Stereogum’s 30 Favorite Live Shows Of 2007
We saw a lot of concerts this year! You probably did too, if you’re the sort to be checking music blogs on your downtime over holiday break, so let’s all trade notes. Stereogum’s Amrit Singh kicks things off with a detailed, list-friendly recap of the earplug-necessitating, beer-soaked year that was.
As far as this list goes, the criteria and factors for consideration were: I had to be at the concert (hence no Zeppelin), and I had to find it memorable. For diversity’s sake, no band was allowed on the list more than once. Basically, these are the gigs that I recalled fondly without even having to revisit the Concert Archives or Stereogum readers’ favorite live acts to jog my memory, the shows that maybe changed my mind about a band, or made me fall in love with them more deeply, or in the first place. Finally — what makes the 26th show better than the 27th show? Probably nothing! I just thought it was better to give things numbers than to set ‘em out all bullet-point like. That said it is loosely ranked by love, so it’s fair to assume the #2 show left my jaw hanging lower than did #22. Here goes…
30 Cornelius @ Webster Hall 5/10/07
Webster Hall and I have an up-and-down relationship: For every show tailor made for its particular sonic and theatrical attributes, there’s an oh so silent one nearly derailed by the Awesome ’80s Party’s booty bass rumbles bubbling up from the floorboards below. (Actually, ratio’s probably more like 1:5 or something.) Well now that Webster definitely isn’t going anywhere on account of landmark status and all, I can hope at least that it takes on even less acoustic-y acts, and serves instead as the default house for shows like this one: That May night brought a mesmerizing mesh of Cornelius’s avant-pop deconstructionist genius and his custom-tailored synced-up imagery, and the harrowed Hall was the perfect space for it. A stage wide rear projection screen hosted the footage — technicolor swirls, CGI-enhanced visuals of mothers and children, rocks morphing into people, the Yellow Pages fingers coming to life and going on a walkabout — all set in time to Cornelius’s irresistible pop urges. It’s a shame he comes to the States so infrequently; a night with Cornelius feels like the body-moving apex of high art. Coachella was just a teaser. (UPDATE: Just remembered, he’s bringing the Sensuous show back to Webster 1/26. Go!)
29 The Field @ Pitchfork Music Festival
Our friends at Pitchfork Media curated one of the summer’s best festivals, which you’ll see reflected in this here list a couple few times. Lackluster sound at the mainstages was a just complaint, but the best workaround was to hit the side stage where, for example, you could stumble into the Field aka Axel Willner sending a mini-sea of sweaty, smiley Chi towners into bliss fits over his From Here We Go Sublime sounds. Sure it was just a man and his Vaio, but the Field’s sonic surgery came like blooming morsels to a beat-starved crowd, and was perfect exit music for me, after a full weekend platter of far-ranging indieosity. I hear he usually has a rear projector — not so in the Chicago evening sun but really, that day, he didn’t even need it.
28 Jamie Lidell @ Pitchfork Music Festival
Last I saw Jamie, at Webster Hall in ’06, his swaggering-crooner side gave way to knob twiddling, voice-looped wankery way too early in the set. It drove me mad, him losing the plot in favor of chops like that. But at P4K’s party Jamie pulled in and out of his electro arsenal with just the right frequency, coming off less self-indulgent, more soulful sonic sorcerer. And later that night I saw him enjoying and befriending Dan Deacon and Deerhunter at the sort-of-legendary sweat warehouse afterparty (without the headdress), and that too was fairly awesome.
27 Mastodon @ Pitchfork Music Festival
Aside from finding a near perfect mesh of hipster-metal/hipster-comic/hipster, um, LOST-loving appeal at the summit of Blood Mountain, Mastodon provided one of my live highlights of the year: straining to see through the dust kicked up by the Connector Field moshers and loving every second of the aural evil, the guitar cocked grandstanding, and especially the finger and forehead tattoos.
26 The White Stripes @ Bonnaroo
Before Meg White began suffering acute anxiety, the White Stripes descended upon Bonnaroo and whipped 80,000 some festsetters into a complete Icky frenzy. It’d been too long since I’d seen Jack live in red. He looked good! Also I finally have an answer for that customary camera jock icebreaker “So what was the craziest photo pit you’ve been in?” Maybe the new album didn’t thump quite as hard as everyone hoped, but that day, it didn’t matter. And it didn’t two days later, either.
