Best (and Worst) Concert Moments of 2009

Hold on there for a second all you eager concertgoers!

I’m excited to get started on a new year of shows too, but before we head full steam in to 2010 let’s check a few things first.

Let’s see what remains as tops in our hearts and minds after we spent so much time, money and energy going shows in 2009. 

Let’s celebrate last year’s live music adventures once last time and separate the righteous from the wicked.  

The Best (and Worst) Concert Moments of 2009

I’ll be honest with you right from the start and tell you that these best and worst moments are my picks and no one else’s.   So if I’ve left any out please don’t get pissed at me,  just be a good fellow live music fan and tell me about your experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear all about them.

Now that I have that out of the way, I have to say that there were many unexpected twists and turns in 2009.  I saw shows that blew me away and ones that left a nasty knot on my forehead from banging my head on the wall due to disappointing disbelief an dash expectations. 

I saw tours roll in and out of Chicago. I traveled to festivals and camped out letting the distant thump and hum of live music lullaby me to sleep. I piled into packed clubs with other fans hoping to get lost in the ecstasy and thrill of beats, rhymes and rhythms.

So many emotions were evoked on so many levels. I was rocked not only by the music blasting from the speakers, but I was also moved by live music’s power to console as I drove home from an unexpected eternal concert.  And as the year rolled on and wrapped up, I had traveled through another great year of concert experiences that left me surprised, elated, letdown and blown away at what I saw on stage and going on around me in the community of groove.

Mixed in to my own live concert experiences where great moments of living vicariously through your concert experiences. I’ll always rememeber reading about your concert adventures in reviews from other writers and in the fan comments. Concerts by Jesus Lizard and Bonnie Raitt are personal favorites.

I may not be a big fan of year end lists but I’m still pumped to share with you my these moments with you and see how  they compare or relate to yours.  And because I love you so much, I’ll even throw in a little quotable bonus for you at the end.

Then once we’re done with this list we’ll celebrate the Best Fan Moments of 2009.  We’ll explore naked fans, dancing guys, nerdy music journalists and screaming ladies and other concert culture characters sitings.

So without further ado I present to you my precious list.

Common & Roots at Shrine

I wasn’t there to review it. I went there just as a fan without a notepad and it felt gooood. It turned out to be one my favorite concerts of the year. The moments I captured with my phone’s video camera represent what I feel makes live hip hop so much fun and life-changing. These videos also capture two artists (Common and the Roots) who both know how to unify the masses and give their fans a reason to put their hands up in the air. Because sometimes hip hop artists command fans to get loud or raise their hands without earning it. Common’s performance was also the best freestyle by an emcee I experienced in 2009.

Wilco at UIC

With a hint of humor, Wilco walked on stage to the tune of “The Price is Right” theme song playing on the PA. Then two songs in, the ominous electronic piano progressions of “Bull Black Nova” unfurled, giving way to an explosion of tangled guitars and drums and releasing magnificent waves of anxiety, terror, tension, and confusion on the crowd. It was as if they were finishing the story started on A Ghost Is Born‘s “Spiders (Kidsmoke).” 

Brother Ali at Metro

I came back for more expecting nothing but the best and Ali delivered. But this time around, touring in support of his latest album Us, he rapped more gratitude than attitude, sending a refreshing surge of celebration through the Metro. It was welcomed but caught me off-guard because he hasn’t always approached his live shows or his albums like this before.

M. Ward at the Vic

Time never seems to have a grip on an M. Ward show. From the first note, strum, and sound of his warm-weathered croon, I slipped into an inner wonderland. This feeling is the combined effect of Ward’s ethereal blend of folk, country, and rock that’s raw, revealing, and timelessly captivating. This show, like previous ones, was 90 minutes of transcendence as I floated away in my mind but still remained in the venue. And part of me still feels like I haven’t left the show.

John Legend at Ravinia

It was my first time seeing Legend live and I went there with more curositing that expectation. So I didn’t expect this show to do what it did to me. The moment Legend hit the stage, both the decibel and pheromone levels in the pavilion streaked to peaks as a whirlwind of catcalls and sensual surges shot like electricity through the crowd. But this was by no means the show’s emotional peak as he took us higher and higher. Legend clearly knows exactly what to do to woo a crowd. As we’ll seeing in the Best Fan Moments, it was a great show for experimenting with screaming ladies, too!

Matisyahu at Rothbury

At Rothbury 2009 it was once again time to enter the holy realm of bearded and baseball-capped Hasidic Jewish rapper Matisyahu. He dropped my jaw instantly with his awe-inspiring beat boxing performance using his mouth as a nimble multi-instrument to bridge together a set of spiritual transcendence.

