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Music

The Year In Live Music

Josh Sisk

By Raven Baker, Michael Byrne, Jess Harvell, Bret McCabe and Al Shipley | Posted 12/10/2008

We go to many shows. You might say it's an unhealthy amount of shows. And you'd think, after a time, that it would start to blend together, that we might lose our ability to be floored by a performance. Well, if that ever happens, we promise we'll look into careers in banking. Until then, here's our list of the best concerts of 2008, compiled from the suggestions of Raven Baker, Michael Byrne, Jess Harvell, Bret McCabe, and Al Shipley.

1. The Ex with Getachew Mekuria, Aug. 14, the Ottobar.
Outfitted in Henry Kissingeresque thick black-frame glasses and rocking the living hell out of a Haile Selassie T-shirt, Ethiopian saxophone giant Getachew Mekuria strolled out on the Ottobar staged and lit up an already fiery group--Dutch punk ensemble the Ex, fleshed out by some countrymen into a big band--levelling the room with one of the more ecstatic shows of the year. The evening's standout, though, was clarinetist Xavier Charles, whose choked out bird calls, pealing screams, and dizzying lines every time he soloed. (Bret McCabe)

2. Baltimore Afrobeat Society, Oct. 18, Floristree.
It doesn't matter if Fela Kuti's post-JB fusion of funk, jazz, and sociopolitical voodoo bores you to tears when your butt's in a chair or on the bus or in bed. (Though it might mean your aesthetic values hit the rocks somewhere.) Played live by the Baltimore Afrobeat Society--a local mini-orchestra that coalesced to pay furious, fun tribute to the long-dead Nigerian architect of Afrobeat--is reborn as the agitprop bodyrock it was always meant to be, music that fully embodies the old “if you didn't come to dance, go home” chestnut/threat. The sorta-annual BAS show always offers a better vibe--and often better music--than any club night in the city, and this year's throwdown wasn't quite as choked with sweat-soaked bodies as the last time the troupe hit Floristree, resulting in an atmosphere more grab-your-partner party than get-me-outta-here frenzy. Crushingly, illness meant we had to leave after . . . an hour? An hour-and-a-half? (In Kuti's temporally twisted world, a 15 minute track can sometimes seem simultaneously hours-long and brief as a jukebox hit.) Still burning long after most other bands would have packed up their gear, the BAS continued to roil for some time after we left. Apparently we missed “Kalakuta Show,” our Kuti pick for the 20th-century time capsule. It's something we'll likely be regretting for another 12 months. (Jess Harvell)

3. My Crew Be Unruly, July 18, Paradox.
Lord, what a foggy, wonderful night this was--a mess of asses, alcohol, and enough Baltimore club to just about last the summer. Not sure when partying all night became an exception rather than a rule for us, but when it happens, it’s for occasions like the massive My Crew Be Unruly party last July at the Paradox. The DJ total for the night was something close to 20--don’t remember exactly--and there were two dance floors inside and one out on a back patio. It was a who’s who’s of club that hasn’t happened, like, ever: Scottie B, Blaqstarr, Dave Nada, King Tutt, DJ Excel, Wil Roc, Say Wut, and, of course, the late DJ K-Swift, performing one of her last few shows before passing away that Sunday night in a pool accident. Wandering in and out and from room to room, you kind of lost track of who was playing where and when, and just danced to whatever was happening wherever. An absolute blur ‘till breakfast. (Michael Byrne)

4. Marin Alsop leading the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Morgan State University choir, the Peabody Children's Chorus, the Morgan State Marching Band, Leonard Bernstein's Mass, Oct. 16-18, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.
Maestra Marin Alsop's triumphant staging of Leonard Bernstein's unabashedly celebratory symphony of popular music and hope in the face of a world gone mad was one of the year's most pyrotechnic performances on any stage. Although imposingly mammoth, sometimes hard to parse, and occasionally restrained by actual stage real estate, the overwhelming power of Bernstein's work--and the enthusiastic care Alsop put into realizing it--made these concerts overwhelming in their quite literal orchestration of mass spectacle. A once in a lifetime night. (BM)

