2010 was a great year for concerts! This summer I had the opportunity to see three legends within three weeks of each other, and no one disappointed (well, one of them did, but oh well). Here’s my review of all the concerts I think I went to this year (with a special shout out to my one and only blog fan Warren G!):
Bad quality video I took at the concert, but still the best...
1. Paul McCartney (July 24): Best concert ever, ever, ever. Enough said. Not only is he one of the best songwriters ever to live, but he can put on a fantastic show. From Beatles to solo to Paul McCartney and Wings, he played it all. With no opener, the show still went on for three hours without a break. Not bad for an almost 70-year-old. Yes, Paul is a complete ham, but it’s refined in a rare way. He knows how to entertain the crowd by telling stories about John and George, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, etc., but also showing that he’s retained a little down-to-earth quality. Highlights besides simply being within a few hundred feet from a Beatle: “Day in the Life,” which Paul played live for the first time just a couple years ago, and “Something,” a George Harrison song that Paul played in honor of him, beginning on ukulele and leading into a true-to-the-original guitar version.
2. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (July 13): This concert played like a greatest hits record, and I have no complaints about it. It’s truly amazing how many classic songs this guy has had in his career. While the crowd preferred the hits, he also did a brilliant job playing the bluesy tracks off of his newly released album Mojo. After playing about ten hits, he said he’d been dying to play us some songs from their new album that he was so proud of. You could hear the excitement in his voice. Forty years into it, he still gets unspeakably excited to play for his fans. Not only that, but he cares about his bandmates. And the Heartbreakers truly are a band, not just Tom Petty and his session musicians (same goes for Paul McCartney’s attitude toward his band). After decades of success and fame, that makes me respect him even more that he still cares about the guys in the background helping him out (not like the Heartbreakers don’t contribute because they do—especially guitarist Mike Campbell who’s actually written a lot of the hits—but they definitely don’t get the credit Tom gets). I’d go see Tom and his Heartbreakers again in a heartbeat.
3. Sufjan Stevens (October 17): As good as Tom was, Sufjan was so incredibly good that I almost had to give him second place instead of third. Give him a few more years practice, and he’ll compete with the legends. Granted this is also one of the weirdest shows I’ve ever been to. For the indie king famous for folksy banjo ballads about Midwestern states, none of us were expecting him to come on stage dancing, wearing a cut-off old school Nike shirt, with flashing lights flooding the theater. Sufjan’s new album is a dramatic departure from the songs that made him famous, and this show was all about that album. Teasing the old-time fans by coming on stage playing “Seven Swans,” he then played nearly every song off of The Age of Adz, including the 25-minute “Impossible Soul,” without interruption. His usual massive orchestra backed him up, but he also had two sequined backup singers that did more dancing (including ribbon dancing at one point!) than singing. Sufjan himself joined in the dance party, which is pretty awesome for a skinny white boy. Most importantly, he cared about his fans and recognized that some people were wildly confused by the almost-rap dance music, and made jokes at his own expense. To win those fans over, he played a wonderful encore of “Chicago” and “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”
4. Guster (October 13): One of my favorite bands of all time that rarely strays away from the east coast when touring, I was so excited to hear they were coming to Kansas City. They were once my favorite concert ever (since replaced by Monsters of Folk then Paul), and they still put on a fantastic live show. The band is coming up on its 20th birthday, and it shows when they’re on stage. The original trio is the same with just one additional musician after two decades. Drummer Brian Rosenworcel still avoids using drumsticks—-instead taping up his hands and mutilating them on the instrument—-much of the time, but they’ve also grown up and adapted their style some too. They haven’t changed their ability to relate to the crowd, though, from the hand-drawn picture of a local bbq sandwich on the chalkboard-piano, to stories about their adventures in Kansas City, Guster is entertaining for anyone to see.
5. Weezer (June 5): This was the first of my Buzz Under the Stars concert-—the local alternative rock radio station puts on several concerts every summer at City Market that usually put together three or four very different bands for one fairly affordable show. I can’t really remember the other bands that played with them, but they’re the emo bands the high schoolers came out to see. While this concert series gets huge names, the downfall is that they get so many bands that nobody gets to play very long. I think Weezer played an hour and a half, but they could have gone on much longer. They played nearly all of the Blue album that’s more than 15 years old, and also some of their terrible new songs. Rivers Cuomo was as nerdy as ever and also as entertaining as ever. I hope they come back when they’ll be able to play for longer.
6. Jack’s Mannequin (February 19): I hardly listen to Jack’s Mannequin anymore, but I’ll always go see them when they come to town. Frontman Andrew McMahon is a fantastic performer that always puts on a great show. Banging and jumping on the piano, screaming into the mic, and having authentic conversations with the audience, he definitely knows how to relate to his fans.
7. Blitzen Trapper (June 22): I don’t remember too much about this concert because it was on a weeknight and didn’t start till 10 p.m. Call me old, but after supervising 20 teenagers in 100 degree direct sun all day, that was too late for me. Blitzen Trapper used to open for lots of concerts I went to in Portland-—since they’re from there—-but now that they’re more well-known they can tour the country as headliners. It was great to see one of my favorite local Portland bands, and it was awesome to hear them play so many new songs from their great new album Destroyers of the Void.
8. Smashing Pumpkins and Cake (September 25): Another Buzz concert, so it was a lot of bands in a short amount of time. I don’t know either of these bands too well, but I left a fan of one (Cake) and disliking the other (Smashing Pumpkins). Cake played a great short set, with tons of energy and passion. Their songs are so fun, and they translated that well live. Smashing Pumpkins was the Billy Corgan show, and he just acted like a pompous rock star. Cake looked like a band—-even though they’ve had a rotating lineup, they were one on stage. Smashing Pumpkins looked like an old guy who played with some hired 20-year-olds, which upon research when I got home, is exactly the case.
9. Ben Folds, Devo (July 23): Another Buzz concert, and this one combined way too many bands in too short of a time. Ben Folds is one of the best performers I’ve ever seen, but you’ve got to give him more than 60 minutes to play. He was good as always, but he played solo, and I prefer him with a band behind him, especially when he gets such a short time to begin with. Devo was awesomely hilarious—-a bunch of 50 and 60 year olds wearing strange outfits and flower-pot hats. Needless to say, they whipped it.
10. Bob Dylan (August 7): Often considered the best living songwriter (and I might say so myself), Dylan wins the prize for the worst concert I saw this year. Four or five songs in the crowd was yelling “Play some Dylan now!” He sang mostly new songs with such a slur that you couldn’t recognize them. I know his new material pretty well, but I still had no idea what songs he was singing. I looked up the set list after the show to see that he also played a few old songs, and no one could even recognize them because he distorted them so much. He did play an encore of “Like a Rolling Stone” that was pretty awesome because it looks like he doesn’t play that all that often. I had heard that Dylan was incredibly spotty in concert, so I figured that for $30, I was happy to be within 100 feet of him.
Stay tuned for my list of favorite albums of the year. And here's to more blog posts in 2011!