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Best Live Sets of 2011

By ; December 20, 2011 at 12:00 AM 



Bon Iver, August 2, 2011, 9:30 Club – Washington, DC


Photo by Abby Fisher

Unlike an album, where you can revisit songs at different times and in separate moods, concerts are all about singular moments. Of all the shows I attended in 2011, perhaps none featured more memorable moments than Bon Iver’s August 2nd stop at the 9:30 Club, the second of a two-night visit. The full band’s explosive and divisive “Beth/Rest,” their flawless cover of Bjork’s “Who Is It,” and the way in which Justin Vernon and company turned “Blood Bank,” a personal favorite, into a boisterous rock song all jump immediately to mind. But the most memorable moment of all, as obvious as this may be, came at the open of the encore, when Vernon donned an acoustic guitar to perform “Skinny Love.” Over the course of the year, no other single song was nearly as captivating, moving, or stunningly beautiful.

Andrew Bailey

Read the original coverage here.


Braids, March 16, 2011, Red 7 – Austin, TX


Photo by Philip Cosores

South By Southwest is a great place to catch a giant band in an environment that you wouldn’t normally find them, but, perhaps its greater reputation is as a place to watch a small band prove themselves. No set encompassed that idea better than Braids’ mid-afternoon appearance at Red 7 for the Force Field PR day party, a set that began with the group embracing in a hug to begin their set, giving each other the courage to play their songs to the capacity crowd who probably didn’t have any idea what they were about. I know I didn’t. But, with songs as strong as “Glass Deers” performed with subtlety and passion, the group finished their 30-minute set to an eruption of applause, to the point you would think it was someone like Foo Fighters or Kanye West playing, not a bunch of mild-mannered Canadians. And, I’ll never forget singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston fighting back the tears and she thanked the crowd for their warm reception, moved by the moment, visibly bonded to her bandmates, reminding the audience what real, unplanned moments look like on stage. People see live music often to be moved, and its easy to forget that musicians play music for the same reason. For a moment in the chaos in Austin, we all knew why we were there, and it wasn’t for the free Sparks. That was cool, too, though.

Philip Cosores

Read the original coverage here.


Bright Eyes, February 14, 2011, Scala – London, UK


Photo by Philip Cosores of Bright Eyes in Pomona

This year’s return of Conor Oberst to Bright Eyes, the moniker that won him the hearts of teens the world over, came in the form of The People’s Key, an album that would have sated fans but unlikely excited them. The true reincarnation of Bright Eyes came in the live setting, where Conor seemed to take himself and his music much less seriously than last time out. This performance at London’s Scala – a particularly intimate venue – would have had fans willing to tear someone’s eyes out to get a ticket, and those who missed out probably tore their own out if they looked at the setlist afterward. Whereas in the past they had focused on new material and seemed only to play old favourites begrudgingly, this time Bright Eyes brought down the house with performances of all sorts of material from the breadth of their catalogue. Even though this performance fell on the day of release of The People’s Key, Conor and co. seemed equally as impassioned playing every song, and no great tendancy towards new material was shown across the two hour set. Some songs were touched up, like the new spooky jazzy trumpet solo Nate Walcott plays at the conclusion of “Lover I Don’t Have To Love,” while others, like “Old Soul Song,” need not be tampered with since they have a timeless quality. Hard core Bright Eyes fans (like myself) were ecstatic at the inclusion of deep cuts like “Something Vague” and “Nothing Gets Crossed Out,” but the encore took things to a whole new level with the sombre double header of “An Attempt to Tip the Scales” and “Poison Oak”; heartbreak dripping from every one of Oberst’s lyrics, while the venomous “The Calendar Hung Itself” was a frenzy of emotion. Since that night early in their tour Bright Eyes have continued to perform with the same determination, bringing in more old songs and covers, which will have been just as amazing I’m sure, but I don’t know if any could have encapsulated a fan’s love for Bright Eyes as well as that night.

Rob Hakimian


Dawes, October 7, 2011, Mystic Theatre – Petaluma, CA


Photo by Henry Hauser

Greeting the Mystic with broad smiles and affectionate waves, country/folk quartet Dawes blessed those in attendance with impeccable vocals and radiant, molten jams. Mid-tempo “The Way You Laugh,” a poignant expression of love, grit, and perseverance, featured front man Taylor Goldsmith’s focused stare contrasting soft, gentle guitar lines.

Red faced, veins straining against his forehead on “When My Time Comes,” Goldsmith recaptured the profound ex post facto enlightenment of Dylan’s post-protest awakening, “So I pointed my fingers, and shout a few quotes I knew / as if something that’s written should be taken as true.” Turning his microphone to the audience, Goldsmith calls for the auxiliary. The crowd, ecstatic at the prospect of indulging their heroes, blasted the track’s anthemic chorus.

Closing their set with “Time Spent In Los Angeles” off sophomore LP Nothing Is Wrong, Dawes wed crystal-clear vocals and a twangy Fender with heart wrenching three-part harmonies. Beginning with a wallowing electric guitar, drummer Griffin Goldsmith’s emphatic punch quickly pushed the track forward alongside steady, smooth bass lines. This pain-ridden yet hopeful ditty reaches a crescendo with Goldsmith yearning for his sullen hometown sweetheart, as the track fades with a bittersweet yank on our heartstrings that only an unresolved love and the velvety, swollen purr of a Hammond organ can convey. Immediately clear is that Dawes has evolved a rare communicative language that enables personality and deep sentiment to engulf its music while still preserving a spontaneous, youthfully exuberant vibe.

Henry Hauser

Read the original coverage here.


