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Livewire's Top 10

Concertlivewire's Top 15 Concerts of 2004

Here are the top 15 concerts of 2004 as seen through Livewire's bloodshot eyes.
Head of Femur15) Head of Femur
(Gunther Murphy's, Chicago, IL. - Jan. 16)

It took the audience only three chords into, "Acme: The Summit of a Mountain" before they turned into a flailing mass of pretzels. It was a musical uprising, melody competing with chorus and harmonies begging to fit in. Apparently the band knew the rules before they broke the rules. This song is quite simply a pop gem. Rich and uncut and proudly displaying its flaws.
"Easy Street" and "Manhattan" aggressively closed the strong set. Nate and Max took it to another level as their collective energy fed off of each other and carried out through the audience like a thirsty supervirus.
Head of Femur, with only one album under its belt, looks like its staking its claim on the musical landscape with a brash flair for originality and spontaneity while creating a delightful alter ego along the way.
Smokey Robinson14) Smokey Robinson
(Paramount Arts Centre, Aurora, IL Nov. 12)

Though a stream of screams still remained from the adoring audience, Smokey made sure to slow them down and keep the room silent enough to hear a pin drop for ballads like "Just to See Her." That velvety rendition, along with "Being With you," shed light on an equally important stepping stone for the innovator, demonstrating his ability to stand as a celebrated solo artist. Granted, that star faded a bit come more recent endeavors (like 1999's Intimate, which even had moments of Spanish singing) but that didn't keep Robinson out of step with his obviously supportive fans.
In the five years that have followed that last release, the singer has disappointedly stepped off the Motown label, but thankfully has kept the style close to his heart with a brand new record called Food For the Spirit. In comparison to the gems of yesteryear, recent cuts didn't make as much of a splash, but it was still nice to see the entertainer dabbling in territory he hadn't previously attempted. But with a house shaking rendition of a Temptations melody (including "My Girl") and the immortal "Crusin'," all side stepping was forgotten and the focus returned to glowing memories that flowed fondly in an otherwise flawless evening.
Violent Femmes13) Violent Femmes
(The Rave, Milwaukee, WI - Dec. 17)

"Gone Daddy Gone" had Gano and Ritchie exchanging spirited notes over DeLorenzo's hot potato beats. Two mallets playfully beat the xylophone searching for its full chromatic scale. Gano let the whine loose on "Blister in the Sun." Waiting for DeLorenzo's simple beats to set the tone, Gano took the lyrics on a slow ride waiting to crash into the explosive chorus. "Kiss Off" showed it's tasty flavor in Ritchie's jaunty bass and Gano's expressive chord play. "Dance Motherfucker Dance" and "Gimmie the Car" let the minimalism shine as each sparse note had more important things to say than many complex jazz arrangements. "Add it Up" found DeLorenzo take flight with a spirited and interpretive drum solo. Everybody's favorite anthem "American Music" had its autobiographical chorus bare new life with Gano's passionate delivery. The band has a naturally intuitive synergy. Looseness slowly shifting to tighter arrangements than ever so freely reverting back to the playground.
Muse12) Muse
(The Rave II, Milwaukee, WI - Nov. 14)

Each musician in this three-piece rock odyssey of a band seemed to put everything they had into the music. Bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard were agressive on the heavy songs, especially "Butterflies and Hurricanes" and precise on the calmer tunes, especially "Ruled By Secrecy." Lead vocalist Matthew Bellamy, switching off between guitar and keyboards throughout the night, performed a sort of Jeckyl and Hyde routine by going from calm to electrified without a moment's notice. The show put on by Muse was refreshing and provided inspiration for new directions in music, but like any good muse of the artistic type, absolution with the muse means the end of its inspiration. Perhaps following this warning that has been alluded to by poets throughout the ages, Muse walked off the stage after a mere hour and fifteen minutes. Playing no encore and a short set is a big risk to take for a band trying to make it in the US, but they made it work-- I want more.
Rilo Kiley11) Rilo Kiley / Tilly and the Wall
(Abbey Pub, Chicago, IL - Sept. 30)

