Sunday, December 21, 2008

Albums of the Aughts: 2006

By far and away, this was my favorite year of the decade for music—at least half the records on this list are all-time favorites. I could write a whole other post just from my honorable mentions! There were so many great CDs, in fact, I’ve broken my own rule and made this a top 11, instead of a top 10. I just can’t leave any of these treasures to the side …

“Decemberunderground,” AFI
This was the album A Fire Inside had been building to for 15 years: A pure masterpiece from start to finish. Though maintaining the band’s hardcore roots, “Decemberunderground” is an expansive, genre-bending work with mainstream appeal and punk cred that flows seamlessly from one essential track to the next. Two years later, it still seems as fresh and exciting as it did on the first spin.
Favorite Track: “Prelude 12/21”
[original review]

“The Gold Record,” The Bouncing Souls
Another instant and career-culminating classic, “The Gold Record” is the Souls’ most accomplished, mature, and well-crafted album of their career (which hits 20 years in 2009). It’s a unifying, uplifting celebration of the best that music has to offer to anyone—artist and audience alike. The album plays like a humble acknowledgment of how lucky they are to be doing what they’ve been doing for so long, and how grateful they are for the opportunity. They speak for me and so many others when they holler, “We wanna say thanks to the music in our lives.”
Favorite Tracks: “So Jersey,” “For All the Unheard”
[original review]

“The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me,” Brand New
What a journey Brand New took over this decade, going from the pop/punk frivolity of their 2001 debut “Your Favorite Weapon” to this churning barnburner of an album. With its ebbs and flows and segues, “Devil and God” is meant to be heard all in one piece, punctuated by multiple highlights including “Sowing Season,” “Millstone,” “The Archers Bows Have Broken,” and …
Favorite Track: “Jesus”
[original review]

“American V: A Hundred Highways,” Johnny Cash
Cash and producer Rick Rubin saved the best for last with this posthumous American Recordings release. Though the Man in Black’s voice quavers more than it thunders, his utter defiance in the face of imminent death bleeds all over this record. It’s downright heartbreaking in several spots (“On the Evening Train,” “Help Me”), absolutely thrilling in others. Essential tracks abound, such as the foreboding Springsteen cover “Further On Up the Road” and life-defining spiritual “I Came to Believe.” But the shining moment is the thundering …
Favorite Track: “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”
[original review]

“St. Elsewhere,” Gnarls Barkley
Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo blew everyone’s minds with this, one of the landmark discs of the decade. It had twists and turns, moments of grandeur and little idiosyncrasies doled out in equal parts as it broke boundaries amongst genres and listeners alike. Sure everyone remembers smash crossover hit “Crazy,” but there was much more to this album than just one awesome track, like Violent Femmes cover “Gone Daddy Gone,” “Smiley Faces,” “Go-Go Gadget Gospel,” and my …
Favorite Track: “Just A Thought.”

“Ben Kweller,” Ben Kweller
The wunderkind once again sounds mature beyond his few years on this self-titled effort in which he embraces his inner Springsteen and, amazingly, plays every single instrument. Pop, rock, country, blues—it’s all here on the singer/songwriters best work yet. Everything comes together perfectly on his open-road masterwork, one of the best songs of the decade and my …
Favorite Track: “Penny on the Train Track”
[original review]

“Pearl Jam,” Pearl Jam
I’ve written so much about this album over the past couple years (here and here, especially), I don’t know what else can be said. “Pearl Jam” remains as vibrant for me today as the first time I heard it (though I’m backing off calling it my all-time favorite PJ album, I think). It remains their most cohesive work from end to end since “Ten,” and, much like U2’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” stands as an assimilation of some of the best pure rock and roll produced over the past two decades. This was a make-or-break album for the band; its success will hopefully propel them into further greatness in the years to come.
Favorite Track: “Life Wasted”
[original review]

“Carnavas,” Silversun Pickups
This L.A. quartet exploded onto the scene in 2006 with a blast of fuzzy guitars and swirling riffs. With not a single track clocking in under four minutes, “Carnavas” unspools in measured, patient waves, from grinding “Well Thought Out Twinkies” to lead single “Lazy Eye” to the massive “Little Lovers So Polite” to my …
Favorite Track: the sprawling “Rusted Wheel.”

“Eyes Open,” Snow Patrol
Here Snow Patrol finished the arena rock transition they started three years earlier, delivering one of the most enjoyable records of the decade. “Eyes Open” finds a perfect balance between straightahead rock and roll (“You’re All I Have,” “It’s Beginning to Get to Me”) and tender ballads (“Chasing Cars,” “You Could Be Happy”). So I guess it’s fitting I find I can’t possibly pick between the two categories when determining my …
Favorite Tracks: “Hands Open” and “Set the Fire to the Third Bar.”
[original review]

“We Shall Overcome,” Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen’s career has taken some wild turns over the past 35 years, but perhaps none was more unforeseen than this inspired set of folk songs for the new millennium. Springsteen filtered the classic yarns through his own rock and roll prism and arrived at one of my favorite records he’s ever produced. By directing his huge Seeger Sessions Band on the fly during rambunctious recording sessions, “We Shall Overcome” has a freewheeling, adventurous spirit Springsteen hadn’t managed to capture on a record in more than 20 years. The amazing results are alternately infectiously fun and deadly serious, from “Old Dan Tucker” and “John Henry” to “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep” and my …
Favorite Track: “Mrs. McGrath.”
[original review—sorta]

“Show Your Bones,” Yeah Yeah Yeahs
In just one record, the New York trio transitioned from its thrashy, trashy garage rock roots into a full-fledged sonic extravaganza. The upgrade in songcraft is clear right from the outset with powerhouse lead track “Gold Lion.” Lead singer Karen O rightfully receives much of the attention for her dynamic, charismatic vocal power and prowess, but the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are equally fueled by the guitar wizardry of Nick Zinner; it was the latter’s shredding on tracks like “Phenomena,” “Fancy,” “Cheated Hearts,” and “Mysteries” that put the band on a new plane and turned “Show Your Bones” into an album of the decade.
Favorite Track: “Gold Lion”
[original review]

“Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” Arctic Monkeys
“B’Day,” Beyonce
“Modern Times,” Bob Dylan
“Whiskey on a Sunday,” Flogging Molly
"Another Fine Day," Golden Smog
“Boys and Girls in America,” The Hold Steady
“Inside In/Inside Out,” Kooks
“Idlewild,” Outkast
“Highway Companion,” Tom Petty
“Broken Boy Soldiers,” The Raconteurs
“Return to Cookie Mountain,” TV on the Radio

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Albums of the Aughts: 2005

“Cold Roses,” Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
Adams returned to his country roots with this double-disc gem, which ranks in my personal top three of his career. Perhaps even more important than the record itself, though, is the addition of The Cardinals as Adams’ official band, which over time seems to have helped settle the erratic singer/songwriter into a solid groove in the years since. Their work on “Cold Roses” is outstanding throughout, spurring Adams on to some of the finest work of his career. Standout cuts include “Magnolia Mountain,” “Easy Plateau,” “If I Am A Stranger,” and …
Favorite Track: “Let It Ride,” one of my all-time favorite Adams songs.
[original review]

“Shine,” Trey Anastastio
Phish doesn’t do all that much for me, but Anastasio’s first post-jam band release struck a real chord with its power pop/rock and thankfully lack of, well, jams. Dude can play the heck out of a guitar, especially on songs like “Tuesday,” “Come as Melody,” the title cut, and …
Favorite Track: the romping “Air Said to Me.”

“The Alternative to Love,” Brendan Benson
Speaking of awesome pop/rock, here’s another example from he-who-would-become-a-Raconteur, Brendan Benson. Though I love his work with Jack White, Benson shouldn’t give up his other day job, either, because this album is stellar through and through with entries such as the title cut and my …
Favorite Track: "Cold Hands (Warm Heart).”

“The Warrior’s Code,” Dropkick Murphys
This is the record that can match any mood: Ebullient, depressed, pissed … its boundless bagpip-fueled energy will lift your spirits and inflame your heart no matter what. The boys from Boston do their city proud on anthems like “The Warrior’s Code,” “The Auld Triangle,” “Sunshine Highway,” “Captain Kelly’s Kitchen,” “The Green Fields of France,” and Red Sox hymn “Tessie.” The shining light of them all, though, is …
Favorite Track: “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.” The “Departed” theme song, with its malevolent string part, jaunty mandolin riff, and rousing chorus, is without question one of the songs of the decade.

“Curtain Call,” Eminem
Em’s full-lengths are too visceral to get through in one sitting, but this collection effortlessly demonstrates why he became the best rapper alive around the turn of the century. I still wish he had channeled those considerable talents more often for serious fare, because he’s absolutely brilliant on tracks like “Sing for the Moment,” “Like Toy Soldiers,” and especially “Stan.” But even lighthearted throwaways like “Without Me” and “The Real Slim Shady” offer mesmerizing twists of language. In the end, though, nothing compares to my …
Favorite Track: “Lose Yourself,” another challenger for the title of Song of the Decade.

