2008 was a pretty decent year between me and my favorite music. I liked a handful of albums, but hardly loved any. (Tim Goldsworthy’s production with Cut Copy and Hercules and Love Affair was probably the one thing that impressed me more than any specific record.)
(left: Kraftwerk, “I couldn’t hold their inaction against them.)
I went to a lot shows and enjoyed many, but rarely walked away dragging my jaw on the ground from amazement. And isn’t that the point of going to shows? To feel like there’s nowhere else you’d rather be during that hour, or so?
The band that made my favorite album of the year couldn’t wow me live. However, bands with albums I was very lukewarm on made me want to spend the rest of my life at their shows. And the many acts I saw multiple times, with the exceptions of Constantines and Jamie Lidell, were noticeably better one time. So it wasn’t quite great, but there’s plenty I’ll remember, especially the three below. They’re not necessarily the best (only so many times I can write “transcendent” about seeing Mavis Staples, plus she’s not exactly indie), but they hold some tremendous memories for me. In chronological order, three shows that I’ll recall fondly:
I didn’t really care for Distortion. It’s a pretty good album with some great songs, but the theme is what dragged it down. After seeing Magnetic Fields perform at the exquisite-sounding Old Town School of Folk Music, there was no way I could ever hear those songs in their recorded form without pining for their undistorted versions. With Stephin Merritt in typical form (read: cranky), Claudia Gonson filled up the time between songs with inane diatribes, but when they actually played music, the band sounded pristine. New songs like “California Girls” and “Zombie Boy” sans distortion fell right in with their old songs such as “I Don’t Believe in You” and “Papa Was a Rodeo.” And in the intimate Old Town School music hall, quiet enough to hear a phone vibrating two rows away, the humor and wit that Magnetic Fields have always honed on stood out just as much as the top-notch musicianship. It was an incredible evening.
I’m pretty lucky to live in a city (Chicago) that thousands of bands tour through every year. Unfortunately, not everyone gets to my town. And when a legendary band is touring within a day’s drive, I get jealous of that city’s music fans and typically decide to go. So, in April, I trekked to Minneapolis for a weekend centered on seeing Kraftwerk. How often does the most influential electronic music group ever tour the Midwest? Not often. Even without founding member Florian Schneider along for the 4-date US tour, the modified quartet didn’t take long to wow the audience with their updated versions of classic songs like “Man Machine”, “Radioactivity” and “Tour de France.” The visually-stunning 100-minute set was highlighted by some added depth and updated arrangements to songs that didn’t need any help but got it anyway for the sake of entertainment. I’m a big fan of performers who are animated, but when a band has spent their entire career personifying mechanics, I couldn’t hold their inaction against them.
You know what’s risky but often carries great rewards? Going to a show by a band that you’ve never heard before, especially one that you have no good reason for never hearing. It’s not like M83 has been hiding under a rock for the last few years. They’re pretty popular, yet I’ve just never listened to them outside of a Pontiac commercial. So when the opportunity presented itself to see them in May, I jumped at it based on past raves of their live show. And, oh, I was not disappointed at all. I can’t name one song that they played that night, but that electronic shoegaze sound thumped through me and put one of those ridiculous “Why haven’t I listened to this before?!” looks on my face. Whether held together by guitars or synthesizers, every song’s numerous layers floored me as my head broke them down. It’s a powerful show that makes you go out and buy a band’s entire discography.