The Ten Best Concerts In And Around DC For 2010

Photo courtesy of
‘Muse – Patriot Center – March 1, 2010′
courtesy of ‘Mrs. Gemstone’

This is my favorite post to write each year. There are many reasons why but the main one is that I love how it tasks me with reliving my year in music. I have re-read every review that I have written in the past year. I have thought about every show and every individual set that I have seen in 2010.* I have made numerous lists of the sets I have seen, and I have broken them down into categories to determine the best of the best in each. I always enjoy the concert-to-concert combat that rages in my memory as I try to boil down a year’s worth of experiences into a shortlist that best represents the year. I am equally surprised and proud to discover that this is the sixth year that I have completed this process of list making.

2010 may be the single best year of live music that I have experienced in my eighteen years of concert-going. Collectively the shows I have seen across the U.S. and in and around DC this year have provided me with more moments of music nirvana, pure aural bliss, then I ever imagined was possible. I often say I am on a life-long quest to attain music nirvana and 2010 is as close as I have come to discovering it in a sustained form. With a year this good, my usual challenging task of narrowing the field down to the 10 best concerts was more difficult than ever.**

For the uninitiated, this is a list of the best performances by musical acts that I saw in 2010 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. Click on the show listing to read the original review.

First an honorable mention and then let the countdown begin….

Honorable Mention: Bob Mould @ 9:30 Club: Bob Mould’s mini-set smack dab in the middle of the 9:30 Club 30th Anniversary Concert was one of the musical high-points of my life. Alone on stage with his electric guitar, Mould’s 4-song set brought tears to my eyes.

10. Gorillaz @ Patriot Center: By the time the “Escape To Plastic Beach” tour reached our area I had already seen it twice. Any normal tour might be out of surprises by the third time you see it, but for Damon Albarn and his massive troupe of guest stars the third time was the charm. Finally emerging from behind the cartoon screens to unveil his gigantic band, Albarn brought hip-hop/brit-pop mash-up perfection to the Patriot Center and wowed us with his side-project’s emotional breadth and high-energy positivity. This was simply the best large-scale tour of the year; it was the under-taking of a madman and I am still amazed that Albarn pulled it off so well.

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“Gorillaz” by Andrew Markowitz

9. Jello Biafra & The Guantanamo School of Medicine @ Ottobar: From one kind of madman to another. I knew when I first reviewed this concert that it stood a good chance to make this list. Seeing a demented, furious, and revitalized Jello Biafra perform in Baltimore’s best room is without doubt one of my favorite concert memories of the year. The 52-year-old punk legend redefined political punk vitriol by spewing his lyrics like acid, delivering extended song intro-rants, wearing a gore drenched lab-coat, and climbing onto the Ottobar balcony only to turn it into a prison.

8. Public Image Limited @ 9:30 Club: Talk about vitriol! John Lydon came out of nowhere with a reactivated Public Image Limited to put on the best “reunion” show of the year. This show obliterated any concerns that Lydon was cashing in on PiL’s legacy just to pay the bills by offering top-notch sonics and a firebrand performance by one of the most divisive and enduring front-men of all time. I don’t think anyone saw this amazing set coming and the unexpected nature of its brilliance is what made it so special for those who were there.

7. Underworld @ 9:30 Club: Not only did this concert fulfill one of my personal all-time venue/band wish list pairings, it also provided the first of two moments of electronic music transcendence that I witnessed in DC in 2010. Underworld pared down their massive visuals to fit in the 9:30 Club, but they made up for it by upping their aural atmosphere quotient. The air was throbbing with electricity as Underworld drenched the audience in beautiful sound for two hours; featuring their best old school live tracks and a healthy dose from their wonderful new album “Barking”. Of all the big name electronic acts that I have seen try to conquer DC this year, it is Underworld that takes the crown. By putting their emphasis on the music rather than the mind-blowing visuals (looking at you Deadmau5 and Oakenfold) Underworld pwned the competition.

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“Underworld” by Andrew Markowitz

6. Simian Mobile Disco @ U Street Music Hall: Holy crap, where did this band and this DJ-set come from? I expected little from Simian Mobile Disco and came away with a lot (so much!). Their album “Delicacies” is in the running for my favorite of 2010 and their DJ-set at U-Hall was my favorite electronica concert of the year. More of a tag team concert than a DJ-set the two members of SMD traded off deck duties and collectively unleashed a glitch-filled, click-track, sub-bass attack that still has me in awe. Their U-Hall ‘Delicatessen’ party provided music nirvana from their first twitchy beat to my exhausted retreat from the dance-floor. This concert was so good that when I emerged from the U-Hall basement onto U street, I had to rub my eyes and look again to convince myself I was still in DC and not some European dance capital.

5. Jonsi @ 9:30 Club (Night Two): Both nights that Jonsi performed at 9:30 Club were as near to perfection as a concert can get. Either night could take this number five spot but I am giving it to the second night. On night two the sound mix was so good that the club itself became an instrument. Jonsi and his merry band of multi-instrumentalists used this to their advantage to provided a powerful evening of beautiful imagery and sonic catharsis that stirred the soul in a way that is quite unlike anything I have felt before. As if harnessing the power of Mother Nature itself, Jonsi and his band made the Earth move with this astonishing concert.