“From Under the Cork Tree,” Fall Out Boy
Before the screaming woo girls and the magazine covers and the Ashlee Simpson pregnancies, this heretofore little known quartet delivered one of the best pop/punk albums of the decade. They went huge with good reason after this.
Favorite Track: “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down”
[original review]

“You Could Have It So Much Better,” Franz Ferdinand
Franz Ferdinand pulled off an amazing double whammy in 2005, releasing this outstanding record just one year after their breakthrough self-titled smash. This effort might be even more impressive, because even without the surprise factor the band managed to sound just as fresh and exciting. In fact, based on the strength of “Do You Want To,” “I’m Your Villain,” “Eleanor Put Your Boots On,” “Evil and a Heathen,” and …
Favorite Track: “The Fallen,” this album might be even better than the first. Here’s looking forward to the long-awaited third CD in 2009!
[original review]

“Alligator,” The National
I guess it speaks to this record's greatness that after listening to it for just a few months, it has already becoming one of my favorite releases of this or any other year. The National seem to be one of those bands that took awhile to find their true sound; they flirted with it on the previous album, but here it’s out in full force (probably because this is the first one they wrote as full-time musicians). There’s not a bad track on this CD, and several are spectacular, such as “Secret Meeting,” “Lit Up,” “Abel,” “Mr. November,” “All the Wine,” and my …
Favorite Track: the breathtaking “Daughters of the Soho Riots.”

“The Woods,” Sleater-Kinney
The trio from the Great Northwest called it quits soon after, but they couldn’t have gone out any better with this, their best record. “The Woods” delivered some of the most memorable songs of the year, including “What’s Mine Is Yours,” the 11-minute epic “Let’s Call It Love,” and …
Favorite Track: “Modern Girl.”
[original review]

“Kicking Television,” Wilco
With this double-disc release, Wilco accomplished what few other bands can: Deliver a live album as good—or maybe even better—than their original LPs. “Kicking Television” marks the peak of Wilco’s post-alt-country powers. It takes the dense and challenging songs from the band’s previous two albums and opens them up to their full potential, thanks in large part to drummer Glenn Kotche and newcomer Nels Cline, guitarist extraordinaire. You could make the argument the band has never sounded better before or since.
Favorite Track: “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”

“Silent Alarm,” Bloc Party
“X&Y,” Coldplay
“Demon Days,” Gorillaz
“Employment,” Kaiser Chiefs
“Devils & Dust,” Bruce Springsteen

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

‘Livin’ in … Maryland’: Wilco, Live at Baltimore's Lyric Opera House, 12.14.08

It doesn’t happen all that often, but I love catching bands when they’re not touring on an album. Freed from the obligation of trotting out new material, these types of shows lend themselves to a more freeflowing setlist, where the group plays what it wants, not necessarily what it feels it ought to.

Such was the case Sunday night at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore, where Wilco made a headlining pit stop in between opening gigs for Neil Young (I love the fact they like playing live so much they make use of their off days). Over the course of more than two hours, the Chicago sextet allowed a wonderful run of songs to unfold organically, showcasing tracks from all phases of their long and storied career.

I don’t know if this was the intent or not, but the show seemed to divide into three basic segments, opening with a run of mellow (but intense, as always) choices starting with the beautiful “Sunken Treasure” in near stage darkness. That was followed by “You Are My Face,” my favorite song off last year’s “Sky Blue Sky"; it was even more mesmerizing in person than on the record, with its great change-of-pace middle and elegant harmonies.

The fabulous Nels Cline then took the place over for a couple songs, first shredding his guitar solo on “Handshake Drugs,” then powering the rumbling crescendo of “Impossible Germany”; the latter was a definite highlight of the night as it continues to ramp up the intensity to a fantastic finish.

The band then hit the way-back machine for a trio of oldies—much to the crowd's delight—before using “Jesus, Etc.” as a transition to its more avant garde material from Wilco’s middle years. They used the combo of “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” transitioning into the sprawling “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” as the centerpiece of the show; the melding was cool, but I just have never been that big a fan of “Spiders,” and felt on a we're-playin'-everything kinda night its 10 minutes could be better used with three other Wilco tracks I’d like to hear a whole lot more. That said, the songs went well together, and the transition was quite impressive. They finished this section on a splendid high note with “Shot in the Arm,” which was as expansive and powerful as I’ve ever heard it. Even at 10 years old and innumerable plays through that time, the song still seems envigorating as ever.

That, actually, aptly describes the entire evening. Frontman Jeff Tweedy was in an especially good mood, offering up just the right amount of charming banter throughout the night (and, amazingly, zero politics—hooray!). The highlight came in the encore when he started cracking wise with a person up front who was wearing a neck brace; Tweedy donned the brace for “Kingpin” to great comedic effect. The entire show was loose, lively, upbeat, and, most of all, a ton of fun. It was a nice balance of playfulness and intensity—still committed to putting on a great show, but not pressing, just letting it flow.

Following “Shot in the Arm,” the remainder of the night—spanning the end of the main set and two glorious encores—shifted into a string of more straightforward rock songs. The “Sky Blue Sky” double-shot of “Hate It Here” and “Walken,” along with their album brethren from earlier in the show, proved to me my primary frustration with that record’s rather subdued, almost claustrophobic production. In the concert setting, these songs are as vivacious as anything in the band’s catalog, but that doesn’t really come across on the rather careful studio versions.

The first encore was about as good as it gets, leading off with the always welcome “Via Chicago,” followed by the, well, always welcome “California Stars.” And Sunday’s version of “Kingpin”—complete with the nice “livin’ in … Maryland” lyrical adjustment—was just right; not too much banter and tomfoolery, but not clipped short, either.

Finally, the second encore … wow, what a way to close a show: Five songs, finishing with a “Being There” trifecta. “I Got You” and “Outtasite” are two of my favorite Wilco songs, and this was a combination I was really hoping for in anticipation of the night. They brought the house down, and sent me off into the pleasantly warm December night with a huge smile on my face.

Sunday was my third Wilco show in the past six years, and what struck me this time was the sheer breadth of their material. As mentioned earlier, to me the well-crafted setlist had three basic movements: mellow, avant garde, and flat-out rockers. The band could easily pick any one of those three styles and do an entire show from just that category; blending them all together with such effortless grace and movement was special to behold, all of it with an underlying commitment to craftsmanship that makes them one of my favorite live bands.

And one last note about the Lyric Opera House: I’d never seen a show here before, but I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s very nice on the inside, with a good-sized auditorium that still feels intimate; we were up on the right tier, providing an excellent view of drummer Glenn Kotche’s fiendish and highly entertaining hammering. More than anything, though, the sound and acoustics were absolutely perfect. Everything was crystal clear and mixed exactly right—one of the best-sounding concerts I’ve attended.

Lyric Opera House
Show Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

Sunken Treasure
You Are My Face
War on War
Handshake Drugs
Impossible Germany
It’s Just That Simple
Forget the Flowers
Box Full of Letters
Jesus, Etc.
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart -->
Spiders (Kidsmoke)
Shot in the Arm
Hate It Here
I’m the Man Who Loves You

Via Chicago
California Stars

The Late Greats
Heavy Metal Drummer
Red-Eyed and Blue
I Got You (at the End of the Century)
Outtasite (Outta Mind)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Albums of the Aughts: 2004

“Funeral,” Arcade Fire
Maybe the best debut album of the decade, this Canadian band of melancholy multi-instrumentalist troubadours weaves together more musical influences than I could possibly hope to identify into an unclassifiable ethereal mixture of passion, poetry, poignancy, and power. Part requiem for family members, part celebration of music’s ability to heal open wounds, “Funeral” remains a stunning achievement. Memorable tracks abound, including “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels),” “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out),” “Haiti,” “Rebellion (Lies),” and my …
Favorite Track: “Wake Up,” which U2 used so effectively as their walk-on music during the 2005 Vertigo tour.

“Make A Sound,” Autopilot Off
Not much to say about this little known band from New York, other than this hard-charging pop/punk album really struck a chord with me because its chunky guitars and pounding drums sound great in the car. Also, frontman Chris Johnson’s alto sounds similar to Saves the Day lead Chris Conley, and in 2004 I was desperate for that kind of sound following STD’s 2003 mess “In Reverie.” Autopilot Off filled that void nicely.
Favorite Track: “Make A Sound”

“Rubber Factory,” The Black Keys
If Jack White is this generation’s Jimmy Page, then The Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach is Stevie Ray Vaughn with a little Hendrix thrown in on occasion, offering up thick, groovy, toned-down melodic blues of the finest caliber. Auerbach’s (mostly) restrained fuzzed-out bravado is matched by the band’s lone other member, drummer Patrick Carney, who can thunder away with the best of them behind the kit. The band’s best album is a classic of the decade with so many great songs, it’s nearly impossible to pick a …
Favorite Track: but I’ll go with closer “Till I Get My Way.”

“The Grey Album,” Danger Mouse
Like a lot of people I’m guessing, Danger Mouse’s underground classic was my first exposure to the art of true mashups. Jay-Z doesn’t do much for me on the whole, but Mouse pairing his vocals from “The Black Album” with the music from The Beatles’ “White Album” was pure genius. There isn’t a skippable track on the whole thing, what with “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” combined with “Julia,” “December 4th” over top of “Mother Nature’s Son,” “Encore” mixed with “Glass Onion,” and my …
Favorite Track: “What More Can I Say” mashed with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

“Within A Mile of Home,” Flogging Molly
Flogging Molly’s first three albums were very appropriately named: “Swagger” was full of that very thing, and follow-up “Drunken Lullabies” sounded just like, well, a bunch of drunken lullabies. “Within A Mile of Home” followed suit, showcasing more of the band’s Irish heritage than ever. Sure, they still raved up with all their considerable hellfire and brimstone power on excellent tracks like “Screaming at the Wailing Wall,” “Tobacco Island,” and “The Seven Deadly Sins,” but there’s a lot more variety here on Flogging Molly’s best album. Its heart lies in quieter numbers like “Factory Girls” (featuring Lucinda Williams), the title track, and …
Favorite Track: the heartbreaking “Whistles the Wind.”

