How much live music can you get for the price of a laptop? (Part 1)

NOTE: Because this review is so long, I’ve split it into two posts. This is Part 1. Part 2 is available here.

After my interest in live music blew up last year, I began keeping track of all the acts I was seeing. Dates, venues and ticket prices all dutifully went into my files. Now as 2010 comes to a close, I thought it would be fun to sit down and look a little closer at the numbers; now I have quantitative proof that this was a great year for music! Thankfully, when I counted it all up, I didn’t actually spend as much money on concerts in 2010 as I thought I did. In total, it was only about as much as a new laptop, and looking back, I think it was money well spent.

So how much live music can you get for the price of a laptop? About 63 shows worth is how much, and within that number were 4 festivals and a total of 175 acts including 141 that I’d never seen before and six which I managed to catch three times in 2010. Just so you don’t think I’m selfish, I hit all these concerts with 27 different friends and I gave away $300 worth of tickets I had won off the internet. Oh, and there was also one trip to Las Vegas.

You might say I like live music.

In remembrance of all these great times, I thought I’d draw up some thoughts on 2010’s most memorable shows and special moments. Whistful? Maybe. Bonkers. Definitely.


Good ol' Lollapalooza. Always a summer highlight and source for great new acts!

Yes – February 18 @ House of Blues, Chicago

These guys are 1970’s prog rock legends, but in 2010? I was skeptical, and quite frankly, ready to be totally disappointed. Yes always had a revolving lineup, but the only original members still touring were Alan White (drums), Steve Howe (guitar) and Chris Squire (bass), all three of whom are well into their 60s. The distinctive voice of Jon Anderson had been replaced by Benoit David (a former Yes tribute band member) and keyboarding duties had fallen from father Rick Wakeman to son Oliver.

So, tepid as I was, I came in not expecting much. Instead I was blown away. David has the voice to front this band and the core trio is still at the top of their game. Howe especially is mesmerizing and absolutely deserving of all the accolades he has been awarded, arthritis or not. The tour included two nights in Chicago and if I didn’t already have plans, I would have dropped another $55 right away to see them again. Utterly fantastic and a treat to see the legends live.


Photo by Robert Knight

Flogging Molly – March 13 @ Aragon Ballroom, Chicago

This band is one of the hardest working in the business. They live in that rather frustrating crack between underground stardom and mainstream success, able to play several thousand person venues, but still not a household name. Such is the punk aesthetic, though, and if this position frustrates them, they’ve never shown it. Night in and night out they rock hard and fast and long, usually touring early in the year in a run up to St. Patrick’s Day, then taking the show oversees and back through parts of the USA in the later months. Rinse, repeat and “Happy New Year.”

I’ve seen Flogging Molly three times and each has been just an unrelenting onslaught of Irish punk rock. The tunes are upbeat and easy to dance to and the shows just wind up a sweaty, delightful mess. The lead singer, Dave King, is nearly 50, but comes out in a suit and tie each show and rocks solidly for two hour sets. I’m about to fall over, but they do it without missing a beat and with a three Guinness head start no less.

Flogging Molly

via Gapers Block and Katie Hovland

Puscifer – March 27  @ The Vic, Chicago

Maynard James Keenan came to fame as the lead singer of the band Tool, but has developed into one of alternative rock’s gods, receiving nearly sycophantic praise for all his pursuits including A Perfect Circle, his new quasi-solo effort Puscifer and even his budding Arizona winery.

After a few small shows in LA and Las Vegas in 09, the Puscifer “cabaret” went on the road, and lest ye think I’m exaggerating, “cabaret” is exactly the right descriptor. Each show has a theme with specially crafted plots, backdrops, video cut scenes, characters and costumes with Puscifer’s catalog integrated in. On the night I saw them, the show featured “The Burger Barns,” a faux-country band that performed Puscifer’s two legitimate country songs (my two least favorite) and countrified versions of the group’s other standards. Imagine taking hard driving rock and adding twang; as the evening wore on, I began to regret dropping $50 on Puscifer dolled up in a cowboy hat. I don’t mean to say it was bad… no, the execution was flawless, but not really something I would go out of my way for. There was a brief intermission as I mulled over my rotten luck, but then the lights dimmed again and thus began what was probably the best 45 minutes of live music of my life.

