Saturday, December 19, 2009

...And so it begins (a.k.a. In Case You Didn't Feel Like Showing Up...)

December is definitely in the (freezing) air. Which can only mean a few things...the holidays are looming and the end of the year is creeping up. But being the big music geek that I am, the one thing I look forward to most is the fine art of Year End Lists. Naturally, I'm putting the final touches in picking my Top Songs of 2009- that post will be up sooner than later- however, my Top Albums of The Year is a bit more difficult. I have a friend or two who have claimed that this year in music sucked, but to them I say "you just weren't listening hard enough." So my trouble isn't finding good music, it's quite the opposite. Here's a bit of a spoiler alert: none of my Top picks, be it songs or albums, will contain anything by a few of the beloved hipster bands of the year, mainly because I hate a few of them with varying degrees of intensity. That said, this is going to be a very Animal Collective/Dirty Projectors/Passion Pit-Free Environment...I feel like it's my version of "Going Green."

OK, well let's just dive in with the first list on Random Ramblings Of DJ Brian L. I figured I'd start small and count down my Top 10 Concerts Of 2009.  And thanks to Ministry from whom I borrowed the title of this blog entry. Anyhow, here goes:

10. Fanfarlo / Freelance Whales at TT The Bear's in Cambridge, MA (December)
I go to a lot of shows. This one just happened to take place last night and honestly, I was pretty floored. I had been seeing Freelance Whales' name around and I liked them from the first few songs I had heard. Very cutesy, smiley indie pop that mixes folky guitars and banjos with twinkling electronics...kind of like a mix between Sufjan Stevens and the Postal Service. And honestly, sometimes even I need something that's happy and not brooding. Fanfarlo, on the other hand, sort of blew me away. I had been mildly into their album Reservoir for months...I mean, after all, I'm a sucker for orchestral pop and they totally fit the bill taking elements of Beirut, some Arcade Fire, and the book smart leanings of Okkervil River. Once they hit the stage, I had the need to inch my way as close to them as possible. It honestly felt like the audience was witnessing something great right before their eyes on a tiny stage. It wouldn't surprise me to see either of these two bands become the Next Big Thing in the new year.

9. The Flaming Lips / Explosions In The Sky at Bank Of America Pavilion (August)

photo taken by Michael Young

It's impossible to see the Flaming Lips and not be put into a good mood. Their shows are like a neverending New Year's Eve Party with girls dressed like furry, slutty cats (or at least that's how I saw them.) What made this show awesome was the fact that the Lips balanced their set out with favorites like "Fight Test" and "Do You Realize??" as well as material from their, at the time, yet-to-be-released, Embryonic and it all sounded great. And what gets me is that they still do their one big MTV hit, "She Don't Use Jelly"- remember when they performed that on the original "90210" in the Peach Pit After Dark? Yeah, me neither, but they show footage of it right before they play it. Oh and extra awesome points for a midblowing set from openers, Explosions In The Sky, still the only band that puts the "ROCK" in instrumental post-rock.

8. Pixies at Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC (November)
Since they reunited, I've seen the Pixies 4 times. And they've been awesome every time. It's actually quite difficult for me to pick my favorite show of theirs. But this particular time comes awfully close to topping my list. Mainly because the band was celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the release of Doolittle a.k.a. "My Absolute Favorite Pixies Album"! Naturally, they kickstarted the show like only they can- by playing B-Sides from the Doolittle singles (I never thought I'd see them do "Weird At My School"!!) Honestly, after they played "Here Comes Your Man," I turned to my friend and said "I want them to do it again!" And why not; that was the first Pixies song I had ever heard back when I was 13 while watching MTV and the video was just great. Youtube's awesome in its quirky goodness. In the meantime here's a live version of "Monkey Gone To Heaven" from a free downloadable 5-song EP (link to download the EP also included) commemorating Doolittle's 20th Anniversary.

Pixies "Monkey Gone To Heaven (Live)"

7. Nitzer Ebb at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston (December)

I swear I've gone to shows that took place before November and December. I just so happened to luck out by going to a few awesome ones in the tail end of the year. After all, I did start December with a "5 Shows In 5 Days Bender" -- and honestly, there's still one show from that stretch that'll be making this list. Anyway, even though the above picture isn't the greatest (apparently, my camera has way too many settings for The Situasian after a few beverages) but you get the idea. Admittedly, I'm a really big fan of industrial music and Nitzer Ebb is one of those classic industrial bands that were pioneers in Electronic Body Music (EBM) and honestly, who wouldn't want to listen to a sub-genre with a name as sexy as that. Needless to say, I was all eyelinered up and wearing my tall shoes for the occasion, perfect for stomping, which is what Ebb's music makes me want to do.

6. Japandroids at Great Scott in Allston (October)
Two-man fuzzed-out garage punk band from Vancouver. I quickly got obsessed with them when I downloaded a song by them based on a friend's suggestion and their band name and I've been hooked ever since. I even went and saw them back in July after doing my radio show...which is usually unheard of since my radio show ends at 10pm on Sundays and I'm usually wiped out afterwards. And yes, that show delivered on Japandroids' hype but this particular Monday night in October was even better. Not many bands have the balls to cover Big Black, but Japandroids did...and they did a kickass cover of "Racer X" as well as a cover of McLusky's "To Hell With Good Intentions." Hands down, one of the most exciting bands I've seen in quite some time and one of the most insane shows I've been to in forever. Infectious energy everywhere to the point that there was crowd surfing...and it isn't even 1994 anymore!