“Franz Ferdinand,” Franz Ferdinand
This Scottish quartet set the music world on fire in 2004 with this dance/rock extravaganza. Fun, fiery, and funky all at once, Franz Ferdinand made an indelible impression, updating New Wave and making it cool again. Catchy hooks and choruses are scattered all over the self-titled disc, from “40’” to “This Fire” to
Favorite Track: the unforgettable “Take Me Out.”

“American Idiot,” Green Day
Though I disagree COMPLETELY with the politics of this record, there’s no denying its epic greatness. My goodness, what an album—from start to finish a punk rock masterpiece. I never thought the guys who named their breakthrough album “Dookie” had it in ’em, but this rock opera revival for the 21st century is an ambitious project the likes of which we hadn’t seen in years. If I were a liberal, this would definitely be one of my favorite albums of the entire decade—maybe of all time (the great Bruce Springsteen tried to match its political intensity three years later—and failed). But, personally, my heart can’t get past the rhetoric.
Favorite Track: “Are We the Waiting”

“Van Lear Rose,” Loretta Lynn
Just as Rick Rubin reintroduced Johnny Cash to my generation, Jack White did much the same by collaborating with his country music idol on this fabulous throwback gem. White only takes lead vocal on one song, “Portland Oregon,” preferring to stay in the background as musician and producer on the entire album. His work adds a definite edgy intensity to the project and draws the best out of Lynn. The legend is in fine form throughout, particularly on “Van Lear Rose,” “Have Mercy,” “High on a Mountain Top,” “Mrs. Leroy Brown,” and my …
Favorite Track: the touching “God Makes No Mistakes,” which actually reminds me of a Cash song.

“How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,” U2
Though not the flat-out rock extravaganza Mr. Hype Machine Hewson predicted, “Atomic Bomb” did drop a few bombshells in 2004, starting with “Vertigo,” one of the band’s best-ever singles, while “All Because of You” was a pleasant Who homage and “City of Blinding Lights” blinded us with its epic-ness (in all the right ways, as only U2 can do it). But some of the best parts of this album were in its quieter moments, like the touching “Original of the Species,” the contemplative “A Man and a Woman,” and my …
Favorite Track: the still-goosebump-inducing opera in 5 minutes, “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own.”
[original review]

“A Ghost Is Born,” Wilco
And I thought “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” took a long time to sink in! It took nearly two years to finally get to a point where I enjoyed listening to this dark-cloud disc. Seeing the band live in spring 2006 finally helped me appreciate excellent songs like “At Least That’s What You Said,” “Hummingbird,” and “Handshake Drugs,” but it was …
Favorite Track: “Company in My Back” that originally broke the seal earlier that year.

“Let It Die,” Feist
“The Futureheads,” The Futureheads
“The New What Next,” Hot Water Music
“Aha Shake Heartbreak,” Kings of Leon
“20,000 Streets Under the Sky,” Marah
“Now Here Is Nowhere,” The Secret Machines
“Straylight Run,” Straylight Run
“Where You Want To Be,” Taking Back Sunday

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Why can't NBC mix its live bands well?

The Gaslight Anthem played "Conan" last night, but I refuse to post a YouTube link here because they sounded awful, through no fault of their own, and I would hate for that performance of "The '59 Sound" to be anyone's first impression of the band. Because that was not the band I love; it was some doppelganger created by the horrendous mixer at the NBC board.

I don't watch a lot of these talk-show performances, just for this very reason. But every time I do, whether it's Leno, Conan, or "SNL," the music almost always sounds terrible (Letterman, on the other hand, typically does it right, at least when Pearl Jam's on, anyway). The vocals are way too high in the mix, the lead guitars are pushed too far back, and the bass is just banging around somewhere in the middle. Whether it's U2, Metallica, Saves the Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, or The Gaslight Anthem, NBC perpetually screws it up.

Good for TGA getting such exposure, but I hope it didn't do more harm than good.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Albums of the Aughts: 2003

“Get Rich or Die Tryin’,” 50 Cent
My favorite rap album of all time, and it’s not even close. Fitty may not be the most talented turner of phrases out there (that honor goes to Eminem, who makes an unforgettable guest appearance here on “Patiently Waiting”), but his menacing Southern drawl is captivating. Too often rap albums are a few great singles wrapped in 40 minutes of filler, but there’s almost none of the latter on “Get Rich,” which consistently offers some of the best beats I’ve ever heard.
There’s no way I can endorse this album for anyone, because I’m convinced 50 Cent is an evil man, and his lyrics in several places are utterly vile. But sometimes an evil man is what’s called for in certain situations: When I was assigned to cover the trial of a hideous serial rapist and murderer for the entire month of January 2004, I ended up putting “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” in the CD player every single night on the half-hour drive back to the office. The utter rage Fifty unleashes on this album on tracks like “What Up Gangsta,” “Many Men (Wish Death),” “Blood Hound,” and the aforementioned “Patiently Waiting,” to name a few, was amazingly cathartic, allowing me to vent all the emotions pent up from a tense, dark day in the courtroom and clear my head for the difficult story I would write each evening.
Favorite Track: “If I Can’t”

“Sing the Sorrow,” AFI
Has a punk band this century unleashed an opening salvo to match what AFI does with the first six songs off this, their mainstream breakthrough record? I don’t know, but it would be tough to beat the stretch of five-star tracks, starting with gothic intro “Miseria Cantare (The Beginning)” into smash hit “The Leaving Song, Pt. 2,” and culminating with “Girl’s Not Grey” and my …
Favorite Track: “Dancing Through Sunday.” And, oh yeah, the rest of the songs are pretty awesome, too.

“Dangerously in Love,” Beyonce
Though it’s a bit scattershot the further into the album you go, “Dangerously in Love” proved Beyonce wasn’t just the standout in Destiny’s Child, she was an exploding superstar all her own. This release offered a quartet of outstanding singles (and accompanying memory-burn videos): “Baby Boy,” “Me, Myself and I,” “Naughty Girl,” and …
Favorite Track: the unmistakable landmark hit, “Crazy in Love.”

“You Are Free,” Cat Power
The only reason I bought this album when it came out—and the only reason I’d even heard of Cat Power—was because Eddie Vedder provided guest vocals on one track. To my initial disappointment, Vedder’s contribution can barely be heard in the background of “Good Woman”; but over the years, the CD’s stark, arresting presence wormed its way into my consciousness and has become a standout album of that year.
Favorite Track: “Speak for Me”

“A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar,” Dashboard Confessional
This album marked the pinnacle of Chris Carrabba’s return to his electric, punk roots. Over the previous D/C releases, he had been slowly adding instrumentation to his acoustic-guitar-and-a-stool dynamic; “A Mark” saw him going all in, not only with a full band, but plugging in for the first time in a few years. The results were outstanding, matching his heartfelt songwriting while embracing his considerable power-pop talents. The first song I heard off this record was in summer 2002, when D/C opened for Weezer, and I was blown away at the time by "Rapid Hope Loss," which just exploded off the stage when compared to the quieter acoustic stuff surrounding it in the set. There isn’t a weak entry to be found here, and picking a …
Favorite Track: is like choosing a favorite kid. Today it’s album closer “Several Ways to Die Trying.”

“Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers,” The National
Here The National begin the journey that would eventually lead to their two outstanding albums later in the decade. “Sad Songs” begins to move away from the rootsy vibe of the band's debut and into more rich, orchestral territory, relying more on the electric guitar and allowing drummer Bryan Devendorf to take a more prominent role. Though they still do gorgeous country-tinged ballads just fine (“Lucky You”), there’s more of a straightahead rock feel here, best heard on my …
Favorite Track: “Murder Me Rachael.” And the best was yet to come.

“Lost Dogs,” Pearl Jam
Every Pearl Jam fan’s dream came true in 2003 when the band released this double-CD compilation of b-sides. Sure, not every single little thing was on there, but it was enough. Some of the tracks included had been around for awhile—especially classic “Ten”-era cuts like “Wash,” “Alone,” and “Yellow Ledbetter”—but it sure was nice to have them all in one place and in good playing condition. In PJ’s true warts-and-all tradition, there are some downright bad songs included here (“Don’t Gimme No Lip,” “Black, Red, Yellow,” “Sweet Lew”). On the other hand, “Lost Dogs” offers some of the band’s best work, too, such as “Hard to Imagine,” “Fatal,” “Down,” and “Footsteps.” Then there’s …
Favorite Track: “Sad,” which is so phenomenal, I could write an entire post about it alone; how one of the band’s best tracks was left off “Binaural” I’ll never understand. "Sad" makes “Lost Dogs” one of the most important releases of my decade all by itself. That and the liner notes, which offer up explanations and a timeline for the songs. Oh, and the make-PJ-fans-drool double-truck picture of the Pearl Jam Recording Vault. … See? “Lost Dogs” is great.

