The Best Live Sets in Chicago 2009

Over the roughly 35 live events I attended this year several stood out in my recollection. Since Chicago hosts MANY street festivals, Pitchfork and Lollapalooza, it is inevitable that many bands only trip through town is at a festival gig. Here is how I rank the festival sets.

1) Menomena @ Do Division Fest
-I was utterly impressed by the percussion, saxophone and performance of this trio. This fest was booked extremely well by Empty Bottle and I look forward to it in 2010.
2) Handsome Furs @ Do Division Fest
-This husband and wife duo that includes Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade played an amped up set that got the crowd dancing. Alexei Perry worked her drum machine hard and they were superb.
3) The National @ Pitchfork Music Fest
-Peppering a headlining set with a few new songs, The National achieved a rare feat in playing a great set to close out the night. Too many times I have been let down by the headliner at Pitchfork not rising to the occasion. (Spoon, Flaming Lips) Watch for their return on album and live in 2010.
4) Japandroids @ Pitchfork Music Fest
-I really didn’t know what to expect from this 2 piece that on record makes a LOT of noise. I chose to watch them despite knowing that The Walkmen were certain to deliver a solid performance on the adjacent main stage. I am glad I stuck with Japandroids. The harmony vocals, heavy drum and guitar combo shined on the C stage and guitarist Brian King climbed on drummer Dan Prowse’s bass drum several times bringing an infectious presence to the stage. A loud and awesome set.
5) The Antlers @ Pitchfork Music Fest
-This was the first act I saw on Saturday amid falling rain on the C stage. A truly eloquent Chicago debut by a band that pulls at the heartstrings live and on the concept album Hospital. Vocalist and guitarist Peter Silberman hit falsetto notes and made beautiful music early in the day.

The big question mark for me in the live arena in 2010 is where and when will the Pavement reunion tour land in Chicago. I plan to road trip to at least one more city (Milwaukee) depending on the scope of the tour.

Another tier of shows that I had a hard time classifying were ones in different types of venues or stripped down performances.
1) Dean & Britta @ Museum Of Contemporary Art
-This show was a multimedia event in which D & B played songs synced to 13 of Andy Warhol’s screen tests. (Edie Sedgwick, Dennis Hopper, Lou Reed, Nico) In between Dean would introduce each song and start the video with a pedal. Such a cool experience and I also was pleased to meet Mr. Wareham as they received fans in the lobby after the show.
2) The Swell Season @ The Hideout
-This was an XRT exclusive VIP show. It was fantastic in such an intimate venue. And served as a fine preview to their upcoming album Strict Joy. Although Glen Hansard is a bit of a ham, his heart on sleeve performance is still admirable.
3) Jeff Tweedy @ The Vic (February) and @ Emanuel Congregation (August)
-The Vic show was the superior one of the two, but I simply love Tweedy’s solo acoustic shows. He digs deep into Wilco’s catalog, plays Golden Smog and Uncle Tupelo songs and does covers. These shows carry a heavier price tag, but Tweedy is in good spirits despite what must be a difficult exercise when playing to a quiet, rapt and expectant audience.

And for my final tier of Best Live Sets of 2009 I have chosen from standard shows at common Chicago venues.
1) Wilco @ UIC Pavilion
-The show I am writing about is the second night at The Pavilion which stood out as Wilco’s first non sold-out gig in Chicago in eons. I truly believe this was a factor as they performed like a band with something to prove. The setlist was inspired and wide ranging, unlike some Wilco gigs with their rote song selections. I was pleasantly surprised and reaffirmed by this show.
2) Amadou & Mariam @ Park West
-This was a show unlike any other this year. The Malian duo performed with a large band and two backup singers that also served as dancers. What a great intimate set full of energy and positive vibes. Having previously seen them from the lawn at Pritzker Pavilion, the Park West appearance was a real treat.
3) M. Ward @ The Vic
-M. Ward delivers an impeccable live show. If you have never seen him live I advise doing so. His guitar playing is marvelous and there are no throwaways in his sets. Really a consummate professional onstage.
4) Art Brut @ Schubas
-This was part of an unprecedented five-night stand by Art Brut at Schubas. Eddie Argos is a charismatic frontman bar none and the small stage and room exploded as Argos wandered the floor jumping and singing like a madman.

Honorable mention: Franz Ferdinand @ The Riviera, The Minus 5/Baseball Project @ Martyrs’, Arctic Monkeys @ The Riviera

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