Top 10 Live Shows of 2011 | Bruce Matlock

live u2-2Music is such a completely emotional and communal experience that, as human beings, we can’t help but to be affected by the events going on around us.

End of the year lists are tricky. As journalists, we are supposed to be unbiased, professional. Music is such a completely emotional and communal experience that, as human beings, we can’t help but to be affected by the events going on around us. Concerts are a deeply unique experience for each and every person in attendance. At a good show, the events on stage are merely an addition to the experience of being around anywhere from a few dozen to a hundred thousand people all with one thing in common: the love of music. With that being said, here are my favorite experiences of the year, in no particular order.

1. U2 | 07.17.11
Busch Stadium, St. Louis

The last U2 album that I purchased was 2000s’ All That You Can’t Leave Behind; the band hasn’t struck me as culturally relevant or worth much of my time since then. The 360 tour was one for the record books and after years of touring, some back troubles, and a failing musical, the band finally brought it to St. Louis for one of “the claws” final shows, and it did not disappoint. It also did not overwhelm the music or band, who seemingly used every inch of its massive stage.

From “With or Without You” to “Get On Your Boots,” the band’s set list managed to sprawl all the way back to U2’s first show in St. Louis at Graham Chapel 20 years prior, from which Bono even managed to dig up the physical set list. They also happened to dedicate the last song of the encore, “Moment of Surrender,” to the people of Missouri—specifically, Joplin—after the massive tornado that had torn through only months before. The crowd no doubt left in a state of emotional confusion over the spectacle they had just witnessed, and perhaps slightly more knowledgeable of the world around them.

2. Story of the Year | 02.04.11
The Pageant, St. Louis

So it’s only been eight years since the band released its major-label debut Page Avenue. Does that mean they have to wait another two years to remember it? Not in St. Louis. On a chilly February night it felt like 2003 in the Pageant, though one imagines there was significantly more drinking done by the group’s now-legal fan base.

Album opener “And the Hero Will Drown” sounds as ferocious as ever, thanks to drummer Josh Wills and lead singer Dan Marsala. Marsala still sounds like he wrote the lyrics yesterday, and is still pissed about the content when he screams. Of course, it wouldn’t have been a SOTY show without a constantly moving pit, back flips from Phillip Sneed and Adam Russell, and Ryan Phillips’ intense, yet intricate lead guitar parts.

3. Queens of the Stone Age | 04.05.11
The Pageant, St. Louis

Continuing with the theme of celebrating an album, QOTSA brought its self-titled 1998 debut back from the grave this year for a grinding re-release and tour. The album sounds just as throbbing and impressive as it did then, and even more so live. Something about lead singer/guitarist Josh Homme’s driven and tedious
rock makes it impossible not to become entranced at what riff or solo is going to fire off next.

Though the set list was mostly filled with that album’s songs like “Mexicola,” instrumental “Hispanic Impressions,” and “Avon,” the band ended with a crowd-pleasing encore that included “Burn the Witch,” “Make It Wit Chu,” and “Go With the Flow.” Though QOTSA may have felt slighted by the city’s non-smoking laws (which they eventually ended up ignoring) and University City’s early curfew, they still brought their first St. Louis set in six years, and it was worth the wait.

4. Glassjaw | 02.18.11
Hi-Tone Café, Memphis

Over the decade that the band was together, Glassjaw was mostly under celebrated. Then, due to various issues, they took a hiatus in 2004, and—voila—as so often happens, they were popular. One of the band’s first rather extended U.S. tours since the hiatus (not counting a supporting tour with the Deftones and other various gigs) was an intense reminder that, while the band may be headed toward a more progressive sound, Palumbo will still jump right in the crowd and kick your ass if necessary.

Glassjaw focused the first half of its set on a collection of tunes that threatened to end in broken limbs and many shared bodily fluids, though everyone appeared to emerge unscathed. The second half of the show focused entirely on the band’s free release, the Coloring Book EP, which was passed out to all in attendance after the concert. “Daytona White” ended the show in an almost serene way that left those attending in shock that it was the same band that started the show.

5. Deadmau5 | 10.24.11
Midland Theatre, Kansas City, Mo.

Joel Zimmerman, aka Deadmau5, wants to be thought of as a rock star instead of a DJ. He certainly has the stage and is hanging out with the right people to accomplish that. On a Monday night in downtown Kansas City, a crowd of thousands showed up for the tour that has sold out every room it’s been put in worldwide, and on many occasions several nights in the same city. Though it would not sell out in Kansas City for unseen reasons, the audience didn’t seem to mind the extra dancing space. No one is as good as Deadmau5 at using dynamics to both lull a crowd into a daze and then getting them to jump within seconds.

Though Tommy Lee may have been standing side-stage, Zimmerman and female vocalist Sofi became the true rock stars on “One Trick Pony” and “Sofi Needs a Ladder.” Zimmerman removed the mau5head at the end of the night; whether it was to better connect with the thousands of feverous fans as it neared 2 a.m. on a Tuesday morning or just to get some air, everyone in the crowd promised to return as he said he would.

