2009 is coming to a close, which means it’s time to look back on some of the best songs, albums, artists and moments that passed through our collective consciousness in the past 365 days. Stay tuned for more insights from the folks here at MTV News (including James Montgomery’s list of the 25 best songs of the year), but we begin our 2009 retrospective with the answer to this week’s MTV Newsroom poll question: What was the best concert you saw in 2009? Check out what the staff thought below, and let us know what your best live show was in the comments.
Sabrina Rojas Weiss
After missing many chances to see the Beastie Boys in the past two decades, I was super excited to finally see them at All Points West this year. Then MCA had to go and get cancer. But as consolation prizes go, Jay-Z wasn’t too shabby, especially after we’d spent hours in the rain and knee-deep swamp slime — though, as you can see in this video, I came to enjoy that too (I’m the dork in the green poncho). We were still slogging our way to the main stage at New Jersey’s Liberty State Park when, to our amazement, the first pounding notes of the Beasties’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” started up. How classy is Hov? The Blueprint 3 was months away, but he did treat us to “D.O.A.” and too many classic hits to count. And even way back behind the soundboard, you could still see every member of the crowd rapping along to every word. Our shoes were still weighed down with mud as we headed back to Brooklyn, but that was one uplifting show.
There was definitely a time when in my life when I was cool and saw all the cool bands and went to concerts quite frequently. That’s when I was young and carefree and able to stay awake past 10 p.m. Now I’m old and usually only go to see live music for work related purposes. And the acts I now see are pop acts, who as it turns out are the cool acts to see.
I saw three great concerts this year. The first was the Jonas Brothers secret show at Irving Plaza. Yeah, my spot wasn’t great and I didn’t get to see as much of Joe, Nick and Kevin as I would have wanted to (thanks to the hundreds of screaming girls in my way). But Irving Plaza is a lovely small venue here in NYC and the guys sounded great there.
Also, in one week I got to see both Taylor Swift and Britney Spears tear up Madison Square Garden. These two pop princesses may put on two very different live shows, but the fact of the matter is they both have that “it” factor that made a show worth going to. Britney Spears wears lots of sparkles and dances around in a cage, while Taylor wears lots of sparkles and plays her guitar. They both had me singing along and they both have masses of loyal fans who didn’t miss a word. I felt fearless in that crazy circus, my friends.
I’m not a numbers person, but according to my last count, I attended about 992 gazillion shows this year, and all of them were pretty great (Grizzly Bear at London’s Koko, Franz Ferdinand at Roseland, every time I saw Sonic Youth, Suckers in a tiny club, an acoustic set by Marina and the Diamonds, Yeasayer and Tanlines at the Guggenheim, reverting to my 16-year-old self and singing along to nearly every song at Nine Inch Nails at Terminal Five, reuniting with my beloved Battles at the Warp20 show and catching the show notes of certified babe, Ian Williams, which have since been framed). But those are irrelevant. My favorite show of the year was Les Savy Fav at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple on March 13.
For those of you who don’t know, Les Savy Fav are probably the most entertaining band you could ever see and they play music that’s rocking and fun. Lead singer Tim Harrington and his wife had a child the day before, so throughout the show, Harrington would whisper “You’re a big brother now!” into the mic (presumably directed at his older son), and that’s not even the most dazzling part. Before they even went on stage, Harrington came into the general admission audience wearing a shower cap, a muumuu, a face mask and a nose blackhead-removing strip and began applying the same mask onto faces in the crowd. It was, as he soon declared loudly to the crowd, “GIIIIIIIIIIIIRL’S NIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT.” Harrington doesn’t really focus on singing during the show as much as he strives to entertain. He was in the crowd, he hugged fans, and I feel like at one point he climbed into the balcony. Then, for the encore, he returned to the audience pit, got down on the ground and — in true slumber party fashion — began a chant of “Light as a feather, stiff as a board.” Guess you had to be there. But yeah, Battles was totally a close second.
