With apologies to Robert Earl Keen, Devin the Dude, Cake, Hayes Carll and the multitude of also-rans filling up the regional concert calendar in these final weeks of 2010, it's safe to say, I think, that, with Friday night's Wu-Tang show at the Granada Theater, the year in live music effectively wrapped itself up this weekend -- at least so far as we're concerned. And, given our list-obsessed state of minds at the moment, that's good news: Now we can finally get around to looking back at the year that was in area concerts.
Looking back, it was an incredibly busy year, thanks in some part to the festivalization of North Texas. No, there's still nothing in the area that can compete with SXSW or ACL or even Fun Fun Fun Fest, all of which were huge successes down in Austin this year. But between NX35's glorious run back in the spring (hello, Flaming Lips!), the inaugural Homegrown Festival in Downtown Dallas and, sure enough, our biggest Dallas Observer Music Awards Showcase yet, things on the multiple-stage-show front were suddenly not so bad around here.
Neither was the region's booking. Past years have found Dallasites griping about the lack of anticipated national tours stopping through the area. Is that much still even a viable complaint? Dallas got the Guided by Voices "classic lineup" reunion tour kickoff, the Clash of the Titans tour reunion kickoff, the most recent run from The Pixies, Wu-Tang and countless other showcases. Did we really miss much else? Not as far as we can recall. Pretty much every tour worth its weight came through the region -- and, if it didn't make it here the first time through, more often than not, those bands just came back later.
Given that sheer volume, looking back on the year in concerts is something of a herculean task. As a unit, we here at DC9 reviewed somewhere in the vicinity of just over 200 shows in 2010. Personally, I'd say I attended somewhere in the region of 150-plus (or more) shows of varying sizes over the course of that same stretch -- while still managing to somehow miss greatness like Neil Young at the Meyerson, either of Mumford & Sons' two stops through town, Levon Helm and Ray LaMontagne at the Verizon Theatre and, I'm sure, many other worthwhile efforts.
But, fact remains, I still did see plenty of shows. And, thusly, I present my subjective list of 2010's best concerts in the region, in order, after the jump. Here's hoping you made it out to a couple of them.
15. Passion Pit at the Palladium Ballroom
Why: Passion Pit had a bigger 2009 than 2010, for all intents and purposes. But while 2010 served largely as a victory lap for the synth-obsessed Boston-based outfit, it also saw the band playing its biggest showcases yet -- and with its most well-coiffed shows, too.
Excerpt from review: "Infectious and dance-y and proven to be a more marketable commodity than the hype factory the band appeared in its first stop in Dallas, the band's live performance of its Manners- and Chunk of Change-filled set was spot on with their studio recordings."
14. Pleasant Grove perform Auscultation of the Heart in entirety at the Kessler Theater
Why: Aside from the obvious points -- that Pleasant Grove is one of Dallas' great bands and that this show was jam-packed with adoring fans -- this show didn't necessarily feel like the reunion show it was billed as. More than anything, it felt like a coming out party for the beautiful Kessler Theater, which is quickly becoming one of the best, if not the flat-out top, listening rooms in the region.
Excerpt from review: "It was a performance that harkened back to the band's celebratory 'last' performance, a couple years back, at Sons of Hermann Hall. They were crisp, clean, and, most important for a band with such a delicate sound, singular."
13. Crystal Castles at the House of Blues
Why: Dallas area Crystal Castles fans had been waiting for this show for some time -- the band somewhat famously canceled its Granada Theater gig last year at the last minute -- and received a show this year that more than made up for past errors. Whether Ethan Kath and Alice Glass were intentionally upping their games at this show or not, their final stop on their U.S. tour proved itself an epic display.
Excerpt from review: "It was but a quick moment of silence; half a second later, the stage was flooded with green lights and Crystal Castles burst into its set. By the band's second song, 'Baptism,' the eclectic, all-ages HOB crowd was going nuts."
12. The Octopus Project's Hexadecagon at the South Side Music Hall
Why: It's tough to beat this show on sheer spectacle alone. With eight-channel speakers blasting the sound out in 360 degrees from the band's in-the-round performance spot, which existed under a canopy of visuals, this show was sensory overload -- and not just an example of style over substance.
Excerpt from review: "These folks were voted by ticket purchasers to be the opening act at Coachella a few years ago. But the music of the new album and its presentation last night pushed the envelope into a whole new realm."
11. Sarah Jaffe at the Granada Theater
Why: This September show felt like a coming out party for Jaffe -- much bigger than her CD release show back in May, which drew Jaffe about a quarter of the crowd size she drew to this sold-out affair. And, between the debut of her "Clementine" music video and her sparse, encore cover of Radiohead's "Creep," Jaffe made sure her fans left feeling as if they'd seen something special. Which, of course, they had.
