Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Top 20 Live Acts of 2011, Part One

Seeing bands live is my favorite thing in the world to do. Unfortunately, I have not been able to attend nearly as many shows as I would have liked this year, missing live favorites such as Little Dragon, St. Vincent, and that ball-dropping Arcade Fire Coachella set. Nevertheless, my 2011 gig history includes two stellar festivals and some rare treats, and in any case, Simply Fuss Free is back in business.

Full reviews of Primavera Sound and the Asbury Park edition of I'll Be Your Mirror are available at Consequence of Sound and One Thirty BPM, respectively.

20. Braids at Casbah

Sorry, no photos or video available.

Opening for Asobi Seksu is no easy task, as anyone attempting their own style of deafening noise delivered with raucous energy is going to be woefully overshadowed. Fortunately for the full and rowdy Friday night crowd at San Diego's Casbah, Braids offered something completely different. While cloaked in near-total darkness, the Montreal quartet increasingly built tension with their neo-psychedelics and delivered a set of multi-layered vocals that swapped typical harmonies for cacophony. It's a mature, albeit familiar, sound, but one enhanced by a youthful exuberance.

19. Four Tet & Rocketnumbernine at Roseland Ballroom

My memories of Four Tet & Rocketnumbernine at Roseland Ballroom are hazy thanks to being preceded by a sleepless overnight bus ride to New York and a day of queuing, and followed by Radiohead. What I do remember is declaring to Cheep and Snail that it was the best opening set I had ever seen at a Radiohead gig (excluding festival appearances), which is saying a lot considering how many times I've seen the band (ten non-festival performances).

18. Manorexia at ATP Presents I'll Be Your Mirror 

Out of all the intriguing projects of J.G. Thirlwell, I have a new favorite after witnessing the lush and menacing sounds of Manorexia at I'll Be Your Mirror. Read more at One Thirty BPM.

17. Mogwai at Primavera Sound 

Everything you've ever read about Mogwai's mastery of extended periods of calm that build intensity before climaxing with a thunderous storm is true, and they are still instrumental rock at its finest.

16. Warpaint at Primavera Sound

It's hard to beat witnessing Warpaint's fuzzed-out harmonies and transcendent dream pop style while enveloped by a cool Mediterranean breeze. Read more at CoS.

15. PJ Harvey Primavera Sound

While PJ Harvey was spot-on at replicating the delicate beauty of Let England Shake, a main stage festival environment was the wrong one. Read more at CoS.

14. Chilly Gonzales at Skybar 

As if it weren't captivating enough just to listen to Gonzales sing, talk, and rap on the piano, he was joined by special guests Peaches and Leslie Feist. What can top Peaches serenading Feist on a cover of Tina Turner's "Tiny Dancer?" How about Feist closing the set with a cover of Tweet's "Oops (Oh My)" before getting baptized in the pool by Peaches. Priceless surreality for free.

13. Lykke Li at Skybar

With her undeniable star quality, cover girl looks, and creatively crafted pop gems, it's no surprise that Lykke Li has been storming down the path from "next big thing" to "icon." The full Lykke Li live show takes advantage of the mesmeric potential provided by the accompaniment of robes, strobes, and fog, but at this intimate poolside performance her presence and intensity were more than enough to enthrall the crowd. Check out a full review at Consequence of Sound.

12. Gang Gang Dance at Music Hall of Williamsburg and Primavera Sound

Gang Gang Dance really lets their freak flag, and I mean that literally. One person dances and waves a translucent flag throughout the set. The live Gang Gang Dance experience also features extended jams of their brand of propulsive synths, vocal yelps, tribal rhythms, and at their own shows, trippy projections. One does not need to consume psychedelics to "trip balls" at Gang Gang Dance. Read more at CoS.

11. Swans at ATP Presents I'll Be Your Mirror 

Honestly, any band can be loud if they try. But unleashing a storm of primal chaos as hypnotic as it was wicked that threatened to level Asbury Park's Paramount Theatre? Swans are one of a kind. Read more at One Thirty BPM.

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