Thursday, January 5, 2012

My top ten live performers for 2011 pt. 1

2012 is here, and as the past year comes to a close so appear the top 10 lists. Lists for movies, TV, albums, songs, books are all great reads but none that I feel qualified to write. So instead I will stay in line with the predominant topic of this blog and present my list of best live musical acts for the year. Ranking all the great shows I saw this year is extremely tough considering the setting and circumstances can be just as important as the music itself, so while the final ten that made the list are ranked it's in some ways in no particular order, just a matter of how affected I was by each. I am lucky enough to see over 100 concerts a year, mostly due to the many festivals I attend so it is no surprise that many of the acts that make this list I saw in such a setting. Some groups don't necessarily translate the best in this kind of setting, but in general the enthusiasm of the crowd is hard to resist and I was able to catch many acts that would never pass through Nashville. Some acts I was lucky enough to see here as well, and that definitely helped ensure some artists position on the lists. So on that note let's get right to it since the first name on this list is one of those groups:

10. Das Racist 

Das Racist could be a tough sell for someone who's never heard of them. When people think of hip-hop they don't picture of a crew of indian dudes on a tear through a ridiculous mish-mash of pop culture references that no one could possibly catch just by listening. Das Racist flies in the face of what I have come to expect from the rap scene, and that's probably one of the reasons they had to be on this list. Their music is zany and creative, bordering on the absurd at times yet somehow remaining connectable and thought-provoking (sometimes at least). Live they are a whirlwind of energy, whacky beats accompanying their rhymes which come at you so fast it's impossible to catch all the references. But no matter, the energy is impossible to resist be it in a festival setting (many thanks to Pitchfork) or in a small club (exit/in in Nashville). I was fortunate enough to do some photography for their Nashville, but even though a picture may be worth 1000 words I'm sure they wouldn't be as funny or interesting as what Das Racist could come up with. So props to them for their creativity and giving the rap game a major facelift, definitely one of the most entertaining groups I saw this year.

9. Röyksopp

Röyksopp has been on my wish-list for many years, ever since I first heard Melody A.M. back in 2002 After many years of being disappointed by their lack of US appearances I was finally able to catch them at Ultra music festival in Miami. So very worth the wait, from the minute they dropped Happy Up Here the crowd was in their hands. Röyksopp crafts some of the most beautiful electronic music out there, shimmering with gorgeous sounds but still chock full of danceable beats and melodies. Despite the english lyrics you can totally hear the Scandinavian influence, and no doubt the bit of weirdness that comes with this adds to the charm. Really my only complaint was that the show was too short, and that there were a few key songs that I would have loved to hear. Hopefully I'll see them again soon so that may be rectified. 

8. Gang Gang Dance

Gang Gang Dance was probably my biggest discovery this year as a live band, having never really listened to them until I started brushing up on bands Pitchfork signed up for their festival in Chicago. They were no doubt one of the biggest surprises there, their unique dance music played way better than I would have imagined in the middle of the afternoon on a hot summer day. The sounds they make are hard to describe, almost a world-music type of groove with a heavy electronic influence. Their music is very percussive based which keeps the beat alive and moving and the crowd right along with it. I highly recommend picking up a copy of their album Eye Contact and judging for yourself, as I was pleased to find their experimental grooves also translate very well on record. Definitely not for everyone, check out this live version of one of their songs of Eye Contact to get a sense of what I'm talking about. You may want to skip ahead a little as it takes a while to get going, they're big on the build ups:

7. Ratatat

I've been listening to Ratatat for years (not quite 17) and even saw a small part of one of their shows at Coachella back in 2007, but it wasn't until this year I got the full Ratatat live experience. I was interested to see how their sound would come across in a live setting, previously I had heard mixed things from people although more positive than negative. I definitely have to side with the former, their performance was tight and funky as they careened through a great set's worth of their unique down-tempo electronic groovy music. Despite the somewhat slow tempo of their tunes the music has such a slippery and delicious feel that it was impossible to stand still. The whole crowd was super into it, and this certainly helped to make it my favorite show at Bonnaroo this year. I've been listening to their records in heavy rotation and I just can't seem to get sick of them, as it seems to fit the mood for many occasions. Check out this video to Loud Pipes and maybe you'll get some idea:

6. Big K.R.I.T.

Big K.R.I.T. was everywhere this year, and deservedly so. His mixtape Return of 4Eva was so good it's tough to give it the label of a mixtape considering it was better than several full length hip-hop records I heard this year. But as good as KRIT's records are it is in the live setting where he really shines. Many artists can make a good hip-hop record but as I've come to learn only a small portion of them can translate it in a live setting. I think I saw KRIT no less than 5 times this year, 3 at SXSW and 2 in Nashville. I was also lucky enough to meet the guy, and I can attest to the fact that he is a genuinely humble and awesome person. His southern-fried rhymes have something for everyone, ranging from party-centric to introspective. Check out a couple of videos I shot at his amazing show at Mercy Lounge, definitely the best hip-hop show I saw of the year. All of his shows were great but this one was truly one to remember. I think we're going to be hearing a lot from KRIT in the coming years.

So concludes part 1, I'll be back with numbers 1-5 as well as some honorable mentions in the next few days. Cheers to live music and all that 2012 will bring!

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