Excerpt from review: "There still remain a sign or two of her youth and inexperience -- like when, just a few songs in to her headlining slot at the Granada Theater on Saturday night, Sarah Jaffe excused herself from the audience so that she could go grab a guitar strap she'd left backstage. But those were but minor quibbles. Because, as she's been doing all year, the 24-year-old Jaffe continued to prove herself quite the pro on Saturday night. "
10. Vampire Weekend at the House of Blues
Why: Vampire Weekend's first North Texas stop since blowing up in the national limelight -- and since a poorly attended show at Denton's Rubber Gloves a few years prior -- found the band reveling in audience adoration and delivering a more crisp, clean and endearing performance as can realistically be expected of a band that still remains so young.
Excerpt from review: "Even had frontman Ezra Koenig not repeatedly implored the audience to dance over the course of his band's 75-minute set last night -- he even went so far as to announce the length of the songs he was about to play as a means of explaining how little effort it would actually take to participate in such a manor -- the crowd appeared already primed for such a reaction."
9. Ishi at Trees for the Dallas Observer Music Awards Showcase
Why: It was nuts to butts at Trees -- as packed as the storied Deep Ellum haunt's been since re-opening its doors -- and, though at max capacity, a line of eager showgoers still stretched out past the venue's front door, trying to catch a glimpse of Ishi's performance on this night. It was a perfect storm, really: Between the crowds that had come out for the DOMA showcase, Ishi's impossibly high buzz at that very moment, and Trees' unerring sound system, this show seemed destined to be the highlight of this incredibly fun event that also show displays from bigger names such as The Cool Kids, The Secret Machines, Lucero and Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights. And it lived up to its hype, thanks to Ishi's infectious live display.
Excerpt from review: "Ishi showed last night that the Dallas music scene is coming back. And, finally, people are actually paying attention."
8. Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax at Superpages.com Center
Why: Almost two decades earlier, these same bands, with a then-little-known opener called Alice in Chains, gathered at this very same venue to launch the fabled Clash of the Titans tour in 1991. All these years later, with nary a hitch in any of their steps, the three thrash metal icons rejoined one another to kick off another Clash of the Titans tour. It was loud, brash, a little nostalgic, and all kinds of brutal. Worth the wait.
Excerpt from review: "And, performance-wise, the band was as good as they've always been, lit by red lights with smoke."
7. Wu-Tang Clan at the Granada Theater
Why: In many ways, it almost didn't feel real. Some of the greatest emcees ever assembled on a single record? Joining forces for a tour that normally skips towns like Dallas? And yet it happened -- without RZA and Method Man, sure. But it still made for a fairly epic display. You just don't necessarily grasp the gravitas of songs such as "Bring Da Ruckus" and "C.R.E.A.M." (to name a few) until you've heard them in a sold-out venue, at full volume blast. A guest appearance from Young Dirty Bastard helped. So, too, did a fiery opening set from A.Dd+.
Excerpt from review: "It wasn't the full Clan promised, but only a sucker would expected as much. And only an ingrate wouldn't be completely satisfied with the version of Wu that rocked the house for an hour and a half. It was a night showing the best of hip-hop's past and, for those who witnessed A.Dd+ and friends, its future."
6. Elvis Costello and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center
Why: Uh, because it's Elvis Costello? And, OK, the DSO, too. A once in a lifetime event, no doubt.
Excerpt from review: "No, this was not a rock show -- but by night's end, it felt like one. Each of the final four songs performed this night elicited standing ovations from crowd. Not just because they were tired of sitting, though -- but, rather, because Costello and the DSO performing together more than merited such appreciation."
5. Jay-Z, Young Jeezy and Trey Songs at the American Airlines Center
Why: Jay-Z is the best rapper alive. And, at this show, he proved as much. It's easy to forget how impossibly great a career he's had -- and then you see him live. The number of hits he counts as his own is mind-boggling. Impressive stuff, really. Almost as impressive as the nonchalance with which he delivers these songs in live settings.
Excerpt from review: "It was quick, but nothing compared to the display that came upon Jay's return, in which he rattled off a 13-song greatest hits medley in a 20-minute rapid-fire session that was beyond impressive--frustratingly so, in fact. It was something of a tease--none of these songs were played at full length--and when the beat dropped out and Jay kept going without it, he double-timed his rhymes, leaving the audience struggling to keep up. It was almost an athletic display on his part. Seemed he should've been out of breath even--only, well, he wasn't.
