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Wilco headlining the Solid Sound Festival at MASS MoCA.

Photo: Martin Benjamin

The Year in Review 2010

Best of 2010

Critic: Kirsten Ferguson

1. Public Enemy

Northern Lights, Aug. 10

Public Enemy frontmen Chuck D and Flavor Flav, backed by a live band, brought their A-game to Clifton Park for a revival of their 20-year-old classic, Fear of a Black Planet. The show bristled with energy, thanks in part to Chuck D’s booming voice and empowered lyrics, and to hype-man Flavor Flav’s goofy charm.

2. Wilco

Solid Sound Festival, MASS MoCA, Aug. 14

A dizzyingly masterful set by Jeff Tweedy and bandmates capped off Wilco’s inaugural three-day Solid Sound festival, which married lo-fi, sometimes raucous rock & roll with highbrow art and refined accommodations in a way that meshed surprisingly well.

3. LCD Soundsystem

Camp Bisco, Indian Lookout Country Club, July 15

The three-day Camp Bisco festival, which merges electronica and dance with hippie jamband grooves, may have peaked too early by placing LCD Soundsystem on the bill as the opening night’s headliner: Nobody who followed had tunes as smart, and grooves as hip, as James Murphy and crew.

Pierced Arrows at Valentine’s.

Photo: Julia Zave

4. Pierced Arrows

Valentine’s, March 2

Although they’ve been playing together in bands since the late ’80s, married couple Fred and Toody Cole, formerly of garage-rock outfit Dead Moon, made their first trek to Valentine’s from the Pacific Northwest in March. Things went well, because they returned to Valentine’s for an equally spirited, well-attended, sweat-soaked performance seven months later.

5. The Fleshtones

Positively 4th Street, March 27

We’re lucky that the Fleshtones come around here fairly frequently, because they never fail to entertain with festive shows where band members perform on the bar or lead the crowd in pushup competitions. But something about this show—when they were playing on the club’s last night—elicited an especially wild performance from New York City’s garage-rock legends.

Visqueen at Valentine’s.

Photo: Alicia Solsman

6. Visqueen

Valentine’s, May 18

Visqueen, a pop punk band from Seattle in the vein of classic Pacific Northwest power-pop groups like the Fastbacks and the New Pornographers, had one of the best, if unheralded, albums of last year with Message to Garcia. Buoyed by powerhouse singer Rachel Flotard, who has toured and recorded with Neko Case and shares the alt-country singer’s vocal and songwriting prowess, Visqueen put on one of the most exuberant and engaging shows of the year.

7. Hank III

Northern Lights, Sept. 7

At Northern Lights, Hank III, the grandson and spitting image of country singer Hank Williams, made his likes (drinking, swearing, hell-raising) and dislikes (pop-country music, the Grand Ol’ Opry) pretty apparent. But he put on quite a show—more than two hours of sped-up country-punk backed by a crack band—before his set devolved into another hour of punk-metal thrash. Not a big fan of the latter, but his country set was worth the time and then some.

8. Devo

Northern Lights, July 31

The first, synth-heavy portion of the show, which was attended by throngs of Devo-tees in pyramid energy hats, was a tad clunky, but after the members of Devo returned from a break strapped with guitars, it all got better—the run-through of early gems from their stellar debut album, including “Uncontrollable Urge” and the jittery cover of the Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” was pretty amazing.

9. The Blasters

Valentine’s, March 5

Plagued by sound problems at first, the masters of roots rock muscled through, without founder Dave Alvin but with his co-founder and brother Phil Alvin, who demonstrated what a formidable performer he is on his own during two hours’ worth of timeless originals and choice covers, from George Jones to James Brown.

10. Kiss

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Aug. 17

It may be predictable, and marred by blatant corporatism, but the Kiss live show never seems to get old, from the kabuki makeup to the shooting fireworks to the hydraulic-fueled stage set of elevating risers—one from which Paul Stanley sang “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” after flying across the amphitheater. For the fire-breathing, blood-spewing entertainment value, a Kiss show still manages to be one of the best arena-rock shows around.


Best of 2010

Critic: Josh Potter

1. Restoration Festival

St. Joseph’s Church, Aug. 28-29

Hands-down the definitive local music event of the year, Rest Fest piled 16 local bands into Albany’s cavernous St. Joseph’s Church for two days’ worth of music, in an effort to benefit the Historic Albany Foundation’s St. Joseph’s Restoration Fund. The great room and friendly scene were host to some of the year’s most inspired performances by Railbird, We Are Jeneric, Matthew Carefully, Aficionado, Beware! The Other Head of Science, Swamp Baby, Sgt. Dunbar . . .

2. Steve Reich, So Percussion, NEXUS

Maverick Concert Hall, Woodstock, July 31

It wasn’t just that event organizers had compiled some of the world’s elite percussionists to perform Steve Reich’s classic Drumming, Nagoya Marimbas and Music for Pieces of Wood; a forest full of crickets showed up to echo the ensemble’s dense polyrhythms back into the gorgeous open-air theater.

3. Solid Sound Festival

MASS MoCA, North Adams, Mass., Aug. 13-15

Solid Sound seemed a perfect antidote to the contemporary music-festival overkill. Festival curators Wilco picked only their favorite accompanying acts, housed them in a stunning gallery, and threw in a bunch of interactive installations. Great sets from Mountain Man, the Nels Cline Singers, the Books, Vetiver and Sir Richard Bishop.

4. Dan Deacon

EMPAC, Feb. 13

Dan Deacon was no stranger to the area this year, performing three times (once as a stand-up comic), but this solo set was the shtick at its most manic and crowd- participatory. Sure, most of the tunes involved him pressing “play” on an iPod, but they also involved mass interpretive dance and a human tunnel that snaked out into the EMPAC lobby.

