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The year's best shows, from top to bottom

Year of weekends 

The year's best shows, from top to bottom

Contributors: Rick Cornell, Grayson Currin, Chris Parker, Sylvia Pfeiffenberger, Chris Toenes

Steve Forbert
The ArtsCenter
January 7

Kicking off the American Roots Series, veteran folk rocker Forbert wrapped his sandpaper vocals around songs old and new (one from the latter camp, a nod to the late Rick Danko, was a highlight) and leaned on his smalltown-Mississippi charm to connect with the crowd. --RC

Superchunk at Tsunami Relief Show
Local 506
January 16

It's hard to say whether it was the cozy environs of 506 packed to the seams, or maybe the powerhouse lineup that found them perched between Cub Country and Ghost of Rock. But it was the type of performance that obliterated anything else on your mind within the first few measures, then flailed you on the guitar walls, leaving you spent like Britney's money. One of their best ever. --CP

Malcolm Holcombe
WXDU Studio
March 5

There's no better show than one of your favorite songwriters and performers sitting three feet away, bringing a handful of songs from his new record to glorious, fiercely spirited life and playing guitar in a way that splits the difference between folk-music melodic and country-blues percussive. --RC

Gogol Bordello
Cat's Cradle
March 7

Ringleader Eugene Hutz's gypsy-punk cabaret must absolutely be seen to be appreciated. From the statuesque dancers whose frequent costume changes flavor the stage to the rollicking, carnival-esque folk-punk, there's a wonderfully engaging element to Gogol Bordello's shows, and the energy's comparable to the Guinness-steeped ebullience of Flogging Molly. The charismatic Hutz is a born scene-stealer: Just ask Everything Is Illuminated's Elijah Wood. --CP

Sage Francis
Cat's Cradle
March 19
In the parking lot, someone offered the friend who first introduced me to Sage Francis $100 for his ticket. I stood beside two Marines during Sage's set, and they marveled at his lucid, oft-unspoken, left-wing views. He's never sounded as good in the Cradle as he did that night, backed by the mighty Sol*illoquists of Sound. --GC

DMBQ, Birds of Avalon, Fin Fang Foom
Kings
March 28

Until sometime in February, the Kings Web site will read like so under March 28: "You should not miss it--DMBQ are an out-of-control rock and roll band from the country that knows how to rock ... JAPAN!! Members of Shonen Knife included. (Reportedly, the world's greatest female drummer is involved.)" That was all true where people hung from ceilings and guitars bounced off of concrete blocks like cures for insolence. But it's at best a bittersweet night, given drummer Mana "China" Nishiura's death in a tour van on Nov. 4. One to remember. --GC

No Neck Blues Band, Magik Markers
Nightlight
March 30

Cloaked in mystery, the NNCK often preface their music with pretense. This night, they cut through to their music's heart: an art happening colliding with next-level drone-heavy blurt. Openers MM were hard to follow, all cathartic punk passion play. That naked guy covered in cellophane? He's with NNCK. --CT

Salsa at Shakori Hills: Ricardo Lemvo y Makina Loca (April)
Bio Ritmo (October)

The biannual music festival in Silk Hope with three outdoor stages is already a great place to dance barefoot in the grass (and occasionally, splash gleefully in the mud). But special kudos go to the organizers for booking two rootsy salsa acts into their Dance Tent, both with exciting new albums out within the past year: Ricardo Lemvo in April and Bio Ritmo in October. A live round of salsa on Thursday nights really hits the spot, and the dance community turned out, and turned some of their fiercest pirouettes on the plywood parquet. Into Shakori's melting pot keep adding salsa and call it sabroso. --SP

Hella with Chuck Johnson
Local 506
April 9

Johnson got the call that freeform clangers Hella needed a guitarist, and the luminous cacophony that resulted still glowed white-hot hours later. Focusing a barrage of feedback, power chord riffing and cross-haired noise at the Hella dudes' "rhythm section," Johnson went full blowtorch on his guitar. --CT

Dizzee Rascal
Cat's Cradle
April 20

Dylan Mills lived up to the hype on garage and grime in this sharp, chiseled set. His beats made giant exclamation points by extra volume. The "problem for Anthony Blair," visibly jubilant to be touring the States, acknowledged the townie rep in a clipped accent: "So, this is Chapel Hill, right, so where's all da rawk staws at?" --CT

Night 2 of Sparklefest
Local 506
April 22

The Rachel Nevadas power-popped the light fantastic, Terry Anderson and the Olympic Ass-Kickin' Team lived up to their name, and P. Hux exposed wounds. But for me, the night belonged to Pittsburgh's Breakup Society, whose James at 35 remains the great lost album of late 2004. --RC