“Final Straw,” Snow Patrol
Here the Irish band took big steps out of their quirky earlier days into the larger world of arena rock, paving the way for their big-time breakout smash three years later. “Final Straw” balances the two sides of Snow Patrol’s sensibilities masterfully, with idiosyncratic marvels like opener “How to Be Dead” and especially the beautiful slow-burner “Somewhere a Clock Is Ticking.” The album’s first half builds to a rumbling fervor that finally explodes in the galloping “Spitting Games.” “Games” is the first of a trio of five-star songs that serve as both the album’s literal and metaphorical heart, as it’s followed by the chiming “Chocolate” and my …
Favorite Track: the epic “Run.”

“Elephant,” The White Stripes
Nobody was quite expecting it, but in 2003 Jack and Meg White grew up. In a hurry. “Elephant” is a take-no-prisoners opus that saw the Stripes shed some of their playfulness in creating a masterwork for the rock and roll ages. Oh, and they did it in two weeks. White doesn’t mess around, either, dropping his career’s most iconic riff right at the album’s outset as the intro to “Seven Nation Army” (the lick so often misinterpreted as a bass line—it is not). From there “Elephant” offers the blistering “Black Math,” sonic boom “There’s No Room For You Here,” and stunning reworking of Burt Bacharach’s “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself.” The Stripes take a three-song breather in the middle of the record with a trio of quiet numbers (including Meg’s memorable lead vocal on “In the Cold, Cold, Night”) before unleashing what might still be White’s fiercest blues track, “Ball and Biscuit.” Then the remainder of the album flashes by amidst a whirlwind of fiendish guitar riffs and pounding drums. Five years on, it’s still as exciting as ever.
Favorite Track: “Seven Nation Army”

“Mary Star of the Sea,” Zwan
Oh, how I wish Billy Corgan would’ve stuck it out with this rebound project and left well enough alone with The Smashing Pumpkins. This excellent post-Pumpkins one-off held the essence of what I loved about Corgan’s former band, but liberated from the expectations and mythology. The dour frontman sounds downright weightless on “Mary Star of the Sea,” offering an hour of lush, forceful guitar pop/rock in the vein of “Stand Inside Your Love” that he does so well—or did, anyway. There may be a couple clunkers here (“Baby Let’s Rock!” ugh), but Zwan had all the right elements going for it. What a shame.
Favorite Track: “Lyric”

“Anchors Aweigh,” The Bouncing Souls
“Deja Entendu,” Brand New
“Unclassified,” Robert Randolph and the Family Band
"We're a Happy Family: Tribute to Ramones," various artists
“Between the Never and the Now,” Vendetta Red
“Fever to Tell,” Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Albums of the Aughts: 2002

Looking back, 2002 was definitely one of the sparsest years of the decade for me. Maybe it’s because I got married that year and thus didn’t pay as much attention to what was going on in the pop culture world at large, or maybe there just wasn’t that much great stuff out there at the time. Whatever the reason, it took multiple trips through the CD rack to come up with these 10; I stand by them all, but only a few would rank near the top of an all-decade list.

“American IV: The Man Comes Around,” Johnny Cash
Though a bit uneven when compared to other albums in the American Recordings series, this album’s a no-brainer for “Hurt” alone, which along with its tremendous video introduced the Man in Black to me and so many others of my generation. “American IV” offers much more than just that seminal single, though, with incredible covers of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” The Beatles’ “In My Life,” Sting’s “I Hung My Head,” and an updated take on Cash's own “Give My Love to Rose.” But my …
Favorite Track: is the foreboding, chilling, yet thrilling title track, a Cash original, “The Man Comes Around.”

“A Rush of Blood to the Head,” Coldplay
My brief flirtation with Coldplay is long gone, but this album is undeniably exceptional. No matter how frontman Chris Martin may annoy me in the past, present, or future …
Favorite Track: “Clocks” stops me in my tracks every time.

“Busted Stuff,” Dave Matthews Band
DMB were basically forced to release this album after its discarded original form, dubbed “The Lillywhite Sessions,” became one of the first widely spread bootleg albums on the Internet. That collection of songs was pushed to the side in favor of the wretched “Everyday” (more on this in a future post), so “Busted Stuff” was a bit of a make-good on behalf of the band. And it’s easy to see why these tracks were in such demand—“Busted Stuff” showcases DMB at its elemental best, perfectly balancing all the talented musicians instead of letting the band’s namesake take too much of the spotlight, which has been unfortunately the trend for the group’s other releases this decade. It’s tough to pick a …
Favorite Track: but I’ll go with “Grace Is Gone.”

“Drunken Lullabies,” Flogging Molly
The Ireland-via-California punk band rarely takes their collective feet off the gas on this scorching, rabble-rousing joy of an album. Definitely the CD of choice for anyone looking for a rush of blood through the veins.
Favorite Track: The iconic and unforgettable title track, “Drunken Lullabies”

“One By One,” Foo Fighters
The Foos have always been a bit too silly for me to care about them overly much, but when they get it right, they really get it right. This album is a tour de force, certainly up there with “Colour and the Shape” as their best work. From gatling-gun opener “All My Life” through to epic finale “Come Back,” this one’s a barnburner.
Favorite Track: “Come Back”

“Riot Act,” Pearl Jam
I debated back and forth about whether to include this album here or not, because it is without question my least favorite Pearl Jam release by a wide margin. Looking back over its tracklisting, maybe just half of the songs do I consider better than mediocre (or downright awful). That being said, it remains a Pearl Jam album, and thus had an impact on my musical life nonetheless. When I look at the other CDs included here from this year, it just wouldn’t look or feel right without PJ accounted for.
Favorite Track: “I Am Mine”

“30 #1 Hits,” Elvis Presley
I still say Elvis is the most overrated uber star in rock and roll, but I have a newfound respect for him, as an artist, performer, and just a sad, lonely man, after visiting Graceland this past year. His influence alone on so many bands I love was reason enough to pick up this collection, and it clued me in to what I'd been missing for so long.
Favorite Track: “Can’t Help Falling in Love”

“The Rising,” Bruce Springsteen
I listen through “The Rising” at least once a year as it is the definitive post-9/11 album for me, back when Springsteen knew how to be passionate about his country without resorting to cheap partisan demagoguery. Here he perfectly captured the wild mixture of emotions coursing through America at the time, from grief to anger to fear to even a bit of hope and a commitment to rebuild. That all seems like a very, very long time ago now, but songs like “The Rising,” “Lonesome Day,” “My City of Ruins,” "You're Missing," and “Further On (Up the Road)” are built to last. This is another of those albums where my …
Favorite Track: Continually changes. Any of those previous five would work, but more often than not I return to the haunting “Nothing Man.”

“89/93: An Anthology,” Uncle Tupelo
So as Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy struggled in 2002 to get his latest record released (see directly below), his former band unveiled this greatest hits collection, thereby showcasing exactly the rough-and-tumble greatness the record company was expecting from Wilco, I guess. Whereas Wilco songs tickle your brain as well as your heart, this set sings to your gut. Look no further for proof Tweedy and co-songwriter Jay Farrar were the Lennon and McCartney of alt-country; it’s a shame they couldn’t make it work for the long haul, but while they were together, nobody burned brighter. Nearly two decades old, these songs sound as fresh and wonderful as ever—there’s not a mediocre entry to be found here, much less a bad one.
Favorite Track: “Graveyard Shift”

“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” Wilco
“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” has become its own term in my musical lexicon, meaning: an album that takes awhile to sink in. It was months before I could say I liked this record; it would take years before I fully loved and appreciated its genius and beauty. Founder/frontman Jeff Tweedy set the bar so high with this dense, engaging, challenging, and, ultimately, gripping masterpiece, all the fine work he’s done since still sorta suffers by comparison. Such is the curse of a classic album where nearly every song could be considered a standout: “War on War,” “Ashes of American Flags,” “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” “Heavy Metal Drummer,” “Jesus, Etc.,” and …
Favorite Track: “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”

“Caution,” Hot Water Music
“Electric Sweat,” The Mooney Suzuki
“We Are the Only Friends We Have,” Piebald
"Forty Licks," The Rolling Stones

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Albums of the Aughts: 2001

Continuing in my month-long journey down memory lane, here are my 10 favorite albums from 2001 (plus a few extras), a year that marked my formal introduction to punk rock.

