Saturday, December 10, 2005

Welcome Home: The Sounds of 2005

After a seven-year absence, the D.C. area welcomed me back with open arms in 2005 in many ways, including (and especially) live music.
In the year and a half I spent in South Carolina, I attended a grand total of three shows (one of which I had to drive BACK to D.C. for); in 2005, I tripled that number. And we’re not talking about some no-name bar bands here. No, these were the real deal—it was like the music gods conspired to provide me with a dream lineup for my return to a place I never stopped loving, no matter how many miles and years I was away. It was essentially a who’s who of my favorite artists and bands: U2 (twice!), Pearl Jam, Springsteen, Dashboard, Jeff Tweedy, Ryan Adams, Billy Corgan, and Coldplay (and I could have seen The White Stripes if I hadn’t been so picky about them playing a ridiculously large venue like Merriweather Post). There’s almost nothing I’d rather do than go hear my favorite bands live and in person, and there probably will never be another year as special as this one. By the time it was over, I was referring to my musical journey as “Schooly’s Tour 2005.”
But there was more music in my ears than what I heard in concert. Back in April, I was given my very first iPod (U2 Special Edition, no less, thanks to my generous wife and family), and it basically never leaves my side. Ironically, I bought fewer CDs this year than in the past, but most of what I did purchase really stuck in my head. Any glance back through my site will basically tell you what I liked and didn’t like from an album perspective, so instead I’m going to run through the individual songs I just couldn’t get enough of in 2005. (Considering the iTunes culture in which we live, a list like this gives me pause, because I hope we never see the day where the album goes away. I still much prefer CDs to digital downloads, but that’s an issue for another column.)
You’ll notice right off the top that not all of these songs were actually released in this calendar year (much less this millennium), but everything on this list made an impact on me during one incredible run of music. Unless noted otherwise, I highly recommend you check all of these out, along with the albums they’re on.

“Bad,” U2 (from 1984’s “The Unforgettable Fire”)—It sounds hokey, but somehow I just knew I would finally get to hear this legendary song in person when U2 came to town this year. I could almost feel it, even when I bought my tickets way back in February. So, more than any other song, “Bad” dominated my musical landscape in 2005. I listened to this beautiful, haunting masterpiece more than any other song this year, and, sure enough, I got it. They waited until the very last song on the second of back-to-back nights in D.C., but U2 closed Night 2 at MCI with a fantastic, full-throated version of “Bad.” It was like a dream come true. Seriously.

“Cocaine Blues,” Johnny Cash (from “The Legend” box set, released this year)—I am coming so late to this party, it’s ridiculous. The Man in Black isn’t even alive anymore (our loss), but the fantastic biopic “Walk the Line” set fire to a spark I’d been nurturing for a few years. I can’t get enough Johnny Cash now, and I could have picked any number of entries for this slot (“I Walk the Line,” “Jackson,” “Ring of Fire,” or his intimate cover of U2’s “One,” just to name a few). But “Cocaine Blues” was the song featured in my favorite scene from the movie: the concert at Folsom Prison.

“Crown of Thorns,” Mother Love Bone (as performed live on 10.3.05 in Philly by Pearl Jam)—An all-time favorite from 1992’s “Singles” soundtrack was pulled out of the hat for one of the best concerts of my life. An epic written by MLB frontman Andrew Wood before his untimely death, it’s a momentous song for PJ, and Eddie told us as much that night. Played for just the sixth time in Pearl Jam’s history, Ed said they save it only for special occasions. I’m still floored I was in the building for this one.

“I Predict a Riot,” Kaiser Chiefs (from 2005’s “Employment”)—Sure, they’re a bit of a Franz Ferdinand knock off, but this song is infectious and subversive at the same time. A great little tune.

“Let It Ride,” Ryan Adams and The Cardinals (from 2005’s “Cold Roses”)—Adams returned to his alt-country roots in a major way this year, and the results were stellar. “Let It Ride” is not only the best track on a great album, it’s one of the prolific songwriter’s best of all time, and that’s saying something.

“Let’s Call It Love,” Sleater-Kinney (from 2005’s “The Woods”)—The absolute, stone-cold lock highlight of a magnificent Sub Pop debut, “Let’s Call It Love” is S-K’s best song, even with five minutes of instrumentation at the end. Simply brilliant.

“Long Time Comin’,” Bruce Springsteen (from 2005’s “Devils and Dust”)—Springsteen’s latest solo album isn’t chock-full of classics by any means, but I fell in love with this song instantly and it hasn’t diminished one bit with time. The story of a father who’s smart and humble enough to realize when he’s been wrong, this is redemptive, mature Springsteen at his best. One of my all-time favorite songs, Bruce or otherwise.

