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Part 1: Best and Worst Openers

Friendly Fires (Photo: Thomas Hauner)

Remember when LCD Soundsystem opened for Arcade Fire? How about when the Shins opened for Modest Mouse? Door times are for the birds, but sometimes it does pay to show up early.

Part 1: Best and Worst Openers

Worst Openers We try to stay positive, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t acts that flat out boil our brains. In fact, some folks inspire such rancor that we question whether or not to even review them. Our editor’s advice? Wait until the end of the year, and then we’ll really roast ‘em.

5. Black Diamond Heavies w/ Nick Cave

28 September 2008: Chicago, IL Opening up for Nick Cave, the Black Diamond Heavies sounded like Rowlf the Muppet dog if he had grown up and decided to front a band. And while the set included a slew of covers originally recorded by good musicians (Nina Simone, for example), the band conspired to ruin them. One couldn’t help but wonder if the only reason they were allowed to open is because Nick Cave possibly admired the lead singer’s mustache. -Kirstie Shanley

4. Growing w/ Hot Chip

30 September 2008: Toronto, Canada Al Doyle of Hot Chip seemed a little stunned when he mentioned the band’s openers and got nothing from the Hot Chip-adoring crowd but boos. He shouldn’t have been -- most of the people who showed up wouldn’t have enjoyed New York City noise/drone duo Growing even if they were good (there isn’t exactly a lot of overlap between Hot Chip’s emotive dance music and Growing’s industrial soundscapes). But while I applaud the band’s eclecticism, as someone who does appreciate all sorts of noisy trash I’m sad to report that Growing were boring -- the worst sin for a noise group. That they weren’t even good at what they did made their opening slot almost farcical. -Ian Mathers

3. Big D and the Kids' Table w/ Goldfinger and Less Than Jake

1 July 2008: Royal Oak, MI Veteran punk-ska band Big D and the Kids' Table sounded like a perfect opener for co-headliners Goldfinger and Less Than Jake. And they might have been, if not for the fact that they turned out to be mediocre at best. The band itself played competently, but frontman David McWane is a terrible singer and has zero stage presence to make up for his voice. You'd think that after a decade of touring he'd have this performing thing figured out, but apparently not. I was willing to give Big D the benefit of the doubt because they arrived late that night, just in time to get up on stage and play. But seeing the tour again a couple of weeks later in Houston just confirmed what I witnessed at the Royal Oak show. -Chris Conaton

2. She & Him w/ Lil Wayne

9 August 2008: Baltimore, MD Festival lineups are almost always hodgepodges of genre- and demographic-shuffling, and perhaps the immediate predecessor on a lengthy concert bill is not technically an opener, but still, whose idea was it to have the cutesy, Mom-friendly indie duo She & Him warm up the Virgin Mobile Festival crowd for the promethazine-gurgling freakshow Lil Wayne? M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel looked absolutely adorable up there tambourine-shaking and fa-la-la-la-ing, but most of the sweaty throng at the foot of the stage wasn't paying one lick of attention, and when the movie-star singer and her Fahey-disciple sideman exited the stage, the festival grounds erupted in cheers celebrating not the performance itself but the fact that it was finally over. -Wilson McBee

1. Chester French w/ Janelle Monae

23 September 2008: New York, NY Hype is a fatal blessing in today’s blog-fueled indie scene. It propelled Chester French into pretension after landing them a deal with Pharrell’s Star Trak label. Developing into full on self-aggrandizing was the logical next step. Of all the 25 or so shows I consumed over the CMJ marathon and all their ancillary commentary this was singularly unanimous pomp with galling circumstance. Demanding 25 tired CMJ’ers “put [their] fucking hands up” in fascist fists every four minutes to degenerative consumer-pop. Really? If solipsistic pedant is one’s thing then by all means… - Thomas Hauner

Best Openers Remember when LCD Soundsystem opened for Arcade Fire? How about when the Shins opened for Modest Mouse? Door times are for the birds, but sometimes it does pay to show up early.

5. Dinosaur Jr. w/ Built to Spill

26 September 2008: New York, NY Does indie rock's favorite Massachusetts trio ever disappoint in the live department? As anonymous roadies began to construct a city of Marshall amps pointed directly at us, my friend -- fearing for his ears, if not life -- desperately converted gum into earplugs. The assault was worth it: with nary a word from Mascis, the group tore through concert staples ("The Lung", "Feel the Pain") and Beyond highlights alike with urgent abandon, climaxing with a furious -- and gloriously loud -- nine minute rendering of "Pick Me Up". Who says reunion tours can't rock? -Zach Schonfeld

4. Dizzee Rascal w/ El-P

11 May 2008: Cambridge, MA Besides Definitive Jux releasing his third album in the states, Dizzee Rascal's pairing with El-P for a nationwide tour was odd, to say the least. For one, Dizzee's music tends to be more party-centric whereas El Producto sticks more to serious scenarios. After reading up on Dizzee's past onstage antics, I was nervous about what he would bring to the club that night. But damn, no one could have expected what happened. As he performed hits both new and old, like "Sirens" and "Jus’ a Rascal", he had the crowd in the palm of his hand and dazzled us with a high-energy, breath-taking show. -Andrew Martin

3. Friendly Fires w/ Lykke Li

21 October 2008: New York, NY Actually exciting a crowd is a tough task for any opener. Under the ad hoc structure of CMJ shows it’s expected, but when Lykke Li was headlining no one was particularly interested. That is until Ed Macfarlane and his gyrating percussive-pop ensemble seized the crowd. Dustbusters distorted guitars, sweat streamed down everyone’s face, and before we could even blog our thoughts Friendly Fires was our newest favorite band. -Thomas Hauner

2. The Cherry Coke$ w/ Flogging Molly

12 March 2008: Houston, TX The Cherry Coke$ are a Japanese band that play traditional Celtic-style songs at hyper speed. Apparently Flogging Molly had played with them in Japan and brought them along for their first US tour. Despite Japanese lyrics and severely limited English, the band got the crowd bouncing and cheering instantly. Their energy level was infectious and the band's diverse lineup (including alto saxophone, accordion, mandolin, and flute) made for one of the best headliner-opener pairings of the year. -Chris Conaton

1. Doveman / Sam Amidon / Nico Muhly w/ Final Fantasy

27 August 2008: Toronto, Canada I admit, as good as Owen Pallett’s set was, I didn’t really come to see him. Even if Final Fantasy hadn’t been great, though, I would have appreciated his choice to host the Toronto stop of these three acts’ joint tour, where you didn’t get three bands so much as one collective performing material from each act’s stunning recent work. Whether it was Doveman singing Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” or Sam Amidon shredding his vocal chords on Muhly’s amazing “The Only Tune”, it was such an epic and enjoyable opening slot that Pallett deserves credit just for avoiding anticlimax once he hit the stage. -Ian Mathers

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