Percy Sledge
The Pour House
April 24

Yeah, the centerpiece was that song about a man loving a woman; y'all might have heard that one. But even more thrilling were towering takes on others from Sledge's monumental country-soul catalog, most notably "It Tears Me Up" and "Out of Left Field." The whole place didn't slow-dance to those though. --RC

The Dirtbombs
Local 506
May 4

Never underestimate Mick Collins. Former leader of Detroit legends The Gories, Collins is a hot-blooded performer. Capable of just about anything from Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson to the irreverent Jim Diamond-penned rocker "I'm Through with White Girls," Collins was in full-rock mode. Not a soul cover in sight, but just furious, garage rock 'n' roll. --CP

Legendary Shack*Shakers
Kings
May 18

Manic frontman Colonel J.D. Wilkes sets the tone for the renegade country-blues punkabilly crew, Legendary Shack Shakers. A bastard child of Jerry Lee Lewis and Iggy Pop, Wilkes' eyes bug as his harmonica sings. He writhes and mounts the mike, spasms of motion joining his screeching, tent-revival vocal yowl. As much beast as performer, the show jaw-dropping, and the band's tighter than Ziploc. --CP

Andrew Bird
Local 506
May 26

Bird is a peculiar type, a former Squirrel Nut Zipper who took to Chicago and his Bowl of Fire before taking to himself and a small house in the country, perfecting a technique of looping his voice, violin and whistle through Line 6 DL4 pedals and blending them together in honey-sweet, science-obsessed subtle songs about snacks and missiles. His performance with drummer Kevin O'Donnell was perfect, most of the room (except that guy) listening closely and whispering along. Transcendent. --GC

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
Kings
June 2

These days, nobody writes better guitar rock than Ted Leo. Since Chisel, he's indulged his mod passions, and they're woven into every fiber like a collect call to The Jam, but his D.C. roots are just as intertwined, informing his jagged guitar playing and insistent rhythmic pulse. Even though nursing a cold, Leo was in "no surrender" mode, delivering the most impassioned and catchy punk-rock show I've witnessed in years. --CP

Robbie Fulks
The Pour House
June 5

A night for those who like their country old-fashioned and their stage shows postmodern. A bit with cell phones during "Countrier Than Thou" was hilarious, as was the jug-band version of "Fuck This Town." --RC

Pixies
Disco Rodeo
June 12
Dinosaur Jr., Superchunk
Disco Rodeo
July 10

Contrary to popular opinion, band reunions can be more lame than family reunions. Good thing Joey Santiago and Frank Black aren't brothers (well, they both have the male-pattern baldness thing down, eh?). The Pixies busted beginnings and put on the sweatiest show of the year; Dinosaur Jr. --Murph, Barlow, Mascis--supplied tinnitus for a week, and Superchunk got back to basics. --GC

Tiempo Libre at the Eastern Music Festival (July)
Spanish Harlem Orchestra at the Piedmont Jazz & Blues Festival (April-May)

I discovered Tiempo Libre by accident at an afterparty on the Davidson campus. Wafting from a patio across the quad were traditional Cuban melodies, hopped up in the contemporary musical language of Havana's streets. The sound is called "timba," and this Miami band has ties to our state--their manager is a Cubanophile from Greensboro. How fitting then that they blew the roof off Greensboro's Empire Room in a rock'em sock'em timba explosion in July. The Piedmont Jazz & Blues Festival and the related Eastern Music Festival span several months and consistently book important names in Latin jazz like the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and Afro-Cuban All Stars. --SP

Sonora Carruseles, Solazo & More
Festival Ritmo Latino Benefit for Diamante Inc. at Koka Booth Amphitheatre
July 10

The Ritmo Latino Festival at the Koka Booth Amphitheater was probably the best deal in Latin music that many people missed this year. Fifteen dollars and a lawn chair bought you six bands, ranging from Miami pop to Colombian boogaloo. For openers, the organizers cherrypicked the regional music scene, including what may prove to be the final incarnation of former soneros La Sexta Clave, now a Dominican bachata and merengue tipico combo. The July heat was brutal, which may have hurt attendance, but vendors of beer, aguas frescas and frozen lemonade at the lakeside setting took the edge off. Diamante's festival concept is a welcome innovation on the usual nonprofit and promotional models in the Latin market; at a slightly higher cost than donation-only fiestas, but still only a wee fraction of what commercial promoters charge, they brought in a diverse profile of international acts while supporting local live music. Community is worth the price of admission. --SP

White Mice, Coughs, Cantwell Gomez & Jordan
Nightlight
July 11

Cantwell, Gomez & Jordan: "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Coughs: Nine people, two drummers banging trashcans, tribal onslaught of pounding skronk spewed and spat. Fights happen and thrown drumsticks. White Mice: Three guys in white mice masks, metalloid mayhem in a tight punk circle fronted by a screeching oscillator. Some nights, even complete sentences get tough. --GC

