Sandy from Slowcoustic asked me if I wanted to take part of his “Best of…Bloggers” series and I was happy to take part. This originally appeared at there. I had a bit of a hard time deciding what “Best of” I could do for 2009 since my music involvement has been very different for the last four months of it, so I decided to do this.
Of possibly everything related to music that people rate, probably one of the most subjective is live performances. There’s so much besides the music that factors into the experience–what else happened that day, were you with friends or alone, what your expectations were, what the people standing near you were like–that one’s review sometimes not even up to the performers.
With that in mind, I present to you, in chronological order, very personal list of most memorable music moments from 2009.
- David Bazan @ house show, Berkeley (2/18)
I saw two of Bazan’s house shows this year but this was easily the better. Attentively sitting on someone’s living room floor, about thirty big-time Bazan fans watched him perform without amplification a few feet away. The music was great, the between-song conversation was good, the crowd was awesome–there wouldn’t be a lot of ways to make this show better.
- Yoni Wolf @ Apple Store (2/28)
I hadn’t much considered Why? before this. This show with the frontman and an electric piano changed that somewhat. But what is most memorable about this performance was the once-off cover of “This is the Day.” I remember the hymn from church growing up but Wolf’s version that day was dark and haunting and still sticks with me.
- Les Savy Fav @ the Mezzanine, San Francisco (3/1)
I’d heard many stories about the antics of Les Savy Fav live show and, in particular, frontman Tim Harrington’s antics. This show did not disappoint whatsoever. Harrington came out covered in toilet paper but quickly stripped down to his shorts. Before the night was up he spit beer into the crowd, licked the lens of the photographer standing next to me and duct-taped a girl to him. In between all of this, he managed to sing some songs.
- The Rural Alberta Advantage @ Central Presbyterian, Austin (3/19); @ Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco (7/9)
Two very different shows but both very memorable. At the Central Presbyterian show during SxSW, I saw the band completely win over an audience of people largely unfamiliar with their music. They were on top form and I had chills for about half the show. When the finished the show acoustically in the main aisle of the church, I was in awe like everyone around me. The Bottom of the Hill show was the last Ipickmynose Presents show and it was a rousing success. Two days after their debut album came out to much acclaim, the band seemed to still be surprised by their success and performed a fantastic show.
- The Tallest Man on Earth @ the Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco (3/25)
I’d been obsessing about Shallow Grave for months leading up to this show, which was just a week after I’d seen the Swede, Kristian Matsson, at SxSW. This show was more noteworthy than the SxSW in that this performance was just perfect. Matsson has a way of performing that is just as much about movement as it is about music. He sits during the slow beginning of a song and then stands moves fluidly to the front of the stage and looks out into the audience. After this show nearly everyone I talked to said they thought he was looking right at them, bringing the performance to each audience member in a way few artists do.
- Damien Jurado @ Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco (5/5)
I’ve seen Jurado perform about six or seven times now, but this show seemed to have what would have been my hand-picked setlist of favorites performed with intensity. In his first four songs were “Ghost of David”, “Medication” and “Ohio” and I knew it would be a good night.
- Iron & Wine @ Swedish America Hall, San Francisco (5/7)
I’d seen Iron & Wine a few times, including one magical time in 2004 at the Great American Music Hall, but even that time wasn’t at a venue as small as the Swedish American. Maybe this show stuck with me because his setlist, chosen by fans on his website, was filled with nostalgic favorites. Maybe it was because the Swedish American has great acoustics for solo shows. Maybe it was just a great performance.
- Or, the Whale @ the Independent, San Francisco (6/6)
I love Or, the Whale and this show was good, but the experience here wasn’t about the music (which was great as always). Two months before I was to leave for South Africa, the experience was noteworthy because every time I turned around there was a friend of mine or someone I wanted to talk to. It was a blast and I went home thinking I might be making a mistake moving away.
- John Vanderslice @ Secret House Show, San Francisco (7/25)
I’m still not sure how this all came together but my going away party in San Francisco was a secret show by John Vanderslice in my apartment to me and thirty of my friends. Completely without amplification, JV was accompanied by Jamie Riotta on upright bass and vocals. My cheeks hurt from grinning so much. It was utterly spellbinding and will probably go down as one of my most memorable music experiences in my entire life.
- “Oh How I’d Miss You” @ my apartment, San Francisco (7/25)
Following JV’s performance, I played a killer soul playlist with this Marvin Gaye/ Tammi Terrell number on it. After people trickled out, my lady friend and I spontaneously danced in an empty living room to this song. But, given that I was leaving the country a week later, the lyrics were a bit too topical and near the end of the song I looked up to see her crying.
- Sangoma Ceremony @ private home, Khayelitsha, South Africa (8/15)
Saying yes to a series of opportunities led me to be in a tiny tin-sided house off a dirt path in a township outside Cape Town. A new sangoma (sometimes translated as ‘witch doctor’) was being initiated and there was much dancing, singing and clapping among the couple dozen people packed into the house. It was an experience that few outsiders get to have.
- Zulu hymns @ small church, Ingwavuma (9/6)
This church is at the end of the road, literally. The tar road ends about 2km before it and the dirt road ends right at it. A few hundred meters father, the hill drops off steeply into Swaziland. The hymns during the actual service were sung in both Zulu and English but were largely not noteworthy. While I was sitting waiting for the service to begin, though, women scattered around the room spontaneously and seemingly without coordination started the most beautiful hymns I’d ever heard. Four part harmony filled the room. It was baking hot in that room and I still had chills.
What have been your most memorable music moments this year?