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ConcertLivewire's Top 15 Concerts of 2005

Here are the top 15 concerts of 2005 as seen through Livewire's bloodshot eyes.
Sister Hazel15) Sister Hazel
(House of Blues, Chicago, IL Dec. 30)

Coming back to cap the evening, "Just Remember" had everyone dancing back and forth with one another. "Champagne High" was a bittersweet tune and found the entire band churning along on all cylinders. "Starfish" had it's upbeat and fun delivery capped with about 50 beach balls falling from the ceiling into the extended arms of the waiting audience. "Superman" let it's quirky chord progessions flow nicely with the chorus..."Superman, here I am" had Block hold up both arms to the the left as the audience dutifully followed suit and then all swayed their arms to the right as everbody sang, "Superman, here I am." again. Doing this each time the chorus was sung. It must be noted that lead guitarist Ryan Newell's smokin' guitar licks harkened back to the days of '70s guitar heros on many songs throughout the evening's performance...
Kings of Leon14) Kings of Leon
(Metro, Chicago, IL Mar. 4)

With an unapologetic aplomb, Kings of Leon (like the Black Crowes before them) are one of the few bands to successfully pull off the miraculous feat of tapping into the soul of The Rolling Stones' 1972 masterpiece Exile On Main Street (arguably one of the greatest albums in the history of rock). Whether it's an honest homage or blatant case of sticky fingers, it really doesn't matter because, when push comes to shove, they make it work.
Their brief, hour-long sold-out performance in Chicago equally balanced songs from their 2003 debut album Youth & Young Manhood and their follow-up Aha Shake Heartbreak. The gangly foursome, with tight jeans, scraggly hair and detached attitudes, lit newer songs aflame such as the Whites Stripes-inspired troglodyte stomp of "Four Kicks" and The Stokes-flavored gems "Taper Jean Girl," "The Bucket" and "Soft."
When the band exploded into the punchy "Red Morning Light" Caleb's gruff sour-mash vocals slid over the spastic rhythms like a salamander on wet glass before cousin Matthew unfurled a scorching old-school geee-tar solo. Likewise, the boys blazed through barnburners such as "Wasted Time" and the tobacco-stained rawk of "Happy Alone" from Youth & Young Manhood...
Gang of Four13) Gang of Four
(Metro, Chicago, IL May 11)

The foursome wasted little time in setting the tone of the evening as they broke into the spastic dance track "Return The Gift," followed by the equally strong "Not Great Men" and the geniculated brilliance of "Ether." Throughout these numbers, the disjointed, breakneck rhythms from Allen and Burnham, along with Gill's jarring and often dissonant guitar strains, fueled the smartly-dressed and keenly groomed King into fits of rhythmic convulsions - complete with gyrating hips and flailing limbs. As the intensity rose to an orgasmic cacophony towards the end of "Ether" King was struck by a primal animalistic urge as he flounced on all fours and tore across the stage like an enraged wildebeest.
During the number "Anthrax" Gill and King sang against the grain of one another (which has become a Gang of Four trademark) before the stoic guitarist unleashed a crumbling wall of unnerving feedback over Burnham's incessant metronomic beat. King then led the band into "Why Theory?" as he blew into his melodica and sashayed stage right with a pair of maracas.
MCR12) My Chemical Romance
(Eagles Ballroom, Milwaukee, WI Sept. 21)

Gerard Way with his slick, black hair, black jeans and vest was the first to enter the dark stage like a prowling black panther that appears from nowhere and surprising many in the audience. He stood with both hands gripping the microphone stand and let his head hang down towards the stage floor. This is where tonight's chemistry would be made. Streaming rays of light overwhelmed the stage as drummer Bob Bryar started jack-hammering his drums with a furious passion, while Ray Toro and Frank Iero seem to meld their guitar playing with a pure lust for the fast driving chord change. Keeping in sync with one another, Gerard let out a myriad of primal screams on "Venom" and the fans returned the favor with their own ear piercing shrieks. Gerard likes to preen and pose to the delight of the teenage girls. He slowly rubbed his extended ass and then spanked it suggestively. Cue the shrieks...
Rolling Stones11) The Rolling Stones
(Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI Sept. 8)

Along with their Hot Rocks-era hits (which have become a bit formulaic throughout their recent tours), they also unfurled impressive live takes of other new songs such as "Rough Justice" and "Infamy," the latter delivered with Richards' gruff, yet undeniable voice. They also tossed in the spirited gem "All Down The Line" from their 1972 masterpiece Exile On Main Street, the rarely performed "Waiting On A Friend" and, what was to be the highlight of the evening, a smoking version of Ray Charles' "(Night Time Is) The Right Time," where the band was joined onstage by opening-act Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy. Situated between Ronnie and Keith, the three guitarists traded off inspired, fiery leads much to the amazement of the audience. The bluesy, R&B swagger of Charles' song along with Guy's welcome appearance with the band only cemented the fact that this style of music (which the band would build a four-decade career on) is what gets all cylinders fully firing for these guys.
So Mick's 1964 wish of being "a hit in Wisconsin" rang true once again last week. Let's hope it continues...
Loretta Lynn10) Loretta Lynn
(Ribfest, Naperville, IL July 4)

