Morrissey was a charming man in Durham. (photo by Ryan Snyder)
It has been quite a year for the hardworking staff YES!
Weekly’s music division in 2009 and without a doubt, one of its best ever in that arena. We’ve brought our readers the best possible coverage of musical happenings not only in the Triad, but pretty much everywhere within driving distance. They came to the big arenas, to elegant music halls and, occasionally, to neighborhood garages. And then there were the festivals, six of them in all from April to October. While Jordan Green saw dozens of bands play out in his own right while working the lead Tunes story through November, I took on exactly 50 different concert reviews this year from the Wu Tang Clan to the Riders to in the Sky. That’s a lot of music for anyone to see in one year. That said, let’s wind down the year with a look back at the best of the best from those 50.
MORRISSEY — DURHAM PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, MARCH 11
Never will you see men and women alike zealously rushing a stage simply for the sake of putting their hands on a band’s frontman as if doing so could give eyesight to the blind. You will, however, if you go to a Morrissey show. His night at the Durham Performing Arts Center in March confirmed that idol exaltation knows no gender, as several fellows — some of whom were present with significant others of the opposite sex — bum-rushed the former Smiths primary to try and purloin a hug or kiss on the cheek. Strangely enough, the constant interruption never seemed to detract from the show. Morrissey was phenomenal, but his backing band was even more so, utilizing an enormous cache of instruments throughout the show. It might sound trite to say “How Soon is Now” was the highlight, but the resulting marriage of visual and aural precision was worth the ticket price alone.
THE DEAD — GREENSBORO COLISEUM, APRIL 12
Okay, so it may not have been one of the best actual musical performances that we covered in 2009, but the Dead show in Greensboro was of great significance nonetheless. The fact that they played their first gig in five years was huge news itself, but the parking lot scene that accompanied it was like something from Burning Man. RVs were in line at 10 a.m. outside the Greensboro Coliseum and the lot was practically full by 2 p.m. The show itself, however, didn’t start for another five hours. The Dead ended up being adequate, but clearly rusty. After a nine-hour lot binge, however, it’s uncertain whether anyone really minded.
RACHID TAHA — SHAKORI HILLS GRASSROOTS FESTIVAL, APRIL 17
It’s understandable that most had ever heard of Raļ music legend Rachid Taha before he played a couple of dates in the Tar Heel State. Most couldn’t even tell you what Raļ music is to begin with. His introduction came during a Duke University pairing with folk icon Richie Havens, but the spotlight was all his as he headlined the Friday night main stage at the spring Shakori Hills Festival. Picture a drunken, Middle Eastern Tom Waits fronting the Disco Biscuits, and you might have an idea why the roots and string lovin’ crowd at Shakori Hills had to scrape their jaws off the hillside after Taha was through with them.
Bruce Springsteen — Greensboro Coliseum, May 2 “There’s just something about the North Carolina crowds and Greensboro in particular,” said Little Steven Van Zandt during a May telephone interview with YES! Weekly. The Boss & Co. were only a few weeks separated from what many fans argued to be the best show on the spring US tour: the Greensboro Coliseum date. Even for
an E Street first-timer like myself, it was clear that there was something special about that evening and it wasn’t just the awesome cover of the McCoys’ “Hang On Sloopy” that came during request hour. The ageless Springsteen was in rare form and the deluge of affection from the crowd only outpaced his chemistry with the rest of the band. One of the most memorable moments came during the latter half of the show when Springsteen foraged for requests signs, only to produce one with a single word that captured the essence of the evening. “Steensboro,” it read, saying more in one short portmanteau than any full review ever could.
FELICE BROTHERS — THE GARAGE, MAY 24
To many, the five country boys from upstate New York stole the night from Millennium Center headliner Old Crow Medicine Show at a January performance, so it was inevitable that their own headlining return was to be much anticipated. Like any good collection of drinking songs, they always sound a little better when the performers themselves are lit and the Felice Brothers went out of their way to make sure they were at the top of their game.
