Best Shows of 2008, Malitz Version

kanye

1. Kanye West - Virgin Mobile Festival, Aug. 10
Virgin Mobile Festival gave us living legends (Dylan, the Stooges), '90s alt-rock heroes (Foo Fighters, Nine Inch Nails), indie stalwarts (Wilco) and fresh faces (Paramore, Lil Wayne). But there was only one megastar at the peak of his powers, and that was Kanye West. And, simply put, he made every other performance over the weekend seem quaint. Kanye tore through his set like the rest of the festival lineup was simply the opening acts for his own show. He was in complete control, a larger-than-life rock star. In the week after the festival, I told everyone that Kanye killed it. In retrospect, that's not even strong enough. He slaughtered it. Not even Kanye himself could come up with the hyperbole to describe how awesome his performance was. If you were there for this show, it was easy to brush off his recent "SNL" disaster as nothing more than a misstep on a show where disasters often happen.
What I Said Then

Nine more shows after the jump.

2. Half Japanese - SXSW, March 14; Rock and Roll Hotel, July 11
My "Holy [expletive]!!!" music moment of 2007 was when I saw Morrissey for the first time and realized that my life had been completely meaningless up to that point. (Update: Still completely meaningless, but I have lots of Morrissey records now!) This year, Half Japanese filled that role. I first caught the band down in Austin at SXSW and was immediately and completely won over and cursed the years I spent thinking they were just a band insecure people like Kurt Cobain convinced themselves they liked so they could feel special.

These two kids standing at the foot of the stage for the band's July show at the Rock and Roll Hotel presented the perfect visual evidence of the happiness of a Half Japanese show. They couldn't have been much over 21, meaning their parents probably hadn't even met when Jad and David Fair starting writing their art-damaged, lo-fi, junk rock in the early '70s. But every time the band started into one of its skronky classics, the kids would just jump up and down and smile with their eyes closed and one of them would keep hitting his friend on the back, a non-verbal way of saying, "Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod." Just pure joy.

3. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - 9:30 Club, Oct. 5-6
There should be one of those car commercial disclaimers before a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds show. "Warning: These are professionals. Don't try this at home." Both performances were elegant and sinister with just the right amount of bombast. Cave controls the stage like few others and as I said in my review of the outstanding "Dig, Lazarus, Dig" album, his band is comprised of high-class musicians who relish getting dirty. It's even more apparent in a live setting.
What I Said Then

4. Silver Jews - Black Cat, Sept. 10
My favorite band plays my favorite club for the first time ever and David Berman dedicates a song to me from stage. Wait, how is this not No. 1? It defies ranking. So I'll just stick it here.
What I Said Then

5. The Breeders - 9:30 Club, June 11
I know it makes me sound like an old man (and that's J. Freedom's role around here) but man, it's a shame there aren't more bands like the Breeders. I saw so many bands this year that played songs so precisely as to render them interchangeable from their recorded versions; sipped water between songs; and generally treated a rock concert like a polite gathering of the GW Young Democrats. (Which I guess is exactly what that Ra Ra Riot show was.) Kim Deal chugs beer, and she and her sister Kelley make small mistakes and play some songs sitting down, and they change the set list on the fly, and it just feels like a rock-and-roll show. And when they played "Cannonball" and it was a glorious mess of feedback, distorted vocals and one-note guitar riffs, well, it was getting a little dusty in the 9:30 club is all I'm saying.
What I Said Then

6. Wovenhand - Iota, Oct. 17
Probably the single most captivating show I saw all year. David Eugene Edwards got into his usual deep trance, which made his God-fearing, apocalyptic rustic folk songs even more effective and unsettling. Edwards' distorted guitar emitted a low hum in between songs so there was never any silence, never any time to take a breath and relax.
What I Said Then

7. Times New Viking/Jay Reatard/Mika Miko - SXSW, March 13
Have you noticed how "indie rock" just kind of morphed into "indie"? You're forgetting the best park, folks! That's why this SXSW day party sponsored by Other Music was so refreshing. Three consecutive sets from three of the very best current bands that bring the noise. Mika Miko is the polar opposite of the Pussycat Dolls, which is just about the highest praise I can give. Jay Reatard is punk rock personified. And as much as I like many of the bands that are part of the new lo-fi explosion, Times New Viking is the one band where the songs are more worthy of attention than the aesthetic.

8. Love Is All - Rock and Roll Hotel, Dec. 6
I've never had a Sparks (and apparently I missed my chance), but I imagine it's sort of the liquid equivalent of a Love Is All show. Just a huge rush of energy, along with an inflated sense of jubilation, a bit of wooziness, and before you blink it's all over and you want another one. Now!

9. Richard Lloyd/Sufimonkey Trio - Velvet Lounge, Aug. 14
A dude in his 50s leading a power trio through a bunch of Jimi Hendrix covers in front a couple dozen people. That sounds like a hellish open-mic night, but when the dude in question is post-punk guitar god Richard Lloyd of Television, and he's joined by former bandmate Billy Ficca on drums, it makes for one of the most mesmerizing shows of the year. In addition to scorching versions of "Spanish Castle Magic," "Purple Haze" and "Are You Experienced?" we also got treated to Television classics "Friction," "Elevation" and "See No Evil," which sounded no worse for the wear even without Tom Verlaine's yelp.
What I Said Then

10. Monotonix/Dark Meat - the Red & the Black, March 12
In terms of pure spectacle, this was certainly the show of the year. It took place at the Red & the Black, which is only slightly bigger than the monitor on which you're reading this. First there was Dark Meat, a dozen or so completely stoned freaks playing acid-damaged circus music/psych/skronk-rock while spraying the crowd with confetti through a snowblower. Then there was the Israeli garage-punk trio that played approximately 39 shows in D.C. this year, but this was probably the wildest, complete with fire, garbage dumping, some groping and a very hairy ass. And it was the only show this year where yours truly bought a beer and moments later it was ripped from my hands and poured down the front of a dude's pants.
What I Said Then

By David Malitz |  January 5, 2009; 11:47 AM ET Year-End Lists
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Comments

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i'll second the kanye nod. what an unexpectedly awesome performance -- especially for a hip-hop artist.

Posted by: samsessa | January 5, 2009 2:11 PM

love is all black cat show > love is all rock n roll hotel show. and yeah, its kind of like drinking too many sparks.

Posted by: seannn | January 5, 2009 5:38 PM

How did I completely forget about that Monotonix show at the Red and the Black? That show was complete bedlam.

Posted by: rogo2000 | January 7, 2009 12:29 AM

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