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Jeff’s Concerts of 2010

31 Dec

Cake In 15 is proud to welcome new contributor Jeff McLaughlin! Jeff attends a lot of shows with and without Staciaann and C.A.S., so we figured he might as well be writing about them!  Please enjoy his first (epic) post about 2010:

Top Concert(s) of the Year

The National

The National came into town for two sold-out shows in First Avenue’s main room, touring on their new album, “High Violet”. An ultra-simple stage set provided room for the many (9+) musicians that took the stage on-and-off during their two shows. From the quietest songs to the most intense, The National does it all. And sometimes they do it on back-to-back songs, like they did on night #1. After doing a burning, brooding version of “Sorrow”, Matt took just a momentary pause before launching himself forward and screaming, “My mind’s not right. My mind’s not right. My mind’s not right. My mind’s not
right,” to start “Abel”. It was an awesome, impossible transition. Matt also pulled off a memorable set-closer that night, constantly repeating “It takes an ocean not to break” on “Terrible Love” after jumping into the crowd and working his way straight through to the back of the club before disappearing. And, night #2 didn’t disappoint, with Justin Vernon making a guest appearance. Quite simply, these were the best shows of the year.

The National, “Mr. November”

The National, “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”


Grinderman flat-out assaulted the main room recently, delivering what was easily the #1b concert of the year. A darkly lit tarp was draped floor to ceiling around all three sides of the stage for this show. I presumed this was an attempt to contain the damage from the carnage that was about to be unleashed upon us. And, though stopping short of sacrificing a virgin on stage, Grinderman did exactly that. Nick Cave reduced seemingly every woman in the room to mush (at least the ones I was standing with), while Warren Ellis did the same thing to every instrument he torched (yes, torched). This should be the “My
Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” that everyone is talking about this year. Except that there is nothing beautiful about it. It’s sinister. Maybe even evil. You know it, but all you can do is succumb.

Grinderman, “Kitchenette”

Grinderman, “Worm Tamer”

Honorable mention: Spoon

I could easily call any one of Spoon’s three Minneapolis shows this year my favorite, and walk away… that’s how good Spoon was/is. They played two sold out shows at First Avenue in April, and then again at the Basilica Block Party in July. I have seen countless shows at First Avenue, and I have to say this was the best sound I’ve ever heard there. I was looking around the room for extra satellite speakers to help explain the enveloping sound. I then spent the second night moving from spot to spot around the mainroom, just to take in the different perspectives. It was my favorite band delivering a performance
beyond my expectations. In fact, I was hesitant to see them again at Basilica, so good were the First Avenue shows. But, my fears were unwarranted. Not only did their superior command of sound transfer to the outdoors, but Britt seemed to be in a very playful mood – which only added to the show. This is a band at the peak of its game.

Spoon, “Written in Reverse”

Spoon, “Don’t You Evah”

Most Fun/Intense/Insane show:

Guided by Voices

I went to this show because a lot of people I trust told me it was not to be missed, and every other cool band in the country thought it was the coolest show. From the first song to the last, it was a constant onslaught of an insane amount of fun, and they brought more energy on stage than most bands ever do, and that’s bands of any age. On stage: a beer cooler, a chain smoking (usually supplied by a roadie mid-song) guitar player, a bass player with the most ridiculous pants, the infamous “THE CLUB IS OPEN” neon sign, and Robert Pollard doing high kicks and mic-twirls with the best of them. GbV put on the
best ‘reunion’ show I’ve ever seen, and it was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had at First Avenue.

Guided by Voices, “Game of Pricks” and “Smothered in Hugs”

Honorable mention: MMM3

How else do you explain a 3 day, 78 hour marathon performance? It was insane. But, Mark Mallman didn’t coast, there was hour after hour of creativity on display at the Turf Club. A parade of Minneapolis musicians took turns on stage in support, and they pulled off the most insane undertaking in Minneapolis music this year.

Mark Mallman, MMM3

Yeah, it was a great show (but you already knew that):

The Avett Brothers

Here’s another band that I saw at First Avenue and then again at Basilica. They are at their best live, and did not disappoint at First Avenue – but, I felt like they lost a little something at Basilica. It’s an awesome experience when 1,500 fans pack First Avenue and are fully engaged, sharing in every word of every song the entire night. It’s a slightly different experience when there are 10x as many people there, and maybe only 1/3rd of them are that fully engaged. I hope they go the multiple nights at First Avenue route the next time through, instead of moving up to a theater. Regardless, I can’t think of anyone that wouldn’t enjoy an Avett Brothers show.

