Since the fall weather is beginning to sink in, I feel the need to sit back and reflect on all the awesome music that I got to see over the past summer. It has been quite an eventful season for me and I truly think that I have seen some of the best live performances of my life over the past few months.
Here’s a quick review of the top 20 shows that I had the privilege to see in Summer 2009:
#20 – Band of Horses
Even though I had just recently started listening to Band of Horses, I was looking forward to their performance at the Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco. I love listening to their music for it’s soothing “indie” quality with heavy guitars, a hint of country, and Ben Bridwell’s clear voice and honest lyrics. I really enjoyed Band of Horses’ performance and must say that it was almost perfect! The set list had a nice flow of songs and the band had a ton of energy without being over the top. My only complaint would be that it was too loud! Don’t get me wrong I love “cranking it up”, but in this case it really took away from the overall balance of sound and the intimacy of the smaller Sutro stage. Even still, the band sounded great together and I would definitely recommend seeing them live!
#19 – Chick Corea
The Chick Corea concert at the Hollywood Bowl was a great combination of artists from beginning to end. The concert opened with guitarist John Scofield and his Piety Street Band, a blues/gospel quartet featuring Jon Cleary on piano, organ and vocals, George Porter Jr. on bass, and Shannon Powell on drums. Although the musicians were clearly very talented, I was never too much of a fan of the gospel style and was disappointed to not hear any of Scofield’s more “funky” grooves. After the intermission, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White took the stage for their Return to Forever reunion and completely amazed the audience. The set began with pure trio music, then a slew of guest artists began to join the group including jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, guitarist Billy Connors, vocalist Chaka Khan, and a surprise appearance by Stevie Wonder! The concert seemed to get better and better as the night went on and each guest artist really added something new and interesting to the solid trio that was the heart and soul of the show.
#18 – Carney
I went to High School with the guys from Carney and was totally stoked to go to their show at the Roxy. Although I will always think of them as the guys in my HS Jazz band, I must say that they are truly some of the most talented musicians I have ever met. Each of them are virtuosic at their instruments and they bring an extremely high energy to every performance. At times, their energy can a bit overwhelming! The show at the Roxy was no exception and they totally rocked the crowd with a set list of old favorites including their epic song, Testify, and the Beatles cover, She’s so Heavy.
#17 – The Bad Plus
The Bad Plus played a bad-ass show at California Plaza this summer as part of the free Grand Performances series. The jazz trio never fails to impress me with their virtuosity as musicians and compatibility with each other. Sometimes they are so spot on with their playing that it feels like they are reading each others minds! I think that this is one of the most impressive and entertaining qualities in a jazz combo and it was great to see it in such an awesome setting. California Plaza is located in the heart of downtown LA and the stage is set adjacent to a large pond with versatile seating for picnicking or 360 degree viewing, all complimented by the gorgeous city skyline. Here’s an old clip of The Bad Plus performing Nirvana:
#16 – The Killers
I enjoyed seeing The Killers at the Hollywood Bowl this summer. The concert opened with a set from The Psychedelic Furs which was nothing special, but was still “cool” to see. By the time The Killers went on, I was excited with anticipation and was even happier when they opened with Human. Following the Day & Age single, they continued to play hit song after hit song, complete with background visuals, pyrotechnics, confetti and even a few lines from the Elvis song Fools Rush In. But the most memorable part of the show was the 2nd encore when Jimmy Kimmel ran onto the stage and mocked Kayne West by saying, “I’m going to let you finish, but I wanted to say that Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time, and The Psychedelic Furs had one of the best songs of all time!” From there, The Furs joined The Killers for an awesome rendition of Pretty in Pink. Overall, a very entertaining night!
#15 – DJ Cut Chemist
I was totally excited when I saw that Cut Chemist was playing a free show at the Getty Museum. Although it was pretty packed, it was totally worth it! The grooves were totally awesome throughout the entire show and even more impressive were the amazing visuals that got more and more complex as the sun began to set. It was amazing how the DJ was able to mash up his own beats with recorded classics (including one of Nat King Cole) and also sync the video images with his mix as well.