“Gold,” Ryan Adams
This album didn’t make Ryan Adams a household name, so I guess nothing he writes ever will. He apparently agrees, because in the years since he’s never tried to recapture the pop/rock mastery showcased with such ease on this record. “Gold” is Adams at his most palatable, his most accessible, and it provides a fascinating complement to the more raw emotion, songcraft, and production of the previous year’s amazing “Heartbreaker.” There’s a pleasant polish to “Gold” that’s unique among all his records to date (though 2007’s “Easy Tiger” came closest to recapturing it). I’m not saying this is necessarily Adams at his best, but it’s definitely one facet of his talent that’s been underutilized since. Ironically (or, perhaps, appropriately, given Adams’ prolific career) my …
Favorite Track: is "Gold" b-side “Rosalie Come and Go”

“From Here to Infirmary,” Alkaline Trio
This perfect album was my official introduction to punk, and rarely has it been bettered over the past several years. With only one track breaking the four-minute mark, every song is strong, intense, and catchy as all get-out. AT3 don’t deviate much from their basic hellfiery formula, but each entry is varied enough to keep you interested throughout its 38 minutes. I loved this album right from the start, and it launched me into the genre full force. I spent the decade investigating punk’s past and present (look down this list alone for proof); I didn’t like everything I found, but the trip started right here.
Favorite Track: The heartfelt “You’re Dead”

“Comfort Eagle,” Cake
There was a time when Cake was one of my very favorite bands. That period is long past, but “Comfort Eagle” serves as a good summary of everything I loved about them. I haven’t listened to this CD in years, and just looking at the song titles I start singing the choruses in my head instantly. It’s quirky, groovy, funny, full of memorable hooks and melodies, and will melt your face in spots, especially my …
Favorite Track: “Comfort Eagle”

“So Impossible,” Dashboard Confessional
2001 was a massive year for Dashboard founder/frontman Chris Carrabba. Not only did he break out with his second D/C album, “The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most,” and deliver his only album with previous band Further Seems Forever (see below), he also found time to release this incredible EP. Here’s what I wrote about it last year as part of my piece on fave EPs (it all still holds): A concept album in four songs, this release vividly describes all the nervous and exciting stages of newfound love—from the silent pining of “For You to Notice,” to the this-might-just-work hope of the title track, to the pre-date jitters of “Remember to Breathe,” to the triumphant glee of “Hands Down.” This is my favorite D/C release.
Favorite Track: “So Impossible”

“Love and Theft,” Bob Dylan
This album has the unfortunate circumstance of being released on the day of our country’s most devastating and violent attack, so it will always have a slight melancholy tinge to it. That being said, “Love and Theft” is a joy from start to finish, as Dylan unleashes his swashbuckling self all over the American songbook yet again. I’m no Dylanphile, but from what I understand this marked a resurgence for the troubadour that has led to quite a productive decade. It was my first foray into his work, and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to start.
Favorite Track: “Honest with Me,” which contains one of my favorite riffs of all time

“The Moon Is Down,” Further Seems Forever
Chris Carrabba said goodbye to the more traditional punk form of the early aughts with this incredible album—his one and only full-length as frontman of FSF—before focusing exclusively on Dashboard Confessional. But what a sendoff! Right from the opening track’s guitar explosion, this album never lets up with its angular riffs and soaring choruses. Ballad “Just Until Sundown” proved a Dashboard preview of sorts and Carrabba would later make shifts back toward his stronger FSF sound, but he hasn't rocked this hard since. Too bad, because it suited him well. “The Moon Is Down” is as fine a record as he’s ever produced.
Favorite Track: “The Moon Is Down” (made extra special for referencing “Ender’s Game”)

“10.9.00, Chicago, Illinois,” Pearl Jam
What better way to commemorate the best concert experience of my life than for the band to release an official bootleg of the entire show? There’s not enough time/room here to go into what made this night so amazing, but needless to say I was ecstatic to be able to relive it on a professionally recorded and produced CD. Once again, Pearl Jam proved innovators, trend-setters, and, most important, extremely fan friendly, as their ambitious 72-concert live series from the 2000 tour launched a thousand imitators.
Favorite Track: “Release”

“The Golden Hum,” Remy Zero
I found this band well after they were gone thanks to their inclusion as the main title theme for TV series “Smallville.” So while I came for glorious …
Favorite Track: “Save Me” …
I stayed because this is a fine album, one of several excellent swan songs from this decade. Though they were ripped for being Radiohead-lite, I can’t stand Thom Yorke, so that suits me just fine. A nice companion piece to the previous year’s “Unified Theory.”

“Stay What You Are,” Saves the Day
If “From Here to Infirmary” is Entry 1A in my modern punk education, then “Stay What You Are” is 1B. From the tremulous opener “At Your Funeral” through to the last gasp of “Firefly,” this is hands-down one of the best pop/punk records of the decade. Though Saves the Day would get tagged with the derogatory “emo” label and go completely off the rails running away from that genre, “Stay What You Are” remains a perfect moment in time.
Favorite Track: “At Your Funeral”

“White Blood Cells,” The White Stripes
The White Stripes may have broken into the mainstream with their hit “Fell in Love with a Girl,” but that shambling near-wreck of a song so turned me off, I almost missed out on what has become in the intervening years one of my all-time favorite bands. No, the strength of this record is, as usual, in Jack White’s guitar, which is on full display in just about every song but the lead single, from leadoff firestarter “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” to “I Can’t Wait” to the inescapably catchy “I Think I Smell a Rat.” “Blood Cells” also showcased the Stripes’ quieter, funnier side on cuts like “Hotel Yorba,” “We’re Going to Be Friends,” and “Same Boy You’ve Always Known.” And then there’s the song that balances these sides perfectly, my …
Favorite Track: “I’m Finding It Harder to Be a Gentleman”

"How I Spent My Summer Vacation," The Bouncing Souls
“The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most,” Dashboard Confessional
“Change,” The Dismemberment Plan
“Sing Loud, Sing Proud,” Dropkick Murphys
"The Argument," Fugazi
“Everynight Fire Works,” Hey Mercedes
“The National,” The National
“Live in New York City,” Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

New U2 for Christmas

Far be it for U2 to let the holiday shopping season go by without offering up some new little thing for people to buy (though rarely is this a new album), but this time around it's actually worthwhile.

Their new Christmas song (a cover) is quite extraordinary in its own simple little way. My favorite U2 blogger summed it up just perfectly (as per usual)—you can see the video and read her take on it here. More info about the song and Bono's new save-the-world idea here.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Albums of the Aughts: Recapping an Amazing Decade of Music

About a year from now, you’re going to be inundated with best-of lists for the decade, so I figured why not get out ahead of the pack? Over the next month, I’ll be revisiting my 10 favorite albums (maximum) from each year of the new millennium, starting today with 2000 (and, yes, I know technically the millennium started in 2001, but spare me Jerry Seinfeld). On New Year’s Eve (pending I actually complete this thing), I’ll compile the best of the best for the ultimate near-end-of-the-decade list. But first …

IN THE YEAR 2000 …

“Heartbreaker,” Ryan Adams
Could you ask for a better debut album? Cynics would say he’s never been better than this pure alt-country masterpiece (I am not one of them, however, as you will see). The newly solo singer/songwriter moves effortlessly from barroom brawlers to tender love songs, and it all works together perfectly.
Favorite Track: “Come Pick Me Up”

“Relationship of Command,” At the Drive-In
Speaking of heartbreakers, here’s one for the ages. This genre-defying classic marked both the peak and the end for these Texas firebrands, who split just as they were about to break huge. They all went on to form inferior bands (please don’t start with me about The Mars Volta), but at least they went out with guns blazing.
Favorite Track: “One Armed Scissor”

“American III: Solitary Man,” Johnny Cash
The Man in Black opens this album with the utterly appropriate “I Won’t Back Down,” backed by the song’s author, Tom Petty, and it’s off and running from there. No middle slump here in the new-classic stretch of five American Recordings albums from Cash and producer Rick Rubin. Highlights abound, including tremendous renditions of U2’s “One” and Nick Cave’s “The Mercy Seat,” but my …
Favorite Track: is the overpowering “I See a Darkness”

“The Swiss Army Romance,” Dashboard Confessional
Before he went and got all arena-rocky and infatuated with his own mythos, Chris Carrabba’s band consisted of his earnest voice, an acoustic guitar, and a stool. This album was downright revolutionary at the time, released amidst the malaise of Pearl Jam knockoffs and the awful nu-metal and rap/rock crazes (anybody still remember Limp Bizkit?). Carrabba would be credited—for better or worse—with helping launch the emo genre, and he was equally loved and despised. That, I think, is one mark of a great frontman.
Favorite Track: “Ender Will Save Us All”

“Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea,” PJ Harvey
With this record, Polly Jean wanted to see if she could write and record a more accessible rock album, and she succeeded in spades. A stone-cold classic, it marked the culmination of a decade of incendiary work. There isn’t a bad track on the entire thing, and even after eight years I still constantly change my mind on my …
Favorite Track: Today it’s “The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore,” but tomorrow it’ll probably be something different

“Binaural,” Pearl Jam
This release signaled the beginning of a new era for Pearl Jam, as it was the first album with former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron. Cameron’s aggressive style forever changed the tone of the band, and the debate still rages today if it was positive or negative. It also marked probably the peak of my Pearl Jam obsessive fandom; I saw them five times on this tour, in four different states. The Chicago show on 10.9.00 still stands as my favorite concert experience ever.
For me, this is Pearl Jam’s classic that got away when you consider “Sad” (one of the band’s best-ever songs) and “Fatal” were inexplicably left off the tracklist, while demo “Puzzles and Games” was reworked into the inferior (but still good, mind you) “Light Years.” That being said, “Binaural” still offers multiple treasures, such as “Grievance,” “Sleight of Hand,” “Of the Girl,” “Parting Ways,” and …
Favorite Track: “Insignificance”

“Renegades,” Rage Against the Machine
From the album-opening Tom Morello guitar salvo on “Microphone Fiend” to the closing sledgehammer of “Maggie’s Farm,” this is one, long adrenaline rush. Not just my favorite Rage CD, it’s one of my favorite records of all time, it's made all the more impressive because its made up of tracks from artists that influenced the band’s own landmark music. Thus “Renegades” has an underlying foundation of authenticity and accessibility that doesn’t necessarily occur in the band’s own rhetoric-to-excess work.
Favorite Track: “How I Could Just Kill a Man”

“De Stijl,” The White Stripes
Though I was first introduced to the Stripes in 2001 with their breakthrough “White Blood Cells,” this is the album that turned them into one of my all-time favorite bands. Jack White has gone on to write more intricate and well-crafted songs, but there’s something to be said for the raw, primal power of his fiery six-string on tracks like “Death Letter,” “Let’s Build a Home,” “Little Bird,” and “Hello Operator.” And like his heroes from Led Zeppelin, he also engages in a softer, gentler, folkier side on this record to great effect, including my …
Favorite Track: “I’m Bound to Pack It Up”

“All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” U2
Though it doesn’t hold up as U2’s “third masterpiece” (as Rolling Stone hyperventilated at the time), the first seven tracks of this comeback album of sorts are as solidly brilliant as U2 has ever been. Though it compares most favorably with the pop/rock accessibility of 1987’s iconic “The Joshua Tree,” “ATYCLB” wasn’t so much a return to 1980s form as a consolidation of all the music the band had produced to that point, forming a familiar but still new, modern sound that has carried them through the rest of this decade (though we’ll see what the next one sounds like early next year).
Favorite Tracks: “Beautiful Day,” “Walk On (UK Single Version)”

“Unified Theory,” Unified Theory
One of the best flash-in-the-pan bands I’ve come across, Unified Theory was formed out of the ashes of Blind Melon and stuck around just long enough to put out this incredible debut album that doesn’t offer a subpar track. Despite showing amazing promise, the band disbanded shortly thereafter. Great hooks, swirling guitar flourishes, and soaring vocals from charismatic frontman Chris Shinn, who I can’t believe hasn’t hit it big with some other group in the intervening years. I managed to catch them in a small club in Fort Wayne, Indiana, while they toured off this album, and the show still brings back a warm memory all these years later. What a pity.
Favorite Track: “Passive”

“Almost Famous,” soundtrack
"B.R.M.C.," Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
"Best of Blur," Blur
"White Pony," Deftones
“Swagger,” Flogging Molly
“Veni Vidi Vicious,” The Hives
“MACHINA/The Machines of God,” The Smashing Pumpkins
"MACHINA II: The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music," The Smashing Pumpkins
"Silver and Gold," Neil Young

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Songs, the Words, and the Reasons: The Music of 2008

As has become tradition, I offer surefire Black Friday stocking stuffer advice. What follows wasn’t necessarily released in 2008, but these are the artists, albums, and songs that moved me in some way this past year.

The Gaslight Anthem
Yeah, no surprise here. I’ve already written rather extensively about them this year, so I guess there’s nothing much more to say than in 2008 this New Jersey quartet grabbed a hold of my heart and soul, cementing itself as one of my all-time favorite bands. They’ve engendered in me a fervor that I’ve felt for only a few other musicians in my life. May it never end.

Runners Up:
Kings of Leon
The National
The Raconteurs
Eddie Vedder
The Whigs

“The ’59 Sound”/“Senor and the Queen,” The Gaslight Anthem
I spent all last week in Orlando for work, and was so busy I didn’t get to listen to music for eight straight days. When my plane took off Sunday morning, I slammed on my headphones and woke the iPod out of its hibernation. Out of all the albums on my little friend, there was only one I wanted to hear: “The ’59 Sound.” This a record that is as rewarding after 25 listens as it is on the first—more so, even. It’s one of the best I’ve ever heard.

And speaking of, a year ago I wrote a piece about my favorite EPs. Well, now “Senor and the Queen” goes straight to the top of the list. It is perfect: Four five-star songs, released just because they were there and the band wanted to put them out. Amazing.

Runners Up:
“Boxer,” The National
“Consolers of the Lonely,” The Raconteurs
“Konk,” Kooks
“Mission Control,” The Whigs
“The Odd Couple,” Gnarls Barkley

“The ’59 Sound,” The Gaslight Anthem
Completing the 2008 TGA trifecta, this song still stops me in my tracks even after hearing it I-don’t-know how many times. It raises the hair on my neck when Fallon yells “GRANDMAMA’S RADIO!!!” and that’s just one little moment among 3 minutes, 10 seconds of perfection. It mourns the dead, reaffirms life, commiserates with the downtrodden, lifts the spirit, and worships the Almighty all at the same time. Not bad for a little rock and roll song.

“3 Dimes Down,” Drive-By Truckers (from 2008’s “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark”)
One of my disappointments of this year is I didn’t make time to get to know this expansive album better (same could be said for TV on the Radio’s new record). I’ll have to rectify that in 2009, but for the meantime I can wholeheartedly recommend this Uncle Tupelo-style thrashing alt-country jam.

“A Little Better,” Gnarls Barkley (from 2008’s “The Odd Couple”)
Though it didn’t generate the type of buzz and breakout hits like its predecessor, this disc was solid from start to finish and deserved more hype and praise this year than it received. This soulful ballad closes the record, and I don’t know if Cee-Lo’s voice has ever sounded better. One of the group’s best songs.

“Angel of Harlem”/“When Love Comes to Town,” U2 (from 1989’s “Rattle and Hum”)
I never imagined I’d ever get to stand where these two songs were recorded. One of the coolest afternoons of my life. I love my job.

“Another Way to Die,” Jack White and Alicia Keys (from 2008’s “Quantum of Solace” soundtrack)
Jack White had a very good year. Again.

“Arc,” Eddie Vedder (from 2002’s “Riot Act,” as performed live 8.16.08//8.17.08)
Performances of this song were mesmerizing.

“Boots of Chinese Plastic,” The Pretenders (from 2008’s “Break Up the Concrete”)
Chrissie Hynde goes rockabilly. Wonderfulness ensues.

“Both Crosses,” The Hold Steady (from 2008’s “Stay Positive”)
While the group’s known best for their rambunctious rockers, this quiet, moody acoustic affair made the biggest impact on me from their excellent new album, evoking Zeppelin circa “Tangerine” or “The Battle of Evermore.”

“Carcinogen Crush,” AFI (2007)
This one-off was nice, but it really just whet my appetite for more. Here’s hoping in 2009 …

“Fans,” Kings of Leon (from 2007’s “Because of the Times”)
Could’ve picked any of a number of great tracks from these Tennessee hooligans, but the riff/rhythm combo of this one made an indelible impression.

“I Am Mine,” Pearl Jam (from 2002’s “Riot Act”)
I covered the impact this song made on me in my reviews of PJ/Eddie Vedder shows this summer (here, here, and here). I guess there’s no more praise I could give this song than to say it, along with “Arc,” makes “Riot Act” seem not so bad anymore. It’s also cracked my list of all-time favorite Pearl Jam songs.

“I Walk Alone,” Saliva (from 2006’s “WWE: Reckless Intent”)
What on EARTH is a Saliva song doing on here? Well, it’s not the song, really (I don’t even own a copy), but the man associated with it. I took my dad to see WWE’s “Monday Night Raw” this summer and, while the show itself wasn’t that great, being in the building was a ton of fun. Of particular impact was Batista, who uses this song as his entrance music. I had never paid that much attention to the D.C. native, but in his return to “Raw” this summer he’s worked over his character a bit from a brooder to include more condescension and sarcasm, and it fits him quite well. Plus, the guy’s a beast in the ring.

“If You Want Me,” Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (from 2007’s “Once” soundtrack)
“Falling Slowly” may have won the Oscar and everything, but this haunting ballad is both my favorite song and scene from that tremendous movie.

“In the Air Tonight,” Phil Collins (from 1981’s “Face Value”)
Sometimes a song just strikes you exactly right at the exact right time. Such was the case when myself and my four best friends at IAAPA heard this track on the way home from dinner at the beginning of what we knew would be a long, difficult week. A moment of preemptive group catharsis—and rockin' air drumming.

“Love It All,” Kooks (from 2008’s “Konk”)
The lighter, poppier cousins to the Arctic Monkeys delivered another standout record this year, somehow managing to better their excellent and infectious 2006 debut. The hooks are stronger, the songs even better crafted. Could’ve picked any number of tracks to highlight, but this slow burner stood above the rest.

“Man in Black,” The Bouncing Souls (from 2008’s “All Aboard: A Tribute to Johnny Cash”)
My favorite type of cover: A band stays true to the original without simply copying, making the song their own. (This is a rather good cover collection; The Gaslight Anthem’s more straightforward take on “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” is a standout, as is Ben Nichols’ incredible gravelly take on “Delia’s Gone.”)

“Memphis,” PJ Harvey (from 2000’s “Good Fortune” single)
Just came across this excellent b-side this year (if anyone knows where I can find her entire b-side collection online, please let me know!). The fact that this great song is relegated to toss-off status is just further proof that she peaked with “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.”

“Paper Planes,” M.I.A. (from 2007’s “Kala”)
Every year it seems there’s a movie trailer that makes perfect use of a particular song. Last year it was “American Gangster” and Jay-Z; this year it was “Pineapple Express” and M.I.A. I had to have this song from the moment it hit the speakers during that hilarious trailer. Ironically, I didn’t even end up seeing the movie, but this album is great.

“Right Hand on My Heart,” The Whigs (from 2008’s “Mission Control”)
This is the album review I’ve been writing in my head all year. I don’t know how it hasn’t actually come to pass, but such is life. There are a half dozen songs on “Mission Control” that could justifiably be on this list, but if I had to play someone just one song to convince them why The Whigs are so good, “Right Hand” would be that song.

