Theater ain’t just for drama dorks -- it’s the lifeblood of rock n’ roll. Here’s to the crazy-big effects, stage set-ups, and sets that made this a dramatic year indeed.
Part 4: Best Moves
Nice Moves From the shimmy shake to the backwards bicycle kick, great musicians own a room using way more than words. And, sometimes, all it takes is style…
19 July 2008: Chicago, IL Jarvis Cocker, former frontman of Pulp, is well known for his suave onstage presence and the ability to transform himself from shy intellectual to a Britpop superstar. And, after a decade without any Chicago shows, Cocker returned with a getup that included a stylish blue jacket. The jacket, however, might as well have been a prop as Cocker removed it in one uninterrupted move, further highlighting his different class. -Kirstie Shanley
7 October 2008: Toronto, Canada The whole band looked great, from Robert Grey and Margaret Fiedler McGinnis’ wry stoicism to Colin Newman’s customary impish sarcasm, but in terms of moves nobody quite equals scary old Graham Lewis. He played the hell out of his bass and sang/yelled hard enough to make some serious veins in his neck apparent, but it wasn’t until the especially fraught reading of “Pink Flag” that he started lifting that bass to above his head and hurling it down with each refrain. It was a compelling and startling moment in the midst of an already a great show, even if he probably did hurt his neck with the strap. -Ian Mathers
12 April 2008: Boston, MA The Roots' emcee Black Thought is no longer just a rapper. The dude has officially become a robotic beast on the mic. During this performance, the band they blasted through a cover of Kool G Rap & DJ Polo's "[email protected]", with Black Thought easily having to tackle the most difficult part of the song: the rapping. And, of course, he absolutely killed it. Some people might say this next statement is blasphemous, but Black Thought made that cover his own, easily outshining the original. -Andrew Martin
23 January 2008: Chicago, IL Bluegrass quintet Uncle Earl fully understands that live music can and should move you, and their harmonic beauty warmed me on a cold January night. In fact, I thought the whole place was going to go up in flames when Kristin Andreassen clogged up a smoking cyclone on a two-foot slab of wood stage right while the rest of the ladies turned Schubas into a front porch backwoods hangout. -Chris Catania
23 October 2008: New York, NY Successfully emulating the King of Pop is never a bad thing. So when Janelle Monae glided backwards across the stage in a perfunctory moonwalk, it was the perfect exclamation to her nostalgically honed moves. Though visually more rockabilly (bolo tie, saddle shoes) Monae busted out moves that spanned decades, like her sound. But the ubiquitous appeal and familiarity of the moonwalk can instantly exalt a decent dancer into an Astaire when executed cleanly and tastefully. And Monae certainly has her eye on such lofty company. -Thomas Hauner
Best Theatrics Theater ain’t just for drama dorks -- it’s the lifeblood of rock n’ roll. Here’s to the crazy-big effects, stage set-ups, and sets that made this a dramatic year indeed.
8 October 2008: New York, NY Giant pixilated backdrops are expected when you’re catching U2 at the Garden. The ecclesiastic United Palace, though, was personal enough that the black backdrop quilted with LED’s only gradually revealed its full capabilities. Initially, only black and white geometric patterns towered over Beck’s quintet before evolving into more colorful and complex images. As Beck raced through his repertoire, the magic fabric came more and more to life with live video of zealous audience members finally beaming from it during the encore. The combination of scale and subtle progression in the animated backdrop provided for a memorable larger than life concert experience. -Thomas Hauner
20 September 2008: Chicago, IL Any band the blurs the line between audience and band is bound to bring some theatrics along with them, and this Israeli three-piece started their show by moving the instruments to ground level, placing them amongst the crowd. Seconds later the drum kit was on fire and every single band member was crowd surfing. It was a surreal and out of control spectacle to say the least and one of the most memorable concerts any music fans in attendance were sure to see this year. -Kirstie Shanley
9 November 2008: Worcester, MA If you have not seen it for yourself, you might not be able to comprehend Nine Inch Nails' unbelievable light show and theatrics. From Josh Freese mapping out a drum beat on a giant touch pad to the gorgeous landscapes projected during the Ghosts set, Trent Reznor truly cemented himself as a real showman. None of the songs went by without some kind of unique accompaniment. And even though I wasn't close to the stage, which can sometimes hinder an otherwise enjoyable show, I still remained immersed for the lengthy, near-perfect show. -Andrew Martin
12 November 2008: Houston, TX Of Montreal's live show was easily the most bizarre and theatrical of all the bands I saw in 2008. With an even dozen people onstage, the six band members playing instruments were complemented perfectly by the crazy costumes of the other performers. Ninjas, big golden Buddha’s, a weird giant, and Old West outfits all made appearances throughout the 2-hour show. Meanwhile, the video screens ran a slew of weird graphics and clips, while the set in the middle of the stage was used both for costume changing and backgrounds, with frontman Kevin Barnes charging through at least half-a-dozen costumes. My favorite? His working centaur outfit during "Beware Our Nubile Miscreants". -Chris Conaton
16 May 2008: Washington, DC For most of this show, DeVotchKa seemed little more than an impeccably dressed, exquisitely talented gypsy-punk band. Nick Urata seduced a theramin, Tom Hagerman made a violin swoon, and Jeanie Schroder exhumed a host of Confederate dead with her reenactment-practiced sousaphone playing. The encore, though, turned the performance into a circus, literally, as an acrobat climbed a ribbon hung from the ceiling, swiveling and twirling in time to the music. Death-defying theatrics mixed with ceremonious Denverite-Romani melodies -- now that’s what I call entertainment! -Wilson McBee