“My Doorbell,” The White Stripes (from 2005’s “Get Behind Me Satan”)—The cool kids say “Satan” is the Stripes’ best album, but I just don’t get it—and I’ve really, really tried. “Get Behind Me Satan” is without a doubt the most over-praised album of 2005. “My Doorbell” is the catchiest of what, after repeated listenings, I still find to be a bunch of atonal, unmelodic, messy songs that comprise my least favorite Stripes record. Here’s hoping this is just a brief detour.

“Out of Control,” U2 (from 1980’s “Boy”)—I’ve made no bones about the fact that this has been U2005 for me—I’ve listened to more U2 this year than all other bands combined. Last year’s new album, “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb,” in part was a return to the band’s roots, so I decided to do the same by delving into their first album, “Boy,” which I had never given a fair shake. Tucked in the middle is “Out of Control,” U2’s first single, and I simply couldn’t get enough of it. I know, I know, every U2 fan already loves this song, but I came way late to this party, too (try 1998), and you can only get to so much. Anyway, I grew to love “Out of Control” just in time because, once again, they pulled this rarity out for Night 2 in D.C., too.

“Remember the Mountain Bed,” Woodie Guthrie (as performed by Jeff Tweedy on 11.12.05 at Messiah College in Pennsylvania)—I could have chosen several highlights from a great night with the Wilco frontman, but this beautiful number stuck out from all the rest. I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t know it prior to checking setlists in the days leading up to the show, but it comes from Wilco’s collaboration with Billy Bragg to write melodies for a batch of unfinished Guthrie songs. Tweedy’s solo acoustic performance of this song is even better than the full-band version found on “Mermaid Avenue,” and it was the undiscovered gem of the night for me.

“Save Me,” Remy Zero (from 2001’s “The Golden Hum”)—Where did this one come from, you ask? No, I didn’t get tipped off to the now-defunct Remy Zero through the “Garden State” soundtrack, but you’re close. This summer, my brother told me I HAD to check out “Smallville,” the television show that reimagines the story of Superman’s youth. I had resisted this series simply because it’s on The WB, and I just assumed it was aimed at people much, much younger than me and wouldn’t resonate. Wow, was I wrong. The show is a revelation, and “Save Me,” written long before the pilot was ever produced, is absolutely perfect for the opening credits. It’s really spooky how perfectly the song and the show fit together—much like A3’s “Woke Up This Morning” and “The Sopranos.” “Smallville” is, overall, an uplifting tale, and every time I listen to this “Save Me,” those feelings come rushing in all over again.

“Speed of Sound,” Coldplay (from 2005’s “X&Y”)—I had resisted this band for the longest time—mostly because of the overwhelming hype that surrounds them—but “Speed of Sound” and its accompanying video are spectacular, and they finally broke through to me. This was my song for the summer, and it went everywhere with me. Whenever I hear it, I will always think of planes, trains, and automobiles—windows down, warm breeze blowing on my face—and the terminal at Heathrow in London. Long story.

“Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down,” Fall Out Boy (from 2005’s “From Under the Cork Tree”)—Probably the best song from one of the year’s best albums. Fall Out Boy mastered the art of pop-punk with their sophomore effort, and they’re a rare example of a band that deserves every ounce of publicity they’ve received this year. I’ll say it again: If you don’t own this record, what are you waiting for?

“The Fallen”/”Do You Want To,” Franz Ferdinand (from 2005’s “You Could Have It So Much Better”)—This opening salvo from the Glasgow quartet’s unbelievable second album is just too good to break up. Forget the sophomore slump; FF is here to stay. This is my favorite album of 2005.

“Wake Up,” The Arcade Fire (from 2004’s “Funeral”)—Okay, so this song got a big, big bump from U2, who used it for their walk-on music during the Vertigo//05 tour. Every time I hear it, I see Bono popping up out of nowhere at the tip of the ellipse, arms outstretched as confetti falls from the ceiling, anticipation at a fever pitch. The lights going down is one of my favorite concert moments (no matter the show). The killer riff and chorus in “Wake Up” capture that vibe perfectly.

“Wreck on the Highway,” Bruce Springsteen (from 1980’s “The River”)—I’m naturally drawn to uptempo songs and The Boss’ double-album classic is packed with them, so it’s easy for me to see why “Wreck” got lost in the shuffle. So thank goodness for 5.14.05: Springsteen’s stop at the Patriot Center in Virginia during his Devils and Dust solo tour. Performed for just the second time in 20 years, “Wreck” made its tour debut at this stop (on piano, no less), and it stopped me dead in my tracks. First off, Bruce’s vocal was crystal clear since it wasn’t battling for space alongside the E Street Band. Drawn in by his voice, I focused on the lyrics for the very first time, and they blew me away. Like the narrator, I, too, am occasionally wracked with anxiety wondering how I could possibly handle the news of my wife’s death; that feeling is captured perfectly in this song. Springsteen’s performance of “Wreck on the Highway” that night is my answer to anyone foolish enough to ask me why I go to so many concerts. That song went from obscurity to favorite in the span of a few minutes. You can’t get an experience like that anywhere else.

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