25 Man Man @ Grand Harmony Palace 5/25/07
One of the many awesome New York x New York gigs that brought my favorite bands into bizarre circumstances, this time with the added bonus bonus of a gourmet vegan dinner before the show. After an open bar, a first course of appetizers and contortionists, and a robust Man Man-led tableside debate of the merits of a vegan lifestyle, the troupe turned the Grand Harmony Palace (a snazzy dimsum joint in Chinatown) into a sanctum for their props ‘n’ freak-pop shenanigans. Lots of Six Demon Bagging spiced up the set, though nothing was as much fun as watching the faces of our dining companions who had never seen the band before, and nothing was as surprising as how soothing the sounds of Man Man were on my vegan indigestion.
24 M.I.A. @ Austin City Limits
A friend spoke disparagingly about Maya’s early summer Siren Fest set, saying “it was like there was a black hole between the stage and the audience, sucking up all the charisma.” Which to anyone who’s seen her since sounds patently absurd. I can’t speak to Siren, but Lolla was remarkable (shot voice and all), and by Austin City Limits Ms. Arulpragasam had some new dance moves and even more gravity-defying chutzpah. Somewhere along the tour Maya learned the best way to beat the black hole: annihilate the interstitial crowd/stage space by inviting the kids up there with you. Also doesn’t hurt that Kala was one of my Top 5 records for ’07.
23 My Morning Jacket @ Austin City Limits 2007
The legendary, marathon post-midnight ‘Roo performance, the scorching, straightforward set at Lolla ’06, the orchestral and purple tuxedoed turn at Lolla ’07: Jim James and MMJ have been building the case for America’s greatest festival band for a long while now. But when the guys decked the ACL stage like it was a beachfront paradise, complete with pancho-bearing bears, bums with metal detectors, scuba gear, bleached wigs, and Andrew Bird — and still managed to make the music be the thing that mattered — it’s no longer just an argument: Jury’s still out on whether they’re the new Radiohead, but in the meantime you might wanna tell the Flaming Lips they’ve got company.
22 Antony @ BAM, Brooklyn 3/9/07
Cornelius and Sufjan’s BQE made me feel pretty classy for a sec there, but this show at BAM made me feel like a patron of the high arts (which, to my grandparents’ chagrin, clearly I am not). Really, this was a pitch perfect surrogate: Antony had the Brooklyn Philharmonic join him in a sort of artistic exploration of visibility, first notes floating in utter darkness, with volume and intensity building by show’s climax to a retina-scalding brightness — and Hegarty himself as the spotlight kissed radial point. New songs were played, but there was too much operatic stimulus to focus on anything other than the general aesthetic sentiment of the piece. Well, that and the “Crazy In Love” cover.
21 Dan Deacon @ Mercury Lounge, NYC 5/12/07
I wrote about Dan awhile before this show, but this was my first night experiencing the live spectacle — the absurdist self-helping hipster schtick, the dance tag, the improvisational, group-cheerleading humor and general sense of batshit insanity — and that rainy night single-handedly ensured Stereogum would be talking about Deacon a lot this year … to the misery of anyone that’s only seen publicity pics, and to the joy of anyone who’s seen him live. The man can work a Shuffle on a banana like nobody’s business.
20 No Age @ Bowery Ballroom, NYC (CMJ)
I fell in love with No Age pretty hard this year, and this was my single favorite set of CMJ, coming on a superstacked bill (White Williams, Dan Deacon, Deerhunter). Dean and Randy were wild and loose on stage, hammy, slapdash, infectious. Crowd kids ended up on their shoulders. And I will never forget, and I never want you to, either, that this was the night we learned of the band’s essence: No Age is loving your mother.
19 Animal Collective @ South Street Seaport, NYC 6/1/07
Soon after Strawberry Jam started spreading through the web, the Collective descended upon the South Street Seaport for a free show as a trio (Deakin was in the wings, but not playing), and pulled a near-record crowd doing it. The show had some Sungian symmetry — opening with “Who Could Win A Rabbit,” closing with a whiplashing “We Tigers” — with nothing but new in between. The best “welcome to summer” ever.
18 Santogold @ Madison Square Garden & Rebel 9/22/07
Surreptitious leaks of “L.E.S. Artistes” and “Creator” and “Shove It” notwithstanding, it’s next year that is going to be Santi’s to own. Still, I’m not alone in having fallen in love with her in ’07 (did you hear “Creator” on Grey’s Anatomy the other week? ‘Cause that totally happened.). This night — an impressively confident set opening for Björk at MSG with guests Diplo and Spank Rock, having Madison Square and B herself sing Santi happy birthday, rocking an afterparty of Bangers & Cash tunes with the help of the aforementioned cameoers along with Kudu’s Black Betty and Amanda Blank and Andrew W.K. — wasn’t just her birthday celebration; it was her coming out party.
