The best Tampa Bay concerts of 2009, from Lady Gaga to Lil Wayne to Judas Priest
We see a lot of concerts here at SoundcheckCorp. (Fifty in one summer? That’s nothing. We're talking hundreds.)
So because it's the end of the year, and we’re in a listmaking mood, we asked four of Soundcheck contributors — Jay Cridlin, Carole Giambalvo, Julie Garisto and Gabriel Loewenberg — to pick the best concerts they saw in person this year. Below are their picks ... and we want to know what you think, too. What was your favorite Tampa Bay concert moment of 2009? Tell us in the comments.
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Jay Cridlin: I covered several of my favorite performances of the summer in this post. But picking five favorite concerts for the year? Let’s see ... in no particular order (click the links for the full review):
Lady Gaga (April 7 at the Ritz Ybor): I liked Just Dance. I was lukewarm on Poker Face (which, at the time of the concert, was the No. 1 song in the country). But still, I fought through a cold to see Gaga at a mid-sized club in Ybor, and I came away a fan. You could just tell by the furious energy she brought to songs like LoveGame and Money Honey that she was on her way to something bigger. If Kanye hadn’t flaked on her, she’d be touring arenas right now.
Bon Iver (June 10 at the State Theatre): If you’ll recall, all the hype that week was about Animal Collective’s performance at the State two nights prior. But on his final tour stop en route to Bonnaroo, Wisconsin’s bearded savior of indie folk, Justin Vernon, gave a sold-out crowd chills, along with his surprisingly awesome backing band. Highlights included a sparse Re: Stacks and a profoundly soulful, almost unplugged cover of the Jayhawks’ Tampa to Tulsa. If it’s possible for a concert to feel like a great big hug, this one did.
Maxwell (July 30 at Ruth Eckerd Hall): Sex. Sex sex sex sex sex. Sex sex sex? Sex sex sex sex, sex sex sex sex sex sex sex, sex sex sex sex. Sex sex sex sex — sex sex sex sex sex, sex. Sex!
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (Sept. 12 at the Ford Amphitheatre): It’s probably a cop-out to put Bruce on this list, but I’d never seen him in concert before — well, not aside from his gig at the Super Bowl in January. The three-hour show could not possibly have done a better job living up to my hopes and expectations. Is there a more devoted, passionate performer in music than Springsteen? At least one 30-year Springsteen fan I know said it was a particularly amazing performance, too. So there.
Blink-182 (Sept. 27 at the Ford Amphitheatre): The openers (Asher Roth, Fall Out Boy, All-American Rejects) were pretty meh. But Blink, after a lengthy hiatus from touring, brought the house down early and often at this gig. They played I’m Feeling This, The Rock Show and What’s My Age Again? within the first 10 minutes of the show. I, like everyone else in the sold-out crowd of 20,000, immediately reverted back to my old high school self. The fans were absoultely frenzied all night. “Tampa, you blew my mind tonight!” Mark Hoppus tweeted afterward. Added Travis Barker: “TAMPA WENT OFF. Hottest show of the tour yet.” Agreed.
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Carole Giambalvo: Imma let you finish, but these artists (a croaky rapper, a shy folkie, an adorable electro-popster and a bespectacled drummer) put on some of the best shows of the year:
Stanton Moore (May 28 at Crowbar): When Stanton Moore announced that he and band were going to do “their version of heavy metal,” what followed was a gumbo of New Orleans-style funk, jazz and rock that could only be described as “mammoth.” (And I saw Slayer this year.) Moore, best known as the drummer for Galactic, wore horn-rimmed glasses and a Matt and Kim-type grin as he nailed triplets and tricky grooves. But for all the show’s technicality (lots of local musicians showed up to bear witness), it was a ton of dance-worthy fun.
