2008 was my year to travel to Europe twice and see countless sets from DC to Denver and a few points in between. 2009 was the first full year of DC Rock Live and every set I took in was from DC or the near-by cities. It is a tough call to come up with a list and my first draft was 25 bands. I try to weigh in the overall positive effect I cam away from the show with along with the element of surprise I felt, along with something I feel is important for me personally. There are a lot of really good local bands from here to Brooklyn that I have to compare to world acts, so perhaps I should break this out into two lists. Well, maybe next year (Sorry Caverns, Tennis System, Stellastar, etc.). For now, let us list. Scroll down for full reviews of the show.
10. Do Make Say Think - Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Dec 1st. A nice surprise greeted me with this interesting collective of musicians. My cynicism is now greatly reduced toward large ensembles hitting the stage when they play compelling original music like this. The Toronto scene is a hot one for me.
9. Dresden Dolls - 9:30 Club - Jan 21st. The highlight of a rather corporate side inauguration party event. This simple looking duo of piano/vocals and kick-ass drums really pounded their music into me. Intense, smart and very fun.
8. Ya Ho Wha 13 - Velvet Lounge - March 27th. What could I expect from commune survivors from the band that gave us Father Yod and post-Seeds Sky Saxon songs? I was presently surprised by the exciting psychedelic jams and overall positive vibes exhibited by these three old-time members.
7. Opeth - 9:30 Club - May 13th. A little bias here, as Mikael Akerfeldt is a good friend of my friends, Comus. This band really nails compositional metal as good as anyone out there. I really felt it at this show, the second time I have seen them. Strong, thoughtful music.
6. Elliott Brood - DC9 - Nov 22nd. A great little set by a great little Toronto three-piece. I really hope I am catching rising stars here. They balance accessible pop rootsy music with psychedelic tones and gutsy rock.
5. Akron/Family - Rock'n'Roll Hotel - August 11th. I have seen them twice before, so no surprises here except for their adjustment to being a trio. Some of the whimsy was gone, but eccentricity remained within their usual great songs and stage presence.
4. Vieux Farka Toure - Rock'n'Roll Hotel - June 9th. African beats were on display, but lots of modern touches from rock, blues and psyche, too. Great guitaring easily covering any style Mr. Toure chose to play.
3. Van der Graaf Generator - State Theater - June 24th. A rare appearance by Pete Hammill and band was well worth the long, long wait. A smooth sound with very average looking gentlemen slowly unfolded into some of the most darkly intense progressive music I have ever heard. A brilliant show made better with an opening set by the Acoustic Strawbs.
2. Jay Reatard/TV Smith - Black Cat - July 5th. Truly an eventful evening for me. I got to see one of my punk heroes, TV Smith, play for the first time. Then, Jay Reatard completely lived up to his reputation as a great punk songwriter/performer and then, they all encore together playing four loud, raucous songs by the Adverts. Brilliant and so, so satisfying for me.
1. Os Mutantes - State Theater - October 7th. Like so many older acts I go to see, I mostly wanted to help complete my historical perspective of all the important rock bands of my lifetime. And sometimes the magic happens beyond that motive. This time, it did with a magical, wonderful, vibrant set of psychedelic music performed by these Brazilian masters. Knowing their history or nothing at all did not matter at all. This set was mindblowing psychedelic rock with world beat touches, perfectly delivered.