Thursday, January 5, 2012

Best Live Music of 2011 (Top 10-ish)

Damn. I saw some pretty sweet shows this year! Every time I thought I had my list down, another one would occur to me - then I'd have to review & reshuffle the whole list. Finally, I went ahead and expanded the official list to 15... was the best I could do. And even then, I was cutting off my own hand to keep it real!

1. Immortal / Absu
Feb. 26, Backstage Live - San Antonio, TX

"Solarfall" by Immortal, Backstage Live, 2/26/2011

There might have been some close calls on this or that ranking, but not so much with the #1 slot. I was already super-pumped by the time of my preliminary incantatory post. Awesome band, excellent sound (plus LOUD!!), terrific crowd, my first True Norwegian Black Metal show... We ended up with an Immortal setlist something exactly like this one. It was an outrageously fun and frostbitten time. C'mon, this entrance? "Sons of Northern Darkness?" "Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)?!" Horgh was impressive, Apollyon was thundering, Abbath was hilarious!

"Night Fire Canonization" by Absu, Backstage Live, 2/26/2011

Seeing Absu (#6, 2011) for the first time as the opener was an amazing bonus. Proscriptor is the complete avatar of Animal, flailing wildly behind the drumset, and the two dudes upfront were thrashing it for all it's worth.

Absu's opening sets did vary quite a bit, but according to this series of videos, it went something like: Swords and Leather/Night Fire Canonization/Four Crossed Wands (Spell 181)/Never Blow Out The Eastern Candle. This set alone would be a contender on this list for any year - the whole thing just kicked ass.

2. Scratch Acid
Dec. 9, Fitzgerald's - Houston, TX

"Cannibal" by Scratch Acid, Fitzgerald's, 12/9/2011

It had been 5 years since I caught Scratch Acid at the Touch & Go Anniversary party in Chicago. They were impressive then, and that was more of a 1-off than a reunion tour deal. The band, most especially David Yow, gave their all for the whole performance here. Yow was regularly jumping out onto the audience, like a kid again. They sounded good and aggressive, slamming into most of their material with abandon. And I've long been a big fan of all that! We got to see "Albino Slug" (the memories!), "Mess", even Yow explaining the effects of aging, etc...

3. Maserati / My Education / Co-Pilot
Apr. 9, The Mink on Main - Houston, TX

"Pyramid of the Sun" by Maserati, The Mink on Main, 4/9/2011

Maserati (#2 Live Show of 2009, #1 Record of 2010) returned to Houston, having lost their drummer since the last show. A.E. Paterra of Zombi filled in for this tour. Very different kind of drummer, but he played the Maserati style extremely well - resulting in some high-octane propulsive disco-Kraut post-rock.

With the synth sequencing, Maserati played a pretty consistent set on this tour. Here's the closest (date-wise) version of the encore "Run Like Hell" I could find (Chicago on 4/25). Here's the opening segment of that show (7 vids in all). Bask in the performance, then grab some bootlegs!

Austin Psych Fest 4
4. Austin Psych Fest 4
Apr. 29-May 1, Seaholm Power Plant - Austin, TX
White Hills / The Diamond Center - Mar. 15, Continental Club - Houston, TX
Black Angels / Dead Meadow - Oct. 13, Fitzgerald's - Houston, TX

Austin Psych Fest 2011 Super-8 Reel

These are somewhat unrelated shows, although everyone did come together for APF4. The first two were previewed in this old post. The Psych Fest was a sprawling event, like a never-ending river of groove and noise. I unexpectedly ran into Stephen McBean of Black Mountain, and was totally star-struck! He'd apparently played with The Shine Brothers, who I'd just watched (but I didn't recognize him onstage).

"Sound Mass" by My Education & Theta Naught, Seaholm Power Plant (Austin Psych Fest 4), 5/1/2011

It was just that kinda time... Got to meet & see The Cult of Dom Keller (#15, 2011), Woodsman was on the main stage, White Hills blew out the joint! The only disappointment was probably Cloudland Canyon. Half the time was patching the main synths, then it didn't really move too much. O well.

White Hills went to Holland between the 2 times we saw them in Texas (first in Houston): "Ocean of Sound" and "Three Quarters". Before they played at the Continental, we hung out with openers The Diamond Center, who also played APF4. Really great people (and band) from Richmond, VA.