All those who stuck it out were rewarded with greatness throughout a speed set that touched on all the hits and last year's Van Lear Rose. Of course, that current project (her fastest selling to date) was the reason for being on the road, as was its overwhelming acceptance from the Grammy Awards, critical community and fans. She made sure to touch on many of its summits, especially giving credit to its inventive producer Jack White (of The White Stripes fame) and explaining who exactly he was to the older folks. Cuts like "Portland Oregon'" and the title track (accompanied by one of her daughters) brought classic country to modern times, while the old days also came into clear view thanks to "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)" and "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man." No matter what era she was interpreting, Lynn beamed with each step of waltz-like walking, making eye contact, waving and beaming at just about every individual in the audience...
Tori Amos9) Tori Amos
(Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Chicago, IL Aug. 31)

Amos, the soprano, marked the highs in her vocal range that very few artists are able to attain with such a forceful and fluid delivery.
Her performance was rife with an ethereally beautiful intensity. Amos' haunting voice on "Sleeps With Butterflies," found her sensually massaging the chromatic melodies. Her adept management for dual piano/organ is quite amazing. Her legs were usually spread invitingly open as her long lime green dress lovingly draped them. Her dramatic pauses created a visual compliment to many of her extreme structure changes as well as the nuances of the waning notes - knowing the importance of creating art for all of the senses. Amos' superb command of the piano was demonstrated with the deep richness of "Sugar." Bold, brash and animated Tori became even more extroverted while still culling deeply from within...
NIN8) Nine Inch Nails
(Voodoo Music Festival, New Orleans, LA Oct. 29)

Leading the pack was industrial icons Nine Inch Nails, led by one time resident Trent Reznor who was especially invested in his heavy handed delivery. The group is making its return to the road this year after a lengthy hiatus and appeared in just as fine of form as before while presenting cuts of 2005's With Teeth. It marks NIN's first all original studio project since 1999's double disc The Fragile yet it picks up where that project left off with its thrashing electronic nuances and neck breaking bass beats. "The Hand That Feeds" has already earned significant airplay and found the most favor out of the fresh batch, grinding with gritty guitars and the front man's guttural growl. Others of equal emotion and eeriness followed those patterns, such as and "Right Where It Belongs" and "Only."
Of course tracing NIN's back catalogue was the most beneficial to its blistering 90-minute set recalling the unbridled energy of 2002's live set And All That Could Have Been...
Elvis Costello7) Elvis Costello
(Riverside Theatre, Milwaukee, WI April 16)

Looking country dapper in a three-piece black suit and bolo tie, Elvis' voice has matured into a lower and more self-assured vocal range. Former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth once said sarcastically that "People who listen to Elvis Costello, look like Elvis Costello. That may or may not be true, but where are you now, David? "Our Little Angel" found just how well Elvis and the Imposters jelled onstage - with Elvis supplying a coarse rhythm section to the bands' rock solid foundation. Early on in the show an over-eager fan aggressively jumped the stage and ran towards the singer before security guards could wisk him out of the building. Elvis never acknowledged the interloper, instead focusing on his intense relationship with his music.
The two and a half hour set featured such classics as "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," "Watching the Detective," "Alison," which segued nicely into "Suspicious Minds," "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea," "Pump It Up," "Mystery Dance," "Lipstick Vogue" and "Radio, Radio." All done with renewed and firey passion. Every song sounded as fresh as the day they were born...
Sigur Ros6) Sigur Ros
(Orpheum Theatre, Madison, WI Sept. 23)

As the curtain drew open, four modestly dressed musicians stood amongst a host of instruments, pedals and cords, and frontman Jón Thor Birgission stood doused in a single light from the front of the stage. The effect produced a 20-foot tall shadow of Birgission playing his guitar with a bow on the backdrop of the stage. The music had a similar effect as the simple beginnings of "n batterí" and "svefn-g-englar" expanded so wide they seemed to push the walls of the theatre outward. Another striking image came at the end of "svefn-g-englar" as Birgission sang the chorus line into the pickups of his guitar.
After taking the crowd through some more new songs, such as the piano montage of "séglópur" or the driving strings provided by AnimA in "gong," the music began to breathe on its own before an abrupt stop in "virar vel til loftárasá." As seconds passed by in what felt like an eternity, the band stood frozen as the effects faded out. Though some needed a reality check and had to let out a "whoo-hoo" just to make sure they were still there, almost absolute silence struck deep in the song that translates to "a good day for airstrikes" before the band all came back in right-on-- seemingly without cue...
Antony & The Johnsons5) Antony & The Johnsons
(Pabst Theatre, Milwaukee, WI Oct. 7)

