The You-Phoria Guide to the 2009 Concert Season

Posted 03/06/2009 by cal

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The musical prospects of 2009 are quite honestly frightening. To begin with, barring my death, this will be the first time I’ll see Phish and U2 both in the same year; that alone virtually guarantees a landmark end to the aughts. But there’s a lot to get excited about, so I thought I’d run up a quick list (note: “quick” is a relative term) of potentials to shake us out of the winter doldrums if this 50-degree weather hasn't done it already.

Animal Collective : The anticipation for this one is almost too much. For the record, Merriweather Post Pavilion IS that good. It could very well go down as a monument that forever shifts the direction of what we can refer to as pop music. But the live show is where this band has really been making its name, and if Panda Bear and co. can pull off this new material live (and I’m betting that they can), the show at the Riverside in May could be the highlight of my year. This could be AC’s final tour that can fit into a club. They could be headlining festivals within a couple years. But the volatile conglomeration could also implode in that span of time, so anyone who doesn’t catch it this year is a straight-up sucka.

Rothbury: I haven’t quite given up hope on this eco-centric festival, even though I’m seeing convincing rumors about two nights of the Dead and a String Cheese Incident reunion, the reality of which would make for potentially the most boring festival ever, even though it would make for a drugged-out hippie orgy the likes of which this millennium has not yet seen. Since the announcement that the event was officially happening, I’d been daydreaming about potential tree-hugging headliners like Radiohead, and with the recent Coachella announcement, Paul McCartney even sprang to mind…and while the festival’s jamband focus in its first year (2008) gives credence to the aforementioned rumor, the way it developed last year into the greatest festival lineup (and actuality) that we’d seen since the heyday of Bonnaroo makes me cling to the possibility that we could see a truly dazzling announcement in a couple weeks. Call me crazy, but I’m predicting Trey will be there, one way or another. This whole selling-discounted-tickets-pre-lineup thing bugs the shit out of me, but I still have fading visions of Sherwood Forest dancing in my head…

Jane’s Addiction/Nine Inch Nails: The closing set of a festival is so often anticlimactic (which is sometimes a relief), but at last year’s Lollapalooza, NIN sucked every last drop of energy out of a heat-exhausted crowd. After three days of predominantly good live music, and following a revelatory set by Love And Rockets, I was truly moved by Trent’s performance and his words to the crowd. As a child of the 90’s, this year’s pairing with Jane’s is a dream for me, having never managed to see Jane’s back in the day, and this being purportedly the first tour to feature the original lineup since 1991, I will not miss it for anything. Initial tour dates just rolled out yesterday on NIN’s site, and I am bummed but not surprised at all to see no Wisconsin date (Alpine Valley rumors are already circulating, though). And the Chicago date does not include Jane’s! But I think I know why...

Lollapalooza: I will be shocked if Jane’s does not headline this festival, which means I can’t miss it. Even with the heat and sub-par Radiohead set last year, I had a blast. This is one festival that’s close enough and reliably eclectic enough for me to risk a purchase before any lineup is announced. The other big headliner probable? Depeche Mode! Okay, I’m not jumping out of my skin about that one, but it could be cool. It is pretty much a guarantee that there will be at least fifty watchable bands, and last year was a great excuse to discover fringe stuff (Octopus Project, Dr. Dog, White Lies) I wasn’t familiar with before. When all else fails, check out something you’ve never heard of…or play “Where’s Perry?” Just don’t expect to get your precious text messages with any consistency.

The Oddity Faire (starring Les Claypool): Another can’t-miss proposition, if only for the fact that this traveling mini-fest features the indomitable Secret Chiefs 3, who have finally decided over the past couple of years to be a band that, like, tours and stuff. Claypool’s band will feature just himself plus drums, percussion and cello this time around, another unique ensemble and (gasp!) new songs for the first time in what seems like a decade. Throw in renegade rapper/weirdo Saul Williams and multidenominational folk/punk outfit Devotchka and you’re in for an interesting night. I do hope this thing starts early, though, because if SC3 only gets a twenty-minute slot I’m going to be feeling a bit gypped.

