The Five Best Concerts In And Around DC For 2009

courtesy of ‘bormang2′

One of the things that I am most excited about my return to blogging is that I have the opportunity to continue my year-end tradition of recapping the best concerts that I saw in and around the DC area.

For the uninitiated, this is a list of the best performances by musical acts that I saw in 2009 in the DC area. The list is based on individual sets rather than total concert line-ups. I consider any concert that I can drive to and back from in one night to fall within my radius of coverage. I’m keeping the list to 5 shows from now on because I catch great concerts all over the country and think I should only list the local cream of the crop. In other words, these are five DC area shows that can hang with the best shows in the country.

5. Keelhaul @ Velvet Lounge : I found out about this show just a few hours before it started and was very glad I was able to convince my buddies to check it out. Keelhaul are one of the very best underground Metal innovators and their playing the Velvet Lounge is a real testament to the bold programming at this great little club. Keelhaul’s set was a brutal marathon session of thick guitars and break-neck rhythm change-ups that pushed the crowd to the very limits of head-banging endurance (as all great metal shows should). This show was a great, unexpected, aural bludgeoning from a band that I never thought I would be lucky enough to see play live.

4. ISIS @ The Black Cat : These guys have been populating my year-end lists for years. They consistently impress with every show and more often than not blow the majority of the competition out of the water. I would say competition was a key-factor as to why their set last Spring was so powerful that it turned the Black Cat into some fantastical, hard-rock, ceremony ground. Playing with label-mates Pelican (titanic in their own right) seemed to fuel Isis’ fire unlike any other set I have seen of theirs. I was expecting this show to indulge in their latest album’s prog-rock elements but was treated instead to a furious set of tunes spanning their career; played with a passion that this otherwise complex precision band aren’t particularly known for. Whatever was driving Isis that night, their unusually passionate delivery of their insanely complicated post-metal put this show into the stratosphere.

3. The Jesus Lizard @ SONAR : I went to see the Baltimore leg of The Jesus Lizard’s historic reunion tour because I wanted to catch them play for a real down and dirty, rock-n-roll crowd as opposed to the traditionally reserved DC crowd. My decision was validated by lead singer Dave Yow when half through the set he announced that DC used to be their favorite town to play in the early 90′s but that it had been extremely lame the night before. He said the band was so impressed with the B’more crowd that “Baltimore is the new DC and DC is the new San Fransisco” (their least favorite town to play back in the day). The Jesus Lizard really seemed to feed off the B’more crowd’s energy as they ripped through a gnarly set of their noise-rock classics. Seeing these genre giants was a dream come true for me. Dave Yow is a nasty, little wrecking ball of a man who preformed as if possessed – belting out lyrics with such force it wasn’t a stretch to fear for his health. The band was sick, with Denison’s lazer-saw guitar lines and the hardest working rhythm section in show-biz, creating an hypnotic, collective consciousness, noise-rock catharsis. By set’s end every sweaty body there, the band and the crowd, had left it all on the floor. Simply put, this show was the beast.

2. My Bloody Valentine @ The National : Shoegazer royalty My Bloody Valentine treated Richmond, VA to a surprise warm-up show in July. I had the good fortune to see MBV twice in 2008 and both shows were incredibly good. What really impressed me with the ’08 shows was that although the set-lists were identical the shows felt and sounded completely unique. The true masters of the wall of sound at work is really something magical to witness and I could not wait to see them a third time. The National theater in Richmond is a truly beautiful concert setting and the general admission (but seated) balcony was the perfect place to take in My Bloody Valentine in all their multi-pedal, gazillion amplifiers glory. Once again MBV sounded completely unique to the setting. Their beautiful noise filling and caressing every acoustic feature of the theater. I sat there with my birds-eye view of the band in true music nirvana for about an hour and half straight (a new personal nirvana record!). Seeing MBV is a lot like sitting in the heart of an active jet turbine while looking at distant space nebula through a Hubble Kaleidoscope. There really is nothing in reality that can compare to seeing My Bloody Valentine playing live and there are but a precious few concerts that could possibly top this one.

1. Devo performing “Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!” @ 9:30 Club : In November, proto-punk/New Wave gods Devo had a two-night residency at the 9:30 Club during which they performed their 1st and 3rd albums from start to finish. I attended both nights because Devo fanatic that I am I could not choose seeing one album performed over another. It was a music fan’s Sophie’s Choice and I wasn’t going to have any part of it. While I greatly enjoyed night two, “Freedom of Choice“, I would have to say it was not a year-end list-worthy show. Night one however is a completely different story. I went into this show very excited to be seeing a band that I love for the first time, but I must admit I was not expecting greatness. In fact I was expecting to be mildly entertained by a nostalgia act composed of men in their 50′s. I had heard that Devo were not very good live and hadn’t been for years now. I expected to check them off of my ‘must-see’ list and move on. But there was always my inner-Spud boy maintaining a glimmer of hope that I would be proven wrong and that Devo would tear DC a new one. And that is exactly what happened. Performing one of the most entertaining and energetic sets of music I have seen in a long time, these old prophets of Devolution annihilated the 9:30 Club. From their costume ripping to their spastic choreography, their geek humor to their slash-n-burn social commentary, their alien time signatures to their infinitely danceable music – Devo completely pwned the crowd from album’s start to album’s finish. I have since, on more than one occasion, overheard strangers around town talking about that amazing night. I am still (over a month later) in awe of the timeless punk rock originality and genius musical dexterity that Devo put on display when they performed “Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!”. It was without a doubt the best show in or around DC in 2009.

To check out my past lists click on the year: 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.

Michael splits his free time between defending the little guy and championing the underdog. He has been haunting the concert halls, dive bars, and greasy spoons of DC for the last 16 years. His interests include live rock music, researching obscure military/political conflicts, and good hamburgers. He is a friendly grump, has wisdom beyond his years, and is on a life-long quest to attain music nirvana. Follow him on Twitter if you dare!

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