For the first time ever since writing for ENS, I am refraining from submitting my top albums of the year. 2010 had some great albums (Local Natives’ Gorilla Manor, Yeasayer’s Odd Blood and Vampire Weekend’s Contra, to name a few), but I didn’t listen to nearly enough of them to culminate a list of favorites. The amount of shows I saw this year, however, hasn’t diminished in the slightest, so I figure what better time than now to recap my favorite shows of 2010.
Caitlin’s Favorite Shows of 2010
10. The Books – Southgate House (Newport, KY) – November 4
In the past, The Books’ live shows were about as minimalist as their compositions. I adore the beautiful simplicity of the Books but something just wasn’t quite there at their shows. With the addition of multi-instrumentalist Gene Back at the Southgate House, however, the electronic artists were finally able to capture the energy and intricacies of their albums.
9. Spoon – Madison Theater (Covington, KY) – August 10
Oddly enough, my biggest complaint about the Madison Theater show was that Spoon sounded too polished. Everything about the show looked and sounded so tight, I was sort of disappointed that it lacked the spontaneity I hope for in a show. Still, life ain’t so bad for a band if their harshest criticism is that they sound too good.
8. Iva Bittova – Big Ears Festival (Knoxville, TN) – March 26
It may seem odd to find classical singer Iva Bittova on this list, but Bittova’s performance at Big Ears stood out as one of the most memorable performances at this year’s Big Ears Fest. I had never seen anything like what Bittova does onstage; though she is a mind-blowing vocalist and violin virtuoso, she is also a quirky, dynamic performance artist who can create really interesting, innovative by using her voice as an instrument.
7. Dirty Projectors – Big Ears Festival (Knoxville, TN) – March 27
I can’t say enough good things about Dirty Projectors. After releasing what could arguably be their best album to date, Bitte Orca, Dirty Projectors played a ridiculously good set at Big Ears. It was obvious it had been a few years between their performance at MusicNOW and Big Ears show and in that time, had really crafted their live show. Between the band’s brain-melting harmonies and frontman Dave Longstreth’s unconventional vocals and guitar style, Dirty Projectors put on a great show that still stays true to their experimental roots.
6. My Brightest Diamond / The National – Big Ears Festival (Knoxville, TN) – March 28
There’s not much more to be said about The National. The band puts on a rad show, period. What really put this show in the top 10, though, was opener My Brightest Diamond. It was the first time I saw MBD, and I was in awe of lead singer Shara Worden. Her albums don’t do her justice – the woman is a vocal powerhouse who truly shines onstage.
5. The Flaming Lips – Forecastle Festival (Louisville, KY) – July 12
Despite this being the third time I’ve seen The Flaming Lips, I can’t leave this Oklahoma side show off my list. Every show is such a spectacle of positive vibes, confetti and dancing, half-naked aliens that for one and a half hazy, glittery hours, I’ve completely forgotten that Wayne Coyne is, by most standards, totally a cult leader and everyone in the audience is just waiting to drink the Kool-Aid.
4. Vampire Weekend – Big Ears Festival (Knoxville, TN) – March 27
I’m sort of embarrassed to admit how much I enjoyed Vampire Weekend at Big Ears. There I was, singing along to “Diplomat’s Son” among the thousands of preteen girls and their disgruntled dads, my indie snobbery in shambles. Despite their teeny bopper appeal and super catchy hooks, there’s no denying Vampire Weekend know how to work a crowd. The band’s stage presence and overall sound has come a long way since Pitchfork first messed their pants over them in 2008, and nowadays, their live show can actually stand up to the hype.
3. Janelle Monae – Madison Theater (Covington, KY) – September 21
It’s hard to argue there was hardly a performer more impressive in 2010 than Janelle Monae. Though most people came to Madison Theater that night to see headliners Of Montreal, Monae is who ended up stealing the show. She’s as equally out there as OM frontman Kevin Barnes, but it’s her talent, commanding stage presence and unique sense of style that define her as an entertainer as well as an artist.
2. Justin Vernon – MusicNOW Festival (Cincinnati, OH) – April 1
Justin Vernon, best known for his band Bon Iver, was one of the headliners at MusicNOW, which celebrated its fifth anniversary this year. Though I initially looked forward to seeing Vernon because I’m such a huge Bon Iver fan, I was absolutely blown away by his strength as a solo artist. There is something so raw and genuine in Vernon’s voice that no matter what he sings, whether it’s a Tom Petty cover or a traditional gospel, it brings chills.
Video: Justin Vernon @ MusicNOW
1. Wolf Parade – Southgate House (Newport, KY) – July 16
There’s nothing like seeing 600 people screaming the lyrics to “I Believe In Anything”, fists pumped in the air, to remind you of the simple fact that music is awesome. The unfettered force that is dual frontmen Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner was matched only by the enthusiasm of the crowd, which is a rare and beautiful thing in Cincinnati. Unfortunately, the show would ultimately be Wolf Parade’s last in Cincinnati, as the band announced their “indefinite hiatus” a few weeks ago. Wolf Parade is no more (unless “indefinite hiatus” is to Wolf Parade as“retirement” is to Ryan Adams), but their show still stands as one of Cincinnati’s craziest, most energetic shows I’ve ever seen.