17 Bon Iver @ Bowery Ballroom, NYC (CMJ)
Brooklyn Vegan’s CMJ showcase came early in the week, and Bon Iver’s slot came early in the night, which by industry showcase mathematics equals the perfect time to ensure minimal attention absorption. But a few soaring notes into Justin’s lonely Wisco winter choruses and the room’s schmooze was silenced, “What are you seeing this week?”s swapped for “Shit, this guy’s really good”s. Bon Iver was my first set at CMJ, and my most unforgettable.
16 Feist @ Town Hall, NYC 6/12/07
Nobody needs another recap of The Year In Feist, so I’ll spare you (here, anyway). But things were already humming for Leslie by the time her two-night Town Hall stand came along, before Perez and Nano, simply on the strength of the unforgettable Reminder. Feist told ghost stories, took her time between tunes, and engendered love with effortless adorability, silken vocals, and the debut performance of the Sky Choir (Grizzly Bear et al) on “1234.” If I wasn’t already in love with her (note: I was), this would’ve been the show to do it.
15 Justice/LCD Soundsystem @ Coachella
The Sahara tent on Saturday night of Coachella was by one set of (highly suspect) standards, the center of the hipster/dance/celeb universe. On a left-to-right scan I could see Lindsay Lohan request her first meeting with Spank Rock (“So I hear you wrote a song about me” — true quote), Paris Hilton trying not to notice Lindsay Lohan, Lily Allen standing on a sidestage rise, and thousands of kids losing their shit to the most organic one-two lineup of the weekend (least organic: Crowded House/Rage Against The Machine). Justice slayed, playing to a set of ? zealots well before their Gummys triumph, and LCD Soundsystem turned out the most epic “All My Friends” west of the Bowery.
14 Panda Bear @ Bowery Ballroom, NYC 6/23/07
You have to know what you’re getting into with a Panda Bear solo show. The Portuguese-domiciled Animal Collective man stuck to his mic and tray of knobs and buttons: no instruments, no Geologist-style head whips, no ursine embellishments. But Noah’s set was unexpectedly mesmerizing; once Panda man pressed play and the rear-projected visuals (a hundred and one Jesus heads moaning; eye-masked aboriginal dancers hair-whipping) met the sweet po-mo Beach Boys sounds of Person Pitch, the following hour was a seamlessly trippy A/V treat. Really, it was a night to enjoy one of the year’s best albums with an added dimension and a little more muscle in the rhythm (“Good Girls/Carrots” was a prime example, the digi-tablas deafening, superseded by “Carrots” piano-pedal massive attack). And on top of Panda’s Pitch, we got a slowed-take on “Chores,” and of course the requisite David Byrne sighting.
13 Battles @ Pitchfork Music Festival
I wound up seeing Battles’ set a bunch this year, but the Pitchfork fest show was a fest-stealer, and probably my fave of the year. For those having lived through a Helmet phase (guilty), watching John Stanier bash his four-foot-high ride is a slice of beat-geek heaven. Blend that with Tyondai’s extraterrestrial singalongs, the quartet’s shape-shifting tempo workouts, and their clockwork like plow through the excellent Mirrored and you have yourself a party. The only sad part of a Battles set is that all you want to do is dance … and look like a fool trying to move in seven. On the plus side, these Warp groove-mutants don’t.
12 The Police @ Bonnaroo
Sure complaints of the Police having been latter-day-Sting-ified may have some credence, and yes there’s a little less punk in the trio’s kinder, gentler new wave, but they are still hella tight, and I was still standing fifteen feet from the motherfucking Police. So I’m not sure my critical faculties were fully engaged on this one; I remember smiling a bunch. Stew acted the fool, Sting showed off his yogafied torso, and Andy was as dexterous as any 65(!) year-old white reggae axeman we know. And generally I think I’m a shit photographer, but even I was pretty happy with this one.
11 Boredoms (77 Boadrum) @ Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park, Brooklyn 7/7/07
Ahh the unforgettable day on which I fell in love with the drummer, another and another (and another and another…). 77 of ‘em, and bad Wilco jokes aside, this was a performance for the ages: legendary experimental outfit Boredoms staged their “once-in-a-lifetime” show on 7/7/07, featuring 77 drummers, starting at 7:07, and hypnotizing hipsters for the following 101 minutes with majestic and crashing waves of polyrhythm. Yamantaka Eye conducted the spiral of full drum kits (all with three cymbals at least) from the Boredoms-filled nucleus, using his pink baton both to signal rhythmic shifts/swells and to trigger sample pads unleashing resounding, sustained bass/guitar crashes, occasionally lifting the celebration’s group trances into more fevered peaks and surges. It went like this: wait patiently rolling on a crash cymbal ’til the drummer ahead of you started a drum fill, study for a second, and start smashing that fill with an eye towards passing it on the next banger down the line. So basically, it was also the coolest game of Telephone ever.
