Readers often ask if I ever get tired of seeing live music. "Aren't there
times when you'd rather sit home and read a book or watch a movie than see
The answer, honestly, is no. I never go to a show
expecting to have a bad time; I am always hoping for that electric jolt that
comes from seeing a one-of-a-kind live performance, where the artist is
truly in the moment and the audience pushes him or her to take things to a
whole new level.
Call me a junkie. But I just can't get enough.
By my calculations, in addition to partial performances by too many
artists to count, I saw full sets by 331 bands in 2005. That was down a bit
from previous years, but hey, I was out of commission for about two months
after surgery early in the year. (And no, it wasn't a lobotomy.)
whose live performances let me down the most in 2005 all had
something in common: I have seen every one of them deliver great
shows in the past, including some that rank with my most memorable
concerts ever. Sad to say, this time through, they seemed to be on
autopilot, relying on reputation instead of real energy. In
chronological order: 1. Paul Westerberg, April 15, Riviera
2. Weezer, May 4, Aragon
3. U2, May 7, United Center
4. Green Day, Aug. 10, Allstate Arena
5. Paul McCartney, Oct. 18, United Center
Here, then, is my annual list of the very best performances I witnessed
in the previous 365 days, as well as my choices for the most disappointing.
In chronological order:
System of a Down, May 3 at Metro: Gearing up for the release of
the first half of its 2005 double album "Mezmerize"/"Hypnotize," the
rap-metal-art rock-political-Armenian-Christian-L.A.-based rockers (the most
hyphenated band in history) were on fire as they played one of 10 small club
gigs designed to generate excitement for their new discs. It paid off with
two No. 1 debuts and a sold-out arena tour later in the year.
Coldplay, May 6 at Metro: The sensitive English pop band tried the
same trick as System in the same week, providing a rare treat for fans that
will probably never see the group in a venue this size again. The Chicago
show was especially memorable as front man Chris Martin lovingly serenaded
his wife, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who sat in the balcony cheering wildly,
just like everybody else.
LCD Soundsystem, May 19 at Metro: A red-hot producer on the dance
scene (Britney Spears and Janet Jackson have both sought him out), LCD
frontman James Murphy looks like exactly what he is: a frumpy, middle-aged
recording engineer. But he was a riveting presence as he joked with the
crowd, jumped around the stage and screamed the witty lyrics of his
underground dance hits, including "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House," while
his crack band deftly merged '80s art-punk and cutting-edge techno grooves.
Kraftwerk, June 4 at the Riviera Theatre: Thirty-seven years after
its founding members came together and began to do for the synthesizer what
Chuck Berry did for the electric guitar, "The Beach Boys of Dusseldorf" were
still refusing to rest on their laurels, presenting a mind-blowing,
futuristic visual display and delivering all of their most famous hits in
new digital arrangements that proved to be more powerful than ever.
The Go! Team, July 16 at the Intonation Music Festival:
Hands-down, Intonation was easily the best outdoor music festival I've ever
attended, but if the vibe throughout was as good as it gets, the music
didn't always measure up. The exception: the ultra-high-energy set by this
English dance band, which found frontwoman Ninja dancing onstage with a
group of young African-American girls from the surrounding neighborhood who
wandered in after Union Park's pool had closed.
The Arcade Fire, July 24 at Lollapalooza: By far the best act at
the summer's other much-hyped outdoor music fest, the Montreal orchestral
pop band added a rhythmic intensity to the beautiful, melodic and sometimes
fragile songs of its acclaimed debut "Funeral," adding a fury that the 2004
album only hinted at.
Saul Williams, July 24 at Lollapalooza: Though Lollapalooza was
woefully short on hip-hop, the incredibly agile and piercingly political
rapper sent a message to the festival's promoters, and I hope their booking
next year will reflect it with much more diversity. Williams' performance
was simply incendiary, and it included a cameo by Butterfly from the event's
other token rappers (and another festival standout), the reunited Digable
The White Stripes, Aug. 29 at the Auditorium Theatre: Touring in
support of its fifth album "Get Behind Me Satan," the Detroit duo added a
few noticeable frills: a more elaborate stage set, some red-and-white
tympani and a marimba. But in the end, it still came down to the strength of
Jack White's songwriting, and the electric interplay between him on guitar
and his ex-wife Meg on drums.
Beck, Sept. 21 at the Riviera Theatre: In danger of being declared
passe after the release of the disappointing "Guero," the uber-hipster
redeemed himself with two hours of passionately delivered, imaginatively
paced and intriguingly arranged tunes from throughout his career. One of
many highlights: a mini-set of semi-acoustic tunes that found his bandmates
playing percussion on an amplified dinner table.
Kanye West, Nov. 14 at the UIC Pavilion: Not content with
establishing a new paradigm for hip-hop production, Chicago's hometown hero
set out to redefine the live rap concert with his "Touch the Sky" tour, and
he pulled it off. Avoiding all of the trite live-hip-hop cliches, the
two-hour set offered imaginative staging and visuals, challenging musical
arrangements and tireless energy on the part of the star, whose talents more
than back up his big mouth.
Next week: the best pop-rock albums of the year.