Rilo Kiley, recently switching labels from Omaha's Saddle Creek Records to Brute/Beaute Records, hosted an inventive and spirited set at the Abbey Pub last Thursday. Fronted by, Jenny Lewis, sporting tight jeans and a tank-top, she led the foray into a sound that is truly all their own. Lewis' voice warbles in and out of octaves rivaling the Greek sirens. Her tonailty is truly rich. She perfectly varies her hypnotic voice with little effort, digging into folk-style harmony while continually focusing inward.
They charged into "My Slumbering Heart" with its piercing melodies melting slowly as the chorus fades. "The Good that Won't Come Out" hits you like a missle that takes off in a different direction with no landing in sight. Sub-pop never had it so good as the band lit into "Spectacular Views" with its piercing melodies dying slowly as the chorus begged for resurrection.
Other gems were "The Good That Won't Come Out," "The Execution of All Things," "Capturing Moods," "Portions for Foxes," "I Never" and "Such Great Heights" by the Postal Service.
Tilly and the Wall Even while tapping to their hit song, "Reckless" she'll quietly sing to herself as Neely and Kianna sing with a fevered passion. Tilly and the Wall are able to help put you at ease with their quiet confidence, brash and alive the music flows overhead gradually... only to be consumed greedily by the receptive minds in the audience. Derek gently strums along on his guitar adding his own mysterious parts while Nick gently taps his foot to the music and strikes the keys gingerly on his keyboard. Other songs peformed were: "Fell Down the Stairs." "A Perfect Fit," "Ice Storm Big Gust and You." They finished their set with a rousing version of "Nights of the Living Dead." And Jamie, as she tapped the last beat let it be known they had left their trademark forever embedded on the Abbey's young stage. Rilo Kiley screams "indie" individualism and let's hope that success won't spoil them from tempting to raise the bar even further.
The Cure10) Curiosa Festival
(Tweeter Center, Tinley Park, IL Aug. 12)

The Cure are well-known for their dark, introspective numbers - which have left them with the 'father's of Goth rock' moniker - but their performance was anything but a depressing set for self-loathing shoegazers. Despite looking like Liz Taylor at 7 a.m. after a night of too many Cosmopolitans and three plates too many from the Shoney's buffet, the lipstick-smeared, condor's nest coiffed Smith, nonetheless, never sounded better. From the dramatic angst-ridden build of the opening number "Lost" from their latest self-titled album to the decidedly more upbeat pop hits "Why Can't I Be You," "Boy's Don't Cry" and "The Lovecats," Smith along with longtime bassist Simon Gallup, keyboardist Roger O' Donnell, drummer Jason Cooper and guitarist Perry Bamonte held their audience in the palm of their hands.
Wilco9) Wilco
(Orpheum Theatre, Madison, WI - Oct. 27)

Bassist John Stirratt also sang and provided some nice vocal harmonies during the night. Even though they do not sing, drummer Glen Kotche, guitarist Nels Cline and Mikael Jorgensen were solid and provided some excellent off-meter effects and sounds throughout the show. The set pulled songs from many of their albums, but the biggest response from the crowd came when Wilco played "I'm the Man Who Loves You" and "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart." Other notables from the night included "I'm A Wheel" and "Via Chicago."
Since the election season is in full swing (and Senator Kerry planning to hold a massive rally a few blocks away the next afternoon), Tweedy could not resist adding his thoughts during the show (not once, but twice) on who should be president, which some responded to with cheers and others with groans. Even though the crowd seemed to embrace the notion of change in our government, Tweedy walked a fine line since many fans are just sick of hearing about politics. In the end, however, the crowd didn't seem to mind the political digression and cheered Wilco on until the end of their encore.
Beastie Boys8) Beastie Boys
(Alliant Energy Center, Madison, WI - Nov. 3)

Despite the fact that these three hip-hoppers have long been known for their strong political beliefs (most notably their disapproval of the Bush administration) they, somewhat surprisingly, only made one direct political reference in response to Kerry conceding to Bush earlier that day. Instead Yaunch urged the crowd to live for the moment and dance, before they broke into a high-energy version of "Body Movin'."
Drastically changing both the tone and mood of the performance, the DJ booth was whisked offstage mid-show, as a smaller stage draped with stings of large glowing party lights was rolled out. There were more than a few audience members perplexed by the tuxedoed men playing instruments on the stage, until they soon discovered that it was the Beastie Boys (along with two additional musicians) who were laying down these organic jams. This was not the rap or hip-hop that the boys are better known for, but rather the funky often soulful music they first started exploring on their 1989 masterpiece Paul's Boutique and later perfected on Check Your Head and Ill Communication. Imagine Curtis Mayfield performing at your high school prom and you're getting close to the vibe that radiated from this odd, glowing stage.
The Hives7) The Hives / The Dirtbombs
(The Rave, Milwaukee, WI - Dec. 4)