10 Daft Punk @ Lollapalooza
Maybe you heard, Daft Punk is sorta fun. Unfortunately I wasn’t at Keyspan (aka the show at which god was found — it was right on the heels of Lolla and I was tired you guys), and also unfortunately I was a little too sauced for my own good by the time they hit at Lolla, but the sensory overload pummeled my inebriation to the point of sweet, house surrender: The spectacle was outrageous, the robotic beats undeniable, the Stardust teasing a treat. Thanks to Abbey Braden for this photo (again, a little tipsy, I).
09 Björk @ Coachella
The first US show in support of Volta was a flag-waving dance party — Björk bounding the stage in a rainbow cave-woman getup with a magic marshmallow headdress, the desert air still and cool, rearrangements of Post gems, and our first live glimpse of that crazy sonic croupier/Reactable thing and the Polyphonic pixies singing backup. By MSG the act was undeniably honed to perfection, but this one makes the list ’cause here it was all about first impressions.
08 Dirty Projectors @ Bowery Ballroom, NYC 12/4/07
My favorite album of 2007, perfectly performed live. Why isn’t it #1 on this list? Well, from the slight road wearyness on Longstreth’s face (they had just returned from a triumphant trek of Europe) and other subtle indicators, I don’t think this show held up to the best show I didn’t see this year. But really, even to have enjoyed it this much after having the experience so hyped beforehand is a testament to what Dave, Angel, Amber, and Brian are doing. As for Rise Above itself, it’s months later and still I’m obsessed. Live, it comes alive. There isn’t much I can say aside from: Go see this band. If you’re in NYC, go see this band on New Year’s Eve. You will thank me! And then we can geek out to how much we love them together.
07 The National @ The Human Giant Marathon 5/19/07
The National only played a couple few songs in the MTV studios, at 2AM, as part of Paul, Rob, and Aziz’s little telethon/marathon thingy. As far as proper National performances go, ACL or the Seaport or Bowery were better, if only ’cause they were, well, proper National performances. But back in May, while we were all still collectively losing our shit to Boxer and well before they’d been Pasted around, there was a bizarre and awesome surreality to watching the band slam “Mistaken For Strangers” while a massive Times Square image of Ashlee’s reconstructed schnoz hovered over Matt Berninger’s right shoulder. It was a moment. Maybe not so wild now that they’re all big and stuff but at the time, trust, it was.
06 of Montreal Karaoke @ Studio B, Brooklyn 4/14/07
For a countdown like this, is it cheating for a band to bust out a set full of songs from my #3 album on the year and then become the world’s greatest karaoke band, with karaokeers including everyone from random guy in the audience to Stereogum contest winner Griffin Walker to Paul Rudd to Craig Wedren? Yeah, probably. But damn if that’ll keep it out of the top ten. I still remember this night like it was yesterday — a highlight in of Monty’s 2007, not to mention, mine.
05 !!! @ Coachella
My favorite set from Coachella, the most insane crowd I saw the entire fest, one of my favorite concerts ever. I shot around 300 pictures. For my money, Nic Offer wasn’t nearly high enough on the Mr. Indie Rock list, and !!! definitely wasn’t high enough on the Best Live Acts list. (At least Thom’s with me.) The tent set had lots of Myth Takes, Shannon Funchess joining for “Heart Of Hearts,” a crazy “Pardon My Freedom” (Nic acting out each “Like I give a fuck” as a different character: defiant punk terrorist with one pass, effeminate and obstinate Valley girl the next), and the last Chk Chk gig we saw prior to John Pugh’s leaving the band (before he reappeared as singing roadkill). Click the concert title link if you like pictures of libidinous arm-flailing freakshows in short shorts (aka Offer).
04 Deerhunter @ A Warehouse In Chicago 7/16/07
On night last of Pitchfork Music Festival, someone tipped me to an off-the-radar afterparty at a squat/warehouse type place, with sets promised from Dan Deacon and Deerhunter. The place didn’t hold many but was probably somewhere around double capacity, and the windows were closed so as to minimize noise complaints from the police rolling by here and there (so it was sweaty, y’all). Dan’s set was dangerous (liquids flying on the rig, ribs being crushed, people hanging from overhead plumbing pipes, etc.), but Deerhunter’s, well I’ll just quote myself.