PUBLIC ENEMY — BONNAROO MUSIC & ARTS FESTIVAL, JUNE 12
Why would a self-avowed Phish fan ever walk away from the band’s first festival set in nearly five years? No good reason, to be perfectly honest. I’m still taking heat for that one. The excitement of seeing Phish for the first time in years was shot down when they came out flat through the first three songs and watching them from afar on the Bonnaroo main-stage jumbotrons was simply unfulfilling. Thus, a friend and I made a bold decision: We just left their set. I didn’t get in-depth about it during my post-Bonnaroo recap or the resulting cover story — my food poisoninginduced death bed at the Johnson City EconoLodge only allowed for focus on the “last” Nine Inch Nails show. But the chance to secure a good spot at legendary hip-hop group Public Enemy’s set was impossible to pass up. From the moment the group hit the stage, it was clear that we made to right choice. The greatest rapper and the greatest hype man alive might have both been pushing 50, but there was no want for adrenaline at this one. Hearing It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back performed in its entirety reminded of just how timeless and effectual a great hip-hop album can be. Chuck D was as menacing and dynamic as he was in 1988, while Flava Flav reminded everyone that he’s not merely a reality TV flunky; the dude can actually rap. Not to mention his hype level makes Lil Jon look like Mr. Rogers. Between the about-facing of the desert camo-ed S1W bodyguards and guitarist Khari Wynn’s cold-blooded shredding, Public Enemy was enough to make me forget about Phish altogether.
YARD DOGS ROAD SHOW — FLOYD FEST, JULY 24 & 25
Even at the cost of missing the XX Merge Fest at the Cat’s Cradle altogether, there was one act at this year’s Floyd Fest that made it all worth it. For such a kid-friendly festival, the Yard Dogs Road Show was decidedly unfriendly for the wee ones, but a completely mesmerizing late-night treat for the grownups. The 13-piece cabaret outfit blended avant-garde theater with titillating burlesque, breathtaking circus tricks, sultry jazz and Beefheart-inspired psychedelia to create one of the most unforgettable acts you’d ever hope to see. “The World’s First Guitar-Playing Redwood Tree,” otherwise known as Eenor, let loose some of the smokiest, nastiest licks you’d ever hear, while the ladies of Black & Blue Burlesque made a case for a different kind of wood. The best part? They played twice. Sure, it was the same set both nights, but no one seemed to care as the crowd had nearly doubled from Friday to Saturday.
TOUBAB KREWE — THE BLIND TIGER, AUG. 22 & 23
2009 was a major turning point for the afro-folk fusionists from Asheville. They’d already achieved a devout national following, so the next step was to push their music into uncharted territory. A sweltering August weekend at the Blind Tiger allowed them to do just that, as they cycled through nearly every piece in their catalog while debuting material far more adventurous than anyone could have ever expected. The house was packed with the rowdiest of the rowdy both nights and the band gave back just as enthusiastically as the heat inside became oppressive. The weekend didn’t mark a change of direction nearly as much as it was continued genre blurring by a band with which the term has become synonymous.
SUN RA ARKESTRA — TRINUMERAL FESTIVAL, SEPT. 10
For a group whose average age would qualify them for Social Security benefits, the last place you’d expect the Sun Ra Arkestra to make a huge splash would be in front of a bunch of spun-out, college-age lot wookies. Then again, space really is the place according Sun Ra. Their coolness is out of this world, thanks to saxophonist and 50-year Arkestra veteran Marshall Allen, who led the band in their interstellar jazz explorations in front of a pair of decidedly different audiences back in September. The Duke performances show with the Mingus Big Band was typical of their audience, but it was their Trinumeral Festival set where the crowd completely lost it. After two days of sampling virtually every kind of electronic music imaginable, the few hundred who succumbed to their curiosity were taken aback by both the glittery dashikis and the sheer amount of personnel it took to fly the Arkestra. After just a few minutes of other-worldly jazz, it became clear how the Arkestra fit into the big picture of an electronic music festival.
LEONARD COHEN — DURHAM PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, NOV. 4
In a year of memorable music all across the state, few events could approach the gravity that accompanies a name like Leonard Cohen on a marquee. Seeing the poetic giant in his triumphant return from a 15-year North American touring hiatus was a bucket list-worthy item for many and it was simply impossible to leave with a shred of disappointment. With brilliant charisma and some of the most impactful verses in all of modern music, Cohen poured his 75-year old soul out on stage every stop along the way. Many left his date at the Durham Performing Arts Center with a common opinion; it was the closest to an outright religious experience that many had ever been. The angelic voices of the Webb Sisters and Cohen’s masterful backing band only served to intensify what was already a commanding performance by one of the last real charmers in all of music.
Morrissey was a charming man in Durham. (photo by Ryan Snyder)