When Puscifer returned to the stage, Keenen had dropped the cowboy hat and instead looked commanding in a red suit and shades while accompanied by sexy songstress Carina Round.  The two sang from behind giant fisheye lenses while badass Tim Alexander of Primus pounded out round after round of musical onslaught on his drums. The stage was a contrast to its former self. Now moodily dark, sparse and classy instead of overflowing with country shlock, the members of the band seduced us with their music. It hit hard and never let up, and I was exhilarated and reminded again of what drew me to the group in the first place.

Fish Eye Maynard

Maynard in a fish eye lens (via Daniel Temmesfeld)

LCD Soundsystem – May 26 @ Metro, Chicago

Early 2010 marked the release of the third album from James Murphy’s disco electropop project, LCD Soundsystem, titled This is Happening. With the release came rumors that this would be the last album and the last tour as Murphy changed gears. As 2010 now comes to a close, LCD has passed through Chicago to perform four times and rumors that this is not the end are as prevalent as the converse was months earlier. Whatever LCD’s future holds, the guys can absolutely throw a party. At 1100 people, Metro was downright cozy (read “furnace sweaty”) and having sold out in 90 seconds, everyone was there to dance.

LCD Soundsystem

via Nate Azark and WXRT

Dance, dance, dance. That’s about the only description I have to give. The group puts on a technically tight show and Murphy is an entertaining lead with a nerdy attitude and sing-song, talky lyrics. I have rarely ended up quite so sweaty after a show, and for the ride home, I tried to keep my distance from others on the train out of courtesy. When I got back, I immediately showered, passed out from exhaustion and washed my stinky clothes as soon as possible the next day.

Highly recommended.

The Metro set narrowly wins the LCD best show slot because of the small venue. When I caught them at the Pitchfork Music Festival, hearing 20,000 people sing “We’re your friends tonight” still ranks among my favorite festival moments ever and pairing the group with Hot Chip later in the year at the Aragon was a match that was long overdue.

Delorean – July 16 @ Empty Bottle, Chicago

Empty Bottle is one of Chicago’s most venerable venues, though prior to this show, my opinion of it was weak. Smack in Ukrainian Village (and away from an El line), it’s not easy to get to from my apartment and the sets always seem to start at midnight on a weekday; my crotchety old man tendencies come to the fore when I’m out unduly late and stuck waiting forever for buses after a show. Worse though, was that each of my two or three previous outings to the Bottle had been for sold out shows where I ended up stuck back by the far bar catching glimpses of the band as heads poked out from behind the hanging duct work. For this concert though, a Pitchfork Music Festival aftershow, we had just a quick jog down the street from Union Park and were able to settle in early near the front of the stage with a few cheap beers. Finally, I got a sense of why folks love this place when I realized I could reach out and screw with guitar pedals if I wanted to or that I would actually have to move to make room for the band to leave the stage at the end of the set. Very in your face.


Delorean is another one of these hardworking bands that can’t possibly have seen their homes in a year. (That home, by the way, is Barcelona.) They performed in Chicago four times this year riding high on the buzz from their brilliant EP Ayrton Senna and subsequent LP Subiza. The band plays an absolutely infectious brand of fast, upbeat dance and for this show, that’s exactly what we were looking for. As the longest set of the three from them I caught in 2010, the show was rife with all the hits, the energy was high and the mood right for cutting a rug. There were smiles all around when the night was done.

Tortoise – July 29 @ Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, Chicago

Feeling particularly crummy, I wanted to drink in public, but there are rather limited opportunities to do this. Chicago, however, is blessed with a full calendar of summer performances at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, an outdoor venue with a liberal BYOB policy. So what should one drink to? How about the debut of a commissioned jazz piece from Tortoise, the Chicago instrumentalists known for experimental post-rock?

I filled my hip flask with gin, boarded the #6 bus and laid down in an open space in the grass to relax. I don’t know how to describe Tortoise and I don’t really know how to describe this specific piece other than to say it was very minimalist with a drone sort of quality that complimented my gin and my cloud gazing quite well. The whole experience left me drunk and a bit happier, both good things to be on a Thursday summer evening. It might have just been the Gordon’s, but I really like the grunge guitars over glockenspiel sound.


Way better than the iTunes visuals (via First/zefa/Corbis)

My 2010 in review continues in Part 2


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Filed under Concerts, Music, Personal

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