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Aftermath: Our Favorite Shows of 2011

Rex's War Face: The crowd's at June's Free Press Summer Fest were feral and friendly.
Rex's War Face: The crowd's at June's Free Press Summer Fest were feral and friendly.
Photo By Craig Hlavaty

This week we asked our pool of Rocks Off writers what their favorite shows of 2011 were, the ones that brought joy to their hearts to attend and helped them make magic with a keyboard hours later. Hopefully delivered to us editors on time. Ahem.

Our team was busy this year, friends, and in 2011 you got to know plenty of new names and bylines, each with unique voices that Rocks Off had been lacking in the past, with double-threats coming to the forefront again, doing double-duty, shooting and writing about shows.

2012 promises even more awesomeness, with the return of music editor Chris Gray, and the ensuing battle between he and I to figure out which one of us will cover the rumored Beach Boys and Rolling Stones dates coming through town.

Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel
Photo by Jay Lee

The orchestra was at turns this big glowing thing onstage, whipping out insane textures onto the audience, and Peter Gabriel gave it room, sometimes dropping from view to showcase them. We know that orchestras are made multiple parts that work like a machine in ways we can't fathom. Needless to say we're not good at describing them, we just know that when we hear them live, great ones, that they can have a psychical effect on your body, which we very much felt.

If the idea of a Gabriel show with no guitars or drums bothers you, then you haven't been paying attention to his career from Genesis on. He's never done anything per the unwritten rules of rock, and he's not going to at age 61. He doesn't owe that to you. Yeah, he's paying for an '80s pop period that lame folks don't want to shake, but Gabriel has a lot more to offer than 40 nights of "Ya remember this ditty from 1986?"

Dwight Yoakam and his band gave no quarter, revving up the cougars and MILFs in the crowd, who are still brought to their Pilates-toned knees but the man's trademark painted-on jeans and customary cowboy head-cover. The only thing their men in the crowd could do was hold their purses and hope for a physical release of their pent-up, base frustration later in the evening as their dates/significant others went into hysterics every time Dwight swiveled his hips.

"Fast As You" and set closer "Long White Cadillac" rumbled and throttled the crowd like any - dear God, are we about to say this? - Motorhead show we have seen. We saw Houston Police officers inch up closer to the revolving stage to get in between Yoakam and his adoring females. Or maybe they too just wanted to get a better look at what a 54-year-old having the time of his life looks like. -- Craig Hlavaty

The seemingly simple task of rounding up our two favorite shows from the past year proved to be a daunting feat, as, refreshingly, 2011 was a solid year in music releases and touring. The Meat Puppets' October show at Ftizgerald's surely makes the cut -- it was two hours' worth of poignant, raw rock 'n roll.

On the farthest end of the spectrum from the Meat Puppets, I sifted through my remaining, predictable yet deserving list of my other favorite shows -- a list including Beirut, St. Vincent, Andy Bell, and Robyn -- and decided on June's New Kids on the Block show. I waited 20+ years to hear Joey McIntyre sing "Please Don't Go Girl;" I, unapologetically, had a blast at that show -- and have the fan-girl cell phone videos to prove it. -- Neph Basedow

Jay-Z at the Toyota Center
Jay-Z at the Toyota Center
Photo by Marco Torres

A perfect blend of rock jams, love songs, and revolution, this Mexican rock en Español band Maná hosted two awesome sold out shows at Toyota Center. The group released their eighth studio album Drama y Luz earlier in the year. The name translates into "Drama and Light," a near perfect description of their catalog. The show offered new hits "Lluvia Al Corazon" and "Amor Clandestino," as well as their classics "Oye Mi Amor," "Vivir Sin Aire" and "En El Muelle de San Blas." The lead singer Fher Olvera recently turned 52 years old, which is hard to believe considering all the "moves like Jagger" he displayed for his loyal, adoring fans.