4. Pixies and Fuck Buttons at Verizon Theater
Why: The Pixies are as seminal a band as there is in the world of indie rock, and now, after having been reunited for a longer time than the stretch in which they were an actual entity in the first place, the band is at the top of its game, playing to bigger crowds than ever and returning the favor with bigger productions. And none are bigger than this: For the past two years, the Pixies have been touring in support of the 20th anniversary of their iconic Doolittle album. After some b-sides, the band rifled through that disc and some other selections from their catalog, which were saved for the encore. And it was incredible. So, too, actually, were Fuck Buttons, who utilized the surround sound capabilities of the theater's sound system to full capacity on this night.
Excerpt from review: "Between each and every song, the house lights came on, and the band basked in their crowd's enjoyment of this night. In return, they smiled and waved back at the crowd that cheered them so. This adoration wasn't over-the-top, nor was it out of place. This was a top-notch performance from a seminal act -- and this crowd, odd as it may have appeared to the eyes, could not have come off more reverential to the ears."
3. Gorillaz and N.E.R.D. at Verizon Theater
Why: It was as massive a touring production as we saw all year in touring shows -- there were videos for each individual song, a massive well-designed set, and no fewer than 42 performers in total. Quite the package. And it paid off: Utilizing his Clash backing members and his others guests (De La Soul, Little Dragon), Gorillaz mastermind Damon Albarn gallivanted about the Verizon Theater as if a court jester summoned to entertain. And, relinquished from his animated cage, Albarn indeed proved himself a masterful showman.
Excerpt from review: "More than anything, this display felt like a coming out party, and a celebration. When Albarn, three songs into his performance, already having strutted and skipped across stage with glee, and beaming like a schoolboy all the while, greeted the crowd with a short, 'Nice to see you,' he did so indeed with a wink and a smile. Gorillaz, perhaps unjustly, has been dismissed in the past for its cartoonish origin; but just as the international press has clamored over Plastic Beach's diversions, it seems high time the actual musicians get their due credit."
2. Erykah Badu, B.o.B. and Janelle Monae at Verizon Theater
Why: Back in June, just as B.o.B. and Janelle Monae were really starting to break as two of the most impressive newcomers in hip-hop and R&B in 2010, the two joined forces as the tour openers for Erykah Badu's New Amerykah, Part II: Return of the Ankh-spurred jaunt through the states. No, at the end of the year, a triple-billing like this one seems almost unfathomable. But, alas, it happened. And, impressive as the two openers were, their efforts were clearly -- and, mind you, quite easily -- outshined by Badu, who is always impressive live, but has perhaps never been more impressive than she was on this night.
Excerpt from review: "She teased the audience -- calling men in the front rows up to stage's edge only to quickly push them away -- and skipped about, smiling ear-to-ear and reveling in the fact that 'This is my city and it's good to be home -- OK, I'm always here, but whatever.' And she was in top form, belting and hissing at the top of her lungs, while tossing off with even more regularity her token commands of "Wait!" to her backing band when she wanted them to drop out and allow her voice to shine alone. "
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1. The Flaming Lips, Midlake and Stardeath & White Dwarfs at the North Texas Fairgrounds for NX35 2010
Why: Well, for starters, because it happened. Nabbing The Flaming Lips to play NX35 was a major coup for the still-very-young pre-SXSW Denton fest. And it wasn't an easy one. Pegged by promoters as a top choice for some time in advance of the festival, it almost didn't seem real when organizers finally announced the band as its headlining act for 2010. And, in some ways, it almost wasn't: Troubles with sponsors, with payments and with the city (originally, the show was to take place in downtown Denton, not in its out-of-the-way fairground) almost caught up with the NX35 organizers before the show came to pass. But, miraculously, the show just kept moving forward and forward and forward. And, finally, the night came, and it still didn't feel real. It felt like a dream -- and, for a moment there, almost like a nightmare, too. Right in the middle of the Lips' outlandish introduction, the power supply to their massive power-suck of a stage, malfunctioned. Everyone's hearts dropped. Could the biggest show ever to come to Denton really turn out to be such a massive failure? No, turns out -- because the power came back on. And, though it would pop back off once more over the course of the band's set, the Lips' resilience, and the audience's belief that the show would go on, ended up transcending the moment itself. As such, this Lips show won't go down as a simple performance from those lucky enough to have been there. Rather, it will forever be revered as a cherished memory, and a testimony to all for which Denton and its music scene stand.
Excerpt from review: "The crowd cheered in appreciation at that point--just as it did throughout the evening at pretty much anything and everything Coyne and Company offered. At the set's end, no one seemed ready to leave.
'I don't want anyone to think that, because of all this, it was any less of a great night,' Coyne said to an eruption of applause, before he called out the potential naysayers as 'cynical motherfuckers.'
After the band closed with yet another rousing--and, again, confetti-filled--performance, this time to an offering of 'Do You Realize??,' few could argue with him. A great night, indeed.
Maybe Denton's greatest."