All nappily dressed in black and white suits with Col. Sanders neckties - the band takes as much from the Rolling Stones (who incidentally aren't credited enough as punk pioneers) as they do from the Stooges. There is something charming in their bloated self-egos. They're cool - they know it and we know it. On "Diabolic Scheme" the band deconstructs the Stones cool and resells it as their own. It worked. "Hate to Say I Told You So" brought the house down with Almqvist's shrill-pitched voice finding a new octave on the chorus. "Two Timing Touch and Broken Bones" played out tight as it's straightfoward and lean attack laid waste to the chunky chorus that tried to take over the song. A misstep? Probably, but even when the Hives hiccup it still sounds cool.
The DirtbombsDetroit garage-rockers the Dirtbombs performed a scrumptiously dirty set to open for the Hives. Jack and Meg White of the White Stripes are essentially followers of Dirtbombs leader Mick Collins. The sonic wave of sound began with Collins and company putting some heavy chunk into "Graveyard." With two drummers cementing the band's ferocious attack and bassist Ko forcing each heart-pounding note down our throats.
The guitar riffs float atop delicious distortions while the simple rhythms wail with abandon. Some of the gems performed were "I Can't Sleep," "Big Bird," "Closed Casket," "I Wanna Die," "Debt Collection," "2 x As Dead," "Hate This City" and "Burn Down the Village." This band has grease coarsing through it's veins - nasty and raw. Their music is brutally honest and truly alive. The Dirtbombs should be studied by all other musicians to see where the spirit and soul of rock music resides today.
David Bowie6) David Bowie
(Rosemont Theatre, IL - Jan. 14)

While Bowie rightfully commanded the lion's share of the attention, as he playfully performed a bit of mime throughout the bubbling hot tub of funk on "Fame" and danced in a self-contained state of ecstasy throughout "Ashes To Ashes," many of the bandmember's talents beamed brightly next to David's. Drummer Sterling Campbell's frenetic, hard-hitting style stood out the most during the three techno injected numbers "Halo Spaceboy," "Battle For Britain" and "I'm Afraid of Americans," from Bowie's late '90s albums Outside and Earthling, while bassist Gail Ann Dorsey "out Freddied" even Queen's late singer during her vocal duet with Bowie during a passionate take of "Under Pressure." Pianist Mike Garson, who originally started performing with Bowie back in his Ziggy Stardust days in the early '70s, added his complex keyboard flourishings to the arena-rock torch songs "Life On Mars" and "Changes." Guitarist Earl Slick, another musician who's been working on and off with Bowie since 1974, proved exactly why Bowie consistently brings him back into the fold. With stinging leads on a delicious take of "The Man Who sold The World" (an early Bowie song which was introduced to a younger audience when Nirvana performed a version of it for MTV's Unplugged series), as well as channeling the spirit of the late Mick Ronson (lead guitarist from The Spiders From Mars) through a piercing guitar line on the glam-rock anthem "All The Young Dudes," Slick just may be the most versatile and talented guitarist Bowie has employed to date.
Patti Smith5) Patti Smith
(Barrymore Theatre, Madison, WI - June 23)

Although the crowd of aging hipsters, beats, punks and free-thinkers could be heard proudly singing along with Smith's 1988 hit "People Have The Power," it was this same roomful of admirers that stood with mouths agape through Patti's raspy, soul-spilling reading of her 1978 rock mantra "Ghost Dance." A similar rock 'n' roll awakening also occurred when Smith wrestled with her electric guitar and unleashed manic shards of dissonant feedback throughout the pounding number "25th Floor."
But it was during her signature bloodcurdling retelling of Van Morrison's "Gloria," played out as the evening's finale, that found Smith and company mixing the blood of tribal Indian and voodoo rites with the shamanism of rock 'n' roll. "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine," she angrily cried mid-song with arms flailing, spit flying and hips gyrating. This was not music for the weak or weary, but rather for those only brave enough to witness this emotional rock 'n' roll exorcism.
No less dangerous or commanding then when she first helped punk rock take its first steps out of NYC, Patti Smith is still - after all these years - the undeniable High Priestess of Cool.
Wynton Marsalis4) Wynton Marsalis
(The Raue Center for the Arts, Crystal Lake, IL - April 18)