“41”/“Say Goodbye,” Dave Matthews Band (from 1996’s “Crash”)
A virtuoso performance by saxophonist Leroi Moore, who died way too young this year.

“Shady Grove,” Mudcrutch (from 2008’s “Mudcrutch”)
From Tom Petty’s long-gestating side project, this song gets the nod because, after moving to a new house, I get on the Metro at Shady Grove every day now.

“Slow Show,” The National (from 2007’s “Boxer”)
Wow, I could put at least a dozen National songs on this list after finally giving in this year and realizing how incredible this band is. “Boxer” is now on my all-time favorite albums list, but that’s not to overlook how amazing their other records are. “Slow Show” was the song I came away humming to myself after seeing the band in May, so it gets top billing here. But it’s real tough to not mention songs like “Fake Empire,” “Start a War,” “Mistaken for Strangers,” “Daughters of the Soho Riots,” “Secret Meeting,” "Lucky You," "About Today" … the list could (and does) go on and on. I don't think they've written a song yet I don't like.

“Sometime Around Midnight,” Airborne Toxic Event (from 2008’s “Airborne Toxic Event”)
It had me at the violin solo.

“Strange Times,” The Black Keys (from 2008’s “Attack and Release”)
Though the album didn’t quite live up to my expectations, this lead single is one of the Keys’ best tracks.

“The Battle of Evermore,” Led Zeppelin (from 1971’s “Led Zeppelin IV,” as performed live by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, 6.13.08)
Stunning. Just heart-stoppingly beautiful. Let the old Zep geezers find a new lead singer for their last-chance cash drive; Plant’s making absolutely the right decision.

“The Golden Floor,” Snow Patrol (from 2008’s “A Hundred Million Suns”)
Though Snow Patrol’s new album is chock full of the big anthems they do so well, this quiet, mellow track is a standout from the band’s solid fifth album. I love the stripped-down vibe and handclap rhythm. A nice cousin to The Hold Steady’s “Four Crosses.”

“There Is a Thunder (Out in the Distance),” This Charming Man (from 2008’s “Every Little Secret …” EP [re-release])
And to think, this is the band Brian Fallon threw away to form The Gaslight Anthem …

“These Stones Will Shout,” The Raconteurs (from 2008’s “Consolers of the Lonely")
The Raconteurs’ evocation of Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away” always gets my blood pumping. Here’s another album that could’ve had multiple entries on this list (“Carolina Drama,” “Top Yourself,” “Consoler of the Lonely”—this album was deep).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

'Dance All Night': Kings of Leon in D.C., 11.10.08

If it's possible to use the term "groovy" without dredging up the doofus hippie connotations, then that's exactly how I'd describe Monday night's Kings of Leon concert at Constitution Hall in D.C. These boys from Tennessee certainly know how to lock into a groove and keep the intensity up for a show.

It was nearly five months since I'd last seen the quartet, when they opened for Pearl Jam in Virginia Beach. I'd never heard a KOL song prior to that night, but they won me over and I've been digging into their catalog ever since.

They played basically every song I could have hoped for Monday night over the course of an excellent 1 hour 40 minute set. Though I wasn't taking notes, as best I can figure post-show they took seven songs each from their three most recent albums, opening with back-to-back whammies "Closer" and "Crawl" from this year's release, "Only By the Night." Other standouts included "Fans" (my personal fave KOL track), the sprawling "Knocked Up," and show-closer "Black Thumbnail." I also particularly liked a strong five-song stretch amidst the main set that started with the chust-thumping "Four Kicks" then moved on into "The Bucket," "McFearless," "Use Somebody," and "On Call." It was impressed upon me how much I like the way their songs always keep moving, adding layers upon layers without losing the core riff where they started; if nothing else, the Kings of Leon are rarely boring.

One of the most surprising aspects of the night when compared to my first KOL experience was how powerful the band's stage presence is when they unleash their full headlining power, which has so enraptured the UK but failed to catch on Stateside. They gave off a much more confident vibe topping the bill, and their rather expansive light show was just right—always complementary of the music, never overwhelming it. Playing to a raucous capacity crowd, the only slightly off moment came near the end of the main set with the ballad "Cold Desert"; as the final track on the new album it works OK, but at five minutes plus, it dragged in concert. The Kings redeemed themselves right away, though, closing the set with "Slow Night, So Long," a surefire favorite. Overall, they moved effortlessly from one crowd-pleaser to another, keeping the energy level at a high level all night. It wasn't the best show I've ever seen or anything, but it sure was fun.

One of the reasons I went in the first place was for the strong three-band bill. Unfortunately, due to personal scheduling issues I missed all but a couple songs of The Whigs' half-hour opening set (no D.C. show should EVER start at 7 p.m.—it's next to impossible to get to the venue on time!). What I heard was great, which made it all the more disappointing that I missed everything from the band that produced one of my favorite albums of the year. Hopefully they'll come back soon and hit a place like the Black Cat.

In the middle was We Are Scientists, who have to be one of the best geek-rock bands since Weezer. Their breezy 40-minute show was also great fun, and they did well to hold the crowd's attention in a room that's probably too big for them. Their new record from this year is another that's well worth your time.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

‘The ’59 Sound’: Fulfilling Great Expectations

One way to define a truly great album is its ability to evolve for the listener over time. There will be those tracks that jump out immediately on first playback, but upon repeated listens other songs will move into the limelight with nearly equal force and passion. The best of the best never stop providing these momentum swings, continuing to challenge the audience in perpetuity until picking a “favorite” track is nearly impossible.

Such is becoming the case with The Gaslight Anthem’s “The ’59 Sound.”

I’ve been living with this outstanding, seminal record for more than two months now, and its 12 tracks continue to reveal new treasures seemingly every new turn through. There certainly isn’t a weak song on the entire thing, so I felt it warranted a track-by-track breakdown. Here I’ll rate each entry on a five-star scale, iTunes style:

“Great Expectations”
This clarion call to arms sets the mood and tone immediately with its scratched-record intro. From there it’s … blastoff—a perfect way to begin this record.

“The ’59 Sound”
This is now one of my favorite songs of all time. The first verse and chorus are especially poignant and spectacular, with frontman Brian Fallon contemplating life after death through the prism of music. It’s mournful and uplifting at the same time; yes, one of his friends has died unexpectedly, but despite the pain Fallon longs and hopes for the heaven promised by the Everlasting, where we will cast off “the chains I’ve been hearing now for most of my life.” That’s a lot to engage in three minutes, all the while delivering one powerhouse of a track. The band’s best song, and that’s saying something.

“Old White Lincoln”
A bouncy, throwaway rocker (though with somewhat melancholy lyrics) in the tradition of Springsteen’s 1980 album “The River.”

“High Lonesome”
It’s count-the-references time, with lines honoring the Counting Crows and Springsteen. Another uptempo stomper that maintains the album’s breakneck, breathtaking pace. My favorite part comes about two and a half minutes in, where the quote from “I’m on Fire” leads to a pounding drum break into the final chorus.

“Film Noir”
Here’s the albums first (of several) major departures, dipping into a bluesy riff to open before building to a blowout climax at the end of each verse. It’s unlike any other track in the band’s catalog.

“Miles Davis and the Cool”
Drummer Benny Horowitz is definitely the unheralded MVP of this album, and this is the track where he really shines. This song is all about his drum cadence, driving on into yet another thrilling peak in the final chorus. Played live, this song—in which Fallon mixes Springsteenian themes from “Born to Run,” “Thunder Road,” and “Rosalita”—explodes off the stage.

“The Patient Ferris Wheel”
If I had to pick my least favorite track on “The ’59 Sound,” this is it—guest vocals from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ Dicky Barrett notwithstanding. The “maybe I should call me an ambulance” refrain is repeated a few too many times, and the guitar part is rather indistinguishable from the album’s other high-energy tracks. Still, that’s being extremely hypersensitive. Performed in concert, this is another winner, especially when the crowd picks up Barrett’s part.

“Casanova, Baby!”
An absolute joy of a swinging song, this contains one of my favorite lines of the entire album: “We could run all night/And dance upon the architecture.”

“Even Cowgirls Get the Blues”
As the title states, this is The Gaslight Anthem’s most straightforward blues song of their short career. It offers a singular main riff that does Led Zeppelin proud. Or maybe it's the best ’80s power ballad you’ve ever heard—only, you know, cool.

“Meet Me By the River’s Edge”
Of all The Gaslight Anthem’s songs to this point, this is the one I could most envision the E Street Band playing, and not because it name-checks three Springsteen tracks. It’s an epic in the best possible way, and contains another of my favorite lines: “You were Audrey Hepburn in pearls.” It’s pure catharsis.

“Here’s Looking At You, Kid”
Playful, yet still pointed. This is basically a Fallon solo acoustic effort, with just the right amount of complementary instrumentation floating in the background. I love the subject matter, as Fallon manages to stay humble even as he works out some lovelife issues and exacts a bit of retribution on all those girls who ignored him before he became the frontman of a successful band. It’s quietly devastating in the mode of “I’m on Fire,” yet somehow playful, too.

“The Backseat”
To cap off the monumental achievement that is “The ’59 Sound,” the band returns to its punk roots with this finale, which evokes The Bouncing Souls’ “For All the Unheard.” Fallon saves one of his best vocal performances for last, staying almost entirely in his upper register. In the final minute, it takes all the emotion built up throughout the record and pours it all out, sending the listener away drained, but with a smile and buoyed heart.


