20. Guided By Voices - One of the biggest surprises this year. I arrived at the show knowing very little of the band's catalog, but purchased a ticket knowing I might be a huge fan years from now, never with a chance to see them live. Granted, the alcohol intake had a bit to do with how much I enjoyed the show, but nonetheless, it was still fun. Live review here.
19. Monotonix - I don't really know what else to say about Monotonix live. Although this review was from the second time I saw them this year, it was more like a dual review, and sums up my thoughts.
18. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Live review here.
17. John Mellencamp - I gotta show some love here, this guy knows how to work a crowd. I didn't want to dance, I didn't want to pump my fist, I didn't want to sing along, but he made me do all of those. The first couple songs, I literally felt like a hipster, too cool to be caught enjoying a John Mellencamp show in broad daylight. I could just as easily omit him from my top 20 shows to save face, but why? "Because it's fun," is the quote I will always think of when his name comes up. That is why he made me do it. Live review opening for Bob Dylan here.
16. Tallest Man on Earth - Comparatively speaking, Kristian Mattson (aka Tallest Man On Earth) is naked on stage. He doesn't have a drummer or bass player to shoot the shit with in between songs like his counterparts, so he uses the crowd for the banter. It is just a man and his guitar, nothing else. It's almost strange seeing a stage so empty. Listening to his songs, you might think he is the most straight faced musician out there, which is what makes his banter between songs so entertaining. He is a comedian who sings sad songs. I thought the free early show at the Doug Fir during MusicFestNW was a better performance, but it was only 45 minutes, so his full show at the Mission Theater makes my top 20. Live review here.
15. Quick & Easy Boys - I caught these guys three times in 2010, and I plan on catching them at least three times this year. What made their show at the Doug Fir crack my top 20 was the spontaneity and memorability. On this particular night, they let it all out (pun intended), and had a raging good time. Their other shows were much more subdued/professional/whatever you want to call it, so don't let my earlier review make you think negatively about their shtick. Read about the insanity here.
14. Neil Young - Some voices get better with age (Leonard Cohen), so get worse (Bob Dylan), and some stay the same. Neil Young sounds exactly like he always has, which is a credit considering he is now 65 years old. I didn't realize how much he is showing his age until I watched the After the Heart of Gold DVD a couple months after the show. I certainly wasn't close enough to the stage to notice his age. It was a real treat seeing him perform, mixing classics with his new material perfectly. He played plenty of his older hits, but I really enjoyed some of the new stuff I'd never heard. He didn't interact with the crowd at all, which was a bit of disappointment. Even telling a couple stories from the old days between songs would have made this show infinitely more memorable. Although seeing him wander around stage picking up different instruments and breaking into song was incredible, I'm hoping if I get to seem him again, it will be with a full band. For the expensive price of admission, next time I'm looking for a different experience.
13. Wilco - What makes a Wilco show so great live? That is a tough question to answer. Six years ago, I thought Wilco was boring, and had no interest in seeing them live. About four years ago, they hit that niche in my musical listenings where I really enjoyed their music while working. They became my go to non-offensive, won't put you to sleep, occasionally brilliant lyrically, listen to their live album if you are feeling tired, type of band. On more than one occasion, I've spent entire days listening to only Wilco. Maybe that is why I enjoy their live shows so much, I like their music.
It's not really fair to end there though. The first time I saw them live, I was admittedly blown away, mainly by guitarist Niles Cline. The dude freaks out during extended guitar solos, adding everything I feel I am missing listening to their studio albums. Another reason I enjoy their live shows so much is when Jeff Tweedy addresses the crowd. Frankly, he can be dick to the audience. Evidence, while nearly everyone at the Schnitz (seated venue) was on their feet, there was a small section of people in the first couple rows to the left of the stage who never stood up. He heckled this group, poking fun at their age and lack of hair.
I subscribe to the theory that you can make fun of someone while not losing their respect, or pissing them off, so this was especially delightful for me. Maybe the victims of his hazing didn't feel the same, so fuck em, why were they the only ones sitting anyway?
Oh, and that "Broken Arrow," cover leading off the finale was one of my favorite, "Holy Shit," moments of 2010.
12. Zappa Plays Zappa - I tried to write a review of this show last summer, but I didn't know what to say. I still don't know what to say. The best part was hearing Zappa songs played live (Frank is dead you know). Beyond that, it was just a really great group of amazing musicians playing Frank's music. I could spend a couple hours googling the Zappa plays Zappa lineup, and tell you who everyone was, but I'm not going to do that. Just know that as a die-hard Zappa fan, I enjoyed the hell out of the show.
By the way, Smiley Zappa, also known as Dweezil, Frank's first son, is simply an amazing guitar player, just like his father.
11. Man Man - This show would have cracked the top 10 if it wasn't for the Hawthorne Theatre being my least favorite venue in town, the overcrowding that defines MusicFestNW, and the temperature (was the air conditioning not working?) Have you ever been sitting in a ten person sauna with thirty other people, four of which are crowd surfing above you? That's what it felt like. And no, I don't hate crowd surfers.
Crap aside, Man Man puts on an a pretty rad show. I feel like each member of this group is 46% more talented than each member of 89% of bands I've seen live. They don't even need the face paint ritual and robes, which adds to the mystique of the show (there are always Man Man-heads in the crowd wearing similar war paint). They each play several instruments, and they know how to entertain. The lead singer having a soulful voice, and being a great howler is a bonus. I'll never miss a chance to see them live again.
1-10 coming soon.