Best Shows of 2007
1. Morrissey, Wolf Trap, July 2 and Constitution Hall, Nov. 2
I won't go as far as saying that my first 26 years on this planet were a complete waste because I wasn't a fully-fledged member of the Cult of Moz ... but they kind of were. I went into the July show with middling expectations because I was never a Smiths devotee and Morrissey had just canceled a handful of shows due to voice woes. I came away a complete convert. I generally think that showmanship is overrated and serves a crutch for acts that know they don't have great songs, but that's not the case at all with Morrissey. He's absolutely magnetic on stage, whether he's using the mic cord as a lasso, dramatically ripping his shirt off or leaning down to accept trinkets from fans. Combine that with his singular croon, his hilarious/heartbreaking/honest lyrics, his powerhouse backing band and the complete adoration of his fans, and it's pure magic. When it was all over I walked up the stairs of Wolf Trap's Pavilion in a delighted daze, tempered only by my immediate realization that I have been missing out for so long.
He returned to the area exactly four months later and not even the sometimes-dreary acoustics or the stale setting of Constitution Hall could ruin the show. It was another flawless performance and he didn't even recycle too many tunes from the summer show. How good was it? The night of the show I dreamt I was one of those fanatics pressed up against the stage, stretching out my hand in the hope that Moz would touch it. He did. It was a great dream, much better than that one I usually have where I'm on a rollercoaster but my harness doesn't work and I'm holding on for dear life and nobody will stop the ride. I'm so sick of that dream.
2. Double Dagger, Floristree (Baltimore), July 21
Sometimes perfect circumstances make for a perfect performance. Baltimore 's experimental underground scene had been percolating for a few years and hit it big time this year (well, relatively speaking, of course) when acts like Dan Deacon and Spank Rock became blog favorites. Whartscape was a weekend-long affair up in Charm City highlighted by a ten-band, BYOB, Saturday night soiree at Floristree, a sweaty, stinky warehouse space that would make Warhol proud. Double Dagger is a voice/bass/drums three-piece that plays pummeling, loud political art-punk, somewhere in between Unwound and Fugazi. Their intensity is always off the charts and this time it was matched by the audience. There may only be a hundred people who know the words to every Double Dagger song, but it's likely all of them were right there, pressed up against the makeshift stage, smashing into each other, catching singer Nolen Strals when he leaped off stage and all the while shouting along. Check out the video below of "Luxury Condos for the Poor," my favorite song of 2007. It was my most uplifting musical moment of 2007.
3. Oakley Hall, Rock and Roll Hotel, Sept. 6
To get the essence of what makes Oakley Hall so great, read this excellent article by Brian Barr from Seattle Weekly. His main argument is that few American bands actually sound American, and this Brooklyn-based sextet is able to combine all of the country's disparate influences into a cohesive sound. On this night at the Rock and Roll Hotel 30 or so very lucky folks saw the band deliver sparkling versions of every song they played. It's mostly a noisy version of country-rock, but since the band employs two lead singers and takes cues from plenty of other subgenres - psych rock, power pop, drone rock - each song showed the band in a different light. In my notes for the show I wrote "no way maintain" after the third song, since they came out of the gate on fire, but each song managed to be better than the next. If you like rock-and-roll, please don't miss this band next time they are in your town.
4. Spoon, 9:30 Club, Oct. 23
As a longtime Spoon fan I flipped out when the band opened with "I Could See the Dude" a standout from the band's overlooked (and brilliant) 1997 EP "Soft Effects." When they followed that with "Utilitarian" and "The Minor Tough" from the next year's "A Series of Sneaks" the flipping out turned into freaking out. The setlist ended up being a chronological walk through Spoon's discography, a perfect gimmick for a band with such a deep, satisfying catalogue. A three-piece horn section gave extra oomph to songs like "The Underdog" and "You Got Yr Cherry Bomb," but it was frontman Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno who stole the show. I've seen many Spoon shows over the past decade and most have been mediocre, largely because the precision and economy of sound that make their albums so great doesn't translate on stage. That wasn't the case tonight as the band was completely locked in and they knew it. When Daniel walked off stage after an absolutely searing version of "My Mathematical Mind," he was wearing the opposite look as a couple months earlier at Virgin Festival.