Miike Snow at Empty Bottle

It was the scariest and spookiest show of the year. And it was horrifying at first. Not the kind of intro I expected at all. It was like a slasher film, or an early Halloween treat that was playing tricks on my expectations. Strobe lights flickered and camera flashes popped as all the members of Miike Snow came onstage wearing Michael Myers masks adding more terror. Oh, how I loved when the waves of rockified electronic goodness filled up the Empty Bottle!

Pharoahe Monch at Pitchfork

Live music is best experienced when an artist grabs a crowd by the balls and demands a direct response and full engagement.  And Emcee Troy Jamerson (aka Pharoahe Monch) and his crew knew exactly how to baptized the Pitchfork crowd with flames of hip hop, fire and soul. “Let’s get some aggression out!” Monch declared as he charged into “Stress” and “Fuck You,” spitting complex rhymes over classic rocksteady break beats and turntablistic scratching. That’s how you do, ya’ll!

Broken Social Scene at Rothbury

Simplicity and intimacy were at the heart of this special mini-concert moment at Rothbury. I captured Canadian collective Broken Social Scene on my Blackberry as members of the band displayed the intimate beauty of simple melodies and stripped-down songwriting.  The mini-concert took place in the media area backstage and I thought you’d enjoy it, too.

Worst Concert Moments of 2009

Okay, I don’t like being a hater. But I have to call it when I see it.  And I feel it’s my duty to protect you my fellow live music fan from embarking on concerts that could be harmful to your mental and physical health. You might’ve been at these concerts too and I feel your pain if you were. But make sure to keep an eye out for these dubious acts in 2010. Please proceed with extreme caution before going to their live show.  These are my four shows that I’d like to submit to the FANS Program for 2009.

NASA at Abbey Pub

If I had never heard the album, I would never want to buy it based on this show. I left wondering if I had gone to the right show at all because the album’s potential for a live celebration of funky break beats and rhymes was completely abandoned. Why did NASA ditch its best tracks and decide to only play two or three songs from the album? And why pass up the chance to introduce live remixed versions of the album’s most emotive, celebratory, and party-starting tracks — “Way Down,” “Hip Hop,” and “There’s a Party”?

Nas at Rock the Bells & Rothbury

But sadly, not much had changed since I last saw Nas and Damien Marly showcase their Distant Relativescollaborative album at Rock the Bells hip hop festival just six days earlier in Chicago. I did, though, see more hula-hooping than break-dancing during the reggae hip hop fusion “One Love/One Mic” medley. Nas and Marley successfully mined the collective one love vibe that flowed throughout Rothbury the entire weekend. But no matter how many blunts were puffed in the crowd or how many Michael Jackson tributes Nas tossed out, he still didn’t win me over or convince me that he’s a true live emcee.

Black Lips at Pitchfork

Knowing their infamous rep and what happened in India, I knew what I was in store for with the Black Lips. For the last few years I’ve followed their crazy and ridiculously destructive, albeit entertaining, trail of live shows on album and in reviews. But I was expecting more from them for my first live show. Shock, definitely, but the awe never came. And smashing a guitar after the first song didn’t surprise me either. Maybe next time guys.

Best Quotes Bonus Round

Since I value your readership so much I’d like to toss in a free Bonus Round of Best Quotes 2009. Here are 3 short quotes that came straight from the mouths of artists. We all know that artists can say some pretty crazy things during show that alienate fans. But sometimes they say some things that are so profound and brilliant that I race to scribble them down so I can share them with you.

The following quotes wowed me when I heard them as they were delivered at key and climaxing moments during the show.  They’re pretty self-explanatory, so I’m not going to provide any extended commentary on them but instead just give you who said what, when and where.  

  • “Without you guys [fans] we’re just doing a sound check” — Rapper/producer Evidence, formerly of California hip hop collective Dilated Peoples ( Brother Ali show)
  • “Can you please put the down the video cameras so we don’t have a lens between you and I? There’s enough videos of us Irish lads floating about on YouTube, thank you.” — Paul Noonan, leader singer of Irish rock trio Bell X1 (Chicago show
  • “You can’t get real connection with text msgs. We’re glad to be with you here in person.” — Watson Twins, singer-songer duo (M. Ward show)

Coming Up: Best (and Worst) Fan Moments of 2009

Stay tuned as we voyage inside the brain and bodies of crazy and inspiring concert fans to unveil the Best (and Worst) Fan Moments of 2009. We’ll celebrate and explore the joyous and confusing wonders of the Dancing Guy at Sasquatch Festival, Nerdy Music Journalists at Lollapalooza, Colleen in the KRS-ONE freestyle at Rock the Bells, the Screaming Lady at John Legend and the Naked Dancers at Rothbury and others.

All Photos By Colleen Catania

Now It’s Your Turn

What were your best and worst concret moments of 2009?  Fire away!

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