Well, there’s one last end-of-year list that I want to do: best shows I saw this year. I made a sort of new year’s resolution at the beginning of the year to see more live music — in the past I have generally been pretty lazy and not bothered leaving the house to make it out to shows other than obvious must-sees (like Los Jaivas, or Present, etc). This year, I made a conscious effort to overcome my inertia and make the effort to get out and see/hear more. I was moderately successful; I think I saw 25 shows over the course of the year, although I might be forgetting one or two. In any case, here are some highlights, in chronological order.
- The Vandermark 5 at Iota, February 3 (blog entry) — I never got to see this band with Jeb Bishop, which I regret, but Fred Lonberg-Holm was a revelation, a total wildcard. Super high-energy, awesomely tight, these guys played a wide-ranging set that was the first great show I saw this year.
- The Claudia Quintet at Twins Jazz, March 14 (blog entry) — I’m not a huge fan of their studio albums, but live, they were a joy to watch; John Hollenbeck’s busy drumming style was a treat and Matt Moran on vibes was a whirling dervish. But the star of the show for me was Chris Speed, who blew up with one absolutely thrilling tenor sax solo and a lot of other highlights.
- Stórsveit Nix Noltes at The Black Cat, March 21 (blog entry) — This one was a total surprise; I went to this show for the headliners, Animal Collective, but these guys stole the show. A nine-piece band from Iceland playing rocked-up Eastern European folk music? Sounds right up my alley, and it was. High energy and big fun.
- Isis, Dälek & Zombi at The Black Cat, April 30 (blog entry) — The rare bill where I know and like all three of the bands, and none of them disappointed. I was too tired and it was too loud for me to enjoy this show to its fullest, but all three of the bands put on a great show. It may have been Dälek who left the biggest impression on me, with his militant stage presence and aggressive wall-of-sound production.
- Satoko Fujii/Natsuki Tamura at George Washington University, May 23 (blog entry) — Transparent Productions brought these Japanese avant-jazz masters to DC to play in front of an audience of maybe 15, and they did not disappoint. Probably my favorite show all year. Very challenging; the two of them played for an hour straight with no breaks, and it was hard to tell what was improvised and what was composed. As much classical influence as jazz, and Fujii had a way of keeping me mesmerized that I won’t soon forget.
- Berne/Carroll/Formanek/Rainey at An Die Musik Live, July 29 — For some reason I never wrote about this show, which is weird because Berne is probably my #1 favorite current jazz artist, and Rainey just might be my alltime favorite drummer. For the first of the two sets I was seated front row right in front of Rainey, and I barely noticed anything but his playing, he was so good. He used a very basic drum kit but eked a huge variety of sounds from it, using all kinds of techniques. The second set I actually enjoyed even more; they played more stuff I recognized, like a couple tunes from Feign, and seemed a little tighter. Great stuff, hope I get to see Berne again sometime in 2007.
- Nels Cline/Glenn Kotche at The Black Cat, September 20 (blog entry) — Another nice surprise; I came for Cline but I might have actually liked Kotche more. Cline was in full-bore noise mode, wringing loud squalls of feedback from his effects-laden guitar; he was fun to watch but a little hard to listen to. Kotche was equally inventive but more accessible; the idea of a solo percussion set had me a little apprehensive, but his stuff was melodic and fun. The two of them played together to close out their set, and that was my favorite part of the show. A memorable performance from two great improvisors.
- Yo La Tengo at the 9:30 Club, September 26 (blog entry) — Man, another pleasant surprise. I guess I kind of knew what to expect here, but I didn’t think they were going to completely blow my head off. Ira Kaplan’s guitar freakouts were delicious, noisy and cacophonous but somehow still melodious, if barely. I’m indifferent towards a lot of this band’s poppier moments (though a lot of them are still very good), but when they “shut up and play their guitars” it’s a wondrous experience.
- Massive Attack at the 9:30 Club, September 28 (blog entry) — Completely different from any other show I saw this year, these guys brought their full complement of guest vocalists and instrumentalists. I lost count of how many sharply-dressed British folks (pretty much equal proportion of males and females) were sauntering about on stage, backed by the most involved lightshow I’ve ever seen at the 9:30 Club. Their trademark trippy beats and sultry vocals made for quite a sensual concert experience, but that didn’t stop them from also rocking out when they wanted to.
- Wilco at the 9:30 Club, October 19 (blog entry) — This couldn’t possibly live up to the amazing show I saw them put on last year at the same place, but taken on its own, it was still damn good. Some of the new pieces were a nice surprise; hearing Cline and Tweedy do a melodic classic-rock dual-guitar jam was a surreal highlight. Last year’s show was for the ages; this one was merely great.
- Maja Ratkje & POING at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, December 17 (blog entry) — Like the Fujii/Tamura show, this one was demanding, required all my attention, and left me tired at the end. It was also a fabulous performance. I saw some pretty out-there avant shows this year (a noisy improv set from Denman Maroney, Jack Wright and Reuben Radding tops the list), but this one was easily the best of them. There was a real method to this madness, and I found it quite compelling. A great way to end the year.
On the opposite end of things, probably the most disappointing show I saw this year was in late January, when Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores were supposed to play at the Warehouse Nextdoor, but never showed up. I contented myself with Make a Rising, a Philly band who had gotten good reviews on the avant-progressive list and elsewhere, but they just seemed like a really, really amateurish chamber-rock band to me. Oh well.
The show I am most bummed I missed? By a long shot, Joanna Newsom, who played at the Black Cat in November. I had fallen in love with her new album Ys, but did not think the show would sell out. I mean, she has an immediately hatable voice and she’s pretty obscure. I didn’t expect her to blow up in popularity with Ys (the damn thing is five epic-length songs fergodsakes), but she did. She sold out pretty much all her shows, including the one in DC. Dammit.
Here’s hoping 2007 is as good a year as 2006 was for live music in DC. As Steve Feigenbaum said over at ProgressiveEars, I am endlessly thankful that I live in a place that offers so much great music. Now if only some of those damned New York avant-jazz musicians would journey down here every once in a while…
Tags: Dalek, Glenn Kotche, Isis, Joanna Newsom, Maja Ratkje, Massive Attack, Natsuki Tamura, Nels Cline, Satoko Fujii, Storsveit Nix Noltes, The Claudia Quintet, The Vandermark 5, Tim Berne, Wilco, Yo La Tengo, Zombi