With a vocal talent comparable to Nina Simone or Jeff Buckley, who easily waiver between male and female timbres, Antony Hegarty's voice is as strangely beautiful and even more androgynous than the aforementioned vocal stand-outs, and his song-writing reveals an equally complete artist. As Hegarty's ethereal voice was softly accompanied by his own piano playing on grand piano and the accompaniment of a quartet of strings, the performance took on an operatic feel with Hegarty's voice leading the way throughout.
Standouts included the gentle "You Are My Sister" and "Man Is the Baby." In a brilliant combination of voice and strings, "Hope There's Someone" added the most stirring moments in the show, while a version of Leonard Cohen's "The Guests" added the most haunting. Proving to have a sense of humor, Hegarty led the crowd through a cover of Whitney Houston's "I Want To Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" that included a humorous chorus dedicated to the loving of "Shania Twain" and a strange story of singing a song with the animals in the stables during the birth of Jesus...
Foo Fighters4) Foo Fighters
(Allstate Arena, Rosemont, IL Oct. 3)

Taking a small break before jumping back in the saddle, Dave took a small survey of what age groups lie in the crowd. Teens? Twenties? And so on until fifty. He seemed a bit surprised to hear a few people cheer on the last one. He asked if anyone had their newest release. Upon some roars from the crowd, a flock of hands were raised high. Dave addresses "that we've been together for ten years now and I'm extremely happy to finally release a double disc." With a big smile stretched from ear to ear, he stated "it's a doozy!" I agree with him.
The Foo Fighters are not only close and connected with each other as a band, but they have a great rapport with their fans as well. Even midway through their set, a long and highly charged guitar duel was fought out between Dave and Chris on "Stacked Actors." The raw power and abandon of the group especially harkened back to the nihilist days of Nirvana. Dirty, angry and dangerous the band's gut-punching assault reminded us all of the essence of rock 'n roll...
The White Stripes3) The White Stripes
(Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, IL Aug. 29)

With a maximized red, white and black stage set (utilizing white potted plants, clam-shell stage lights and a huge South American backdrop of palm trees, mountains and sea) The White Stripes delivered a minimized set of snarling, ferocious rockers, angular Latin-spiced lullabies and scorching, primordial blues. With drummer Meg, noticeably more slender and attractive in her tight-fitting black leather pants and black top, seated behind her modest kit, the vast stage was also augmented by piano, two large tympanis (which Meg stood behind to deliver the coy "Passive Manipulator" from their fifth and latest release Get Behind Me Satan) and a large six-foot red-and-white marimba (which vocalist/ guitarist Jack White at one point stood stoically behind as he coolly pounded out the breezy, Latin-laced number "The Nurse," also from Get Behind Me Satan). While the once-married Detroit couple still continue to play out their faux brother-sister relationship - admittedly with a wink and a nudge - and three-color coordinates (in clothes, instruments, stage set, album and web design), the sheen of what should seem dull and contrived well over half a decade into their career, still glimmers brightly for predominately one reason alone - these two are the most fascinating live performers in rock today.
Jack, clad in black flamenco threads and sporting a pencil-thin moustache and slight neigh of a goatee, stomped through "The Hardest Button to Button" and "Seven Nation Army," both which gave the impression of a spine-cracking bassline thanks to White's deceiving octave pedal...
Kraftwerk2) Kraftwerk
(Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL June 4)

In the seven years since Kraftwerk last performed in Chicago a lot has changed in the world of music and technology - two mediums that this highly influential German electronic band forged together into one on their recordings during the '70s and '80s. Home computers are everywhere, music is now being heavily distributed through the Internet and the advent of ProTools recording software has made professional sounding studio recordings possible for anybody with a laptop and an electrical outlet. But when founders Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider first formed Kraftwerk in 1970 nobody was ready for the about-face this cold, synthetic, cybernetic music was to make in the world of guitar-driven rock & roll. Their music would go on to directly, and indirectly, influence techno, house, ambient, electronica and hip hop music throughout the following three decades.
Thirty-five years later (and 19 years since their last full-length studio album of new material, Electric Cafe) Ralf and Florian along with Henning Schmitz and Fritz Hilpert (both who have been working with the band since the departure of original percussionists Wolfgang Flur and Karl Bartos in the late ''80s) have scheduled a rare five-city U.S. tour in support of their newly released double live CD Maximum Minimum...
The Arcade Fire1) Lollapalooza 2005
(Grant Park, Chicago IL July 23 & 24)

Clearly the highpoint of the two-day fest was the maddeningly original nine-piece band - The Arcade Fire. "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" let the band's sometimes breaking and sometimes connected reliance on each other put one more piece in the puzzle while taking yet another piece out. Sonic, dissonant, disjointed and beautiful - The Arcade Fire is a band that comes along ever so rarely.
Was Lollapalooza a success? On the surface it appears to be. The event probably pulled a small profit, there were no majors incidents and the whole affair was very user friendly. Should there be another Lollapalooza in Grant Park? Definately. While there were some misteps (I mean who really needs the noodling of Widespread Panic to play on two different stages keeping a promising young act to shine. Or featuring very little rap or any world music). The event was a value at $60.00 a day to get a chance to see some of the talent of yesterday, but more importantly showcasing the talent of tomorrow...

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