10 shows you should have seen in 2010

The 2010 musical year in review was a rich one. It seemed to witness a huge leap for the indie music world, with more and more bands getting their sound out there via the Internet. No more fishing for big record label contracts. The 21st century technology has been kind to up-and-coming bands. Following are ten shows that you should have seen with a snippit from each review. Most of these acts are not considered radio staples, but probably should be. Go to the links for each concert to read my full review (shows are listed chronologically).

SPOON at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, 3/20/10 – “While Spoon has had their ups and downs, it seems as if they’re in for a future of ‘ups.’ On this night, Spoon was the tightest four-piece on the planet. Even with two encores, the band left fans wanting more.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/spoon-rock-the-tabernacle

THE RUBY SUNS at the Drunken Unicorn in Atlanta, 3/22/10 – “Touring in support of their third studio album, Fight Softly (Sub Pop), the Ruby Suns spun some foot-tapping songs combining indie rock with world beats. At times, all three members were banging on drums. But usually, the tunes were made up of two synths and a drummer. With danceable beats and McPhun’s smooth voice, it frequently seemed as if all these people were enjoying an 80s new wave performance…in Hawaii.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/ruby-suns-bring-the-tropics-to-atlanta

WILCO at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, 3/26/10 – “As the evening progressed, the fans remained standing. The lush padding of the Fabulous Fox Theatre’s comfy seats was never utilized. The crowd stood the entire show (even much of the balcony). Tweedy recognized this and was impressed.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/wilco-the-experience

VAMPIRE WEEKEND at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, 4/8/10 – “The band opened the show with the heavily-Paul Simon-influenced ‘White Sky’ from Contra. Next up was the ultra-manic ‘Holiday.’ The crowd, already whipped into a seemingly uncontrollable frenzy, would not stop moving and jumping and singing until show’s end.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/vampire-weekend-live-atlanta

ARCADE FIRE at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, 8/11/10 – “Audience participation was mind-blowing and that only made for a better show. Win Butler and company have made a fantastic new record, and fortunately for us, know how to play it live. The show ended with Arcade Fire’s signature song from their first album. ‘Wake Up’ is one of those anthems that is instantly hummable and never forgettable. What a way to end the night.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/arcade-fire-and-spoon-burn-up-alpharetta

ORYX + CRAKE at the EARL in Atlanta, 8/28/10 – “If you’ve heard the CD by now (and you should have heard it by now), you’ll know that these are nine of the most talented musicians around. And live versions of the nine songs performed came out a bit edgier than those recorded. It was clear that the members of Oryx + Crake were pumped. Audience fervor is the only thing that overshadowed the band members’ enthusiam. It was a full house of an appreciative and supportive crowd.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/oryx-crake-have-arrived

CROWDED HOUSE at the House of Blues in Chicago, 9/5/10 – “The second song was ‘Mean To Me,’ from their 1986 debut album. This rocked even harder, with Finn’s voice as perfect – if not better – than it ever was. And he is one of the most underrated and superbly skilled guitar players out there. Of course, his songwriting is the only thing that surpasses his voice and guitar work. He is frequently compared to Lennon and McCartney for a very good reason.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/genius-of-crowded-house-proven-yet-again

JAMES at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, 9/22/10 – “During ‘Say Something,’ Booth traversed his way through the audience, shaking hands and walking down a row of seats across the armrests. At song’s end, he was quite a distance from the stage, yelling to bandmates, ‘What’s the next song? What’s the next song!’ Then, the opening chords of ‘Laid’ began to a roaring crowd. He hastily made his way back to the stage and brought the house down with this excellent song.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/james-return-to-atlanta-and-feel-the-love

PAVEMENT at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, 9/26/10 – “While Pavement never had a #1 hit, ‘Cut Your Hair’ and ‘Gold Soundz’ may have been close, as far as fans are concerned. Malkmus comes across reminiscent of a Stop Making Sense era David Byrne, with his quirky mannerisms and jumpy moves. He does, however, put everything he’s got into his performance.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/pavement-burn-through-atlanta-on-reunion-tour

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, 10/4/10 – “One more decibal plus one more jumping fan would have seen the crowd plummet to the basement. Murphy, with all his youthful exuberance (he’s a very young 40) and high octane energy, was exhausted at song’s end, doubling over with hands on knees and huffing like a chain smoker. The fans felt the same way. And the show was off to a smashing start.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/lcd-soundsystem-show-everyone-else-how-a-live-show-is-done

The new year of 2011 has some big shoes to fill. Better get started.

Arcade Fire and Spoon burn up Alpharetta

Live show review: Arcade Fire and Spoon at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Alpharetta, GA, 8/11/10

Arcade Fire have been approaching BBITW status ever since their second album, Neon Bible, was released in 2007 (BBITW = Biggest Band In The World). When their new offering, The Suburbs, debuted at number one, that status was cemented. For some time now, U2 and Bruce Springsteen have been looking over their collective shoulders. Ironically, Arcade Fire have been frequently compared to the two aforementioned artists. Quite a compliment.

So it was at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Alpharetta (a somewhat swanky suburb itself of Atlanta) that Arcade Fire performed to thousands of serious fans. The serious fans know all the lyrics and sing along willingly. Leader Win Butler exclaimed to the crowd that Spoon was their favorite band. Of course, being label mates on Merge Records did not hurt that sentiment. It was quite the double bill and everyone got a two-for-one show.

He also informed fans that one dollar from each ticket would go directly to Haiti relief – just one more way AF is winning the hearts and minds of its fans. Plenty of great tunes were played from their debut Funeral and their follow up Neon Bible, including the terrific “Keep The Car Running,” “No Cars Go,” and “Intervention. ” But most of the evening saw the band performing nearly all of The Suburbs. Standouts included “Modern Man,” “Month Of May,” “Ready To Start,” “Rococco,” and many more.

Audience participation was mind-blowing and that only made for a better show. Win Butler and company have made a fantastic new record, and fortunately for us, know how to play it live. The show ended with Arcade Fire’s signature song from their first album. “Wake Up” is one of those anthems that is instantly hummable and never forgettable. What a way to end the night.

Spoon was also on their game on this evening. Although only playing 54 minutes, they lit up the stage and warmed up the crowd. They began with “Don’t Make Me A Target,” from 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Old and new tunes were performed: old being “I Turn My Camera On” and “Jonathan Fisk” and new being “Trouble Comes Running” and “Got Nuffin.”

Britt Daniel knows how to prime an audience. He has the songwriting chops, the cool raspy voice, and some wicked guitar licks. Their latest album, Transference, did very well, and returned them to the not-so-poppy days of gritty, raw music. This is another band that knows how to play live. Too bad it was only 54 minutes.

115. SPOON, 3/20/10

Venue: The Tabernacle, Atlanta
Support: Deerhunter, Strange Boys
In the Company of: Chris, Joby S., Peter M.

Based in the musically rich Mecca of Austin, Texas, Spoon have lived a roller coaster ride of success. When singer Britt Daniel joined forces with Jim Eno in 1994, little did they know that they would become indie rock gods. It just took a while. Throughout the nineties, they were off and on record labels, becoming the poster children for what not to do with a musical career. Finally, in 2001, they released Girls Can Tell, and began a relationship with Merge Records that exists to this day.

Spoon’s seventh studio album, Transference, debuted at #4 on the Billboard 200 in January. While not as poppy and accessible as 2007’s huge hit Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Transference is a solid outing with many examples of a band stretching itself to evolve. While Ga Ga was the bands best selling record to date, Daniel will not rest on his laurels. He wants to push his band as well as his fans.

Touring in support of Transference, the band stopped by Atlanta’s awesome Tabernacle Saturday night. It was a sold-out, standing room only crowd of old and new fans alike. Judging from the positive responses to some “oldies,” it appeared that the venue was full of serious Spooners.

The band walked on stage wearing all black. Lit panels made up the backdrop, which changed colors frequently. For the first several songs, the lighting was kept at a minimum, not unlike the beginning the album – a bit dark. Alongside Daniel and Eno, former Get Up Kids bassist Rob Pope and keyboardist/guitarist Eric Harvey round out the band. The brooding bass line and catchy lyrics of “Mystery Zone” kicked things off.

By the second song, Spoon traveled back two albums to Gimme Fiction’s “The Beast And Dragon, Adored.” This is classic Spoon and a fan favorite. The evening was an even mix of old and new. Nine of the eleven tracks from Transference were performed, all to positive feedback from the audience. All totaled, 24 songs were performed with two encores.

Highlights included the emotional rescue of “I Turn My Camera On,” “I Summon You,” “Don’t You Evah,” “Trouble Comes Running,” the terrific piano driven jumpiness of “The Way We Get By,” and a full rocking version – drums and all – of “Small Stakes” (“Small time danger in your midsize car / I don’t dig the stripes but I’ll go for Har Mar / The big innovation on the minimum wage / Is lines up your nose but your life on the page / So c’mon…tell me I’m wrong”). Actually, on this evening, every song was a highlight. Some fans go to shows hoping a band does their album justice. Spoon exceed expectations, offering up performances superior to their recorded material. This band just must be experienced live. Daniel is a passionate and fiery performer with exceptional guitar skills. He was in the groove the entire evening and kept the crowd there, as well.

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While Spoon has had their ups and downs, it seems as if they’re in for a future of “ups.” On this night, Spoon was the tightest four-piece on the planet. Even with two encores, the band left fans wanting more.

Opening the show were fellow Austin natives Strange Boys. This may be an apt name, as lead singer Ryan Sambol has a “unique” voice. It could almost be compared to a young Bob Dylan, but with better enunciation (with a touch of Julian Casablancas thrown in). While that voice was sometimes hard to get around, the music was very good. There were various ingredients, including twang, country, and plenty of sixties feel (all played in a garage).

Atlanta natives Deerhunter were up next. Bradford Cox leads this indie rock outfit he describes as “ambient punk.” Listeners may hear the band’s influences of Echo and the Bunnymen, David Bowie, and Brian Eno coming through in their live performance. Between songs, Cox made several references to his mother, aunt, and cousins who were in attendance.

Deerhunter’s post-punk feel went over well with the crowd. Excellent musicianship and strong vocals promise to offer a lot of exposure for these guys in the future. An opening slot on the Spoon tour won’t hurt, either.

Set list
Mystery Zone
The Beast and Dragon, Adored
My Mathematical Mind
Someone Something
The Ghost of You Lingers
Is Love Forever
Goodnight Laura
I Turn My Camera On
Written in Reverse
Who Makes Your Money
Don’t Make Me a Target
Out Go the Lights
The Underdog
I Summon You
Got Nuffin’
Don’t You Evah
Trouble Comes Running
Black Like Me

Encore 1
The Way We Get By
Nobody Gets Me But You
Vittorio E.

Encore 2
Rhythm and Soul
Small Stakes
Cherry Bomb

Spoon exceed expectations with ‘Transference’

For listeners who feel that Austin’s Spoon achieved overnight success with 2007’s triumphant Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, they couldn’t be more wrong. These guys have been hard at it since 1993, when Britt Daniel (vocals, guitar) and drummer Jim Eno formed the band. Various and sundry musicians have come and gone, as have labels (Merge has been Spoon’s mainstay since 2000’s Love Ways EP). Rob Pope (bass) and Eric Harvey (keyboard, guitar, percussion, backing vocals) round out the foursome. Spoon are notorious for getting record deals, then losing record deals. Despite this, and due in part to Daniels’ demanding perfectionism, Spoon have discovered well-deserved success.

The band’s name is derived from the avant-garde German band Can, who recorded the hit song “Spoon” in the early seventies. Daniel and Eno were fans. As Spoon evolved throughout the mid- to late-nineties, their sound developed a cult following among alternative music fans looking for something else.

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga featured hook-heavy, instant hits, such as “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” “The Underdog,” and “Don’t You Evah.” The group’s seventh full-length release Transference takes a little longer to ease into. In the lead-off track, “Before Destruction,” Daniel sounds as if he’s in a large, cold room, singing things like “Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty / Everyone loves you for your black eye.” It’s a sparse, raw sound that was not present on their previous release. But Spoon want you to understand that they’re not in it for the hits. They’re in it to prove their excellent musicianship, the sometimes off-kilter singing, and the sharp lyrics.

This mood quickly shifts gears with the jumpy “Is Love Forever?” Daniel does the voice-echo thing, which has almost become a trademark, at least for some songs. The next several songs range up and down, emotionally, always with something to grab onto. “Who Makes Your Money” slides in with a synth and easy drum beat, with Daniel deftly doing the asking.

The first single, “Written In Reverse,” gets back to the raw sound with a stop-start jam and banging piano sounding like it was done in one take, and that’s meant as a (“I’m writing this to you in reverse / Someone better call a hearse / I can see it all from here from just a few glimpses”).

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“Trouble Comes Running” is the all-out hooky rocker that does not disappoint. Daniel emotes, “I was in a functional way / I had my Brown Sound jacket / Queen of call collect on my arm / She was my calmer down / She was my good luck charm / Here it come running / Trouble come running again.” With a catchy guitar riff, killer drums, and some sweet harmonies, this one could be the show starter.

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“Goodnight Laura” and “Out Go The Lights” are unexpected near-ballads showing a kinder, gentler Spoon. Throughout the album, the evolved and mature sound shows a band comfortable and confident. Then there’s “Got Nuffin,” a return to vintage Spoon with the quivering guitar and solid, driving rhythm section. Daniel seems to be coming out of the clouds of self-doubt with this one (“And I got nothing to lose but darkness and shadows / Got nothing to lose but bitterness and patterns”).

The remainder of tracks form together to design a terrific outing from indie music’s new kings. Transference debuted at number four on the Billboard charts, a spot none of their previous albums reached. Spoon pride themselves in showing all the blemishes and imperfections. Daniel likes leaving those little miscues and flawed takes on the albums. It becomes more of a real production…more genuine and believable. And so it goes that the quartet from Austin keeps aiming for perfection.

88. SPOON, 4/14/08

Location: Center Stage, Atlanta, GA
Supporting Act(s): The Walkmen, White Rabbits
In The Company Of: Thomas S.

There are many categories of success in the music industry. Some bands have the backing of a record label and are heavily marketed. Other bands garner a huge following of fans and ride that wave via word-of-mouth exposure to success. Spoon falls in the latter category. Formed in 1994 in Austin, Texas, vocalist/guitarist Britt Daniel along with drummer Jim Eno embarked on what would become a very long journey.

Spoon is touring in support of their 2007 release “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.” The band kicked off the show with “The Beast And Dragon, Adored,” from their previous album, 2005’s “Gimme Fiction.” Daniel’s crisp, almost hoarse voice was the perfect vehicle for the biting, intelligent lyrics. Besides Daniel and Eno, Spoon now consists of Eric Harvey on keyboards and Rob Pope on bass. Pope joined the band in 2006 after the breakup of his former band, Kansas City’s Get Up Kids (he even yelled, “Chiefs!” into the mic when he saw my sweatshirt). The four-piece played well together, often joking and usually smiling. The sound, like the camaraderie, was tight.

Spoon epitomizes the best things about a spontaneous band. Sure, fans want to hear a recognizable version of the songs they love, but Spoon goes further by making the live versions even better. These are excellent musicians and superior live performers. Introducing “Eddie’s Ragga,” Daniel stated that, while the band rarely jams, this song came from one.

Pinpointing the band’s influences can be difficult. Usually, Indie Rock is how Spoon is labeled (especially after their disastrous experience with Elektra Records in 1998, which forced them to begin again from scratch). They possess a truly unique sound, yet some genres do come to mind when listening. For example, Motown and Soul frequently bleed out of certain songs, and Brit Pop seems obvious. “Finer Feelings” sounds suspiciously like an old Style Council tune. Some listeners may hear some Squeeze, maybe a little Beatles. Daniel is an expert guitarist and treated the audience to many bizarre and extraordinary sounds. Along with the keyboard-tambourine-guitar prowess of Eric Harvey and the rhythm section of Eno and Pope, anything seems possible. “Small Stakes,” from the “Kill The Moonlight” album (2002), features an addictive groove and almost monotone singing, with plenty of sonic thrills throughout, all while Daniels voice echoes along.

Daniel’s tall, angular frame as well as his striking features and blond hair may make one reminiscent of a young Gary Busey. Artistically, he exhibits traits of a Nick Lowe or a Neil Finn. Whatever he reminds you of, he’s nothing if not a rousing performer. He took time after nearly every song to talk with the audience and even signed a poster of a begging fan standing in the front. The entire band seemed genuinely happy to be in Atlanta.

Other highlights included their breakthrough hit, the Jaggeresque “I Turn My Camera On,” from “Gimme Fiction” and “Stay Don’t Go” from “Moonlight.” Among the many songs featured from “Ga Ga…” were “Don’t You Evah,” “Rhthm And Soul,” “Black Like Me,” the political “Don’t Make Me A Target (possibly a jab at a fellow Texan in a high office, if you get my drift…),” “The Ghost Of You Lingers,” and their single, “The Underdog” (“You got no time for the messenger / got no regard for the thing that you don’t understand / you got no fear of The Underdog / that’s why you will not survive”).

Hailing from New York City (by way of Columbia, Missouri), the White Rabbits opened the show with an Indie-pop sound with hints of ska drifting in and out (if you listen closely). The Rabbits sported two drummers and members tended to switch instruments without warning. Founding members Greg Roberts on guitar and Stephen Patterson on keyboards share lead vocal duties. They are on the road supporting their first full-length record “Fort Nightly.” It was truly an energetic set, and although they were not the group most people paid to see, they kept the crowd hopping and happy.

The NYC-based band The Walkmen filled the middle slot. Lead singer Hamilton Leithauser’s powerful, nearly strained voice guaranteed that nearly every song would be filled with soul and emotion. The marching drums kept the pace hurried for most of their set. An Indie rock band with clear connections to post-punk seemed to be a crowd favorite.