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50 concerts, 50 venues, one summer: 10 performances that blew me away




It’s tough to pick a favorite when you’ve seen hundreds of artists in a single summer. But here, in chronological order, are 10 unexpectedly great performances that made the whole trip worth it. (Click on the artist's name for the full review, and click here for an explanation of this experiment.)

Lady Gaga
When and where: The Ritz Ybor, April 7 (Concert No. 2)
What I wrote: “If Lady Gaga turns out to be a two-hit wonder, fans might remember this as a pretty snazzy, highly energetic, entirely enjoyable concert that ultimately didn’t mean much of anything. But I believe it was H.L. Mencken who once wrote, 'No one ever went broke underestimating the public’s desire for blond chicks in hot pants.’ So who knows? Maybe this time next year, Lady Gaga will be an international megastar, headlining the St. Pete Times Forum instead of the Ritz.”

Nervous Turkey
When and where: The Garage Bar, April 24 (No. 7)
What I wrote: “Lord, if you’ve never seen Tampa’s Nervous Turkey perform — and I hadn’t — I’d recommend you do it as soon as possible. ...  Nervous Turkey burned through a ballistic set of guttural, heavy-breathing blues-punk, rife with mic-melting distorted harmonicas and wicked drums and keys. The band was a portrait of badassedness. (Singer Ernie) Locke’s cross-eyed glare and Tom Waits growl stirred the crowd to inch closer, then start dancing, then finally smother the stage as he stripped off his shirt, mouth-effed the harmonica and dry-humped the stage with a mic down the front of his pants. You really had to see it to believe it.”

Trombone Shorty
When and where: Tropical Heatwave, May 16 (No. 11)
What I wrote: “The man might be one of the next great charismatic frontmen in music. With his band Orleans Avenue, he just tore Heatwave a new one with a bombastic 90-minute set of jazz, funk and R&B. He sang like a prophet of soul. He made his trombone sound like a saxophone. He made his trumpet sound like R2D2. I played trombone once upon a time, and the only thing I ever made it sound like was a water buffalo in heat. But Trombone Shorty made the ’bone sound like the coolest instrument on the planet.”

When and where: Tropical Heatwave, May 16 (No. 11)
What I wrote: “This was one of the last bands I saw, at New World Brewery, and ... I mean ... wow. They’re two alternative rockers from Tampa, a guitarist and a drummer (and a laptop), who played with a fire and technical precision I could not believe. Musically, I don’t even know who to compare them to. Mute Math? The Killers? Muse? Freakin’ Radiohead? They were so good, the crowd demanded an encore. I have no idea how these guys are not signed to a label and touring the country.”

Christie Lenee
When and where: Yeoman's Road Pub, May 21 (No. 12)
What I wrote: The Tampa/Philadelphia singer-guitarist and her band played a long, long set of jam music, but final moments of the show, at about 2:30 a.m. in a nearly empty bar, were worth the wait. “At the very end of the night, Lenee played three jaw-dropping acoustic instrumental compositions, plucking, smacking and tapping her fretboard like Kaki King. She even played a new, unfinished piece, then asked the remaining crowd for advice on the how to end it. At that point, all you wanted was for everyone in the bar to shut up and listen.”

Bon Iver
When and where: State Theatre, June 10 (No. 17)
What I wrote: “In person, Bon Iver can be as mesmerizingly intimate as on For Emma, Forever Ago — when singer Justin Vernon played a solo, acoustic Re: Stacks, the crowd was so quiet you could hear the beeps of digital cameras trying to foucs, and plastic cups skittering on the floor. But when the band plugged in, they actually kind of rocked. Wolves started quietly but crescendoed to a cacophonous audience singalong. The shimmering Babys, from the band’s Blood Bank EP, was grandiose and drop-dead gorgeous.”

When and where: Brass Mug, July 1 (No. 26)
What I wrote: Tampa headliners Light Yourself On Fire were also excellent, but this New York City metal band exploded with a hellraising performance: “Jorts-clad, Angus Young-like guitarist Garett Bussanick was just out of control, riffing like a maniac and making guitar faces so intense that his face might someday stay that way. Singer Gene Fowler didn’t make a lot of eye contact with the fans, but he still managed to win them over with insane energy and an incendiary, scorched-earth shriek. Dude: Why is this band not ripping the Warped Tour a new one as we speak?”

When and where: Crowbar, July 5 (No. 27)
What I wrote: “A-Trak made his bones as a turntablist, and he didn’t disappoint, whipping his fingers from deck to deck, knob to knob, scritching and scratching and making his records squeal like stuck pigs. This is where DJing becomes a truly live music experience, improvisational and experimental and just plain eff-it fun. It was like A-Trak wasn’t happy unless he was somehow manipulating the music. He played the decks like a guitarist plays a guitar.”

Ace Hood
When and where:
Club Skye, July 19 (No. 33)
What I wrote: “Swaggering onstage with a bottle of Henny, the dreadlocked Hood ripped through a sizeable series of singles: Born an O.G., Loco Wit the Cake, the excellent Ride and Overtime. The Deerfield Beach native didn’t bring T-Pain with him, but the crowd was more than happy to sing the hook to Hood’s biggest hit, Cash Flow. And on several occasions throughout the set, he went a cappella, just spitting bar after bar of cold rhymes without a beat. ... I don’t know if Ace Hood is the South’s next great rapper, but he’s definitely one to keep an eye on.”

Where and when: Ruth Eckerd Hall, July 30 (No. 36)
What I wrote: “Maxwell’s signature version of the Kate Bush song This Woman’s Work was the single best performance of any one song I’ve seen all summer. Backed by a piano, his chill-inducing falsetto was simple but show-stopping, and the audience sang like a choir behind him. 'It is hotter than a mother up in here,’ he said afterward. Indeed. Mercy, mercy me.”

Honorable mention

Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers (April 24, Garage Bar)

Tailgunner Joe and the Earls of Slander (May 2, Skipper’s Smokehouse)

Chucky Luv (May 14, Tre Amici @ The Bunker)

Sarah Borges and Broken Singles (May 16, Tropical Heatwave)

Rosa Rio (June 13, Hillsborough Community College)

Plain White T’s (June 24, Jannus Landing)

Light Yourself On Fire (July 1, Brass Mug)

Proud Iron Lion (July 24, New World Brewery)

Snoop Dogg (July 31, USF Sun Dome)

Rod Picott and Amanda Shires (Sept. 13, [email protected]).

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photo by Luis Santana, tbt*.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 3:13pm]


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