5. Lightning Bolt

Northern Lights, Oct. 14

The formula was simple: A bassist and a drummer, set up in the middle of the crowd, making your ears bleed.

6. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Northern Lights, July 27

The Magnetic Zeros roll nine deep, but you know what they carry in the trailer behind their big hippy tour bus? Bicycles. The family band and their charismatic leader were at their most playful this night.

7. Sleigh Bells

Valentine’s, Sept. 30

The set lasted only long enough for the duo to play all 11 songs from their debut album—every song they know—but those were 40 minutes of total strobe-lit, Marshall-stack-blaring, crowd-surfing assault.

8. Cuddle Magic

The Eighth Step, 440 Upstairs at Proctors, Oct. 23

Chamber pop is a genre that tends to flaunt musicianship, but Cuddle Magic made their large ensemble arrangements sound effortless and understated when they packed the room for this Indie 8th Step event.

9. tUnE-yArDs

Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, Mass., July 30

It was a sort of homecoming for Smith grad Merrill Garbus, who needed only a bassist to complete her live-looped ukulele-and-drums one-woman band. With tribal face paint and a voice that can alternately sooth children and shout down villainy, she brought a righteous DIY dance party.

10. James Blackshaw, Mountains

Spring Street Gallery, Nov. 11

A small crowd and a tight room made this one of the most listener-friendly shows of the year, with fingerpick-style guitarist James Blackshaw proving why he’s considered his generation’s answer to John Fahey and Robbie Basho, and Mountains bathing the room in sweet analog synthesizer bliss.


Best of 2010

Critic: David King

1. Dax Riggs

Bogie’s, Aug. 17

I made the trip back from my week off and it was worth it. Riggs chilled my soul to the bone with his bayou Goth, then ripped my heart out and put it back in again. The best performance by Louisiana’s finest that I’ve ever seen.

2. The Flaming Lips

Mountain Park, Holyoke, Mass., July 24

Balloons, nudity, confetti, more balloons, more nudity, and a psychedelic freak-out that felt like the summer’s best party. And then “Do You Realize” made me cry.

3. Matt and Kim

Northern Lights, Oct. 31

A marathon Halloween dance party delivered by the happiest couple in the world.

4. Public Image Ltd.

Pearl Street Nightclub, Northampton, Mass., May 16

I never figured I would see Johnny Rotten perform live before he croaked, and I certainly never thought I’d see him heading up PiL in this area. But, my god, I did, and his defiant holler and the band’s shrieking prog blew my mind.

5. Between the Buried and Me

Northern Lights, Jan. 29

Always a sure bet to deliver the most epic of prog-metal performances, the band showed up with newfound maturity and held the crowd through death-metal destruction, experimental interludes, and surprising ballads.

6. Sleigh Bells, Around the World and Back

Valentine’s, Sept. 30

A big, dumb, sexy, sweaty dance party packed to the rafters, with a great, local opening act.

7. Interpol

Northern Lights, Aug. 6

The band haven’t released a decent album in a few years, but even their new material came off as swaggering and grand.

8. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Northern Lights, Jan. 29

Psychedelic-glam-folk delivered by a gigantic posse. What a freak-out.

9. Titus Andronicus

Valentine’s, July 12

These punk, Springsteen-worshiping history buffs dropped their earnestness and got angry in spectacular fashion.

10. Deerhoof, Xiu Xiu

Pearl Street, Oct. 11

Deerhoof dropped every song in their book on the crowd and then got together with the opening acts to cover Joy Divison. Swoon.


Peter Wolf at the Egg.

Photo: Joe Putrock

Best of 2010

Critic: David Greenberger

1. Peter Wolf

The Egg, May 21

Though it’s been more than a couple of decades since he’s been celebrated in the marketplace, Peter Wolf is at his artistic peak.

2. Van Dyke Parks, Clare and the Reasons

Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, Mass., Oct. 1

Nearing 70, Van Dyke Parks embarked on the first tour he’s ever done, at the behest of Clare and the Reasons, who both opened and served as his band.

3. Chandler Travis Philharmonic

The Linda, Nov. 20

Albany needs to have the CTP in our midst on a weekly basis. No two shows alike; bring the whole family.

4. Wilco, Mavis Staples

Solid Sound Festival, Mass MoCA, Aug. 14

The sun was setting as Mavis Staples and her band took to the large, outdoor stage for their Solid Sound festival performance. The warm night had settled in by the time Wilco brought the second night of the event they curated to a close.

5. The Figgs

Valentine’s, Dec. 10

A world-class band, they are three regular-sized humans who become giants when their music rolls forth.

6. Taj Mahal

The Egg, May 6

Over the course of his nearly 50 years in music, Taj Mahal has gone from being a musical seeker, fan, and interpreter of blues and other idioms, to being the bona fide real deal.

7. Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women

Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, Mass, Sept. 4

Alvin wisely chose to open the show with one of his most well-known numbers, “Fourth of July”—his way of saying, “Yes, you know the song, and this was one of the most kick-ass performances of it you’ve ever heard, so don’t even think that my having an all-woman band is a novelty, they are simply a ferocious combo.” On with the show.

8. Richard Thompson Band

The Egg, Oct. 30

With the addition of a violinist, Thompson’s quintet had the carousing urgency of Full House-era Fairport Convention.

9. The Incredible Casuals

Valentine’s, May 1

Beautiful melodies harnessed to a locomotive careening across the heartland of America.

10. The Blasters

Valentine’s, Mar. 5

Phil Alvin’s crazy grin never quits, and neither do the Blasters. They’re not reinventing the wheel, just showing what a fine wheel it is, every night they play.

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