Big Noise from Springfield Tour
The Pour House
August 14

A lively, memorable evening with four exceptional acts from the heartland: R&B warriors the Bel Airs, the country-rocking Domino Kings, ex-King Brian Capps (Rick Nelson for a new era), and the damn-near-legendary Skeletons. That the total number of people on stage about outnumbered the crowd was a non-issue. --RC

Pipe
Local 506
August 20

Nostalgia got soaked here. Liberti econo'd out with the setlist scrawled on his shirt. Airborne beers? Check. Kenlan's gnarly guitar stomp? Check. Primal gut-check punk delivered flawlessly by four friends from around the block? Checkmate. "Just like riding a pipe," said Liberti. --CT

Debra DeMilo with Arms
Cat's Cradle
September 2

I finally got to see Ms. DeMilo and her all-star band. There were guitar heroics and horns, Little Feat and a little skin, background singers and menopause jokes, and plenty of honest-to-Otis soul singing. Well worth a 10-year wait. --RC

Sigur Rós, Amina
Carolina Theatre
September 7

Stage lights, seats, our clothes--at points, everyone sitting in Carolina Theatre's Fletcher Hall could hear and feel the infrastructure rattling, sounds catapulting to the welkin and threatening to take us with them. Days before the release of their challenging fourth, Taak, Iceland's Sigur Rós--with backing string quartet Amina in tow and in the opening slot--frustrated the fixtures and mesmerized with beauty, emerging from the cocoon of a translucent screen and then falling behind it once again, two hours of continual crescendos and collapses later. --GC

Bob Mould
Cat's Cradle
September 22

While Mould's a terrific songwriter, making his acoustic and solo shows enjoyable, there's nothing like it when he turns up the distortion. And for the first time in years, he played it all--from Hüsker Dü's "Chartered Trips" and "I Apologize" to Sugar's "Good Idea" and "Hoover Dam" to "See a Little Light" and "Ego Override" from his mid-'90s solo albums. He sounded refreshed and the performance was electric. --CP

Gang of Four
Cat's Cradle
October 6

When Andy Gill ripped through his guitar's strings the first few times, heartbeats quickened. Gill was a specter woken from the past. Crisp playing by this band of middle-aged Brits, defiantly anti-fascist pioneers raised the bar for schmaltzy reunions. --CT

Little Brother
Cat's Cradle
October 7

I made a three-city trek with Little Brother and their Commercial Free Tour in October. Packed shows in New York and Boston were loud, but when Phonte and Big Pooh emerged at the Cradle to DJ Flash's appropriate use of "There's No Place Like Home" from 227 as entrance material, it was hard to hear little besides the critics, cynics and haters backing off a bit and letting the entire Justus League crew--Chaundon with his shirt ripped off, a hyperactive L.E.G.A.C.Y. --step to the podium and snatch their prize. An epic night. --GC

New Pornographers, Destroyer
Cat's Cradle
October 16

Dan Bejar and Destroyer strike me as a better studio experience. Live, I can't get escape the Bowie-isms and this night the show felt flat. Then the Pornographers hit the stage and the room bloomed, powered by their contagious melodies and power pop effervescence. Carl Newman's niece Katherine Calder has a wonderful voice, which nicely complements the ever-radiant Neko Case. Further, new album Twin Cinema's songs sound huge live. --CP

Six Organs of Admittance
Duke Coffeehouse
October 19

With Hush Arbors songsmith Keith Wood keeping the roots buried on bass and Sunburned Hand of the Man member John Moloney taking every inch of the skins to task way up above, Ben Chasny--the constant of Six Organs of Admittance, a schizophrenically pastoral acoustic or piercing electric project--became a revelation, transcending freak-folk and New Weird America tags by just being, delivering--hands down--the most transformative guitar performance I saw all year. --GC

Shout Out Louds
Kings
November 2

Keep your Clinics, Killers and Franz Ferdinands, I've not seen a buzz-bin band deliver a performance like these Swedish indie-poppers did. With their hungry, energetic stage presence and the catchy, nigh irresistible melodies that steal from twee, new wave and indie rock, the quintet forge a foot-tapping-head-bobbing-eyes-don't-leave-the-stage show. The lead singer sounds a lot like Robert Smith, but the punchy, crackling guitar hooks convince me we're not in Omaha. --CP

Robo Sapien
The Workshop House Party
November 26

Robo Sapien kick preconceptions in the teeth, spitting rhymes through squiggled beats. It's like witnessing Paul's Boutique party jams in an alternate reality. Chad and Whitney talk gender and harmony, their presence carefree, maybe a little gleefully drunk. A poster proclaims "tranarchy," while revelers dance to their own beat. --CT

  • The year's best shows, from top to bottom

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