Today we list our favorite shows from 2010 in C-U. Since not everyone can go to every show, it seemed a little presumptious for us to rank them, so these are simply some of the best shows (as voted by our writers) in a year with a ton of great shows. Feel free to share your own.
In cases where we could not find a video from the show mentioned, we tried to find a suitable alternative from a similar live date.
St. Vincent @ Highdive – March 30
Captivate me! Enchant me! Unsettle me; I want to fall in love!
My expectations were high for St. Vincent’s performance at the Highdive last March, and it’s proof of Annie Clark’s artistry how completely she delivered. Clark’s skillful unraveling of her crowd’s defenses brought us into the night together, all a part of the raw, poised energy of the show. What is it, exactly, that makes Clark so utterly enchanting? It’s the juxtaposition of the delicate and the brutal, the sweet and the disturbed, the twinkle of bells and the carnal roar of the electric guitar — it’s the honesty of her music. Clark acknowledges life as strange, severe, made whole only in its impurities. Her sinister stories were even more vivid live, her energy and musical finesse filling the Highdive. There’s a grace in her violence that melds discord into harmony, creating poetry in the unexpected crevices of life: casual sex, a cry for help, the struggle to keep the Self intact. We were pulled in by her sweetness and smashed by her starkness: we were made believers.
Barnstormer III (Ra Ra Riot, Delta Spirit, Free Energy, Nathaniel Rateliff, Pearly Gate Music) – April 30
If you knew about this show and were able to actually find the Kalyx Center then you most likely had one hell of a time. There aren’t many opportunities to drive out into the middle of nowhere, hang out with a bunch of strangers in the woods, enjoy a bonfire and, by the way, witness some great live music. I want to say that the show cost me a whopping 10 bucks, which is a bit mind boggling to think about considering the usual cost to see Ra Ra Riot alone. Seeing a show at the Kalyx Center was an experience that no other intimate venue had offered to me previously. There were a few chairs set up but, for the most part, seating was reserved to the barn floor or the rafters above.
Pearly Gate Music (Zach Tillman), his mustache and animal sweater — a deer perhaps — opened the night with a quiet set that had everyone huddled around for some intent listening of a singer who was obviously in love with, if nothing else, himself. This was of course re-affirmed to me months later. Things changed up with the arrival of Nathaniel Rateliff on stage. The pace picked up, the people began to stand — or swing their legs from the rafters if they sat above — and the onset of something surreal began to work its way through the crowd. Free Energy lived up to their namesake, with a fun, loose set that rode the line between liveliness and absurdity, but never seemed to cross it completely. I’m not a huge fan of their music but their presence was much welcomed as a foil to Pearly Gate Music. The highlight for me was Delta Spirit’s set, which nearly brought the barn down. Seriously. The crowd began dancing and jumping in unison to “People C’mon,” and the organizers had to calm the crowd down as the floor dipped and bounced along. We all made it through and Ra Ra Riot was able to finish off the night with a great set of their own that whipped everyone into a frenzy, thanks in large part to some feverish cello playing from Alexandra Lawn. I ran up to steal her set list afterwards, then asked her permission sheepishly and headed home with a renewed respect for Daytrotter and barns in general.
The Fresh Kills, Solar Planet, SDS, We Must Dismantle All This! @ Bunny Ranch – May 15
It may seem inappropriate to list the last show that Bunny Ranch hosted in this article — as most are well aware, a major fire occured at the Bunny Ranch roughly two weeks after this show, and resulted in the tragic death of house resident Ashley Ames — but to paraphrase Fresh Kills guitarist Chris Wahlfeld, this was one ridiculous show. Very few things could compare to a Bunny Ranch show/party in full swing, and this was one of the greatest. After warm-up sets by We Must Dismantle All This, SDS and Solar Planet (Horrible Things minus one member), the Fresh Kills jammed themselves between a mattress and a framed Aubrey Heburn photo in the corner of the living room and played their hearts out for forty-five minutes, tearing through almost all of Turn Up the Brilliance in a triumphant performance. This wasn’t just the best house show I saw this year, it was the best show of any kind that I saw this year.
Hum and Finchley Boys @ Champaign 150 – July 10
After a day filled with great music, Champaign’s 150 Anniversary culminated with back-to-back reunions sets from two storied local bands. The Finchley Boys reunion was the more rare occurrence, so the buildup was a little more dramatic. The music was as sharp as you could hope from a band playing for the first time in about forty years, which is to say they probably didn’t blow anyone away with their tightness. However, their live energy and the amount of fun they were having made this well worth it. It was impossible to walk away from that stage without a smile on your face.
Meanwhile Hum played a solid set that sounded like they hadn’t taken a day off, let alone years. The crowd was into it from the start as the band dove right into “Green to Me.” The sound of the guitars and bass echoing off of the buildings in downtown gave the night an ominous feel, especially during Electra 2000‘s “Winder.” During that song’s giant riffs, I looked around and realized that I was surrounded by hundreds of white guys from the future who were all completely out of touch. It was a beautiful thing.