#14 – Berlioz’s Requiem performed by the LA Phil
I thought this was a good performance by the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl and that the conductor, Bramwell Tovey, and tenor soloist, James Taylor, both did a great job with their interpretations. But besides that, let’s be honest, I was mostly there to see the Dies Irae with 4 antiphonal brass sections and huge percussion section. I was a bit disappointed to see 4 timpanists double the parts that were originally written for 8 players, but it was still pretty awesome. Considering it was an outside venue, the brass sounded amazing and the orchestra was probably as loud as it could ever be. Here’s a historic recording to give you an idea of the massiveness of the piece:
#13 – Death Cab for Cutie
The Death Cab for Cutie show at the Hollywood Bowl opened with a brief set from The New Pornographers and an entertaining, yet somewhat talkative set from Tegan and Sara. Banter aside, I was a bit surprised by how much I enjoyed the performance by the two sisters – their songs were catchy and their voices sound great together! Next was Death Cab and I was generally happy with their set. The first half featured several radio hits and for the second half, the band was accompanied by the LA Philharmonic. I always think combining a rock band + orchestra is a “hit and miss” situation and this performance was no exception – some songs didn’t benefit from the orchestra and others were mind-blowingly enhanced. I think the best collaboration was Grapevine Fires; however, the icing on the cake was a grand finale of Transatlaticism with fireworks. Seriously, it was one of the best fireworks shows I have seen for it’s perfect synchronization with the music:
#12 – Incubus
I have been an Incubus fan for awhile and have always wanted to see them live. This summer I got my chance twice, once at the Hollywood Bowl and once at the Outside Lands Festival, and both concerts featured their newly-released compilation album Monuments and Melodies. The new album is comprised of some of Incubus’ greatest hits, a few new songs, and a Prince cover. Generally, I like the flow of the compilation and was really happy to hear a lot of the songs live, especially the selections from Make Yourself. I was however, very disappointed to only hear one song from S.C.I.E.N.C.E. (Redefine) in both concerts. Even still, the band sounded great and had a ton of energy in front of the crowd. Totally a fun time.
#11 – Hanne Huckelberg
I have been a fan of Norwegian singer Hanne Hukkelberg ever since her first album came out in 2005 and was delighted to see that she was coming to my hood. I saw both LA shows – one at Spaceland and one at the Hotel Cafe. Both shows featured the same set which was mostly comprised of songs from her latest album, “Blood From a Stone”. I was a bit disappointed that she didn’t play a few of her earlier tunes, but was blown away by her performance nonetheless. I love the way her and her band combined electronics and acoustic instruments to create new and layered sounds, including multiple guitar pedals, laptop effects, muted and unorthodox percussion instruments, and voice layering. It’s an outer-worldly combination of sounds and Hanne’s incredible voice tops it off perfectly.
#10 – Silversun Pickups
I was so super excited to see Silversun Pickups at the Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco and they totally delivered! For an outdoor festival, the band sounded great with every instrument balanced with each other and Brian Aubert’s uniquely androgynous vocal lines soaring over the perfect blend of sound. To top it off, they played a stellar set list with all of my favorites, including Growing Old is Getting Old and Substitution.
#9 – Gomez
The Gomez show at the Wiltern was amazing and completely showcased the long history and extensive output of the band. The best part about listening to Gomez’s music is how it is both eclectic and cohesive all at once. It’s clear by watching them that each member of the band brings something different to the group and they all participate in writing the songs. Although this seems like it would be difficult to pull off, Gomez works astonishingly well together and definitely put on a solid performance. Case in point, is the ebb and flow of their latest album, A New Tide. I think that this album is their most well-constructed to date and I was thrilled to hear my favorite songs from it live, including Win Park Slope, Bone Tired and Airstream Driver.
#8 – Bat for Lashes
I saw Bat for Lashes at the Outside Lands Festival and was unexpectedly blown away. The band played at the Panhandle stage, the smallest stage of the festival, but produced one of the biggest sounds of the weekend. The combination of the bass, along with low drums (including a timpani!), atmospheric synths and Natasha Kahn’s ethereal and almost operatic voice produced a perfect blend of sound. It was full and all-encompassing and it perfectly complimented the unique music and lyrics of Bat for Lashes.
#7 – Regina Spektor
The El Rey show was the first time that I got the chance to see Regina Spektor live and I was super happy with the performance. Regina is just as cute and quirky as her music portrays and yet at the same time, she is incredibly beautiful and honest with her voice and lyrics. Her unique vocals, unusual instrumentation, and genuine stage presence really makes her a pleasure to watch.