Jay-Z is the greatest rapper alive, maybe of all time, and Kanye West is equally iconic as a producer/rapper/personality. Even knowing beforehand that "Niggas In Paris" was going to be the closing track, and that it would be repeated multiple times, it still managed to "get the people going." The big brother/little brother dynamic felt genuine, with each performer playing the part of cheerleader when the other ventured into his solo set. The energy of the sold out crowd, which included the Houston Texans defensive line and their star running back Arian Foster near the front row, was the most electric and loudest bunch of music fans we have ever experienced at a concert, rap show or otherwise. -- Marco Torres

 

Roky Moon and BOLT!
Roky Moon and BOLT!
Photo by Jim Bricker

My very favorite concert of the year was the Roky Moon and BOLT! show at Fitzgerald's right at the end of the summer. They were doing their album release concert or something. I'd interviewed them, and I'd listened to their music obviously, but I'd never seen them live. Holy Christ they were fantastic. I still remember watching guitarist Aaron Echegary absolutely pull the stage apart, board by board. It was brilliant. We got home after 2 a.m., and I still spent an hour or so trying to find as much out about him on the Internet as I could. At the time, I was pretty certain he a direct descendant of Jesus; The Book of Echegary sounds legit enough.

My second favorite show -- or, too be more specific, my second favorite moment -- happened at an underground rap show at Warehouse Live. There were a bunch of strong local talents on the bill (Delo, Propain, Jack Freeman, Dante Higgins, more), but Hoodstar Chantz, rail-thin and exponentially charismatic, was entirely unexpected. His performance oozed confidence and charm. He appeared to genuinely be having a good time. His enthusiasm was contagious. At one point, a girl he'd pulled on stage snatched the microphone from him and started rapping the words to his song. The place went bonkers. Been a fan ever since. -- Shea Serrano

When I think back to my time spent with music in 2011, I think of the Insane Clown Posse at Warehouse Live and Sublime with Rome's performance at Discovery Green.

Insane Clown Posse
Insane Clown Posse
Photo by Marc Brubaker

The ICP show was... Well, you had to be there, really. And I don't say that in a pretentious way; I just mean that no matter how much you may know about the Posse, you can't truly know until you've been to a show. It's like being a religious scholar, Christianity specifically, but not having Jesus in your heart. Ok, maybe that's a stretch, but music can make you do crazy things. And yes, the Juggalo family is now in my heart. Having spent a good amount of time with Juggalos before the show, trying to give them the benefit of the doubt and attempting to really understand what it is about the Detroit-based duo that draws them in, ICP's performance that night is one I'll never forget. I spent stomping around in puddles of Faygo with a large group of fun-loving people, and not once did I feel uncomfortable (neither did the young lady I brought, for that matter, and she had absolutely no idea what she was getting into as we went in). Is it my favorite music? No, far from it, in fact. But was it one of my favorite shows? Absolutely, without a doubt.

The Sublime show, meanwhile, makes my list for more proper reasons. Firstly, having been a longtime fan of the group, I never thought I'd get to see them perform live (especially since Bradley Nowell died), and I especially never thought I'd see them perform in front of a backdrop depicting the Houston skyline. Sure, they have a new singer, but the kid sounds uncannily like Nowell, and he was obviously ecstatic to be onstage. That kind of energy is infectious, and both the crowd and the other member's of Sublime seemed to feed off his enthusiasm. That entire weekend, the Final Four's Big Dance, was quite the success for the city of Houston, and I'm glad to have been there. -- Matthew Keever

Though Misha Mengelberg wasn't able to make the Instant Composer's Pool Orchestra at the Eldorado Ballrom in April, group co-founder Han Bennink led the ICP Orchestra, one of Europe's killingest contemporary jazz ensembles, into a burning repertoire that balanced composed bits with improvisation. The late Willem Breuker, who co-led the group up until his 2010 death, probably would have been into the evening in the historic ballroom that used to host the baddest cats on a regular basis.

