Best shows I saw in 2010
On Twitter, I’ve been (very) slowly counting down my personal favorite moments of 2010. The intention was to delineate parts of the year that had nothing to do with work, but were still highlights. Of course, I work too much, so the odd album, artist, interview, meeting, and show has been seeping into the ongoing itemization (hashtag #personalbest2010, if you want to join in).
The other day, I was moved to share my five favorite shows of the year, and figured it deserved a few more words than Twitter allows. So, what follows is an expanded list of the best shows I saw in 2010. I tried to find video from those actual performances, but wasn’t entirely successful with all of them. Nonetheless, here we go, in alphabetical order, because I think they all tie for “best show of the year.”
Carolina Chocolate Drops with the Low Anthem – The Orange Peel – Asheville, NC
While in the throes of this show, I believe I tweeted something to the effect of Carolina Chocolate Drops being the best band in the world. Indeed, a great show should leave you feeling like you’ve just witnessed something entirely special, as though there is no other band who could pull off anything quite like that. Carolina Chocolate Drops have that trick nailed. Granted, there aren’t a lot of other bands at their level who are making of old timey music quite what the Chocolate Drops are making. Delivering songs of yore in a way that not only stirs you to dance, but feels new and relevant to now, is not a simple task. Sure, many of those songs are about timeless things, but can, in the wrong hands, come off as more nostalgia than new artistry.
Watching the Chocolate Drops perform, though, you get the sense that they are coming at you from deep inside the song, whether they’re singing about cornbread and butterbeans or spending all your ex’s cash as payback for being mistreated. Regardless, this was a hugely packed house, and every single soul in the room was engaged and partying along. That rare feeling presided, that anything outside that room, at least for the duration of that show, barely mattered, if at all.
Carolyn Wonderland – SXSW – Austin, TX
Friends of mine had long been telling me to check out Carolyn Wonderland if I ever had the chance, and there I was in Austin with a full schedule of SXSW insanity to overwhelm my ears. I figured I’d jog over to Antone’s for a song or two before hopping back into the thick of things on the main drag. As it turned out, Wonderland kept me rapt for her entire 45-minute set. She delivered one of those shockingly astute sets that makes writing about music seem silly and futile. As was pointed out to me on Twitter, the video below is from 2008. But, it’s the same venue, same artist, and I’m certain she played this song the night I saw her:
Daniel Martin Moore & Ben Sollee – Crocodile Cafe – Seattle, WA
This was the first show I saw after South by Southwest, when I was still letting go of that ultimate saturation. In fact, I thought about not bothering to go out this particular night, but was thrilled I’d wrested from my stupor. Moore and Sollee’s Dear Companion CD also made my Top 20 of 2010 list, for what it’s worth. Mountaintop removal seemed to be one of the buzz issues this year, but these two brought a little humanity to the whole thing, with an outstanding collection of songs from and about the people whose lives are actually touched by mountaintop removal. Live, their stage presence strikes an interesting contrast – Moore is a little more demure, while Sollee is a charismatic showman – but it made for an excellent dynamic at the freshly redesigned Croc (which I like a lot better than the old room, oddly enough).
I couldn’t find actual video from that show, but did get this vid from their stop by KEXP studios a few blocks away.
Grand Hallway with Seattle Rock Orchestra – Triple Door – Seattle, WA
My first assignment in print in 2010 was to write a story about Seattle indie-chamber-pop megaband Grand Hallway. Through the rest of the year, they became one of my favorite bands in Seattle, due to the fact that they have consistently been able to pull off ambitious undertakings like this one without falling into utter chaos. The band was already seven members strong (a cacophany in itself), but then they teamed up with the dozen or so members of Seattle Rock Orchestra for a couple of shows. As if that wasn’t enough, they brought in the Perkins School Children’s Choir to round things out. I believe I counted upwards of 30 people on that stage (I could be wrong, but it’s early for math this morning). It could have been complete sonic mayhem. It could have come off gimmicky and obnoxious. But these guys are artists in the truest sense, and are able to manage restraint even with this many noisemakers blaring at once.
I was seated front and center for this show – not necessarily my favorite place to be. It felt a little like pressing my nose up to a giant movie screen and letting the whole film fall over me like a blanket. Nonetheless, it’s one of the shows that’s stuck to my brain as we exit this year, and I’m excited to find out what happens when frontman Tomo Nakayama strips the collective to its purest elements for a smaller band full-length release in 2011 (I believe I heard it’ll be a trio this time around).
The videos from the Triple Door performance that I was able to find didn’t adequately communicate the sound quality of the actual show, so I pulled this one (courtesy of Seattle Show Gal) from their performance at what appears to be Fremont Abbey.
Heart (with Alison Krauss) – EMP Sky Church – Seattle, WA
Somehow, despite the fact that I’d been living in Seattle for seven years, I’d managed to never see Heart live. This preview show, featuring songs from their Red Velvet Car CD well before its release, more than made up for lost time.
It all started with Nancy Wilson walking to center stage and standing there for a bit, staring down her crowd, before ripping into the opening riff of “Barracuda.” From there, the show lept back and forth from flat-out balls-to-the-wall rock show, to rootsy sidestreets, flanked by guest stars Ben Mink and Alison Krauss. In addition to lending her remarkable fiddle skills to the stage, Krauss let her inner rockstar go on a verse of Heart classic “These Dreams.” You can read my full review of that show here, or check the video below from a night in Nashville when Krauss jumped onstage with the sisters Wilson (there was no suitable video from the Seattle show):
No Depression Festival – Marymoor Park – Bellevue, WA
I know the inclusion of this one probably comes off like a big biased glorified ad for the entity which employs me, but honestly it was one of my favorite days of the whole year. Not only did I get to join my buddy Sera Cahoone onstage for a hilariously interesting “clogging” performance to her cover of “Rocky Top,” but I also got to kick back in the grass with friends and watch incredible performances from Alejandro Escovedo, Chuck Prophet, the Maldives, the Cave Singers, Lucinda Williams, and Swell Season.
If you recall, a few days earlier, there had been a tragic suicide at a Swell Season show in California, so this was an incredibly emotional set from the duo, which brought me all the way to tears at one point. My full review of the show is here, if you’re inclined to read more, including some great photos from Kirk Stauffer. Or, here’s some of Swell Season playing backstage:
So there you have it. What shows blew your mind this year?