2011 In Live Music: Pleasure Trends, Best Bands, New Discoveries


Yes, my friends, like we did last year, it’s time to take a look back to see what shows left rock critics, music writers and bloggers in a perpetual state of awe, euphoria and wonder all year long. So join us as we cruise around the interwebs to see what were their top shows and concert experiences of 2011.

The lists cover everything from rock, pop, hip hop, jazz, bittersweet farewells, emerging stars and even a new breed of performer that blurred the line between real and virtual.

It’s no surprise that there were several artists that made multiple rock writer year-end best of lists including Jay-Z/Kayne West, TV on the Radio, Florence + The Machine,  Wilco, LCD Sound System, Tune-Yards, Portishead, Decemberists, Bright Eyes and many others.

I smiled with delight as I read each list because many of our emotional experiments and explorations throughout the year were confirmed and challenged. And what was also interesting was that for all the press and hype Odd Future got this year, none of these folks listed them on their year-end lists.

I had the pleasure of reading all the list and making many new discoveries as similar emotional trends ran through the lists. And we’re excited to share them first hear and then dive deep into these new explorations in 2012.

But for now let’s celebrate by exploring how these music writers shared and chronicled their most memorable moments.

As you’ll see, one writer knew exactly how many shows he had seen, some lost count and decided to rely solely on memory to write their year-end roundup and others held themselves to very stricts standards in their list-making.

Some writers made beautiful analogies and metaphors, while others kept things simple and used only lists to remember their favorite shows.

One writer pulled no punches in sharing his highs and lows this year, while another struggled to define what a final show meant to him, fans and the band.

One rock critic disliked a new album but was blown away during the live show, and another chronicled historic live music moment in a venue that hosted it very first rock concert.

To my fellow fans: How often did a review lead to discover a band this year? What review (or reviewer) did you dislike or love the most? Do you think concert reviews are valuable to you as a fan?

To my fellow music writers: How did you compile your own list of favorite concerts you covered? What was your system for putting together your year-end list? What defined writing about live music for you? What did you struggle with, or enjoy the most

We invite you to share your 2011 concert experiences in the comments below.  And stay tuned as we share our favorite fan moments and our one top concerts of 2011 on a upcoming episode of Live Fix Radio!

Chicago Sun Times

Hatsune Miku, Nov. 10 at the AMC River East 21

Definitely the most unusual concert of the year (and possibly contrary to my opening sentiment above), this in-theater broadcast of a “live” performance by this Japanese chart-topper was both a fascinating and unsettling glimpse into the future. Backed by a live band, Miku sang, danced, flew, changed clothes, even swapped genders. She’s not human, you see — she’s a computer-generated avatar, a three-dimensional projection of a blue-haired, teen pop and video-game star with a sampled voice. The theater audience cheered and sang along as if the whole thing were real, and in this wired world who’s to say it wasn’t?


L Magazine

LCD Soundsystem

I have no idea what this “show” means (meant?), whether it was the end of one era or the beginning of another, whether it was a celebration or a funeral. It doesn’t really matter, though, because after everyone went through so much shit to even get tickets—remember this?—only to get seats literally as far away from the stage as you can at MSG, it was all worth it to be among the tens of thousands of people who erupted at once when the twinkling intro to “All My Friends” began, the evening’s highlight. Or maybe it was when they played all of “45:33.” Or maybe when “Dance Yrself Clean,” after a slow, clacking build-up, finally exploded. Or maybe when Aziz Ansari crowd-surfed to “Yeah (Crass Version),” turning the song into an all-out World’s Greatest Arena rave. Or maybe it was seeing how spent, yet resilient, drummer Pat Mahoney looked after every song. Or maybe when members of Arcade Fire assisted LCD with “North American Scum.” The list goes on and on, and we’ll be able to revisit them all when the DVD comes out next year. The only thing I didn’t like about the set, seats notwithstanding: “New York, I Love You, but You’re Bringing Me Down,” because that meant it was time to say goodbye to one of my favorite bands.


Wall Street Journal

Despite my stash of scribble-filled notebooks, I’ve lost count of how many bands I saw in 2011 – most likely the result of running around at industry events like South by Southwest in Austin and CMJ in New York, as well as major festivals like Coachella in Indio, CA; Ultra Music in Miami; and Lollapalooza in Chicago, where you see scores of musicians in a blur over a long weekend.  But a few events stand out; they would have in any year.

Frequency Blogs: South Bulletin

You’ll note, perhaps, that these happened at 11 different venues in Central Oregon. I thought that was cool.

3) Why 11? Because I couldn’t bear to cut any of them to get it down to 10!

