Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Year in Music: The Year in Live Shows

Exactly one year ago, I posted about the year in live shows, 2010. Following the same format, here's the rundown on 2011, keeping in mind that I still have tickets for two upcoming shows: the War on Drugs @ Lincoln Hall (12/7), and Joy Formidable @ the Metro (12/15).

  •  Shows attended: 54 (plus two remaining), which means I'll beat last year by about 10. 
  •  Sets witnessed: 97 (plus about four remaining). Again, besting last year by about 10.
Shows by venue:
  • Lincoln Hall - 20
  • Schuba's - 12
  • Empty Bottle - 5
  • the Metro - 3
  • The Vic - 2
  • Subterranean - 2
  • the Bottom Lounge - 2
  • the Double Door - 2
  • The Hideout - 1
  • Beat Kitchen - 1
  • Fireside Bowl - 1
  • Silverlake Lounge - 1
  • Plus a number of Festival shows
Bands Seen Multiple Times (including festival shows):
  • tUnE-yArDs - 4
  • the 1900s - 3
  • the War on Drugs - 3
  • Smith Westerns - 3
  • Besnard Lakes - 2
  • Cults - 2
  • Destroyer - 2
  • Eleanor Friedberger - 2
  • the Fiery Furnaces - 2
  • Handsome Furs - 2
  • Joy Formidable - 2
  • Peter Bjorn and John - 2
  • Team Band - 2
  • Ted Leo - 2 (once solo, once with the Pharmacists)
  • the Thermals - 2
  • Wild Flag - 2
  • YAWN - 2
Biggest Months
  • July - 9
  • May - 7
  • October - 7
  • June - 6
  • August - 6
This year seemed more evenly spread out than last year.  

Biggest Letdowns:

Can't say I really had too many letdowns this year.  Most of the shows I went to provided a pretty good value, and I can't say there was anyone I was really psyched to see who didn't deliver.  I suppose I was not well positioned for either St. Vincent or Lykke Li, but that's really my own fault.  I was a bit let down by Pitchfork's overall lineup, particularly Saturday, a day on which Destroyer was the only band I really wanted to see.  I was also a bit let down by the fact that PJ Harvey didn't play any Chicago dates.

Biggest Surprise of the Year:

Actually, this year's biggest surprise was a band who was one of last year's biggest letdowns.  Girls gave what I thought was a pretty awful performance at the Pitchfork Festival, but they redeemed themselves this year with a really phenomenal show at Lincoln Hall.  I'd imagine the venue played no small role in that, but beyond the hot sun last year, I just thought their set and the tempo at which it was played didn't translate well to a live show.  No such problems this year.  I was also somewhat surprised by how much I really enjoyed the two Peter, Bjorn, & John shows I attended, particularly because those shows weren't on my radar until I learned that the 1900s would be opening one of them.  the 1900s are the reason I bought a ticket, and I ended up really being glad that I got a chance to see PB&J.

Best Single Night of Music:

Sunday at the Pitchfork Festival probably had the best overall lineup of music that I saw this year, starting off with Superchunk, leading into Deerhunter, followed by Cut Copy, and closed out with TV on the Radio.  Deerhunter put on the best performance of the weekend, and Cut Copy was better than I expected.  It was a nice way to end the Festival after a solid Friday (tUnE-yArDs, Guided by Voices, Animal Collective), and a crappy Saturday.

Biggest Screw-Job of the Year:

On June 15th at the Double Door, Team Band got totally hosed by Art Brut, a band they had been friendly with in the past.  The show was supposed to start at 9:00, with Team Band as the first opener.  Art Brut made them go on at 8:30.  Fortunately, I had checked the venue's website, which had been updated, but all of the information for the show had originally listed the start time as 9:00.  Other people who actually wanted to see Team Band, a really fun local act (and by local, I mean like my neighborhood) weren't so lucky.  The surprising thing about this is that the two bands have played together quite a few times, and the guys in Art Brut were kinda dicks about the whole thing, which really makes me want to not like Art Brut.  Fortunately, their album this year kind of sucked, so the situation kind of took care of itself.  

Top Five Shows of the Year:  

This was kind of a weird year in that there were a lot of really good shows, but very few, if any, really stood out and blew me away like the Fiery Furnaces, Titus Andronicus, and Deerhunter last year.  That said, these are the five that made the largest impression.

5) Gruff Rhys@ Schuba's - June 9th: It's been a couple years since Gruff Rhys has been to town with his main act, the Super Furry Animals, but he's been to town twice in the last few years promoting his solo stuff.  A couple years ago, he brought an extra vocalist, a bunch of props, and that was pretty much it.  He created a swirl of loops and percussion to fill in for the lack of backing musicians, and it nicely complemented his album Candylion.  This time, the Welsh surf rock band Y Niwl acted as both Gruff's opening band, and his back-up band.  The set up was well suited for his most recent album Hotel Shampoo, which is a bit more pop/rock forward than Candylion was.  His self deprecation played well to the smallish crowd in an intimate setting (Schuba's holds fewer than 200 people even when sold out).  It was among the best shows I've seen him do, with or without SFA. 

4) Wild Flag @ the Empty Bottle - October 9th: These ladies come to rock.  With Janet Weiss pounding away on drums while lead guitar duties switched back and forth between Mary Timony and Carrie Brownstein, they brought a lot of energy to the packed crowd at the Empty Bottle.  

3) tUnE-yArDs @ Lincoln Hall - May 10th: The first of the three shows she played at Lincoln Hall this year, I actually made it over the venue in plenty of time after having seen the Fiery Furnaces play their "recital show" at Schuba's earlier in the evening.  

2) the Thermals @ the Green Music Festival - June 26th: It's almost impossible for the Thermals to put together a set list that won't translate well to a live show.  They tried at the Onion AV Fest show in September, but even that show turned out pretty good.  At the Green Music Festival in Wicker Park, they were as close to perfect as possible.  They broke out all of their best stuff from across their entire catalog, and they hit every note.  They're also a band who clearly has a good time playing live.  Drummer Westin Glass may be the most enthusiastic musician I've ever seen.  It was also the only show I've ever seen with a stage set up right in front of a retirement home, and they even had those residents interested.

1) Ted Leo and the Pharmacist @ the Fireside Bowl - July 26th:  TL/Rx can sell out a venue like the Metro that holds over a thousand people.  So if you have the opportunity to see them in front of about a hundred people at an old bowling alley, you have to take advantage.  No big speaker system, no fancy light show.  Just a couple of big PA speakers and a punk band playing the kind of stuff they played back when bowling alley style gigs were all they could get.  The sound wasn't terrific, but the set was long and the setting was perfect.

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