The Mentones at Club Tropical, March 3 These guys are my homeys, and they are the shit — angular modjazz surgically implanted into James Cotton’s brain as he drives a 1959 Olds Rocket 88 into an apocalyptic SoCal landscape. Drummer Joe Berardi crushed giant tin cans like a Ph.D.; Bill Barrett sucked a tornado into his chromatic harp and blew it back out again; Tony Atherton pulled a razor out of his sax and cut our throats. All the while, mastermind Steuart Liebig laid down that backbone bass and snapped the big whip like the overseer on a Mississippi chain gang. Now, that was blues and the abstract truth for real.
—G.E. Stinson, guitarist, electromachinist
Tom McNalley Trio at Club Tropical, August 25 Satisfying on so many levels. There’s an essentiality to this trio’s completely improvised music that makes me thank God I have ears. Guitarist McNalley, as leader, sets the pace in exploring the outer reaches of new creative sound with his uncle, Joe McNalley, on bass and Alex Cline on drums. This is brave, important art that shines with intelligence, taste and, yes, damn it, soul.
—Dottie Grossman, poet
Willie Nelson at the Greek Theater, April 30 On his 70th birthday, Willie took a blues solo on his old Trigger that was one of the deepest statements I’ve heard in a long time. In these 12 measures, he told his whole life story with such beauty, simplicity, power, humor and depth, I still think about it.
—Itai Disraeli, bassist, Maetar
Arthur Blythe and Bob Stewart at Club 1160, January 5 The emotion, the swing, the joy and pain of being here on this bitter and beautiful earth. The power to be, as Archie Shepp said, “the lily in spite of the swamp.” All came to life in the magical music that these musicians played on alto sax and tuba.
Alice Cooper at the Greek Theater, September 16 For an Alice Cooper novice, this show was a delightful surprise: The king of spectacle revealed himself as, most of all, a swell rock & roll tunesmith, with one beautifully crafted pop hit after the next (and some of them composed well past his prime, such as the brilliant “Lost in America.”). His younger, rockabilly-versed band played like a band, too — not just hired guns. For genuine rock & roll fun, Cooper & Co. made openers Cheap Trick look like math geeks. A subsequent listen to Cooper’s ’05 release, Dirty Diamonds, revealed a faithful cover of the Left Banke’s “Pretty Ballerina,” which confirmed that he is infinitely cooler and more versatile than his ’70s shock-rock rep.
Turbonegro at the Henry Fonda, October 15 Norwegian party animals Turbonegro sacked the Henry Fonda, and it was astonishing. If you wanted spectacle, you got spectacle: Two air cannons shot a stream of zillion-dollar bills high above the stage during “Sell Your Body (to the Night),” which singer Hank von Helvete dedicated to all the prostitutes in the entertainment industry. If you wanted amazing feats, lead guitarist Euroboy whittled a dizzying glam-rock solo while being held aloft by the hands (and heads) of kids in the pit. Social relevance? Morbid shaman Hank From Hell thoughtfully pointed out that Austrian fascist carpetbaggers have led both California and Nazi Germany. And the music? Only the most pulverizingly catchy maelstrom of hard rock this side of AC/DC, early Alice Cooper and the Ramones. More than just a sailor-suit-wearing, neo-homosexual, supremely ironic death-punk joke band, these apocalypse dudes gave good danger.
Gogol Bordello at the Troubador, October 22 Manhattan-by-way-of-Kiev Gypsy-punk collective Gogol Bordello performed a nine-ring circus of dazzling distractions: The band swirled like dervishes, and belly dancers undulated to the frenzied music, while lead singer/Rollie Fingers look-alike Eugene Hütz tossed microphone stands into the crowd and climbed high atop a PA column to sing his rebellious underdog anthems. Percussionist Pamela Racine laid her big drum flat on its side atop the upraised palms of fans down front, then sprang like a cat, landing on the drum to triumphantly survey the room like a surfer on a wave. As for the madcap music, it was nonstop.
The Kills at the El Rey, September 23 Candy Jack and Melancholy Meg can tease their way through a blistering evening of fuzz and winks, but like any brainless beauty, do you really want to call them back in the morning? The Kills’ V.V. and Hotel on the other hand allow you close enough to taste the sweat of a two-hour climax, leaving you wondering, my god what kind of love is this? They are together, right? This kind of chemistry can’t be born purely of the love of rock & roll — this is some kind of selfish foreplay, right? I think not. No relationship could follow the grandiose swells of emotion contained in this performance, no matter how many plates you have to smash or comfy surfaces you find to fuck on. At one point their mic stands were intertwined in a gesture of solidarity so sweet and personal it was like nothing I had ever seen on any concert stage. Hotel shuffled and jerked the room like an Elvis made of wires and steel, with chord strikes as jagged and dangerous as a car accident. V.V. cascaded herself through so many precise vocal inflections that it made Karen O. and Stevie Nicks seem as predictable and sexless as Animal from The Muppet Show. The Kills deal a deck of cards that neither hipster nor jaded Gen X dinosaur could keep a straight face over. They’re nothing short of a love affair wrapped in a record sleeve with a cheap rider. And you know what — that’s all they need. That and a crowd hungry for one pure moment, just once every 10 years.