them and, like before, the perfection of the performance was astonishing. Guy Garvey is one of rock's best singers and the rest of the band play with passion. The visual presentation is electrifying as well. Another highlight of the year.

10. Everest with Film School at The Viper Room, Check One...Two event on May 12. A great pairing of two great bands made a night to remember.

11. The National at the Hollywood Bowl, opening for R.E.M. and Modest Mouse on May 29. A gorgeous set by this brilliant band was the highlight of my evening that night, especially when they began with "Start A War". Modest Mouse were good and R.E.M. performed a perfunctory set marred by excessive visual technology. But they sounded as good as I thought they should. I left early because their fans were obnoxious.

12. Beirut at The Wiltern were the very next night, May 30, and they completely blew away any competition. This band couldn't have possibly been any better. It put me in a complete trance state, and, along with Amnion, it was the best concert of the year. Zack Condon has talent that just doesn't quit.

13. Swervedriver, Film School, Xu Xu Fang May 31 at the Fonda. Three great bands and three great sets. When the curtains parted and the whole Fonda was enveloped in fog and that lurching, throbbing pulse of Xu Xu Fang began, I was a goner. I've been a rabid fan ever since, I'd been looking forward to seeing Film School in a larger venue, since their sound is so large and they were great. Swervedriver played a really stunning set, too.

14. Everest at Spaceland on June 16. I know, Everest again. But on this night I took a bunch of people from work and their reaction was so positive they all became on-the-spot fans. A wonderful set.

15. Thailand EP release party on June 25 at Silverlake Lounge. This was the one that did it. I'd seen them before, but this show was amazing. And the EP is one of the year's best.

16. Fleet Foxes June 28 at The Echo. I guess they could be considered the band success story of the year (at least in the indie world). Already a huge fan of theirs just because of the CD's, I saw them for the first time and then again at Spaceland the following night, June 29. Both were astonishing shows, The Echo packed and hot and I was at the back, and Spaceland was open and comfortable. I even got to meet Robin Pecknold that night. And they sounded absolutely incredible and I got to be right in front.

17. The Stevenson Ranch Davidians on July 3 at The Echo opening for The Flying Tourillon Orchestra and their sound and songs completely bowled me over. Saw them again on July 23 at the wonderful little Three of Clubs in Hollywood. I can't stop playing their CD over and over, even still, and they recreate their recorded sound perfectly live. I love their Brian Jonestowny sound.

18. The Retribution Gospel Choir at the Troubadour on July 7. Alan Sparhawke's Low offshoot band where he can really rock, wonderfully.

19. Frank Fairfield, A Hawk and A Handsaw at The Echoplex on July 20. Frank Fairfield had opened for Fleet Foxes at Spaceland and I had missed him, but everyone was talking about him. So I saw him here and his mesmerizing set had me in a nostalgic trance as images of the dust bowl and depression-era America swirled around in my head. Perfect recreation of early roots music, passionately performed.

20. Gangi at The Scene on July 31. Another band I know because The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra played with them on a bill. Gangi are New York transplants to the local scene who bring an inventive, imaginative sound to every show they play. I've seen them a number of times this year and I'm always impressed.

21. Amanda Palmer, Vermillion Lies at the Troubadour on Aug. 4. The Dresden Dolls' Amanda Palmer set out on a solo tour in conjunction with her CD Who Killed Amanda Palmer and proved she's just as astonishing as a solo act. This was a lovely intimate set that included a moving duet with her father on a beautiful Leonard Cohen song. Vermillion Lies completely captivated me with their theatrical antics and great music.

22. Darker My Love, Amnion at the Troubadour on Aug. 7. This was a really great show because Amnion delivered one of their best sets yet, and I didn't know Darker My Love, who really took me by surprise and have even landed on my Ten Best Albums list.

23. Death To Anders at "Let's Independent!" Boardner's show on Aug. 19. Here was an acoustic set by a band I'd seen a few times, but for some reason it all came together for me at this show and I was floored by the talent on display.

24. Menomena at Sunset Junction on Aug. 23. I understand from other people that this was a bit of a fiasco, but it was only my second opportunity to see this great band who had given one of the best concerts I ever saw at the Troubadour in 2007. I was not disappointed by this show at all.