I know there’s hardly any criticism to be found in my second review of this album, but there’s just none to be had from me. I’ve been listening to "The '59 Sound" almost constantly for the better part of three months now, and I just can’t find anything really wrong with it; on the contrary, it has continued to get better and better and better. It gets my heart pumping just as hard now as it did the first time I heard it—maybe even more, actually, as I've come to know and love each entry. Its ebbs and flows are perfectly paced, and the band stretched its sound just enough and in just the right ways. Fallon has said the goal was to reinterpret soul music through punk rock, and they succeeded. I can't explain how, exactly, but there's such honesty and heart and passion and authenticity written all over and through this record. I don't know how anyone couldn't enjoy it.

Seeing the band live last month sealed the deal: “The ’59 Sound” is an A-plus record. It’s one of the best I’ve ever heard.

(Oh, and just as a, you know, afterthought: The Gaslight Anthem released a four-song EP earlier this year, "Senor and the Queen," and, yep, those are ALL 5-star songs, too. The fact that those were just warm-ups to this album is downright mindblowing.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kings of Leon, ‘Only By the Night’

I’m a fan of the Kings of Leon’s progression as a band over the past several albums, going from down-and-dirty semi-garage rockers to down-and-dirty spacey rockers. Their latest release, “Only By the Night” continues that evolution; it definitely sounds more like the last record, 2007’s “Because of the Times” (my KOL favorite) than 2004’s “Aha Shake Heartbreak.”

“Only By the Night’s” first half is particularly compelling in its variety, moving from arena-ready opener “Closer” to the one-two punch of grab-you-by-the-throat “Crawl” (one of the band’s best-ever tracks) and sinewy lead single “Sex on Fire.” “Use Somebody” is another winner, a chiming mid-tempo anthem that sounds like KOL’s take on U2’s “Beautiful Day.” “Manhattan” is catchy as all get-out with its off-kilter bass/percussion rhythm, and “Revelry” is probably as pleasant a ballad as the band can write.

It’s the second half of “Only By the Night” where things start to slip. None of the remaining five tracks are bad, necessarily, but they don’t do much to stand out from the pack, either. They’re the kind of songs that wouldn’t get skipped if they shuffled up on my iPod, but wouldn’t do much to keep me awake on a long car ride—all a bit slow and dirge-like. “Be Somebody” is probably the best of the bunch, especially when it breaks down into something reminiscent of Soundgarden’s “Jesus Christ Pose.”

Overall, the album still holds together well, and marks a continued transition for the four bandmembers (three brothers and a cousin) as they begin to leave their raucous and reckless 20s behind and figure out how to settle into their 30s and still write music they like. I’m looking forward to seeing where they go from here.

Grade: B

Saturday, October 25, 2008


"Look at them. The man who cheats and lies, but preserves a respectable front. He knows himself to be dishonest, but others think he's honest and he derives his self-respect from that, second-hand. The man who takes credit for an achievement which is not his own. He knows himself to be mediocre, but he's great in the eyes of others. The frustrated wretch who professes love for the inferior and clings to those less endowed, in order to establish his own superiority by comparion. The man whose sole aim is to make money. Now I don't see anything evil in a desire to make money. But money is only a means to some end. If a man wants it for a personal purpose—to invest in his industry, to create, to study, to travel, to enjoy luxury—he's completely moral. But the men who place money first go much beyond that. Personal luxury is a limited endeavor. What they want is ostentation: to show, to stun, to entertain, to impress others. They're second-handers. Look at our so-called cultural endeavors. A lecturer who spouts some borrowed rehash of nothing at all that means nothing at all to him—and the people who listen and don't give a damn, but sit there in order to tell their friends that they have attended a lecture by a famous name. All second-handers. …

"In the realm of greatest importance—the realm of values, of judgment, of spirit, of thought—they place others above self, in the exact manner which altruism demands. … It's so easy to run to others. It's so hard to stand on one's own record. You can fake virtue for an audience. You can't fake it in your own eyes. …

"[Second-handers] have no concern for facts, ideas, work. They're concerned only with people. They don't ask: 'Is this true?' They ask: 'Is this what others think is true?' Not to judge, but to repeat. Not to do, but to give the impression of doing. Not creation, but show. Not ability, but friendship. Not merit, but pull. What would happen to the world without those who do, think, work, produce? …

"Second-handers have no sense of reality. Their reality is not within them, but somewhere in that space which divides one human body from another. Not an entity, but a relation—anchored to nothing. … Opinion without a rational process. Motion without brakes or motor. Power without responsibility. … He's not open to reason. You can't speak to him—he can't hear. …

"Notice how they'll accept anything except a man who stands alone. They recognize him at once. By instinct. There's a special, insidious kind of hatred for him. They forgive criminals. They admire dictators. Crime and violence are a tie. A form of mutual dependence. They need ties. They've got to force their miserable little personalities on every single person they meet. The independent man kills them—because they don't exist within him and that's the only form of existence they know. Notice the malignant kind of resentment against any idea that propounds independence. Notice the malice toward an independent man."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

‘Dance Upon the Architecture’: The Gaslight Anthem, Live in Virginia Beach, 10.18.08

In the current issue of Alternative Press, The Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon says the music he writes is intended to help lift people’s spirits in these turbulent times and remind them life is something to still be enjoyed.

Those aren’t empty words.

Saturday night Fallon and his bandmates put on an incredible live show at The Jewish Mother restaurant in Virginia Beach, the most fun I’ve had at a concert since Fallon’s musical hero, Bruce Springsteen, brought his Seeger Sessions Band to the D.C. area two years ago.

Gaslight have been the opening band of a four-act punk tour this fall headlined by Rise Against, so they used this off night in the schedule to, as Fallon put it, “get a workout” as headliners again. The Jewish Mother, a longstanding Va. Beach establishment, is the smallest place I’ve ever seen a concert—there couldn’t have been more than 150 people crammed into the tiny room (if that), and the place could barely contain the band. Seeing such an accomplished group in such a small place was a rare treat. I can’t wait to hear these guys again through a soundsystem that actually works.

One of the things that struck me the most about Saturday’s show was how much fun the bandmembers seemed to be having. Fallon, of course, was into it—he’s a terrific lead. But we were standing just off the corner of the stage next to bassist Alex Levine, and he was grinning widely the entire night; once I glanced back at drummer Benny Horowitz (who at one point flung a splintered drumstick that hit my wife—a well-earned souvenir), and he was singing along for all he was worth … and he didn’t even have a mic!

And the music … wow. The new songs are incredible, and this show cemented a notion I’d already basically acknowledged: “The ’59 Sound” is even better than the band’s 2007 debut, “Sink or Swim”—and the three tracks they didn’t play off the new album are a trio of my favorites (wherefor art thou, "Meet Me By the River's Edge"?). I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that all of the 18 songs played Saturday night were excellent; there was simply no letup the entire way as they powered through a 75-minute set. Forced to pick a favorite section, I’d definitely point to the three-fer of “We Came to Dance”/“Miles Davis and the Cool”/“The ’59 Sound.” “Dance” is my favorite track from “Sink or Swim,” and it kills live; the final minute of “Miles Davis” simply exploded off the stage; and, my goodness, “The ’59 Sound” is just … amazing—it got the strongest reaction from the crowd last night and was one of the most powerful moments of the show.

Other favorite moments include:

• Throwing a snippet of The National’s “Start a War” into the middle of “Old White Lincoln”
• “The Patient Ferris Wheel”—This might be my least favorite track on the new album (it's kinda like asking to pick your least favorite child …), but it is insanely good played in front of an audience
• Fallon’s intro to “Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts” was honest and unassuming (a description that could be applied to the entire night—what a refreshing change to see a band set up their gear in 10 minutes and just play); he said he spends more time than any normal person should visiting New Jersey haunts cited in Springsteen songs and trying to recreate for himself what The Boss saw in those places—this song was written for the Asbury Lanes bowling alley
• “The Backseat” is a brilliant set closer, the final minute building to a perfect climax for both the record and the concert.

And then there’s “Senor and the Queen.” At just two minutes long, this song comes and goes so quickly it’s easy to miss what a finely written lyric it offers; Fallon’s vocals were very clear during this one last night, and the second stanza stood out as particularly brilliant:

And in every sad, sad country song
Is there a little bitty piece of ’em still hanging on?
You tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine, my dear
Then we’ll bury these old ghosts here

No better summary could there be of what The Gaslight Anthem are all about, both on record and in concert. Saturday night was just pure, authentic, unadulterated … joy.

The Gaslight Anthem
The Jewish Mother
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Running Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Great Expectations
Casanova, Baby!
Old White Lincoln/Start a War (snippet)
We Came to Dance
Miles Davis and the Cool
The ’59 Sound
High Lonesome
Angry Johnny and the Radio/What Becomes of the Broken Hearted (snippet)
Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts
Senor and the Queen
I Coulda Been a Contender
The Backseat

The Patient Ferris Wheel
Here’s Looking at You, Kid
Say I Won’t (Recognize)

***On a final note: Fallon hung around outside the venue for a little while after the show, chatting with friends and fans. The guy could not have been nicer or more down to earth; talking to him, you’d never know he’s fronting one of the hottest bands in the country right now. We talked for five minutes or so and he was just, you know, a regular guy. Again, refreshing.