5. Jens Lekman, Black Cat, Oct. 25
Probably the most joyful show I attended this year. Once again I'll point you somewhere else to explain the overall appeal of Lekman - in this case Stephen Metcalf's fawning ode at Slate - and it all rang true at the Black Cat. With his lyrics the baby-faced Swedish singer-songwriter can bring a smile to your face and a tear to your eye on consecutive lines, and those words are wrapped in pristine, idiosyncratic pop packages played by his all-female Nordic backing band. "The Opposite of Hallelujah" was buoyant and bouncy, "Sipping on Sweet Nectar" was a cheeky bossa nova and a solo version of "Shirin" made for the most silent, enraptured audience I've witnessed in 13 years of going to shows at the Black Cat.
6. Panda Bear, Ottobar (Baltimore), June 21
This show was just as otherworldly as Panda Bear's (Animal Collective's Noah Lennox) amazing 2007 album, "Person Pitch." Not bad, since he was alone on stage, with just a couple keyboards and samplers to keep him company. Whatever buttons he was pressing, they were all of the right ones. But most crucial was that his voice was as soothing and transporting as on record, floating gently above his layered, tribal sound collages. Apparently there were some pretty neat movies being shown on a projector behind Lennox , but I was too busy being in a state of closed-eyed bliss to know.
7. The Points, The Red & the Black, Oct. 27
In terms of actual performance this show might not crack my top 40, but in terms of spectacle it was easily No. 1. Going to shows can become fairly routine. Band plays, people stand there, clap politely, sip on a beer, repeat. This was not one of those shows. The local trio (sometimes a quartet, but not on this night) played 30 minutes of rowdy, high-octane garage punk that inspired some members of the crowd packed into the tiny H Street club to almost literally tear the place apart. It was the only show I attended this year - and I set a new record by attending 107 - that actually felt dangerous. And I loved every second of it. Even when that sweaty, bloody guy fell right into me.
8. Prinzhorn Dance School , 100 Club ( London ), Oct. 17
I lucked out big time that this band was playing in London during the week I was there this fall. (A planned May tour of the U.S. was scrapped due to visa problems.) This show was an exercise in what I like to call sinister minimalism. Prinzhorn's songs stop, start, lurch, explode and disappear. Rarely will the guitar, bass and drum be played at the same time - silence is just as important an element in the band's taut sound. Tobin Prinz and Suzi Horn don't sing, they shout and it's usually some peculiar call to arms such as "I do not like change!" or "You are the space invader!" It's music that makes you feel uncomfortable, but in a good way.
9. Jonathan Richman, 9:30 Club, Feb. 9
When Jens Lekman reaches his 50s he'll be lucky if he's still as endearing as Richman is today. The former Modern Lover and proto-punk has put those days long behind him and now gets by on the same sort of goofball charm that Lekman possesses. He sings silly songs like "Here Come the Martian Martians" and "I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar," breaks into some variation of a herky-jerky hula with regularity and there's even something amusing about the flamenco-style guitar playing.
10. A Place to Bury Strangers, Black Cat (backstage), Aug. 15
The band's show last year at the late, great Warehouse Next Door is probably in my top 10 shows of all time, but this one has to settle for the last spot on the 2007 Top 10. A few weeks after this gig the Brooklyn trio, which plays an ear-splittingly loud mixture of shoegaze, drone and garage rock, received a rave review on Pitchfork and is now one of indie's hottest acts. There's no way they'll play for 40 people on the backstage again. It's hard to get past the volume, but guitarist Oliver Ackerman is a master manipulator of his noise, many thanks to his army of self-designed pedals which make his six-string sound sometimes menacing, sometimes piercing, always ferocious.
Near Misses: Jay Reatard, Black Cat (backstage), July 23; Professor Murder, Black Cat (backstage), Aug. 16; LCD Soundsystem, 9:30 Club, May 13; Howling Hex, Iota, March 15; Mika Miko, Floristree, Aug. 19; Last Town Chorus, Iota, Feb. 3; Ted Leo, 9:30 Club, March 29
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