25. Rogue Wave at the Hotel Cafe on Aug. 28. Billed as an acoustic set, it was still the full band who played an amazing set of their beauteous rock in that wonderful intimate setting. Amazing, considering they had played the Nokia around the same time, opening for some band or another.

26. Sons and Daughters at the Troubadour on Sept. 2. This scottish band has facinated me for some time because of their video for"Dance Me In". Seeing them for the first time I was impressed with their tight professionalism and the all-round good time they provide for the audience. Very skilled musicians and singers, too. A kind of punky rock indie sound.

27. Avi Buffalo at The Unknown Theatre on Sept. 11. Thanks again to The Flying Toubillon Orchestra for the chance to see someone I'd been hearing about for a while. The extremely gifted guitarist and singer Avi Buffalo performed with his four-piece band and knocked the whole audience on their asses. The very definition of fine music. Look for him this year!

28. Earlimart at the Troubadour on Sept. 19. Also a chance to turn new people on to this band and they delivered a sharp set that laid the trap and captured new fans with ease. They were opening for The Wedding Present who also performed a terrific and energetic set.

29. Fleet Foxes, Frank Fairfield at the El Rey on Sept 22. Already moving into bigger venues, this was the first of two sold out nights at this theatre for Fleet Foxes who adapted their sound for the larger audience into a huge powerful juggernaut that left no doubters in their wake. A truly inspired performance that was matched two weeks later when I got to see them during a trip to Boston at the Somerville Theatre on Oct. 6. The wonderful Frank Fairfield opened for them on this national tour.

30. Aaron Embry at Tangier on Sept. 24. This was a solo show with just Aaron and his piano and I got to hear the core of the brilliant originality that lies at the heart of every Amnion song that Aaron Embry writes. This concert was a gift.

31. Silver Jews at Echoplex on Sept. 26. My second opportunity to see the reclusive artist out on tour for only the second time in his nearly 20 year career. Dressed nattily in suit and tie, he and his band gave us a set of his masterfully written prose-rock that rocked the house.

32. Manhatten Murder Mystery at the Echo Curio on Sept 27. This was my first time at the delightful Echo Curio and my first exposure to Manhattan Murder Mystery who shocked and appalled me as they inspired and excited me with a powerful display of guerrilla rock. But played so beautifully you wonder how they do it in their atmosphere of chaos. Amazing!

33. Calexico at the Fonda on Sept. 29. Seeing them for the second time only confirmed my contention that Joey Burns is one of the best singers in rock. And the band is such a collection of gifted musicians it picks you up off he floor and leaves you airborne. Their new material is stunning.

34. The Henry Clay People CD release party, The Parson Red Heads at Spaceland on Oct. 3. The Henry Clay People performed valiantly in the face of overwhelming audience enthusiasm that must have made it hard to concentrate. Wonderful songs from the new release, some performed with guest stars from the audience. A great party. The Parson Red Heads opened and performed to their usual high standard. I've seen them a lot this year and they always win over the crowd, every time. This was an unusually wonderful sounding show.

35. The Swell Season, Iron and Wine at the Greek Theatre on Oct. 4. A huge show that resembled a variety show, of sorts. Iron and Wine's Sam Beam performed a set with just one accompanist and it was a chance to hear his vocals shine. The Swell Season (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova), played for nearly two hours on their triumphant return to L.A. after winning Academy Awards earlier in the year. A brilliant show with guest appearances by the man who directed them in Once and, of all the people Glen met during the last year, Richard Sherman, who composed the 1964 Mary Poppins score with his brother Robert, and played "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" on the piano for us.

36. Pinback in Boston at the Paradise on Oct. 5. I've had a lot of opportunities to see my favorite band, but this year they just seemed to excel. The singing and playing has become so perfected each concert of theirs is a special experience. They had a large, appreciative audience in Boston, which pleased me, and they responded with an incredibly tight set. Saw them again at the Echoplex on Oct. 20 and, if anything, they sounded even better.

37. Seasons, Fol Chen at Echo Curio on Oct. 24. Two bands I try to see every time they play, this was my first time for Seasons and they were incredible. Got their CD compilation and it's in constant rotation to this day. Fol Chen performed their famous "shirtless" set this night and it was a top-notch set, too.

38. Tommy Santee Klaus, Avi Buffalo on Oct. 30 at Echo Curio. Local band Tommy Santee Klaws came out of nowhere to surprise me with a thoroughly professional set of enchanting music. They play all kinds of instruments and musical devices, very cleverly. Avi Buffalo performed solo and was as impressive as with a band. Amazing again.

39. The Broken West at Spaceland on Nov. 7 performed songs from their newest CD Now or Heaven and I think they are at the top of their game right now. I love these new songs and they played with an electricity I hadn't seen the other five times I've seen them. They've always been good, but this was great.

40. Dead Meadow at the Troubadour on Nov. 8. I'd seen them for the first time last Feb. at Echoplex, but this show was even better and I was swept away by the huge sonic atmosphere they create. Beautiful music played to perfection.

41. Red Cortez at Echoplex on Nov. 11. Good as Earlimart and Afternoons were this night, it was Red Cortez (formerly: The Weather Underground) that took me off-earth. This was a tightly controlled and disciplined set by a band known for raucous concerts, and for my money, it was an astonishingly beautiful set that left me ecstatic.

42. O'Death, Death To Anders at Spaceland on Nov. 22. Here was a show for the ages. Death To Anders performed the finest set I've ever seen from them that lifted the whole audience to a level of enthusiasm only O'Death could match. And match it they did and raised it a notch till the whole of Spaceland was vibrating like I've never seen before. Another of the very best shows of the year.

43. The Monolators at Pehrspace on their Prom-themed Night of Nov. 24. The Monolators had a big year with the release of Don't Dance and culminating with their terrific residency at Pehrspace. This show was a winner and The Monolators sounded superb.

44. The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra at their Thanksgiving eve. show at The Echo on Nov 26 performed in Pilgrim and Indian garb and delivered their best set of the year (out of many). Performing their own material and some delightful covers, they had the crowd eating out of their hands. It was also visually compelling, especially the turkey.

45. Xu Xu Fang at The Echo on Dec. 8. This was my fourth time seeing them and everything came together this night with a perfect sound mix, lots of fog and their usual hypnotic trance-inducement.

46. Radars To the Sky were completely electrifying at their CD release at Spaceland for the Spaceland recording release of a live concert from their residency there last April. I've known this band a long time, having seen their second ever show, but they just get tighter and tighter and their live shows are always a lot of fun. The Spaceland recording is pretty terrific too.

47. Amanda Palmer at the Fonda on Dec. 16. I give this concert it's own space because it was a completely new show from the one I saw at the Troubadour last August and besides, I love Amanda Palmer. This woman is a showman in the tradition of D.W. Griffith or Cecil B. DeMille as far as size, scale and ambition, but as far as subtlety, artistry and sensitivity go, she's on a different level altogether. Every time I see this performer, it's a complete assault on all the senses, but in a good way. Great art, like a trip to a museum, makes you feel intellectually nourished.

48. Will Sheff of Okkervil River in an acoustic show at the Masonic Lodge in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The combination of inspired setting and inspiring music made this a definite best concert contender of the year. Will Sheffs songwriting ability is peerless and his singing full of expression and passion.

49. The Movies, Everest at Spaceland on the final night of The Movies residency on Dec. 29. First Everest gets up a gives maybe the finest set I've ever seen from them (how is this possible) An incredible well-ordered set. And then The Movies perform like I've never seen before. More focus and a really crowd-pleasing stage persona reflect a band that seems content. The songs sounded great and the audience was with them every step of the way. A really fun night.

50. The Henry Clay People, The Pity Party, The Happy Hollows on Dec 31 at Spaceland. Maybe it seems corny, but the New Years Eve. extravaganza at Spaceland was not only a great concert but a wonderful party as well. First The Happy Hollows played better than I've ever heard them. And they're always great, but tonight they were on fire and they never sounded so beautiful. The Pity Party played their prehistoric sounding rock and I got up close to get enveloped in it. Their music requires concentration. The Henry Clay People partied us into the next year with an infectious set, extremely well played. They were then joined by as many musicians as could fit on stage. From Jordan Huddock (Marvelous Toy) to Hunter (Tourbillon) to Evan and Sam from The Parson Red Heads and then too many to mention.


1 comment:

Joe Fielder said...

Great list! That Brian Aubert performance was pretty fantastic, I agree.

Glad you were at the Fol Chen show at Boardner's. It was, like, wow.