I was lucky enough to see a lot of great shows this year (Billy Bragg, Jarvis Cocker, Franz Ferdinand, Lloyd Cole, Sparks playing Kimono My House in its entirety), but the top of the list for 2009 and perhaps the last, like, five years is the Manic Street Preachers at the Avalon in Los Angeles on September 25. I had waited more than 10 years for this to happen, as almost all of the dates on their U.S. tour for This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours in 1999 were canceled. My friend Chip — the only other person I know that lives within 100 miles of me who likes the Manics — and I lined up early outside of the Avalon to secure close spots on the floor and was pleasantly surprised to find that the audience was comprised only of fellow hardcore fans. We really appreciated this during the show, as not a single person in the 3/4-full venue took their eyes off the stage the whole night, with none of the random drunken yelling and stumbling around from the people that just wander into a concert from off the street, knowing nothing about the band ahead of time. Everyone there was into it, appreciating the rare moment we had with this group of dudes from Wales.
They played plenty of old hits and plenty of songs from their haunting new album, Journal for Plague Lovers, with lyrics written entirely by still-missing-and-presumed-dead bandmember Richey Edwards. It was a magical night, and the guys were so into it and seemed so genuinely excited to be there and to be welcomed by such devoted fans. We were rapt the whole show, singing along to jams from “Motown Junk” to “A Design for Life” to “Your Love Alone Is Not Enough” (which James Dean Bradfield sang both parts — I guess Nina from the Cardigans was busy that night).
It was awesome. I can’t think of anything more eloquent than that, really. It ruled. Afterward, when Chip and I finally made our way out of the venue and onto the sidewalk, we just sort of looked at each other and breathed, “Whoa.” Well worth the 10-year wait.
I had the pleasure of attending my first Coachella Music and Arts Festival this past April. No, I didn’t camp out, nor did I engage with the desert spirits in any meaningful way (I stayed in a hotel room with about 14 people) but I still came away with a pretty wild musical experience. My main stage highlights from this eclectic installment of the festival included epic performances from Leonard Cohen (who had a super-tight band) and Morrissey, who (awesomely) played five Smiths songs, and (semi-hilariously) wretched and had a minor fit due to the overpowering smell of barbecue wafting into his vegan nostrils. (That barbecue was pretty great, actually. All the food is great there.) The best of the rest: Junior Boys (joined by a live drummer), Etienne de Crecy (and his insane 3D cubic light show) and Sebastien Tellier (who told us that, “Zees ees a zong about my … bisexualitee”). Chemical Brothers tore it down with maybe the most epic DJ set in the history of time, but that might just be smoke and lasers on the brain. And at the end of the weekend, I got a sonic brainwashing from My Bloody Valentine. That pretty much takes 2009 for me.
In the history of me, I don’t think I went to fewer shows than I did in 2009. It’s a combination of a lot of things, but I mostly don’t like to be in crowds and I don’t care about as many bands anymore (because I’m secretly 74 years old). But the shows that I did see were all top-notch. I saw the Hold Steady perform all of Separation Sunday at the Bowery Ballroom, caught crazy-intense sets from the Mars Volta and Atmosphere at Outside Lands, swooned in front of Neko Case and watched as Rob Zombie melted my face just the other night. But by far the best show I was at all year was Nine Inch Nails at Webster Hall. The band went on a much-publicized farewell tour, and since The Downward Spiral helped me get through my middle and high school years (and because Trent Reznor is one of those rare performers who can take me back to that same feeling of teenage angst again and again), I had to catch them on what might be their way out (but probably not). And lo and behold, I managed to score tickets to the night where they played all of The Downward Spiral in order. The band was intense, the crowd was sweaty and devoted, and I was able to scream along with the chorus of “Heresy” (for those not in the know: “God is dead/ And no one cares/ If there is a hell/ I’ll see you there”). Call me a sucker for nostalgia, but allowing me to tap into the inner life of my angry-for-no-reason 15-year-old self was well worth the price of admission and puts Trent at the top of the heap.