The Avett Brothers’ Tiny Desk Concert for NPR Music

Honorable mention: Mumford & Sons

Mumford & Sons absolutely exploded in Minneapolis this year with a (beyond) sold-out show at the Varsity Theater this spring, followed by a fall appearance at First Avenue. That First Avenue show sold out faster than any show there lately, maybe ever, according to First Avenue. Touring on their debut album, they’ve managed to garner the rabid fans that it’s taken the Avett Brothers years and years to gain. No matter, they are a band that must be seen live to fully appreciate, and you should do so. Just make sure your Rolodex is current, and extensive, you’re going to need some help getting in.

Mumford & Sons, “White Blank Page”

Personal Favorite band that came through town

Heartless Bastards

One of my favorite bands for the last few years has been Heartless Bastards, and I was very excited when they came to the Varsity Theater this year. You just had to love the fact that they just walked in the front door, walked through the crowd, and went on stage and did their own set-up. They are one of the most straightforward, honest rock bands going, with who I believe to be one of the best lead singers around right now in Erika Wennerstrom. With a voice that belies her small stature, she sings with such emotion. “Hold Your Head High” has been a go-to song for me for over the last year or so, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for Heartless Bastards.

Heartless Bastards, “Hold Your Head High”

Honorable mention: Superchunk

Superchunk made quite a splash this year with their highly acclaimed new release “Majesty Shredding”, which made quite a few top ten lists across the nation. The band hadn’t really broken up, but was rather on a hiatus as Mac and Laura focused their attention on their record label, Merge Records. So, while not a reunion show, I hadn’t seen them since 1992, and I was very excited to see one of their (relatively rare) shows this December. I was not disappointed. Superchunk was phenomenal. Pull up videos from 1992 and 2010, and the only difference you’ll see is that the band members have a lot less
hair. Other than that, Superchunk still writes and plays some of the best power pop/punk/pogo-jump inducing music around. Superchunk will make your day; any day.

Superchunk, “Digging for Something”

Show I went into blind, and was super impressed


Sure, I’d heard “Odessa” on the radio – which is a great song – but that song almost paled in comparison to the rest of their set. So much creativity on display, it was unreal. I was expecting a couple of laptops, with a lot of techno mixing. Instead, Caribou had a wide array of instruments all jammed together in a tight circle in the middle of the stage, with the band members facing each other, each playing multiple instruments. It made for a very, very interesting and engaging show.

Caribou, “Kaili”

Honorable mention: Black Prairie

With 3 members of the Decemberists in the band, I guess you can’t say it was totally blind. But, I think now that this is more than a side project. Black Prairie is largely instrumental, and more/less experimental. But, it makes for a very unique musical experience. You get the feeling that you are seeing music being created right before eyes. In fact, it felt a lot like what you’d think a Decemberists rehearsal would be like if 3 people got there early and were just killing time jamming while waiting for the rest of the band to arrive. This is music as art.

Black Prairie, “Red Rocking Chair”

Honorable mention: The Whigs

The Whigs were totally unknown to me before they opened for The Hold Steady this summer. But, what I discovered was a really good southern rock band. With a powerhouse drummer, and a highly energetic and technical lead guitarist/singer, and – well – the definition of a “southern rock band bass player” bass player – The Whigs just nail it. They’re now touring with The Black Keys, as they both open up for Kings of Leon. And, I say “good luck” to KOL following these two bands.

The Whigs, “Right Hand On My Heart”

Show that I’ve been telling everyone to go to any & every time they come back


It took a combination of a friend’s birthday party across the street, another friend’s leaving for Spain the next day, and a last-minute free ticket to get me to go to this show; but, boy am I glad I did. Dawes is fantastic live, literally spitting out one great song after another. Combine their energy with an adoring crowd, and it was a great evening at First Avenue. They’ve been to Minneapolis maybe six times this year, and I’m upset (in hindsight) that I missed the other five.

Dawes, “When My Times Come”

Honorable mention: Free Energy

I think Free Energy has played in Minneapolis more than Dawes, maybe nine times, but I didn’t see them until the last one at the 400 Bar. This too was a last-minute decision to attend, and again it proved to be a good one. Free Energy literally comes alive live, though even their music videos do a good job capturing the essence of the band. Had they been around ten years ago, they could easily have done – actually they could have been – the intro theme for “The 70’s Show”. I’ll never forget how the room just exploded when they started “Bang Pop”; my friend was shocked the floor didn’t give out. Amazingly, the 6’2” college volleyball player young lady in front of me was demonstrating some serious  standing vertical leaping ability for the entire song – along with pretty much everyone else in the room. If I ever get serious and throw a celebrity scale house party – this is the band that I’m going to have play.

Free Energy, “Free Energy”

Free Energy, “Bang Pop”

Best “Rock Star/Celebrity” concert

Dead Weather

With multiple tour buses (no borrowed vans here), Jack White brought his Dead Weather project to Minneapolis to great fanfare. I’ve never seen as many people hanging around outside First Avenue all day before a show. They were waiting by the front door, the back door, the garage, and the buses – all in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Jack White. Even the sound check was private, closed to even First Avenue employees. They played a blistering set where it became clear that Alison Mosshart is the real star of this band. She bended, flailed, crouched, crawled, balanced, jumped, and strutted her way around the stage, and at one point, crawled atop a monitor right in front of me in a manner that was…well…almost inappropriate – in the best way possible; she is wildly addictive. Jack  only came out from behind the drums once; but no matter, this was the purest “Rock Star” show this year.

Dead Weather, “Hang You From The Heavens”

Honorable mention: Hole

With a fashionably late ‘doors open’ time of 10:00, I had time to catch a Twins game before heading over to First Avenue. And the late start got even later, when Courtney stretched ‘fashionably late’ too far by waiting well over an hour after the opening act finished before taking the stage after 12:30. But, the crowd was treated to a really good performance, including a lot of between song banter about her time living here in  Minneapolis in the early 90’s. It’s impossible to read about Courtney and not read about her being a train wreck – but, not on this night. It was a straightforward rock show; heck, “Skinny Little Bitch” alone was worth the (not inconsequential) price of admission.

Hole, “Skinny Little Bitch”

New(er) Local Bands that I’ve seen a lot, and will continue to do so


Romantica is just an awesome American folk rock band, with incredibly beautiful vocals from Ben Kyle. A band that’s easy to love.

Romantica, “Quiver”

Zoo Animal

I’ve seen ZA inside, outside, in bars, etc. and I loved each and every performance. I especially enjoyed the post-Basilica Block Party set at the Loring Kitchen & Bar. It was a stripped down, not quite acoustic set, on a beautiful summer evening, in a beautiful setting, with some special company – it was a great night. I can’t wait to see what’s next for ZA.

Zoo Animal, “Folded Hands”

Red Pens

The Red Pens are another band that I’ve seen inside, outside, in bars, and actually in/on a bowling alley. Red Pens just hits the spot for me.

Red Pens, “Limitations”

Peter Wolf Crier

PWC has toured endlessly this year on their debut album, “Inter-Be”. It’s a stunning debut, and with equally engaging live shows, PWC has become one of my favorites. One moment this year stands out: when they were playing the main room in support of Dawes – one of their songs was being used on the NBC show “Chuck”, pretty much at the exact time they were on stage; very cool. I’m a little sad that they are not on my calendar for anything coming up here soon.

Peter Wolf Crier, “Untitled 101”

Communist Daughter

I’ve seen them a few times this year, including once in Loring Park, and another time when they completely upstaged Rogue Valley at First Avenue for RV’s CD release concert. Communist Daughter is simply a beautiful band.

Communist Daughter, “Oceans”

And the rest…:

The Black Keys, The Hold Steady, The Jayhawks, Arcade Fire, Deerhunter, Drive-by Truckers, Weezer, Bob Mould, Jay Farrar, Clinic, Atmosphere, Gayngs, Dan & Matt Wilson, Semisonic, The Drums, Frightened Rabbit, Ike Reilly, Kaiser Cartel, Dark Dark Dark, Brute Heart, Hildur Victoria, Goondas, Hastings 3000, Blue Rodeo, Roma di Luna, Ben Kyle & Carrie Rodriguez, Blue Sky Blackout, I Was In Vancouver, Pink Mink, Dessa, BNLX, Mayda, Rogue Valley, Rogue Wave, Twilight Hours, Surfer Blood, Lookbook, Har Mar Superstar, Marijuana Deathsquads, The Grownup Noise, Canasta, Solid Gold, Martin Devaney, and any number of opening acts that I don’t remember the names of.

Wow, what a year!

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  1. Tweets that mention Jeff’s Concerts of 2010 | Cake In 15 -- - December 31, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Staciaann, CakeIn15. CakeIn15 said: Please welcome new Cake In 15 contributor @Jeff_Mcl! Read about his top concert picks of 2010 here: […]

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