"Telephone" by The Black Angels, Fitzgerald's, 10/13/2011

Here's the FB-collection post about the 3 bands for the Fitz show. The Black Angels were the best I've ever heard them - performance and clarity of sound. (Sometimes they can get a bit murky with so many players.) One especially jammy song really knocked me out. I think it was "Science Killer"... Maybe I need to finally get Directions to See A Ghost (2008). I always forget to mention this, but the Austin Psych Fest is entirely the invention and project of The Black Angels people, which might not be common knowledge.

5. Free Press Summer Fest
June 4-June 5, Eleanor Tinsley Park - Houston, TX

"Buckingham Green" by Ween, Eleanor Tinsley Park (Free Press Summer Fest 3), 6/4/2011

Once again (#8 Live Show, 2010), I didn't see nearly as many shows as I'd liked to, at the Free Press Summer Fest this year. But I did see WEEN (#2 Live Show, 2010)! The greatest part was that Dean's guitar was really cranked up in the mix - like the most I'd ever heard. Another great part was the pretty sweet Ween setlist... "Birthday Boy" then "Awesome Sound?" That's an old-school 1-2 punch! O, and "Ice Castles > Final Alarm" too? Thanks, Claude! They also covered "Let's Dance" here, which is still fun.

One more thing! While searching for suitable FPSF Ween clips, I stumbled across two vids for (much) older Houston shows that I was there for: Emo's 11/29/1992 and Urban Art Bar 11/20/1994... wow.

"Night by Night" by Chromeo, Eleanor Tinsley Park (Free Press Summer Fest 3), 6/4/2011

Chromeo really got the crowd goin', probably the most of any group we saw. I'd only ever heard "Hot Mess," which was enough to check 'em out - for kicks! But it was the quality party jams... Dudes got charisma, and beats. Like "Fancy Footwork" or "Tenderoni." Good times.

6. Kyuss Lives! - Sep. 29, Warehouse Live - Houston, TX
QOTSA - Mar. 18, One-Eyed Jack's - New Orleans, LA

"Thumb" by Kyuss Lives!, Warehouse Live, 9/29/2011

I'm gonna have to start burning through these or I'll never get back to posting again. For some reason, I thought it'd be posse-in-effect for the Kyuss reunion tour, but I ended up solo for most of this one. Until later when I got deep into the front-stage mob and found the 1 person I expected there. Here's a pretty typical setlist. Sounded really good to me, although I've only ever owned Blues for the Red Sun (1992), so a bit of a disadvantage. They did played "Allen's Wrench" and this "Whitewater" jam. Missed both openers, which was actually okay...

"Regular John" and "Avon" by Queens of the Stone Age, One-Eyed Jack's, 3/18/2011

Not too surprising on the setlist front, given that the whole point was to play the debut album in full. Soon thereafter, I reported on the show in this round-up post. As this "Sick, Sick, Sick" video-poster accurately says, "Tiny club, fun show". Real tiny! I dig the self-titled debut, so I concur heartily. Also, "(I Wanna) Make It wit Chu." Plus, like, New Orleans?

7. Wilco
May 6, Verizon Wireless Theater - Houston, TX

"Impossible Germany" by Wilco, Verizon Wireless, 5/6/2011

We had awesome front-row corner balcony seats for this one. Couldn't get much better! And although Verizon is soulless and corporate, I am regularly impressed with the quality of sound - which is relatively important for live music. You can find all their show's setlists at WilcoBase along with other stats, which is real handy. Most of the other clips from this show are marred by crowd noise-talk-singin' along. O well - here's a live "Handshake Drugs," which they played - same song, same band, same venue, just 3 years earlier. (I was there too.)

8. Roky Erickson III
Oct. 1, Continental Club - Houston, TX

"Roller Coaster" by Roky Erickson, Continental Club-Houston, 10/1/2011

Another good show by Roky! This is becoming a very happy annual tradition (#5, 2010 and #1, 2009). It's a positive, life-affirming, rockin'-good time to see him up there playing those songs I've loved for so long. Especially this time - Roky was the loosest and happiest-looking of the 3 times he's played in town. Plus he added a third 13th Floor Elevators tune this time! (see above.)

