Monday, December 31, 2007

Catfish at the Clubs: Best Shows of 2007

I guess it'd be more accurate to say "at the clubs and the parks and the amphitheaters and whatnot." I had some of the best musical moments of my life watching live music during the past year. I made my way to about 35 shows this year, from a dozen or more great local Tucson bands to some of America's greatest living legends.
It's next to impossible to rank this type of stuff, so here's 12 of the best shows, in chronological order.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Plush, Jan. 9
This show demonstrates as good as any one of the greatest treasures of seeing live music in Tucson: the opportunity to watch very great performers in very small venues. Still, I was surprised Malkmus didn’t book a larger venue. Since he played nearly all new songs, I didn’t know a single one the whole night, but it didn’t matter. He’s a strange genius on the guitar and Janet Weiss on drums is an incredible addition.
Download: Stephen Malkmus - Merry Go Round (live at Plush)

Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 – Club Congress, April 14
One of Britain’s weirdest exports, Hitchcock’s wordplay is like no other songwriter. And he’s the best banterer I’ve ever seen. I’d caught him twice before solo acoustic, but with the full band (including Peter Buck) of his latest recording partners, it’s even better.

Guthrie Family Legacy Tour – Centennial Hall, April 29
Arlo has long been a favorite of mine, and this was the first time I got to see him perform. He’s a rich storyteller and a great songwriter in his own right, plus it never hurts to be able to draw on a song pool like his dad Woody left us. I left the show amazed in equal measure at his humor and his humanity. Download: Arlo Guthrie - In Times Like These (live Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival 2006-08-12).

Alejandro Escovedo & The Drive-by Truckers – Rialto Theatre, May 5
It might seem like a strange double bill, but they definitely went well together. I’d seen Alejandro once before, stuffed into Congress, but it was great to see him fill that room with sound. And the Truckers are one of the best live bands out there today, with enough songs to keep going and going and going (plus they were kind enough to preview some new ones).

Bob Dylan – AVA Amphitheatre, July 24
Dylan returned to the desert just over a year since his last Arizona shows and this performance was much better than the more sedate one at the TCC Arena. The Modern Times songs sounded great live and as usual, Dylan threw a couple curveballs into the set. The harsh and jagged “Masters of War” remains as stinging an indictment as it was more than four decades ago. Download: Bob Dylan – Señor (Tales of Yankee Power) (live Tucson 2007-07-24)

Chango Malo cd release show – Club Congress, Aug. 17

Leave it to Chango Malo to take over Congress inside and out, invite eight other bands and turn their CD release show into the party of the year. And in all that mess of bands and friends and beers, they rose above it all with a show as tight as it was drenched in energy. The album rips too.
All in all, the night was a strong statement about the quality of bands regularly playing downtown Tucson. The scene is excellent, varied, energetic and above all, musically inspiring.

Hotel Congress Festival – Aug. 30 to Sept. 2

A handful of local bands impressed on Friday, and the Friends of Dean Martinez mesmerized before the Weird Lovemakers brought the whole damn thing crashing down Sunday night, but the standout set of this festival (far and away) was Okkervil River’s Saturday set. I was front and center with a bunch of friends for the rambunctious and passionate performance that had as many sing-alongs to new stuff as it did old. I’d had a copy of The Stage Names for a few weeks by that time seeing most of it live was an absolute thrill.

Download: Okkervil River - Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe (live in San Francisco)

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival – San Francisco, Oct. 5 to 8
I already wrote about this one extensively, so I’ll just say that Jeff Tweedy performing “Remember the Mountain Bed” was just one of those moments when life doesn’t get any better. Check it out: Part 1, Part 2.

And from the festival:
Jeff Tweedy - Remember the Mountain Bed
Emmylou Harris - Sin City
Gillian Welch - Pocahontas

The Hold Steady (with Art Brut) - TLA, Philadelphia, Oct. 23
I was definitely lucky when my East Coast travels coincided with this show. I've listened to the Hold Steady as much as any other band during the last two years and Boys And Girls In America has been as much of a go-to album as I've ever had. (Major props also go to the Hold Steady’s performance at Plush on June 4. I was a hell of a lot closer to the band there, but I gotta go with the Philly performance for a larger and rowdier crowd and top-notch openers.)
Check out NPR's All Songs Considered podcast to download performances from both bands (a couple weeks after the Philly show).

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists (with The Swim) – Club Congress, Nov. 1

It was a treat to watch some friends sharing the bill with one of their heroes.
Ted Leo absolutely rocks, but he deserves respect for much more than his music. He's unabashedly political and brings intellect to the pursuit than most activists.
Check his Web site for a "news" section that's more or less a blog
And find a live Ted Leo show here.

Bookmans Party in the Park (Calexico) – Nov. 3

"... let Tucson's favorite sons and their best mariachi friends let loose with what must be about the best of the dozen or so shows of theirs you've taken in. Remember how you first saw Calexico with maybe a couple hundred people stuffed into an art gallery by the railroad tracks, must've been 1999 or 2000. Remember how they seemed to have a pedal for the passing train, and how they set the room on fire. Remember how on three or four albums since those same musicians captured a hell of a lot more attention and without a doubt became one of the world's greatest bands. Sit in anticipation for a particular song, a Bob Dylan cover you'd been soaking in for months, with several different bootleg recordings, before finally hearing them back Willie Nelson on "Senor." Celebrate as the trumpets bellow loud and mysterious. Shimmy and sway as the show stretches many songs and songs and songs afterwards. Depart with a poster and autographs..."

Neko Case – Rialto Theatre, Nov. 15
I talked a friend into flying in from San Francisco for the show - one of only two solo dates this fall for Neko. Her guest performances at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival were nice little teasers for this show. The tunes from her latest album just soar live and there's plenty of quirky banter.
NPR broadcast Neko's show in LA the next night and has it available for download here.

1 comment:

CICCI said...

I'm glad I was at two of those shows, and I'm glad you were there too.