Shipwreck @ Mike ‘n Molly’s – July 30
A local band is playing their first, and only, show in two years and halfway through their set the power suddenly cuts out. The monitors and PA shut down — as do most of the lights. This, my friends, is a recipe for disaster, sure to destroy the rock ‘n roll momentum of even the most seasoned of bands. But Shipwreck didn’t skip a beat, plowing forward right in the middle of a song with nary a hiccup. It was a small hightlight in a night full of them, but it just exemplifies how nothing could have slowed the band down on this gorgeous night in a downtown Champaign beer garden. Most of the other highlights came from the much-missed alternating lead guitar work of Harman Jordan and John Owen, whose playing style were reminiscent of dozens of others and nobody all at once.
Elsinore, Common Loon, Canasta and The Dirty Feathers @ Canopy Club – August 14
I went to see two of my favorite locals bands and, to my surprise, ended up seeing three of them (The Dirty Feathers were added to the lineup late). It was a big night for Elsinore, celebrating the release of Yes Yes Yes, an album that was two years in the making. There was a good turnout, Canopy was hotter than I’d ever experienced it and Elsinore never seemed grander on stage. They brought a string section, a horn section and, for the pop-tastic “Yes Yes Yes,” they even brought you, the fan, to the stage. Seeing a bunch of unsuspecting fans invited to the stage to sing/yell/cheer along in the anthem really made the night for me and I was glad that I decided to stay in the crowd to take it all in. The night seemed special for them and they did a fantastic job of spreading that joy with the crowd. Joy Division have never been mistaken for bringing joy, I suspect, but Elsinore’s covers of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and the equally dark Echo and The Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” were spot on and made me a little giddy.
Common Loon was great, reliable as always, The Dirty Feathers rocked on the big stage with an even greater confidence and I remember Canasta being enjoyable, although I really have no recollection of anything specific about their set. The night was of course about Elsinore though, and both they and the crowd seemed to leave with the warmth and love of a strong local music scene.
Of Montreal and Janelle Monae @ Canopy Club – September 22
You can go online and find hundreds of thousands of words written about Janelle Monae — hell, you can do that for pretty much anyone nowadays (remember Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Black Kids? Yeah, neither do I). The point I’m trying to make here is that within the blog-hype echochamber, you can’t ever really be sure on an act until you see them live, and Janelle Monae delivered like few I have ever witnessed. Beginning with a lone emcee on stage, Monae steadily added musicians, dancers, and even Kevin Barnes for the massive double-climax of “Cold War” and “Tightrope”. By the time her scorched-earth (albeit a funky, rainbowish kind thereof) performance ended, most of the crowd had already screamed itself hoarse, and many were seriously questioning how of Montreal were possibly going to follow that set up.
Flash to a half-hour later, and it turns out that of Montreal were spurred to even greater heights by their opener. Instead of the theatric-reliant (some would say crippled) shows that they’re well-known for, of Montreal brought some serious instrumental chops (and yes, some honest to god actual funk) to the proceedings. They snuck some Erykah Badu (a snippet of “Jump Up in the Air and Stay There) into a massive, throbbing rendition of “St. Exquisite’s Confessions” — my personal highlight, along with the even more extended than usual version of “The Past is a Grotesque Animal” — while still managing to get in fan-favorites such as “Oslo in the Summertime” and “She’s a Rejecter”.While it was certainly a shock to see them turn down the wackiness in favor of being an acutal band, I can certainly say it was a welcome one.
Built to Spill @ The Highdive – September 22
Growing old sucks for musicians just as it does for everyone else. You lose your hair. You lose your stamina. You lose your voice. You lose your edge and your cool. Then you lose your band. Ten or more years later, you may get caught up in a tidal wave of nostalgia and follow your peers around like sheep: you could get the band back together for one more tour, which will turn into one more record and one more shot at that elusive thing called recognition. Built to Spill skipped the whole break-up/get-back-together phase and instead opted for an 18-year run that shows no signs of stopping; but the band sure knows a lot about growing old. Built to Spill frontman Doug Martsch is, after all, 41 years of age. But you wouldn’t know that from watching his band rip through the classics as they did during this year’s Pygmalion Festival performance at The Highdive. For one night, nostalgia never sounded so good. They played a bulk of material from their seminal albums There’s Nothing Wrong With Love (1994) and Perfect From Now On (1997) at what was once — and still is on rare occasion — Champaign’s elite music venue for spectating. The crowd of 250 or so was enamored with the group’s guitar histrionics. And Built to Spill played a stellar Grateful Dead cover to boot. How’s that for milking the aging, un-hipster cred for all its worth? They just don’t make many of ’em like this anymore.
Those Darlins @ the IMC – September 23
They kicked me in the ear; I saw stars. This is the honest truth. When Those Darlins plowed onstage and started into wringing the necks on some guitars, slapping a bass, and shaking the teeth out of a ukelele hole, notes were flying. This combo pretty much bootstomped the mud off of one IMC stage. They smoked us and rolled us over like pigs on a spit. They led; the crowd danced. This was no posture, no altar; we were finally getting down to some honest rock and roll, folks. Those Darlins set fire to the place and burned a hole clear through to the sky leaving only a harvest moon and old Jupiter looking down in wonder at the beauty of transience: how the cruel beast of time can now and then be pistol-whipped into the truth of chords. I swear to Elvis and Joan Jett this was the best show I have ever seen.