Lights (July 26 at the Warped Tour, Vinoy Park): From Lady Gaga to La Roux, synth-pop artists had a humungous year. Canada’s rising star in the category was Lights, a loveable 22-year-old whose good looks were only surpassed by snazzy keytar skills and an impressive vocal range. On a 90-degree day in Vinoy Park, and her last day on Warped Tour, Lights refreshed with a mix of homemade electro-pop and bubblegum rock (equal parts Robyn and Vanessa Carlton, it seemed). A marriage proposal and a stampede to her merch table followed (seriously). Lights will open for Fireflies artist Owl City at the Ritz in February.
Bobby Long (Aug. 23 at Dunedin Brewery): Just how big a pop culture phenomenon is Twilight? How about big enough that starry-eyed fans would shell out $20 just to see a friend of Robert Pattinson’s play guitar for an hour. Well, as it turns out, there’s more to this story. Bobby Long (who co-wrote the Pattinson-sung ballad Let Me Sign for the movie) would dazzle Dunedin with intimate folk tales and gorgeous finger-picking. Tracks like Two Years Old, inspired by his grandfather’s days as a pilot in WWII, showed love for Elliott Smith and Nick Drake. They also showed Long wasn’t just riding coattails.
Lil Wayne (Sept. 6 at the Ford Amphitheatre): Minutes into Lil Wayne’s two-hour set, the words “the best rapper alive” lit up the stage backdrop. But would Weezy really live up to the hype? In short, yep (at the very least, he won me on “most entertaining” rapper alive). From a drum-crackling A Milli, where his agile, witty verses came in thunderously clear, to a rock segment where he jammed out Walk this Way and Prom Queen on guitar, the nimble Wayne was the “fireman.” Lollipop, which came complete with pole-dancing ladies, confirmed that even pop-leaning, pitch-corrected rap can be done well live. Wayne is expected to begin serving a one-year jail sentence in February, but in the meantime, like he sings, “we’ll be alright if we put Drake (his protégé) on every hook.”
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Julie Garisto: For me, three concerts stand out for cathartic crowd energy, optimal rump-shaking and tight musicianship. In a year when work responsibilities and illness kept me home more often I would have liked, I was muy feliz to attend these humdingers:
Have Gun, Will Travel at Geri X CD Release Party (Jan. 17 at the State Theatre): Frontman Matt Burke displayed the best of both worlds by way of approachable modesty and all-out showmanship. He made use of the entire stage and shook hands with audience members. Best of all was his raucous bromance with viola player Joshua Hernandez, who ran around, got cozy, went ballistic and ended the show with a signature slam on the crash cymbal with his bow.
Grecian Urns, Hot Dog 3 show (July 3 at Crowbar): Eleven musicians on stage, rousing anthems and pretty sounds from all sorts of instruments – they could very well be Tampa’s Arcade Fire.
WMNF tribute to Abbey Road and Yellow Submarine (Sept. 26 at Skipper's Smokehouse): I came away with two outstanding memories – the Ditchflowers' faithful, exuberant and spot-on performance of the Abbey Road album from front to end and Sons of Hippies' Katherine Kelly knocking me over with a raw rendition of I Want You.
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Gabriel Loewenberg: I went to a ridiculous amount of concerts this year, almost all of them great. A few stood head and shoulders above the rest.The Hold Steady (July 2 at the Ritz Ybor): Ybor City is The Hold Steady’s home away from home. This free show was a welcome gift to their fans. True to form, this show was full of epic sing-alongs and some of the best rock and roll out there today. Lucero (March 6 at New World Brewery): Though they could have played a much larger venue, Lucero requested that they play at New World. Those who bought tickets (it was possibly the first advance sellout for New World) were treated to an intimate, raucous night. Vivian Girls (Oct. 20 at Crowbar): The young but experienced Vivian Girls melted faces with over fuzzed guitars, haunting vocal harmonies and a whole lot of reverb. This minimalist, no frills three piece created a lush wall of sound that was both controlled and chaotic.
Judas Priest (Aug. 16 at the St. Pete Times Forum): Touring for the 30th anniversary of their classic album, British Steel, Judas Priest proved why they are still around. This was heavy metal in its finest, purest form. Rob Halford’s tremendous vocals sounded better than ever and the band was spot on.
Photo: Daniel Wallace, tbt*.