Operation Adaptation: The sleeper hit of ’08, its inaugural year, this festival was one of those just-right events. The weather was a little chilly but never cold, perfect for camping and/or dancing. was decked out perfectly, and lovingly equipped with stationary bikes for the human-powered stage (a rousing success). Most of last year’s regional heavyweights (Willy Porter, Fat Maw Rooney, Chinese Fingertrap, Stealin’ Strings…but sadly, no Groovatron!) will be back for year two, plus many more. And it’s cheap as hell! I don’t expect people to come from all corners of the U.S.A., but you Midwesterners really oughtta check this one out. If we’re lucky, the guy with the bottomless bottle of Captain Morgan will still be wandering around spiking everyone’s Coca Cola…

Summer Camp: I have it on good authority that last year’s fest was the perfect primer for the big boys of summer, and I can’t deny that this thing is bursting with talent. It seems like an impossibly great deal at $140 a ticket…until you realize that the late night shows all cost extra. Still, there are all kinds of reasons that this fest could be great…something’s still holding me back, though. As much as I’ve enjoyed moe. in the past, I feel like the band has somewhat missed its boat. I just can’t get excited about seeing those guys any more. The Midwest is saturated with Umphrey’s McGee, as great a band as it is. I hate to admit it, but I’ve gone a bit cold on Keller Williams, and I honestly prefer my MMW without the Scofield…plus, I already know I’ll be seeing Claypool and SC3 earlier in the year…but this is the only date within hundreds of miles for Buckethead this year! Okay, let’s say if the Rothbury lineup ends up sucking, maybe I’ll hit this up, but if I have to drop the big bucks for the 4th of July again, Summer Camp will have to wait until another year.

Dave Matthews Band: If Dave was your buddy, you’d probably suspect that he is still kind of in denial about the death last summer of founding DMB member LeRoi Moore; since that sad day, he has apparently been burning the candle at both ends, finishing last year’s tour, recording a new album and now announcing the most extensive DMB tour I can even remember, over 70 dates from April to September. But heartbreak has always brought out a strength and a vulnerability in Matthews that has become the defining beauty of some of his best work, and that beauty shines brightest when he’s wrenching it out of himself and his band at Alpine Valley. I’d almost feel guilty not going to see him. Unfortunately…

Pitchfork Festival: Yep, this is the same weekend that DMB is at Alpine, so it’s one or the other. I caught the first two years and found lots to love and lots to be bored by both times, but tickets have always been ridiculously cheap and you get to check out so many up-and-coming bands that it’s hard to pass this one up--even if you don’t like ‘em, at least you’ve formed an opinion. Of course, the outdoor park is not generally the greatest venue for indie club acts, so you get a bit of an abstract impression of a lot of the artists. But the ones that can really take over the sunbaked audience and dumbfound people, like The Walkmen and the Liars in ’06, and of Montreal in ’07 (and Yoko Ono, my God!), can make a believer out of you, if only in comparison to the pale geeks who can’t project any sort of stage presence past the tenth row. So this year, the initial lineup includes Yo La Tengo, Tortoise, The National, and Grizzly Bear, plus the reunion of The Jesus Lizard; even with probably a couple dozen more artists to announce, it's looking pretty intense already. Decisions, decisions.

U2: Yeah, I’ll probably end up having to go to Soldier Field; who cares? I’m not missing U2. I can’t. I won’t. There’s not much I can say to sway nonbelievers, but for me, this band puts on a show that no other band can touch. Some day they will either stop being a band or start sucking, but judging by the new album, they haven’t started sucking yet. Can’t WAIT for September.

Phish: Probably the only band that could possibly hold more anticipation for me than U2, if only because it’s been five frickin’ years and we never knew until late last year if there would even BE another Phish tour (well, okay, yeah we did…). Everything I read makes me more excited, and I guess in a few days the reports will be in, the debates will begin, and I’ll listen to the three shows the band is about to play at Hampton and we’ll all see if the magic is really here again, or some semblance of it. But I won’t know for sure until the weekend of June 20th, when the boys return to the hallowed stage at Alpine Valley and presumably play like four guys who are ecstatic to be home again. Which is exactly how I will be feeling as well.