The Annoysters, the side project of Super Happy Fun Land owners Olivia Dvorak and Brian Arthur, pretty much heeded to their stated mission during its "They, Who Sound" gig at AvantGarden in June, which is to "make loud annoying noises, make messes and break shit." Most everybody in the audience participated as a shirtless Stane Hubert, decked out in a football helmet and shoulder pads, toppled out of a shopping cart and onto the wood floor. Theatre of the Absurd, for sure. (Full disclosure: I went to the show as an audience member and left as an impromptu "band member." If memory serves, I believe my role was to yell and repeatedly wail on the shopping cart with a wood stick.) -- Steve Jansen

 

A very naked Nathan Ballard from Cop Warmth at Free Press Summerfest.
A very naked Nathan Ballard from Cop Warmth at Free Press Summerfest.
Photo by Jonathan Patrick

The first show I went to in 2011 was the Busy Kids, Funboys, Darwin's Finches, Clockpole and somosuno at Mango's. Somosuno started a conga line weaving through the venue, going out on the patio to add more people to the line. There was also a shitload of confetti and glitter and booze. It was one of the best parties of the new year. It's how I want to remember Mango's.

Bummerfest at Ponderosa was another highlight this year. There were over ten bands that played all day, well through the night and it was a success. Sometimes organizing an event like of that caliber can get messy, but everyone showed up and showed out. -- Allison Wagoner

It's been said that the logistics of the Montrose Winter Social were troubling, but it was the set time inconsistencies that made it possible for me to catch Guilt Party for the first time. They had just started ripping it up as I walked into Mango's. Trashy but tight, short but satisfying, Guilt Party's songs exploded into those parts of your hindbrain that wished you had been old enough to attend those CBGB hard core matinees that Thurston Moore has effused of in countless interviews. Bassist Jacob Majors and Drummer Ford Kent assaulted my primal urges with their pummeling rhythms. Guitarist Halston Luna shredded each riff with razor-sharp precision. As front man Jaron Sayers stood...okay, staggered...as the voice of beer drenched reason, shouting down the hypocrites and deceivers of this hate-filled world, our eyes were opened for a moment and we saw that the emperor wore no clothes. Like a unemployed drunk uncle on Christmas he doled out aural abuse and like a co-dependent family we loved him for it. At one point he crawled forward across the floor on his hands and knees slamming his bottle of Lone Star with each cymbal crash until glass went flying at those in the front row. Sliding in spilled beers and the shattered shrapnel of drinks and dreams Jaron finished the song before blurting "I guess I need to find my shoes." Sometimes pain makes us feel good and that night was an orgasm of brutality.

Here's a video from it, they start at 1:30.

The record breaking heat of June issued a challenge to both attendees and performers alike at this year's Summerfest. While the festival goers angled for shade in the most creative of ways (personally, I tried to find a tall gentleman when possible and position myself so that his head blocked the sun), unparalleled professionals like The Dap Kings didn't so much as loosen their ties as Sharon Jones danced on a towel to protect her feet from the scorching main stage. Just a few hundred yards away the audience found themselves in a world where fears of sun damaged skin were no more than a quaint notion. Almost immediately Cop Warmth's Nathan Ballard ripped off his clothes and the band slashed and burned through their face melting set. Chaos and destruction is a medium in which Cop Warmth excels and a naked dude causing a sound man to sprint to the stage screaming profanities to shut them down mid-set was one of the fines acts of rebellion I've seen all year. -- April Brem Patrick

Wilco at Verizon Wireless Theater
Wilco at Verizon Wireless Theater
Photo by Jason Wolter

Having seen them in Dallas in 2008, I was prepared for having little clue what Wilco would decide to play in their two-hour-plus set at Verizon Wireless Theater the day before my birthday this year. The Chicago band is known for mixing it up and even getting a little annoyed at the suggestion they don't. Jeff Tweedy remarked at the Dallas show, "You try making a fucking setlist every night." While not quite as lively as he was at the Dallas show, Tweedy lead the band through a masterful blend of obscure and not-so-obscure selections from the ever-growing Wilco catalog. As per usual, the band's playing was flawless and the standing room only crowd was enthralled. Bonus #1: My first chance to hear the Smith Westerns, who opened. Bonus #2: Watching a very inebriated friend fall to the floor not once, but twice during the set. -- Jeff Balke


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