Liars + the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
When the two darlings of the media-created New York City frenzy joined forces for a tour, it was bound to be a huge disappointment or a huge thrill. Thankfully, it was the latter, with the YYYs’ Karen O winning over audiences with her overtly sexual yelps and wriggles, while Liars pummeled the crowds with ferociously tight rhythms and the deranged energy of lead man Angus Andrews.
Guided by Voices
I saw my favorite band on the planet three times this year. The first was in March at First Avenue in Minneapolis, when the band came out blasting “Eureka Signs”, my favorite anthem off the solid, at-the-time-unreleased album Universal Truths and Cycles. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much else. I’m told a fellow next to me asked repeatedly for weed and I threw up three times, but don’t ask me because I have no idea. The second show was in May in Iowa City, a three hours-plus rockfest with more encores than my swiss-cheese memory of GBV shows can recall. The guys came out one last time to do “A Salty Salute” after the audience grabbed Bob Pollard’s microphone and sang it a cappella. At some point Bob threw out his back, which necessitated the sad cancellation of the next night’s show in Grinnell. The third show was in June at Summerfest in Milwaukee, a too short 80-minute set opening for stage headliners The Promise Ring. So many hot tunes in not nearly enough time. I wish the decent but inferior Ring had broken up a few months earlier.
You’re seeing a monk’s cell in a vanitas painting, except as a rock critic I’m less chaste than the clergy of the so-called Dark Ages. Also this is modern Gotham. And this vanitas ain’t rendered by Fra Filippo Lippi but think rather the masters Edward Gorey or William Eggleston. Empties of Dixie beer shared with the Shiners, dead roses, the remains of a Devil bitch costume, lots of Skynyrd schwag, fond recall of the IHOP, two stuffed black crows named Philmore Dixie & Paw Paw Powhatan, Jim Goad’s often brilliant Redneck Manifesto, a Southern Bitch shirt that gives both blacks and whites on Fifth Avenue pause, naked pinups done by Southern Rock Opera artist Wes Freed, petulant twang listserve enemies and my very own hot pink menu from the great Clover Diner on Bourbon Street: this is varied flotsam from being pulled into the vortex of the too charming, hard-rockin’ boys from Alabama. Ain’t no half-steppin’ when it comes to their “outlaw” orbit; the recent Halloween shows at the Orpheum with Gov’t Mule in New Orleans even found me, notorious teetotaler, imbibing Jack Daniels at an alarming rate. I’ve been following southeastern music for one-third of my life in a serious way but this entire experience of awakening to the Truckers’ exhilarating (if tempered by anger and sorrow at times) worldview has been at the next level. It only remains for me to do a summer run down South with them boys in 110-degree heat. The critical chorus spreading good word about the Opera and the beauty of forthcoming Decoration Day means that without doubt the band’s never-ending tour will resume soon enough. If one means to see the Dirty South at close range there could be no greater native scouts than the Truckers’ core partnership of Patterson Hood & Mike Cooley—- great jokers, drinkers and storytellers—especially if Andre 3000’s not available. From Brownie’s (RIP) on Avenue A to Athens, GA’s 40 Watt and points west, Hood is always announcing the imminent beginning of “The Rock Show”, his riveting grin, perhaps adapted from his celluloid hero Steve McQueen, making it a faît accompli. Whether they’re sending up southern gothic and Myth, mourning the racism that’s ravaged their region or paying homage to Skynyrd’s triple-guitar glory, the Drive-By Truckers are unfailingly strong and a sensual delight. But subsisting and loving in their shadow is hard; to quote Cody ChesnuTT: “I’ve been living hard. My breakdown is on the way.”
Kandia Crazy Horse
Odd music, odder fans, and the oddest placement on this year’s “best of” list: Rush.
Canadian power trio Rush are used to being overlooked, even by their peers. Their best-known songs are too complicated for campfire sing-a-longs (see “Tom Sawyer” or “The Spirit of Radio”), their bizarre lyrics often read like high-school fantasy fiction (see “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” or “The Temples of Syrinx”), and, they’re Canadian (see Toronto). But in a year when so many aging rockers delivered bland Vegas-style nostalgia-fests- the Rolling Stones, The Who, and Paul “half the man I used to be” McCartney—Rush re-energized their 30+ year career with a 17th studio album, Vapor Trails, and performances that were every bit as edgy and powerful as the shows of younger “rock and roll saviors” such as The White Stripes. Suddenly it wasn’t so bad for Rush to be overlooked by their classic rock “dinosaur” peers. They don’t belong grouped in such pale company.
Rush’s drummer, Neil Peart, is the only player today who can still deliver a ‘70s era extended solo that’s worthwhile, not awkward. (Unfortunately, the thousands of now middle-aged Peart fans who “air drum” along are just as awkward as ever.) And the high-pitched vocal yelps of bass virtuoso Geddy Lee are still amazingly (and piercingly) high as ever. Peart jokes on Rush’s official Web site that the band considered marketing their recent return from a five-year hiatus with the slogan: “And now-more of everything you always hated about Rush.” He’s amusingly right on. Rush’s 2002 tour wasn’t remarkable because they managed to perform after 30 years. It was remarkable because after 30 years, they’re still the same Rush-just as powerful, tight and quirky as they’re often overlooked, and even hated, for being.
Another in a long list of impressive artists showcased by the impeccable Ninja Tune label Amon Tobin embodies a complex, brilliant, and danceable musical vision. His sound translated stunningly to a live stage at the B Complex in Portland Oregon. DJs creations are often mutated by the house sound system, but on this night the output was clean + tight. If you buy one electronica CD this year, make it Tobin’s Out From Out Where. Plants will grow faster, skin will glow more radiantly, and your friends will find you more attractive than ever.