Washington Post

With the year drawing to a close, we decided to rank the best of the best, with a few parameters: Only one out of town show allowed (LCD Soundsystem’s farewell tour didn’t leave New York and I had the flu when Gary Clark Jr. came to Red Palace), no repeat performances (sorry, Wild Flag, Dope Body, Kurt Vile and Wale), no performances-and/or-DJ-sets-of-close-personal-friends (sorry, many D.C. friends that Washington City Paper is doing a fine job covering).

St. Louis Today

5. Wilco and Nick Lowe at Peabody Opera House, Oct. 4: “Wilco can hardly perform a gig in St. Louis without words such as ‘epic’ and ‘monumental’ showing up in a description, and Tuesday night’s concert was no exception. Breaking in the renovated Peabody Opera House with its first rock show, Wilco’s sold-out homecoming concert was not only a triumph for the band, but for the venue itself.”


Chicago Tribune

5. Kanye West and Jay-Z, Nov. 30 at the United Center: The “Watch the Throne” album suffered from too much self-satisfied materialism and not enough soul, but the hip-hop kingpins make amends with a show stuffed with high points. Though they clearly respect each other’s accomplishments, the dynamic is telling: Jay-Z as the self-confident older brother, West as the eager-to-please protégé. The contrast in their styles, and the rapid-fire exchange of hits surveying both their careers, keeps the energy high for more than two hours (which almost justifies the curious decision to close the show by performing one of their tritest songs, “N— in Paris,” eight straight times).


I am sure I saw more than 300 bands this year. In a world of earbuds and mp3s, there’s nothing like the big sound, the charm and edge of a concert. I also love surprise, so each show offers the hope of hearing new songs or new arrangements of old songs, and, of course, the possibility that a completely unknown band will blow me away. Amon Tobin, Caveman, Colin Stetson and Ballake Sissoko with Vincent Segal all fit that description this year.

Indy Star

Bon Iver
July 25, Murat Theatre at Old National Centre

Crowd participation played more than a small role in the success of this performance. Playing the fourth date of Bon Iver’s 2011 tour, singer-songwriter Justin Vernon was looking for an audience to embrace the ambitious racket of current album “Bon Iver” in addition to the rustic calm of his earlier work. New song “Holocene” opened with acoustic guitar and stark percussion before giving way to a fluttering sax-and-clarinet breakdown and muscular trombone peak. Vernon addressed his fans with sincere gratitude: “You’re on your feet. That’s insane. You’re working hard.”


Bright Eyes at Lollapalooza. Musicians usually play at night, so it’s a rare treat to see them in the afternoon summer sun. Conor Oberst, the musical oracle of Omaha, came out of the glare like a P-51 on a Messerschmitt and delivered a fearsome blast of soulful modern rock before a big happy crowd in Grant Park. If this is the last time around for Bright Eyes, it was a fabulous sendoff.


Village Voice

Here are the 10 best shows I saw in 2011, a year filled with enough lousy stuff to make these delightful nights stand out even more brightly.

Beyoncé. Beyoncé’s fourth album, 4 (Columbia), rubbed some people the wrong way because of its victory-lap nature, and her concerts at Roseland around the time of the album’s release probably would not have convinced those nonbelievers; half-cabaret about her life and her destiny, half-4 runthrough, they were very much about crowning the singer as Queen B. But the crowning performance of “Countdown,” the throw-’em-in-a-blender ode to the utter wonderfulness of her long-standing romance with Jay-Z, made her coronation a complete certainty.

LA Times Best Jazz Concerts of 2011

Kneebody with special guests, Daedelus and Busdriver
Little Temple, December 4

At a seemingly covert show at the Little Temple, this progressive-jazz-rock band delighted the boisterous crowd that somehow found out about the event. DJ and computer music genius Daedalus was somehow able to use the band as his own human turntable, setting up grooves and samples to which they played in a strange, fantastic courtship. Fast-rapping Busdriver closed it out, fronting the band with impressive flutter-beat poetry. Such collaborations only enhance Kneebody’s unlimited creative capacity. (NOTE: Clip above from the Vienna Jazz Festival 2009.) -Gary Fukushima


Underground Bee

1. ALABAMA SHAKES (Dec. 15 at Hideout). “Wow, did Alabama Shakes live up to the hype. This was the most joyous, energetic and lively musical performance I’ve seen in 2011, and a Hideout crowded with enthusiastic fans was the perfect place to see and hear Alabama Shakes. … The crowd was shouting for more at the end — even if it meant playing some of the same songs over again.” (Original blog post and more photos.)


Thanks again to all the music writers for sharing your stories and we wish you all a rockin’ 2012!

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