Friday, November 18, 2011

Top 20 Live Acts of 2011, Part Two

If you missed numbers 20-11, check out part one before proceeding. How does one rank for a list such as this? For example, the artists that occupy numbers 9-12 were all equally impressive for completely different reasons. The answer lies a combination of factors including everything from emotional attachment to dramatic effect, with attempts at tacking the completely subjective with some degree of objectivity thrown in for good measure. And now that the secret behind lists like these has been revealed, on with the show.

10. Grinderman at Primavera Sound

As Grinderman, Nick Cave and company give rock some much needed sleaze and a brand of energy that simultaneously invigorates and violates the listener. Read more at CoS.

9. Emmy the Great at Pianos 

When I saw that Emmy the Great was playing Pianos, the first American gig in three years, I immediately booked a hostel and dodgy overnight bus for a night in New York City. Virtue, the latest album from Emmy the Great, retains the deeply personal but relatable nature of its predecessor First Love while painting a picture of a fairy tale-like world and incorporating lush instrumentation and church-like choir sections. Their sonic experimentation on Virtue was not on display at this acoustic performance, but Emma-Lee Moss and Euan Hinshelwood don't need it to captivate a crowd.

Before closing an all too brief set with "Dinosaur Sex", Moss inquired about a couple that posted on Facebook that they flew into New York for this rare American appearance. They asked if that warranted a request, and it did, so they chose "Two Steps Forward", and she replied that she would grant it outside after the show. True to her word, she played the song on the sidewalk of Ludlow Street for the benefit of her most hardcore of fans from New York and beyond. The combination of "Two Steps Forward", one of her oldest and best songs, and the nature of its performance perfectly summed up both the unique charm and incredible songwriting that are at the core of Emmy the Great.

Before the show, I sat down with Emma-Lee Moss for an interview, which you can read at One Thirty BPM.

8. The Flaming Lips at Primavera Sound 

Balloons. Confetti. Dozens of dancers. Pure psychedelia. Life-affirming. A bit too much chatter from Wayne Coyne. You've heard it all before, and you will again a hundred times more during your life, but everything you've heard about The Flaming Lips live is true. Read more at CoS.

7. Portishead at ATP Presents I'll Be Your Mirror

Whether it's a shiver from the unworldly howl in "Threads" or seduced by the sultry sounds of "Glory Box", it's impossible not to truly feel something at a Portishead show. It's a shame they so rarely tour because few bands replicate their studio sound with such precision. Read more at One Thirty BPM.

6. Nisennenmondai at Primavera Sound 

After a long-overdue American tour in support of Battles, will Nisennenmondai remain Japan's best kept secret? Hopefully not, because their blend of both the Kraut and math varieties of rock is captivating and surprisingly danceable at times. At the 2011 edition of Primavera Sound, Nisennenmondai was the first band to officially perform and at the end of the weekend remained one of the best. Read more at CoS.

5. Asobi Seksu at Casbah and Troubadour

After officially celebrating my belated birthday with one of my favorite bands in my favorite Los Angeles venue, I had a very strange feeling. I felt incredibly high even though all I had consumed that evening was a burger and one beer. Spirits were raised to the point of giddiness, I wanted to hug the world, and even the lights looked brighter. On Fluorescence, Asobi Seksu pushed their richly textured sound into something uniquely theirs even further than ever, but a live setting is still where their ocean of noise versus soaring vocals dynamic truly shines. At San Diego's Casbah two nights later, the band gave their first gig since the devastating earthquake in Japan, and the feelings that come such a tragedy, such as worry over the unknown status of family members, were channeled into an especially intense, emotionally-charged performance. And the whole shoegaze thing? Not an appropriate label when the band in question unleashes rock star guitar god moves and headbangs along with such fervor.

4. Radiohead at Roseland Ballroom 

If you're not a fan of The King of Limbs, fear not, because everything is better live to the point that a new appreciation is gained for the studio versions. Radiohead has not changed in that regard. Read a full review at Consequence of Sound.

3. Jeff Mangum at ATP Presents I'll Be Your Mirror and Paramount Theatre

The enigmatic-is-an-understatement Jeff Mangum opened his Friday set at I'll Be Your Mirror with "Oh Comely", and I'm not ashamed to say it actually moved me to tears, a concert first for me. When the emotional highs that come with witnessing Neutral Milk Hotel songs being performed live are taken out of consideration, Mangum is still a charming performer. None of the humility, awkward charm, and vocal quirks have dissipated during Mangum's years out of the spotlight. Three days later, he was joined by A Hawk and a Hacksaw, giving us a partial reunion, and actually played "Little Birds" for the second time ever. Read more at One Thirty BPM.

2. Sufjan Stevens at Primavera Sound 

With confetti, balloons, choreographed dance routines, sensory overload courtesy of screen and scrim projections, chimp masks, both plastic and feathered wings, and spinning disco ball chest pieces all on the agenda, the Sufjan Stevens live experience was most elaborate spectacle this side of The Wall. The half-hour rendition of "Impossible Soul" redefined "sprawling epic" as it contained as many emotional highs and stage-rushing singalongs as the average three day festival. Read more at CoS.

1. Pulp at Primavera Sound 

Most reunions are a satisfying trip down memory lane where favorite songs are finally experienced live from a band in need of a paycheck. What elevated Pulp far and above the average reunion is both the urgency with which they played and how their music is more timeless and less aged than that of the other bands from the Britpop era. In fact, Pulp unintentionally provided the soundtrack to a doomed Catalan revolution. The big Primavera Sound comeback was the first time for most in attendance, and judging by the unrestrained crowd response, yes, it will be remembered. Read a full report at CoS.

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