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“Jonsi” by Mike Kurman

4. LCD Soundsystem @ Virgin Mobile FreeFest: These days many bands combine rock and electronic sounds to put on fantastic concerts; few however do so in a way that causes you to reconsider your opinions about your fellow man. LCD Soundsystem was out of control this year, completely on fire, and I was reluctant to give in fully to their hype. Until I saw them at Virgin FreeFest. James Murphy has got the goods. Moments before LCD’s glorious set, I was inches away from having a fist fight ruin my otherwise perfect day at FreeFest. Some drunk jerk was trying to bully me out of my seat and I wasn’t giving in. Our argument never really resolved itself; LCD Soundsystem took the stage and began to play their wonderful cross-genre epics. Over the course of LCD’s increasingly amazing set the bully and I went from reluctantly standing next to each other, to bobbing our heads while ignoring one another, to full blown dancing next to each other, to him giving me a joyous high-five during the giant disco ball moment and me grinning like an idiot. As you can read in my original review (linked above) by set’s end I was converted fully to LCD Soundsytems’ cause. What I didn’t say then that I will say now is: great music could be the key to world peace and this LCD Soundsystem set helped me realize that.

3. The Dead Weather @ 9:30 Club: No show that I saw in 2010 demonstrated the raw essence and captivating power of rock & roll like this one. I watched completely transfixed as this Jack White/Alisson Mosshart super-group laid waste to the 9:30 Club with their battering ram of hard-edged, skronky, blues-rock. It is nearly impossible to single out elements of this show for accolades because everything worked together to perfection. Everything was dialed to ten; the sound and the attitude was loud and unapologetic; the guitars, keys, drums, bass, and vocals plowed ahead like two cars in a drag race until the performance plunged off a cliff taking us all to transcendent rock & roll oblivion. I’m still sore from bucking-bronco riding this knock-down, drag-out rock concert. More like this one please…

2. James @ 9:30 Club: This show made me rexamine everything I know about music and why I love it. This show made me cry. I really can’t say it better than I did in my original review (linked above). I think that document best makes the case for why this is one of the very best concerts I saw in 2010.

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“James” by Andrew Markowitz

1. Muse @ Patriot Center: With this concert, the band that I have been dutifully following for twelve years finally realized the full potential I have always known they possessed. Muse was the best live band on the planet in 2010 and their concert at Patriot Center was without a doubt the very best concert I saw this year. Whenever I think about this concert I begin to smile uncontrollably. Its spectacle was unmatched. Its sound was humongous. Its quality was unrivaled. I once told someone that watching this concert was as close to an out-of-body experience that I have ever had. The ridiculous sense of joy that came over me the minute this spectacular show began made me feel like I was floating twenty feet above the floor of the Patriot Center. To my left and to my right, I was surrounded by a sea of goofy smiles as other Muse fans discovered that they too were floating on the hurricane winds generated by Muse’s perfectly orchestrated power-pop. This was eyes wide-open music nirvana and it is something I do not think I have ever experienced before. It is for this reason that Muse takes the top spot as the best show in and around DC of 2010. I thought I had experienced every level of musical enjoyment there is; Muse showed me that there are new heights yet to be conquered.

The search for music nirvana goes on….

Photo courtesy of
‘Muse – Patriot Center – March 1, 2010′
courtesy of ‘Mrs. Gemstone’

To check out my past lists click on the year: 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.

* Unfortunately there are many sets that don’t get reviews due to timing and workload; but that doesn’t necessarily mean they were lesser concerts.

** My shortlist of Top 10 worthy DC area concerts listed 28 shows!

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!

11 thoughts on “The Ten Best Concerts In And Around DC For 2010

  1. The best show I saw this year was Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson. There were only about a dozen people in the audience and I ended up standing about a meter from him as he sang. It was kind of intense and strange and wonderful. Of course, that was at a little joint in Santa Cruz, CA before I moved back to DC.

    Of shows seen since being in DC it is harder to be sure. Maybe Vivian Girls at Comet?

  2. My personal favorite shows in the DC area this year:
    LCD Soundsystem @ FreeFest (I thought this set was actually better than their set at Coachella – more upbeat and you could dance the entire time, even if they didn’t play my favorite LCD song)

    Miike Snow @ 9:30 Club (the sound system blew me away and their performance was just top-notch from start to finish, even songs that I wasn’t in love with on the album were terrific live)

    The Hold Steady @ 9:30 Club (I’m biased because they’re one of my all-time favorite bands, but their live show is always a blast – Craig speak/singing the words, the crowd yelling along and responding, everyone dancing and jumping up and down and just having a great time)

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  5. Nice! If 28 concerts were on your shortlist, I’m curious how many total you went to in 2010?

  6. @Jeremy – I stopped counting at 262 individual sets seen in 2010. There are a lot of opening acts that weren’t very memorable though. So its probably pushing 300 sets by bands/singers/DJs this year. For some perspective on the number, I did go to 4 festivals this year. Racked up some serious numbers at those.

  7. Very well written, Michael. The Jonsi shows this year were very special. I thought that Menomena at 9:30 was pretty great too.

  8. Great job covering music this year! Your passion is inspiring. DC is fortunate to have such a thought-full writer. Music shows can change the world and I am a believer. Look forward to hearing about 2011.

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