Eminem, August 6, 2011, Grant Park – Chicago, IL


Photo by Philip Cosores of Eminem at Bonnaroo

Marshall Mathers. These days, the name stirs as much controversy as it does awe: is he the greatest MC of our generation, or the greatest lost soul? Probably both, but none of that mattered in Chicago. A massive audience – and we do mean massive, poor Beirut never stood a chance – filled the entire foreground, both the venue Em was actually playing, and the other behind it. It was quite possibly the largest crowd I’ve ever been a part of, even gaining admiration from Slim and his bandmates. By the time it was over, the audience had quite literally trampled and flattened the chainlink fences surrounding the entire venue, and the formerly smooth grass, which had lasted every other show, had been reduced to a festering mudpool. For one night, haters and lovers alike were one, from the gradually aging fanbase that was so moved by his early career, to his new teen fans (sigh), to the adults who used to hate him: everyone was completely absorbed. A 50-something man next to me exclaims, “Wow, just wow,” at his rapid-fire, live flow. Everyone, somehow, seemed to know all the words to every track. From an extended, moving Nate Dogg tribute right down to a barrage of his classic singles, this was an Eminem performance for the ages. As the show seemed to end, no cry of “Eminem!” or “Shady!” seemed to be bringing Em out. I had an unfair advantage, I’d seen his Bonnaroo performance, and I recalled his only returning to his true name. The crowd was losing faith, and I started yelling, “Marshall!” It picked up, and Em returned for “Lose Yourself.” The guy next to me and his girlfriend screamed, “You did it man!” Did I really, or was it convenient timing, fantasy? Perhaps, but the show will forever be embedded in my GOAT list, regardless.

Chase McMullen

Read the original coverage here.


Fleet Foxes, May 7, 2011, Hollywood Palladium – Los Angeles, CA


Photo by Philip Cosores

Just two albums into their career, Fleet Foxes have quickly graduated to venues that could seem nearly overwhelming for such a subtle, folk-based sound. But, playing a sold out Hollywood Palladium shortly after the release of Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes proved not only that they deserved to play for such a large audience, but that their sound can translate to any stage, from noisy festival to concert hall. The Palladium operated somewhere in between, with the crowd listening attentively on songs like “The Shrine / An Argument,” and moving to more upbeat tunes like “Mykonos.” From Robin Pecknold’s playful, often hilarious between-song banter to the fact that the band sounded absolutely perfect, Fleet Foxes proved to be a ticket that could please fans of any age or background, who simply wanted an evening out to watch a band at the absolute top of their game.

Philip Cosores

Read the original coverage here.


Flying Lotus, June 23, 2011, The Music Box – Los Angeles, CA


Photo by Philip Cosores

This summer I had the chance to see Flying Lotus at the Music Box in Los Angeles. The memories of that night are still etched into my brain. What was advertised as a show featuring Flying Lotus and his new protégé Thundercat turned out to be something of a label party for Brainfeeder, FlyLo’s own label. The night consisted of sets by Dr. Strangeloop, Teebs, Samiyam, The Gaslamp Killer, Thundercat with Austin Peralta and Flying Lotus. It was a “welcome home” show for many of the artists, who had been touring for quite some time before that night.

The crowd went wild when Flying Lotus came on stage to close the show. Within seconds the first beat was dropped and everyone fell into a trance. Heads bobbed, feet shuffled and bodies shook as the music poured out of the speakers. The bass was so intense that everyone felt it in every square inch of their bodies. At one point, Flying Lotus brought out Thundercat, Austin Peralta and Carla Azar from Autolux to play with him. It was a perfect combination of live instrumentation and electronic beats and samples.

Nicholas Preciado

Read the original coverage here.


Foo Fighters, November 11, 2011, Verizon Center – Washington, DC


Photo by Andrew Bailey

Arena rock shows are fickle things, but the Foo Fighters’ Veterans Day concert eschewed absolutely every possible downside. I’ve always been a Foo Fighters fan, but it wasn’t until seeing the band live that I really fell head over heels for what they do. Dave Grohl, in what amounted to a homecoming show, established himself in my mind as one of our greatest living rock stars, a proverbial lightning bolt of charisma and raw energy. The musicianship, which at one point Grohl even acknowledged as “a bunch of power chords,” was spectacular even when simple, and the sheer number of hits the band has in their arsenal stands up against any big venue act out there. Their encore presentation of “Everlong” was easily the night’s most epic moment and proved indisputably that, with the right guys at the helm, arena rock shows can be every bit as exciting as smaller, more intimate club shows.

Andrew Bailey

Read the original coverage here.


The Head And The Heart, Everywhere


Photo by Philip Cosores

Along with the Smith Westerns, I saw The Head And The Heart a ridiculous amount in 2011. Unlike Smith Westerns, I would see The Head And The Heart play the same set a dozen more times, without a single reservation (not to slight the Smith Westys, who are also very good live). But, from the energetic 1-2-3 punch of “Cats & Dogs,” “Coeur D’Alene,” and “Ghosts” to their dramatic, stirring conclusion of “Down In The Valley” and “Rivers And Roads,” no band could make repeatedly playing a similar set seem fresh, time and time again. Still, that isn’t to say that each time didn’t have its own charms. At the Sub Pop showcase at SXSW, the band played a 1am set to drunks that saw crowd members taking to the stage to help band on spare percussion instruments. Sasquatch felt like a homecoming, with the audience (and Chris Walla) hanging desperately on every note. A sold-out debut at the Troubadour in Los Angeles gave the band a sense of just where their touring road was headed. And, at Treasure Island, with the sun glaring directly behind them, the band was at their tightest, showing no signs of fatigue from a long year of touring. Seeing The Head And The Heart is an affirmation on the joy of music making, and there is something to be said about a concert that will leave you feeling good, no matter how many times you have seen it.

Philip Cosores

Read the original coverage here, here, here, here, here and here.

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