The charming "The Magic Hour" - title track of his latest release followed. A suite in four sections - each representing four aspects of jazz - the music moves from 4/4 swing to Afro Cuban rhythm, through the blues to end with a ballad. As Wynton wryly explained, the magic hour is the time between when the adults put the children to bed and when they fall asleep. During the course of this piece, his plunger playing resurrected the spirits of Louis Armstrong and King Oliver, and his smears and ghostly effects were reminiscent of Barney Bigard. Meanwhile, the band put on veritable clinic on how to properly play each of the different styles included.
As an encore, the band performed a ferocious version of 'Free to Be" - one that the perfectionist bandleader started three separate times to get the correct tempo. The musicians' confidently impeccable technique was a joy to observe and hear as they produced solid grooves, filled with optimistic energy, syncopation with a blues feeling, and assured polyphonic interaction. The solos especially were noteworthy in their thematic development. Whereas lesser players often meander through uninteresting lapses during lengthy passages, the quartet kept the attention of the audience through powerful yet nuanced solos, which combined velocity with tone in their considerable breadth, and with no wasted notes included.
9-time Grammy Award winner, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and perhaps the most acclaimed composer, educator and musician in jazz and classical music today, the classy Marsalis left the stage with the air still vibrating with the magic of a music that followed the lucky crowd out into the beautiful spring evening and, no doubt, with them in their memories for a lifetime.
Pixies3) Pixies
(Milwaukee Theatre, Milwaukee, WI - November 9)>

While the set weighed slightly heavier towards their breakthrough album Doolittle (featuring wonderful takes of eclectic punk-influenced rockers such as "Tame," "Hey" and " I Bleed," as well as the more familiar "Monkey Gone To Heaven," and" Wave of Mutilation") they also packed in plenty of other favorites that spanned their all too brief career.
Commanding the center of attention was Black, who, with cleanly shaven head and stage swallowing girth, shouted and screamed through engrossing takes of the anthemic "U-Mass," "Subacultcha," "Debaser" and "Cactus" (the latter two which David Bowie, a huge Pixies fan, has covered in recent years), while Deal was afforded the lead vocals for the haunting "In Heaven," as well as the charming "Gigantic" (where she flubbed the intro and asked to restart it, which Black purposely ignored). Santiago's leads often sliced to the bone, as heard on the amphetamine-pumped "Crackity Jones" and "Broken Face," but also got a little heavy-handed during an unnecessary extended solo during "Vamos."
Sell-out or not, this immensely important band still managed to pull off one of the most amazing live shows of the year (hell, it was so damn good, in fact, I even got suckered into something I never do at a show - spring for the band's overpriced T-shirt). Oh yeah and by the way, Pixies, that Perrier was on me.
Bright Eyes2) Bright Eyes
(The Vic, Chicago, IL - Feb. 21)

They then lit into Elvis' "You Were Always on My Mind." Conor sat back and relaxed on the chair with his bass in his lap, as Jim James took the lead vocals and M. Ward played the keyboard and Mogis on the Pedal Steel. It had such a strong pull, that it was enough to make you feel as if you've been lost at sea for weeks, realizing that the solitude is better then being rescued. The slow, soothing melody "Girl From the North Country" burst with M. Ward's passion and vision. . . Mogis added his cooingly "country riffs," which gave the song more body with its distinct warblings. Ward continued to sing in an honestly emotional tone. Oberst stepped in for the next part as all three lit the candle from both ends.
The crowd held their applause, until the final note bled it's last drop. Their patience was completely justified.
Morrissey1) Morrissey
(Eagles Ballroom, Milwaukee, WI - Oct. 16)

However, in an evening of highlights, the centerpiece may have been the audience singalong on "Everyday is Like Sunday." Listening as the crowd sang the bleak words they knew so well along with their hero, I flashed back to when I was a rebellious youth, skipping Sunday school and using my collection money to buy candy, and a wave of deep emotions passed over me. I realized then that the primary appeal of Morrissey is not only his expressive melodies, intelligent and searching lyrics (so rare in these days of brainless, prefabricated and meaningless music), or his original singing style, but that in taking his brave posture as the shy, sensitive, yet rebellious outsider who dares to speak out against oppression and injustice, he has touched a nerve in many of us shy, sensitive, yet rebellious outsiders who linger in the shadows outside the mainstream even as we have grown older. The plaintive voice we hear running through his songs rings true - we recognize the painful feelings of isolation, loneliness, anger and rejection and know that there is an essential honesty about what he is communicating that can't be faked. And we are drawn to it. A whole crowd of us, sensing a momentary feeling of shared communication and community before we return to a world that marginalizes and seeks to destroy those who differ from the enforced societal beliefs and norms.

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