5. Dark Meat, Monotonix, April 18, Talking Head.
Monotonix's reputation had preceded the Tel Aviv power trio's early spring Baltimore appearance, a last hurrah during the waning days of the old Talking Head. Asses bared, shirts off, and frizzy 'fros whipping like tornado-tossed tumbleweeds, the band spiked its boogie metal/punk mix with tossed trash cans, spit beer, scaled tour vans, and a general sense of potential bodily harm. Then it repeated many of the same tricks the next few times it terrorized local audiences during 2008, mostly without dulling the mania. But the real mind-melter was opener Dark Meat, the dozen-or-so-strong band's album offering only a genteel outline for the horn-driven ruckus kicked up live. As Dark Meat tuned up, members spilling off the old Head's breadbox stage, the frontline of brass meeting the curious audience right on the floor, you may have mistaken the band for another ragtag collection of freaky, folkie loft-dwellers in crazy-quilt thrift store duds. What you got was definitely freaky, but more like the car crash cacophony of the Stooges sax-powered moments, the show an unrepeatable one-two punch that reminded us why we should continue to ignore obnoxious crowds, cranky weather, and abject poverty to, you know, rock. (JH)

6. Teop, Comp, Mullyman, Skarr Akbar, Little Clayway, Huli Shallone, Heavy Gold, 1st Family, SL Danga, Al Great, June 26, Sonar.
Though the event was ostensibly an album release party for Teop, the supporting cast he assembled for the show was a veritable who's who of Baltimore hip-hop, and virtually everyone was in top form, doing what they do best. Comp demonstrated the spastic dance that accompanies the song "Whole Lat," Huli Shallone took his shirt off and performed anthemic trap rap, Mullyman tore around the room dancing to Baltimore club music, and Skarr Akbar actually looked happy for once. And everyone, it seemed like, rapped over the "A Milli" beat. (Al Shipley)

7. Ponytail, April 5, Wham City.
Back in April, Wham City hosted the debut show of its new and ultimately short-lived venue. The line-up featured Wham fam members Blue Leader, Adventure, and Video Hippos supporting headliners Ponytail and Los Angeles' trendy Health. Aside from the memorable glow of a near death experience--the floor wobbled thrillingly under a crush of wild feet--Wham City 2.0's debut stands out thanks to fresh-off-tour Ponytail. No longer scrappy reinventors of Glen Branca-style noodling, the matured band obliterated space-time comprehension with a full set, and encore, of polished, squirrely epic jamming. Seemingly oblivious to the weak floors, the crowd rallied to this first, full-bodied taste of freaked body-rocking, soon to be heard on the then-upcoming Ice Cream Spiritual. (Raven Baker)

8. Soul Cannon, J Roddy Walston and the Business, Grand Buffet, April 25, the Ottobar.
One of stranger bills we saw this year matched its headliner, a local conscious hip-hop group with live band backing, with a rootsy piano rock band and a bizarro joke rap duo from Pittsburgh. But that night, the Ottobar seemed to be filled with the exact cross section of the listening public that was happy to hear all three. And each group exuded its own particular and undeniable joy of performing, whether their aim was to provoke the listener to think, to sing along, or to laugh their ass off. (AS)

9. Olga Adorno, High Zero, Sept. 18, Theatre Project.
What can an 80-something female performance artist offer a roomful of experimental musicians and fringe culture dwellers? Exquisite beauty and grace, for one--and become living proof positive that improvisation as a way of life is manna for the soul. Olga Adorno opened High Zero's Thursday night of concerts with something akin to a spontaneous essay about life itself: she talked, told stories, interacted with mundane props, danced a bit, bounced up and from the ground--remember, this is a woman in her 80s--and invited two other artists onstage to duet with her. One of the more bewildering joys in any HZ of recent memory. (BM)

10. Whartscape, July 17, Charles Theatre.
It’s hard to say exactly why this was the best night of Whartscape. It’s not that we’re necessarily predisposed to brainy music, it’s more that we never get a chance to hear it in a space quite this perfect--sitting in a theater with good acoustics and a crowd more interested in what kind of awesomeness is happening onstage than chatting at the bar. The ecstatic, ebullient synthesizer workouts of Matmos were an absolute highlight, with a bonus track of odd Americana gone sci-fi. Negativland’s Mark Hosler gave a presentation on some of the group’s finer subversions over the years (capped with a well thought out anti-copyright spiel). And the explosive psychedelic collageworks that accompany Dan Deacon’s "Ultimate Reality” side project got the big screen treatment they deserve. We hope some Baltimore promoters took note--not everything is best in a bar. (MB)

10. Underground Resistance; May 28; SAT, Montreal.
A band that can self-mythologize itself until seeing said band perform live feels like a privilege, and then not only not let you down but blow your mind one smoke machine puff and one barked slogan at a time--this was Underground Resistance, the Detroit super-underground techno collective/label/army, at Montreal’s Mutek festival last spring. Among bouts of heavily percussive, heavy tech-house, morose downtempo, and the sort of abstract experimental electronic music that would be very comfortable in Baltimore flashed a backdrop of a post-apocalyptic comic-book animations while the group, arguably one of the founders of techno, presented itself as or more militaristic and unknowable as we could have possibly hoped for. (MB)

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