5. The Big Pink at the Paradise in Boston (December)
OK, the last show from December, I promise. A coworker suggested this band to me...all he did was send me a link to their Myspace page and I heard "Velvet." At first, I didn't want to like it...that is until the rush of shimmering guitars kicked in. From there, I was hooked. I know I said that seeing Fanfarlo was like witnessing something great, but watching the Big Pink and their perfect mixture of throbbing electronics, shoegaze-worthy guitars, and their huge, sweeping choruses was a little different. I almost felt like I was looking around at others in the crowd and we were all in on one of the best kept secrets in music. As soon as the show was done, I wanted to see them again and again. Luckily, I only have to wait until March when The Big Pink comes back to Boston with another of my favorite noise-mongers, Brooklyn's aptly-named, A Place To Bury Strangers...earplugs will be a necessity!

4. Depeche Mode at Comcast Center in Mansfield (July)

Depeche Mode is quite arguably, the only band of the New Wave era to make electronic music big enough to fill arenas. It helped that they were touring in support of a great album, Sounds Of The Universe. It also helped that I was lucky enough to meet case anyone was wondering, Martin Gore and I are the same height. This was one of the greatest days ever, despite the fact that it was rainy and crappy all day. And as for the was as awesome as I had expected. It was the first time I saw them perform my favorite song of theirs ("Strangelove") and a classic that I never thought I'd see them do ("Master and Servant.") Just flat out perfection!

3. The Prodigy at House of Blues- Boston (May)
Of all the acts to come out of the whole "electronica" movement of the late 90's, The Prodigy were by far my favorite. They were more punk than Daft Punk, they were more rave than the Chemical Brothers, and, most importantly, they weren't just two boring, geeky DJs bobbing their heads behind a stack of decks. Unlike their contemporaries, they felt like a band (well, not counting my other favorite electronic act to come out of that time, Underworld.) They got the whole "live performance"-thing down right. Plus, on this particular tour, they were supporting an album that could be called a "return-to-form," the criminally underrated, Invaders Must Die. The Prodigy put on the most energetic performance I have seen in quite some time; co-frontmen/MC's/hype-men, Maxim Reality and Keith Flint were just relentless, demanding as much movement from the audience as they were giving out. And every song felt like a hit.

2. Paul McCartney at Fenway Park in Boston (August)
This one surprised me, too. The days leading up to the show, I downplayed it by saying "he's a Beatle," as if to justify why I'd go see Sir Paul. But right out of the gates, I was completely blown away by what I was watching. Then it hit me: The Beatles were actually the first band I ever liked as a kid. My earliest memories of music wasn't kiddie songs by Raffi or "Sesame Street." It was listening to Beatles records...making my older brother and sister play them over and over again (my favorite was "Ticket To Ride.") And here I am, at Fenway Park watching Paul McCartney play songs that soundtracked my childhood. I hate to admit it, but it was pretty emotional. I would never have guessed that I'd be watching him perform "Blackbird" or "Let It Be" or "Live and Let Die." But once "Hey Jude" started, that was when I had to admit that this show was amazing...that and my uncomfortable shifting in my seat wasn't from a cramp but it was because I didn't want my friends to see that I actually had teared up.

1. Nine Inch Nails at Terminal 5 in NYC (August)

Not a big shock here, by any means. This summer, alone, I saw NIN 3 times. The only thing was that before embarking on the NIN/JA tour with Jane's Addiction, Trent Reznor announced that he was retiring from touring. Following the end of the tour with Jane's, Reznor then announced a handful of intimate farewell dates, (he called the short tour Wave Goodbye) but only in NY, Chicago, and Los Angeles. After a few failed attempts at getting tickets to any of the NY shows, I almost gave up. But then I saw a friend of Facebook change his status to "just scored a ticket to NIN at Terminal 5" so on a whim, I decided to check Ticketmaster and wouldn't you know it, I ended up getting single tickets to the final two NIN shows, both at Terminal 5. The first show (on August 25th) was all sorts of awesome: not only did Trent and Co. bust out a cover of "I'm Afraid Of Americans," but they also did "Ruiner" (a song I've NEVER seen NIN perform-- and after these 2 shows, I've seen them 11 times!) Then Peter Murphy would join the band on stage and after a less-than-good rendition of "Reptile," NIN would break out something that truly made me jump out of my skin in excitement- a very un-NIN-like drumbeat, but then a familiar bassline and then there it was- my favorite Bauhaus song, "Kick In The Eye." And to think, the first of these two Terminal 5 shows ISN'T the show that tops my best shows of 2009 list. The second Terminal 5 show, and final east-coast NIN show, was even better than the previous night. Not only was "Wish" the second proper song of the set (SECOND!), but Trent dug back into Pretty Hate Machine and dusted off "Sin" and "Down In It." Still, none of that could even touch "Something I Can Never Have"...yeah, I'll admit it, since this was possibly the last time I'd ever see NIN perform that song...I wept. Luckily, the fact that I was sweating buckets covered up the fact that I was crying. Oh and Peter Murphy came out again, this time hanging upside down from the ceiling while singing "Reptile"...and then he did "A Strange Kind Of Love" into a little bit of "Bela Lugosi's Dead"-- be still my blackened goth heart!

So there it is. My Top Concerts of 2009. Up next, a list of my favorite songs of the past list form, obvi!

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