The set was unreal, a personal Top Five concert experience. It started like a séance, Bradford saying: “We’d like to dedicate this to the Germs … We’d like to dedicate this to Brian Eno … We’d like to dedicate this to David Bowie…” The performance corner of the room had some tree-pictured wallpaper and a random faux moose-head (see pics after the jump for a funny moose/hunter pic), with the band squeezed against the wall, fans forced to stand right on top of the band. Packt like sardines beyond all levels of safety, full of post-P4K attendees, random Chicago kids, a smattering of admiring artists (including Girl Talk and Jamie Lidell). I stood between Bradford and guitarist Colin Mee (literally), picking up an electric shock each time I was pushed into Colin’s arm/shoulder, taking home a jolt like licking a 9-Volt. Think that justifies describing the set as “electrifying,” though maybe not the hyperbolic descriptor “legendary” — which, it totally was.
Everything about Cryptograms and the Fluorescent Grey EP becomes more intense live — the swirling, ambient elements of their tunes turn into mystical, storm-summoning sheets of noise (“White Ink”); the pockets get deeper (“Cryptograms,” “Octet”); the thrashing climaxes more … thrashingly climactic (pray for “Spring Hall Convert”). And then there’s Bradford: instant vintage, utterly charismatic, totally lovable, equal parts shrieking amp-perched gargoyle, mic-fellating madman, straight-up pedal-enhanced rock hypnotist. They jammed through LP and EP tunes for an hour, Bradford taking hugs and high-fives for the next. I walked home alone at 5AM, off to the airport five hours later. My ears are still ringing.
My ears are still ringing.
03 Paul McCartney @ Highline Ballroom, NYC 6/13/07
I’ll die before I forget this show. It was basically Beatlemania in the Highline Ballroom, and I was a screaming girl at Shea Stadium. I didn’t have a camera with me … but in this case, a setlist is worth a thousand pictures.
01 “Drive My Car”
02 “Only Mama Knows”
03 “Dance Tonight”
04 “C Moon”
05 “The Long And Winding Road”
06 “I’ll Follow The Sun”
07 “Calico Skies”
08 “That Was Me”
10 “Here Today”
11 “Back In The U.S.S.R.”
12 “Nod Your Head”
13 “House Of Wax”
14 “I’ve Got A Feeling”
15 “Matchbox” (Carl Perkins cover)
16 “Get Back”
17 “Hey Jude”
18 “Let It Be”
19 “Lady Madonna”
20 “I Saw Her Standing There”
02 Arcade Fire @ Judson Memorial Church, NYC 2/17/07
There’s a reason you guys voted Arcade Fire your favorite live act of 2007. And I’d be lying, or operating out of some sort of subtextual agenda, if I were to say that I didn’t freak out every night I hit of their Judson Memorial Church run. I saw the first, so excited by Neon Bible and them that I was willing to overlook whatever sound and energy issues they clearly had. I saw the second to last, by which time they were infinitely more awesome, with the playing in the crowd and the fervor and the whatnot. But then there was that last show, on 2/17, by which time there were no limitations, no sound issues, no barrier between the band and its congregation: Just a straight up, epically intimate emotional rock revival. And if you tried to convince anyone in that room that they hadn’t just seen the best band in the world you’d probably have a fight on your hands. I saw Arcade Fire more times than I can count this year, but this will forever be my favorite.
01 Grizzly Bear @ NY Society For Ethical Culture, NYC 11/3/07
You don’t need me to take this space to convince you that Stereogum thinks this band is something. But this show — as part of the Wordless Music Series, set in a secular room of spiritual design and heavenly acoustics — exhibited all the reasons for the late-year talk surrounding Grizzly Bear and its Friend EP. It’s a special thing, to watch a group grow into something great. And pride aside (but hyperbole fully engaged), after this concert — the psych-whatever template coming easy, sounding otherworldly — I felt like I had seen one of most important bands in this indie epoch. And, particularly after hearing that perfectly pop-melodic Beatles-leaning new tune, one that’s just getting started. Congrats Grizzly Bear — this is our way of saying you had a helluva year.
So there it is, thirty of the finest shows I saw this year, loosely ranked, totally subjective, lots of fun to assemble. Keep the thread alive, though — between slamming me for not putting Daft Punk at #1, make sure to let us know what you saw that tops your list. I could use some new bands to check in ’08.