6. Dr. John & Dan Auerbach | 06.11.11
Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, Manchester, Tenn.

Something about “once in a lifetime” always tends to describe music festivals. They get artists together in ways that would be otherwise unlikely, if not downright impossible. As simple as it may seem to just throw two people together on stage and have them click, it is just not that easy. Rehearsals are preferred so that they both don’t come out looking foolish, and a general vibe must be met so that it can actually be enjoyable for those watching.

The Black Keys lead singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach combined his Midwestern blues with Dr. John’s legendary New Orleans blues, providing a wonderful Sunday afternoon set filled with New Orleans classics as well as a few Dr. John tunes. Though Auerbach got the front of the stage along with the wonderful Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Dr. John would end up getting the last word with a beautiful version of “Such a Night” that ended up making four days of 100-degree heat and lungs filled with dust feel pretty acceptable.

7. Puscifer | 11.12.11
Peabody Opera House, St. Louis

One of the oddest sights I’ve ever seen occurred as Maynard James Keenan rolled a Skyline trailer across the stage of the Peabody Opera House. Yes, Maynard James Keenan, the enigmatic lead singer of Tool and vineyard owner who often remains out of sight for the majority of his band’s show, was rolling a trailer across an opera house stage. He was also talking—fluently—explaining to the crowd how communal art is for a population, and inspiring those in attendance to make the most of their thoughts.

After the lead singer, slowly joined by the rest of the band, had set the rest of their equipment up, it quickly became one of the best concerts of the year. The heavy songs hit hard, the ethereal ones bringing a feeling of relaxation and acceptance, and the bits of comedic videos intertwined got laughs. The usually well covered and hidden Keenan sported…well, let’s just say less than his normal cowboy hat and jeans, and admitted that the good aliens listen to Britney Spears while the bad aliens listen to Tool.

8. Foo Fighters | 09.17.11
Scottrade Center, St. Louis

Best rock concert of the year. Best rock band of the year. Both of those describe the Foo Fighters. If you don’t feel that way, you probably agree with Courtney Love’s opinion of Dave Grohl. Foo Fighters didn’t have the best stage setup, most musical talent, or sold-out show, but they did have the absolute attention of every human being in the Scottrade Center for the duration of their 26-song set list. As Grohl put it, if a rock band isn’t giving you a two- to three-hour set, they just aren’t a rock band. Admittedly, Foo Fighters may be slightly spoiled by an incredibly deep back catalogue that is still building with latest hit “These Days,” which Grohl described as the best Foo Fighters song yet.

The band left everything on stage every night, and it definitely rubbed off on those in attendance. At one point, Grohl went out into the middle of the floor to single out a young boy, and made it clear that he wanted him to have a band started by the time he returned to St. Louis. Let’s hope he gets to work soon and that it doesn’t take the Foos long to check up on him.

9. Muse | 08.05.11
Lollapalooza, Grant Park, Chicago

Unable to pass up the opportunity to see the glittering guitar of Matt Bellamy pull out countless, deafening riffs before it is retired from the road and into the studio for awhile, I made my way to the south lawn of Grant Park in downtown Chicago. Muse fans, and those who showed up early, were treated to the incredibly intense performances of Delta Spirit and White Lies, and then Maynard James Keenan and Billy Howerdel leading A Perfect Circle through a roaring set. Up next, it was time for what Bellamy dubbed as “the correct choice” between Muse and Coldplay’s performance on the opposite side of the park.

The band knocked the dust off of somewhat rarity “Citizen Erased,” as well as a few covers including a rousing instrumental of The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” á la Jimmie Hendrix. Though the show didn’t feature much variation from the rest of their U.S. tours since The Resistance was released, it did include something that several other shows didn’t: the band simply seemed to be having more fun. The gig was delayed briefly before the encore after Bellamy crashed his guitar through the bass drum of Dominic Howard. Muse is a band designed with the key ingredients for successful sets at big festivals; loud rock anthems, solos of all sorts, and a mind-blowing light setup to match the gravity of the band’s songs.

10. Cage the Elephant/The Joy Formidable | 12.13.11
The Pageant, St. Louis

As a show that made me re-formulate my end-of-year list at the last minute, this show was the reason I go to concerts. Coming in, I already had an established view of the carnage Cage the Elephant would bring to the stage; what I did not see coming was the improvement in stage presence and band cohesiveness Sleeper/Agent has put together since its last show in St. Louis, as well as the much more than formidable talents of the Joy Formidable, who somehow were unfamiliar to me. The U.K. band (composed of lead singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan, bassist Rhydian Dayfdd, and drummer Matt Thomas) brought its form of effect pedal-heavy guitar, muddy bass, and metal drums in a show that would be hard to imagine in a venue with a lesser sound system.

A lesser live band following the Joy Formidable would have been pointless; luckily, Cage the Elephant were more than up to the task. The band have become masters of working a set list from a radio hit like new single “Aberdeen” to the psychedelic “Indy Kids” to straight-up punk song “Sell Yourself.” Cage the Elephant also proclaimed that all they thought about while recording their upcoming live DVD in Chicago was that they wished they had done it the night before at their February show at The Pageant. That’s pretty well all it takes to get a St. Louis crowd ready to explode.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply