I’ve gone on and on about my favorite recordings of 2010, but live music is the backbone of any good scene. Here is a look back my 13 favorite shows of the past 12 months in chronological order, with excerpts from reviews already published in The Bulletin or on Frequency.
(Jake) Smith’s talents are many, but his voice is obviously his most distinctive quality. It’s a show-stopper. A jaw-dropper. It’s canyon deep and sequoia strong, with a natural resonance that 99 percent of singers would kill to have.
The closest comparison I can come up with is Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, though when he’s at his best, Smith makes Vedder sound like Bobby Brady going through puberty.
He’s just that great of a singer.
Smith showcased that voice on barnburners like “The Madman” and “Carnage,” with their ultra-low notes, as well as meandering, pretty numbers such as “Sleepy Little Town” and “Where Dirt and Water Collide.” And he let it soar during two of his best songs, “Love Song #1” and “Damned.” The ascendant pre-chorus of the former and the roller-coaster verses of the latter were perfect examples of Smith’s skill for writing melodies that are both unconventional and memorable.
Built to Spill is coming to Bend on Wednesday! Very exciting. I rambled on a bit on the band’s amazing three-album run in the late 1990s.
… from 1994 to 1999, Boise, Idaho’s Built to Spill — formed nearly two decades ago by Doug Martsch, torchbearer for the Northwest music scene — put together a magical three-album run with “There’s Nothing Wrong With Love,” “Perfect From Now On” and “Keep It Like A Secret.” Each is wonderful in its own way; “Love” spills over with compact, punchy pop songs, “Perfect” sprawls like prog-rock updated for the 21st century, and “Secret” is a splendid marriage of the two, 10 tracks of dreamy, delightful pop-rock bliss.
The common thread is Martsch’s distinctive style: psychedelic guitar heroism more associated with ’70s jams than ’90s indie rock and a lullaby voice that scales Neil Young’s helium-heights, backed by a band with a no-nonsense approach to playing. Built to Spill doesn’t trade in showy stage goofs to draw you in. No, they came to rock, ever so gently, and then build up to a melt-your-face crescendo, and that’s exactly what they’re going to do.
(Someone called WoodyDee got the above footage of Billy Bragg soundchecking before his show in Bend. Very cool.)
I went and saw Billy Bragg at the Tower Theatre on election night and enjoyed myself quite a bit. The guy is nothing if not entertaining. Here’s an excerpt of my review:
… I was most struck by Bragg’s strong, distinctive voice, and his way with melody. At best, I’m a casual fan of the man’s recorded work, so many of the songs were new to me. But all were tied together by an easygoing charm that belied whatever their lyrical theme happened to be, whether it was Japanese-American internment during World War II, the power of a union, or the “misanthropic, misbegotten merchants of gloom.” Or, you know … a pretty girl.
Bragg was subdued and soulful on “Farm Boy,” and “Shirley” was a fun little slice of sunny pop. He did a few Woody Guthrie numbers, showed off his guitar skills on “The Milkman of Human Kindness,” and provided the prettiest moment of the night through the entrancing, arpeggiated chords of “Tank Park Salute.”
Political folk-punk legend Billy Bragg descends upon the Tower Theatre on Tuesday night. My colleague David Jasper wrote a terrific article about his conversation with the man, which bounced from the power of Facebook to America’s upcoming midterm elections, and from Bragg’s program to put guitars in the hands of inmates to the catharsis of writing songs about things that piss you off. I’m not even going to try to excerpt the thing; trust me, you should go read the whole story by clicking here.