Arcade Fire at The Woodlands 2011
9. Arcade Fire / Explosions in the Sky
May 4, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion - The Woodlands, TX

"Month of May" by Arcade Fire, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 5/4/2011

Who'da thunk it? Well, me actually. I first saw Arcade Fire live before I'd ever heard their music, at Vegoose 2005 (kind of like Wilco at ACL 2002). And I was really impressed - still never listened to any of their records really, but terrific live band. As they were again in The Woodlands, which just happens to be "The Suburbs" the singer grew up in. Apparently, he used to also work at the venue as a kid (The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion), so he had some ex-employee stories. It was a nice homecoming kinda thing. Plus indie-rocking it up. Also: the actual full setlist.

Explosions in the Sky jammin' it up, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 5/4/2011

EITS opened, and were good too. I dig the post-rock, but have never really clicked on this band - despite the Texas connection. A big suburban outdoor amphitheatre might not have been the right introduction...

10. Joe Boyd & Robyn Hitchcock
Oct. 8, McGonigel's Mucky Duck - Houston, TX

"River Man" (Nick Drake cover) by Robyn Hitchcock, San Francisco, 9/22/2011

Real interesting show. Joe Boyd ended up a better storyteller than I really expected. Hitchcock brought his eccentricities to bear, while maintaining some respect for the source. Ended up going alone, to a club that I don't frequent, got sat right up front, in some ways it was very quaint and British. Setlist pretty close to what's shown here.

10(a)? Speaking of British music from a bygone era... I forgot yet another notable show: The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, by "The Musical Box" at House of Blues, 10/24/2011 - Houston, TX

11. Butthole Surfers
Sep. 11, Emo's East opening - Austin, TX

"Pittsburgh to Lebanon" by Butthole Surfers, Emo's East, 9/11/2011

Gonna start blazing throught the rest. This was the grand opening party for Emo's East (east of I-35 in Austin, on Riverside). Here's the very retro-BHS setlist, who have swung focus back to their early catalogue for quite awhile (#3 last year). I was truly shocked by the awesome "Lady Sniff > Pepper" medley. With 400 Blows and Bodytronix opening... ha ha, ha?

12. Project Grimm / Dead Mineral
Dec. 29, Rudyard's - Houston, TX

"Melville" by Project Grimm, Rudyard's, 12/29/2011

Previous reunion show (#4 last year) was a one-off. This time it's for real. Grimm is back together again, writing new tunes, and apparently playing regularly (for oldsters)!

Setlist acquired: seven long years/deliveryman's threat/E pluribus merman/through the day/living without it/melville/clean/fish king/window ledge/lifetime of goodness/you bend, I'll slide. E: durian (plus, "missing" - not played?)

13. Linus Pauling Quartet / Dead Mineral / Defending the Kingdom
Dec. 3, Rudyard's - Houston, TX

"Waiting for the Axe to Fall" by LP4, from All Things Are Light (2007)

Looks like Bag of Hammers is expected around May... 2012, I believe. Awesome "Luis Black is California," without lead-in "ROTB" (Roll Out The Bong). "Waiting for the Axe" was majestic, o' course. The new songs sound like they're gonna rip it up and rain hell down on it. "La Tapatia" was performance art in extremis, invoking dark spirits and handing out McRibs. It was nuts!

Setlist acquired (covered in McRib blood): Crom / She Did Not Know / Luis Black / Saving Throw / Waiting for the Axe (to Fall) / Victory Gin / Star Chimp / La Tapatia

Ranking level reduced for being a self-imposed non-headlining, shorter set.

14. My Morning Jacket
Dec. 8, Verizon Wireless Theater - Houston, TX

"It Beats 4 U" by My Morning Jacket, Verizon Wireless Theater, 12/8/2011

Unlike LP4, MMJ have gone 'mature.' Still a good band, still good tunes, still good performers - could use a little more rock. Which they realized just in time for the encore finale of "One Big Holiday." Looks like someone wrote down the setlist.

15. Mastodon / Black Tusk
Oct. 27, Fitzgerald's - Houston, TX

"Dry Bone Valley," "Black Tongue" and "Crystal Skull" by Mastodon, Fitzgerald's, 10/27/2011

I never figured out my actual feelings about The Hunter (2011), Mastodon's significant change of pace. But they are a good live band, that plays metal like a non-metal (jam?) band. Definitely liked the show better than the album. Check out the actual physical setlist...

Black Tusk opening, Fitzgerald's, 10/27/2011

Caught about half of Black Tusk's set, and they were merciless. In a good way!

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