#6 – Elbow
I think that Elbow at the Wiltern was “technically” the best rock concert that I have ever heard. The sound was perfectly balanced, as if it had already been produced in a studio and I don’t think I heard any “wrong notes” from the musicians at all. Talk about a well-rehearsed band. You don’t ever get to hear that in rock music and it was freakin impressive.
#5 – Coldplay
I was really happy to see the Coldplay tour this summer since I had been totally obsessed with the Viva La Vida album the previous summer. The show at the Home Depot Center was exactly what I wanted – all of my favorite songs with complimentary videos, green lasers and a confetti of butterflies at the end of Lovers in Japan. The sound was great, the crowd was into it, and the band was awesome! They even did an acoustic version of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean from the bleachers of the audience!
#4 – Grace Jones
The Hollywood Bowl show with Dengue Fever, Of Montreal, and Grace Jones was one of the most eclectic shows that I have seen, but somehow I really enjoyed the pairing. Each act seemed to build upon and outdo the one before it. Dengue Fever started out with a fairly standard set but then, Of Montreal came out with costumes, mascots, live dogs, a guest performance with Janelle Monae, an inter-band marriage proposal, and of course an awesome set of music! I didn’t think it was possible to get any more outrageous than that, but somehow Grace Jones managed to top it with a storm of sounds and outrageous costumes, including one backless (and I mean completely backlass) red star dress. But perhaps the most intriguing part of the performance was the seductive chatter that continued to entertain the audience as Ms. Jones left the stage for her wardrobe changes. With her dominant command of the stage, powerful vocal chords, elaborate stage and costume designs, pristine sound production, and solid back-up band, Grace Jones is a true Diva to say the least. One of my favorite moments of the night was the “Corporate Cannibal” music video that was played during one of her infamous costume changes:
#3 – Philip Glass
The Philip Glass concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Master Chorale at the Hollywood Bowl was absolutely incredible! The first half of the concert featured the Philip Glass Ensemble performing early Glass pieces, and began with an arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner by Michael Reisman (conductor, keyboardist, and long-time Glass collaborator). Following the anthem was a solo piano piece, Opening, performed by Glass himself and following that, the ensemble preformed Facades, a piece that was originally intended to be part of the Koyaanisqatsi film, and the Spaceship movement from the opera, Einstein on the Beach. I was very excited to hear these 3 early Glass piece live and was extremely impressed by the virtuosity and accuracy of the ensemble! Amazingly, this was Philip Glass’ Hollywood Bowl debut and was also the world premiere of a new arrangement of the score for Godfrey Reggio’s Film, Koyaanisqatsi. The film was accompanied by the Philip Glass Ensemble, LA Phil, and LA Master Chorale and took up the entire second half of the program. The movement of images along with Glass’ minimalist music, really created an entrancing and almost haunting experience for the audience. It was a perfect end to a very impressive program that continued to build and build as it went along! Below are some stills from Koyaanisqatsi along with the original score:
#2 – The Dave Matthews Band
I was so grateful to be able to see the Dave Matthews Band twice this summer – once at Outside Lands and once at Irvine Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. While both shows were amazing and primarily featured the band’s latest album, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, there were some definite highlights from each night. For me, the best part of The Outside Lands show was hearing Lie in Our Graves with the infamous extended violin solo. This show also included an interesting encore collaboration of covers with the talented, Robert Randolph. The highlights of the Verizon show was hearing my favorite song from the new album, Funny the Way It Is, and an awesome cover of the Talking Heads’ Burning Down the House! Both shows also featured classics like Ants Marching, Jimi Thing, and one of my personal favorites, Stay or Leave. For both performances, the band sounded great and always seemed to be having the time of their lives. I can’t help but love watching Carter Beauford play drums with an ear to ear grin on his face and a groove that never lets up. It’s priceless.
#1 – No Doubt
No Doubt played a crazy tour this summer of 50+ performances and I caught the end of it at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. This was definitely a “comeback” tour for No Doubt and they didn’t disappoint with a set list of all the classics. The sound at Verizon was awesome, the energy of the band was contagious (even tho I had lawn tickets!) and Gwen didn’t let up for a minute. But perhaps the most impressive part of the show, was the custom visuals and set design that No Doubt created for the tour. The never-before-seen videos that accompanied the hit songs were memorable and really took this show to the next level. Here’s a clip from the tour: