N8′s 12 Favorite Concerts of 2010

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When Shabazz Palaces played their first ever live show on the 8th day of 2010 it was too early in the year to know how special it would be for live music, but by mid-April I had a pretty good idea 2010 was to be truly great for live music in my life (non-live music was also quite good – click here to see a list of my favorite albums of 2010. Here are 12 of my favorite live concerts from last year (and one of my favorite dvd packages ever):

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1. Jonsi @ The Showbox SoDo, 4/10

The production design of the Sigur Rós frontman’s solo show combined with the intensely emotional music of his debut album is unbeatable. A theatrical multi-projector/lighting setup perfectly complimented the beautifully executed tunes.

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2. Rush @ White River Amphitheater (8/7) / Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage documentary @ Big Picture Redmond

The Time Machine Tour is the popular Canadian power trio playing the entirety of their most popular album, 1981’s Moving Pictures. That was the second set, though. And they also did an encore. Their precision, stamina, musicianship, sense of humor, and overall goodness were on display that night (highlight: “The Camera Eye”), and in the multi-platinum Grammy award-nominated documentary “Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage”. For their immense popularity/impressive sales history, Rush has an oddly inconsistent image. I cannot imagine anyone disliking this band after watching this doc – I challenge you! (The Time Machine Tour is coming back to Washington: on July 2nd 2011 it’ll hit The [best concert venue ever] Gorge.)

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3. Gorillaz @ Key Arena (11/2)

This show was awesome. Damon Albarn and friends – including Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash, as well as appearances by Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Bobby Womak, De La Soul, Bashy, Kano, Yukimi Nagano, and others – pumped out songs from each of the three Gorillaz studio albums, including several from one of my favorite albums ever, “Demon Days”. This show was awesome.

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4. Earshot Jazz Festival @ various venues (10/15 – 11/7)

For musical diversity and discovery, there’s no better place than the annual Earshot Jazz Festival, which is almost five weeks of jazz (and world, blues, electronic, avant garde, film, etc.), spread over more than a dozen venues in Seattle (and one in Kirkland). Highlights this year were Steve Lehman Octet’s high-energy, masterful take on his unusually-metered originals (at Seattle Art Museum), Chicago Underground Duo’s special blend of electro/avant garde jazz (at EMP), and the muscular funk of Heaven On Earth Band featuring James Carter, John Medeski, and Adam Rogers (at The Triple Door). Many jazz festivals are more than jazz, but the Earshot Jazz Festival is even more than those.

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5. Beach House @ Neumos (4/12)

Up until this point I had been listening to Teen Dream, the new Beach House album at the time, a lot – probably a few times a week or so. When it wasn’t actually playing at work, at home, or in the car, one song or another would be spinning in my mental media player. Along with typical enjoyment of their exceptionally crafted dream pop, I tried to picture Victoria Legrand singing these songs, and for some reason it wasn’t adding up…I was enchanted. But seeing the duo (plus a drummer makes three) broke the spell; afterward I didn’t put Teen Dream on as much, and songs from other artists would occasionally lodge themselves in my head. The most liberating concert of the year.

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6. Béla Fleck and the Flecktones featuring Alash @ Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley (12/10)

This quartet of jazz/fusion/newgrass virtuosos tore it up with a set heavy with music from Jingle All The Way, their Grammy Award-winning album of holiday music from 2008. Happily they also played my favorite tune, “Big Country”. Also featured was Alash, an exceptional quartet of Tuvan throat singers. (The above photo is from this show, taken by Amos Prudhon.)

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7. High On Fire @ Chop Suey (5/4)

The metal trio brought it hard. Songs from their latest album Snakes for the Divine (title track, “Frost Hammer”, “Bastard Samurai”) highlighted the show. As on the album, Lemmy-voiced frontman Matt Pike (formerly of stoner metal luminaries Sleep) sometimes guitar solos on the edge of his ability, which adds an element of wheels-about-to-fly-off-the-machine to the event, but the exceptional rhythm section provides a solid and brutal foundation for him to land.

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8. Shabazz Palaces @ Neumos (1/8)

It’s not often anything lives up to the hype, let alone thoroughly surpasses it, but that’s what happened at Shabazz Palaces’ first public concert, held barely a week into 2010. Actually, “hype” isn’t really the right word – “mysterious anti-hype” may be more appropriate: practices included two excellent albums in 2009, attempted anonymity, no MySpace page, etc. Somehow people began to take notice and anticipate their live debut. More than any other gathering I’ve ever experienced, even before the show, energy saturated the air – heightened awareness something special was about to happen, and it continued to escalate as the show progressed and proved those electrical feelings true.

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9. Soundgarden (billed as NudeDragons) @ The Showbox At The Market (4/16)

Stellar metaphor time: If expectations leading up to Shabazz Palaces’ January concert was a red dwarf’s slow burn, the Soundgraden show was a supernova (if you thought I was going to say black hole sun: for shame!). Just days before the show rumors surfaced of the reunion that would be the first Soundgarden show since 1997. Hours before the show I heard from someone who heard from someone watching the sound check that Eddie Vedder was singing, which escalated rumors of a possible Temple of the Dog reunion – but that was not to be, we only got Soundgarden. Turns out they’re still really good at playing music. The set included lots of early songs, several from my favorite – Badmotorfinger (highlight: “Outshined” right into “Slaves & Bulldozers”, just like on the album) – a cover of The Doors’ “Waiting For The Sun”, and my joy multiplied by seeing Soundgarden’s own happiness of being back on the stage together. There was a bit of rust (not on the cage, thanks muchly), but there’s nothing like seeing Chris Cornell and Ben Shepard exchange knowing glances of awesome.

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10. Blonde Redhead @ The Showbox At The Market (11/24)

I’m always stoked to see this New York City trio. This time it went down as more of a Kazu Makino-fronted dream pop situation, which makes sense as the dream-poppy Penny Sparkle, released only a couple months earlier, was largely her project. The heartbreaking “Spain” is as great live as on the album, and fortunately they also touched on some earlier material, highlighted by the first three tracks of 2000’s Melody Of Certain Damaged Lemons: “Equally Damaged” segueing into ”In Particular”, and the most rockin’ part of the set, “Melody of Certain Three”.

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11. Jazzsteppa @ Neumos (4/27)

Dance music’s good, and live music is good, so why don’t more performing/recording artists play live dance music? I don’t have a comprehensive treatise on the subject, but Jazzsteppa was all like, “Well we don’t exactly know either [they heard my response, apparently, in the fictionalized town hall in my head], but here’s some sweet live dubstep for your ear- and eyeholes.” Honestly, I originally just wanted to hear “Big Swing SounD”, but watching quality dubstep performed with actual instruments is a treat. Plus, it’s difficult to get enough trombone these days, let alone wobbly-hypnotic deep-droning bass and those infectious beats I love so good. Jazzsteppa live brings the dub and the jazz and the dance together in the best possible way.

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12. Roger Waters @ Tacoma Dome (12/11)

I try to make a point to see musical legends whenever possible, and Pink Floyd has a special place in my heart – Dark Side of the Moon is my favorite album – so I jumped at the opportunity to score tix to Roger Waters now that he’s touring The Wall again. I cannot imagine a larger rock production, from the obligatory building of the wall to the famous flying inflatable pig to menacing 50-foot marionettes. It was a great and awesome spectacle. The highlight was “Comfortably Numb”, which served as another reminder the best music Waters and David Gilmour ever made was with one other.

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Nate is the traffic coordinator and a DJ for KEXP.

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