Friday, December 20, 2002

Best of 2002
Rather than focusing exclusively on albums, here's my list of my greatest musical experiences of the past year:

Elvis Costello When I Was Cruel and Chicago Theatre, October 17. What an enviable career he's had. Focusing on being a musician, his craft, rather than on being a rock star, always the center of attention, has allowed him to take risks. He's worked with an impressive and varied set of collaborators and taken on artistic challenges. He still has the dignity to perform his "angry young man" songs without looking like a washed-up buffoon. And his new material has a lyrical precision and vitriol that comes from wisdom rather than youthful brashness.

David Lee Roth once commented that rock critics preferred Elvis Costello to him because rock critics look like Elvis than him.  While I have certainly taken more fashion cues from Elvis, it's actually because Elvis has depths of talent and, at this point, David Lee Roth is a washed-up buffoon.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds Chicago Theatre, April 26. It was worth the wait of several years since having last seen Nick perform, perhaps not since Lollapalooza 1994. It was worth the wait of several months, the tour postponed after September 11. The man is an astonishingly intense performer, seething with the emotion of fictional Southern gothic tales. Plus, it was great to see the audience prove that some goths age quite gracefully.

The Hives Veni, Vidi, Vicious and Metro, June 5. Their album is wildly raucous, with appropriate song titles like "The Hives-Declare Guerre Nucleaire." And what enthralling performers! Yeah, it's shtick but the Swedes have charisma to burn, and boy, do they burn it. For the first time in ages, I left concert believing that a band was sure to be huge and I was thrilled to have witnessed them in front of a small crowd.

The Mooney Suzuki Metro, June 5 and October 9. Another charismatic garage band. A surprise discovery opening for the Hives, they were more fabulous given the time and space to headline a few months later. They were in town at the beginning of a long streak of great concerts.  Other bands like Sleater-Kinney may have had stronger songs, but no one put on a better show.

Anthony Kiedis inducting the Talking Heads into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame I was already thrilled to see high honor bestowed on the Ramones and Talking Heads. Then I heard the Red Hot Chili Peppers front man's introduction speech. He said that when he first heard the Talking Heads, "I wanted to have sex with a lot of librarians." As a music librarian, I was amused and flattered. Although in telling other music fans, I was surprised how many were unfamiliar with the nerdy image shared by the Talking Heads and my current profession.

Chameleons UK playing "Swamp Thing" Metro, October 14. In 1987, I couldn't get into their sold-out show at a tiny club. Their grandiose and glorious LP Swamp Thing was one of my favorites at the time. Today, it is one of the few pieces of vinyl that I still play, and I play it regularly. "Swamp Thing" was the mesmerizing pinnacle of the album. I finally heard it live, their set opener. I was delirious.

Future Bible Heroes Eternal Youth and Schuba's, November 6. The synth-pop was like 1982 all over again, especially Claudia Gonson's droll delivery of "I'm a Vampire." Live, the synthesizers were joined by acoustic instruments that further emphasized Stephen Merritt's sharp lyrics. "I'm Lonely (And I Love It)" made me wish I had a friend who'd recently gone through a break-up because it celebrates the process so beautifully.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Once More, with Feeling" Speaking of "I'm a Vampire," a song crying out to be used on the Angel or the Sarah Michelle Gellar series, the show had its own impressive CD this year, the soundtrack to last year's musical episode. Show creator and novice songwriter Joss Whedon could have created a mere novelty. Instead, the songs have an insidious way of burrowing into your brain. But I'm still not sure if lyrics like, "His penis got diseases/From a Chumash tribe" are quite appropriate for a family sing-along.

Radio 4 Gotham It's impossible to criticize a band for aping Gang of Four since that's not exactly a proven path to fame and riches. And unlike shameless Jesus & Mary Chain rip-off Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, at least they bring something new to the mix with more complex percussion.

Badly Drawn Boy About a Boy So liltingly melodic that I forgave the filmmakers for excising the Nirvana/Kurt Cobain references that inspired the novel's title.

Coldplay/Ash UIC Pavilion, September 24. Coldplay's songs took on a new level of resonance live. Ash, with a few years of experience under their belts and the addition of second guitarist Charlotte Hatherley, finally made their anticipated transition from a band with some great songs to a great band. And "Kung Fu" left me giddy.

The Police Message in a Box Yes, it came out nine years ago, but I just got it as a birthday gift.  It made me feel like I was 16 again, but only the joyous parts of being 16, not the insecurity and trauma.

The Cynics Double Door, December 14.  Years since I've seen them, but they've lost none of their verve.  See my December 16 post for more verbal swooning.

David Bowie "Cactus" Bowie's cover brought out the obsessive sexuality of the song in a way that the Pixies' original never did. Not only was it a great version, it got a Pixies songs played on radio stations that wouldn't play the Pixies.

Pink "Get the Party Started" My guiltiest pleasure of the year, but the tune is so damn catchy.

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