Soundcheck's top Tampa Bay concerts of 2010: Drake, Vampire Weekend, Black Eyed Peas, Passion Pit and more
2010 was a year to remember in Tampa Bay music. Local bands had breakout years. Some venues opened, others closed. Bands that normally skip Central Florida paid us extended visits.
The team that brings you Soundcheck saw hundreds of concerts in 2010. Some blew our minds, others just blew. And just as we did in 2009, we’re sharing our memories.
Here, a few Soundcheck writers share their picks for the best Tampa Bay concerts they saw in 2010. Click the links for the full reviews and photos. (Click here for our readers' picks for 2010's best concerts.)
James Taylor and Carole King, June 6, St. Pete Times Forum: I like Taylor and King, though I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of either. But I was blown away by this dual performance from the longtime friends’ Troubadour Reunion Tour, inarguably the most intimate show in the history of the St. Pete Times Forum. It was a nonstop cavalcade of spine-tingling smashes, each one topping the next. King’s show-stopping voice during It’s Too Late and I Feel The Earth Move was a revelation. The beautiful rotating stage offered fantastic views throughout the arena, and by the end of the set, each time Taylor and King embraced, fans cried. Sadly, this may be only a once-in-a-lifetime tour — but if it ever happens again, do anything and everything you can to catch it.
Passion Pit, June 14, Ritz Ybor: While the rest of the nation was coming down from Bonnaroo, Tampa Bay fans were gearing up for an unexpected appearance by these indie-dance-pop upstarts. The Ritz was sold out by showtime, and people were begging for tickets on the street. And the atmosphere inside was hot, Hot, HOT. Like, 100-plus degrees hot. Sweltering, sweating, sizzling, hot. But when Passion Pit started playing, everything felt marvelous. Everyone, including yours truly, lost their collective shizz during songs like Sleepyhead, Moth’s Wings, The Reeling and Folds In Your Hands. Six months later, whenever I need a pick-me-up, I check out this YouTube video of Little Secrets, which perfectly captures the feeling that night in the (passionate) pit. How can you not love it?
OK Go, May 14, Crowbar: How can you turn the experience of watching a viral video into an enjoyable concert? Fans at this show on the eve of Tropical Heatwave learned the answer: Laser guitars, fuzzy guitars, blasts of confetti, excursions into the crowd, children singing onstage, electronic sport coats, a mini-handbell choir and an impromptu performance from Les Miserables. OK Go didn’t bring treadmills, but they didn’t need to — the music, and the multisensory effects that accompanied it, were more than enough for everyone.
Owl City/Lights, Feb. 3, Ritz Ybor: Yeah, yeah, it’s not cool to like Owl City. I get it. But for me, one of the best music moments of 2010 was Owl City’s performance of The Tip Of the Iceberg, which turned a normal pop concert into an energized disco dance party, skittery synths, dancing cellists and all. And for the second straight year, Canadian pop-keytarist Lights makes Soundcheck’s best-of list, thanks to a glittery, infectious glee that buoys her every move onstage. She’s so dreamy!
Honorable Mention: B.o.B., Jingle Ball 2010, Dec. 12, St. Pete Times Forum: I can’t give Bobby Ray Simmons Jr. a full review here, considering he only played five songs. But those five songs were just so good, especially his duet with Bruno Mars on Nothin’ on You, and his rendition of Bet I. Word is he put on a lights-out show at Wild Splash this spring, too. It’s safe to say that if he ever stages a full concert in this area, he’ll be a candidate for this list. Until then, this’ll have to do.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Oct. 16, The Ritz Ybor: There are too many silly, labor-intensive instructions at concerts these days. You know the ones — “Stand up, wave your hands in the air, say yeah, jump up, scream.” So, when Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ ringleader Alex Ebert requested that we simply “have a seat and relax” on the floor of the Ritz Ybor, it was … well, unusual. (A little sticky, too, but we digress). There Ebert sat amidst swaying hippie kids and regular folk and sang campfire kumbaya track Brother. It was the perfect encore to a blissful, two-hour evening, one that included the frenzied jangle of the tambourine on 40 Day Dream, a beautifully spooky Hail Mary chorus line on Desert Song, and the sheer, spirited joy of trumpet-tickled Home. Among the 10-plus members of the rootsy, revivalist folk collective, hometown girl Jade Castrinos shined brightly as her family watched from the crowd. It was like the Decemberists with a contact high, flowers and bare feet; or the Polyphonic Spree without the creepiness.
Drake, Sept. 24, USF Sun Dome: In 2010, a few bright spots in rap emerged. Mold-breakers Drake and Nicki Minaj proved you need not have a drug-slinging, hood-dwelling past to make it in rap. Better still, you can star in a Canadian teen soap opera and still maintain some street cred. Such is the case for 24-year-old Drizzy Drake, a ladies man with a goofy flow and a sharp tongue. Both were on display in late September at the USF Sun Dome where Drake drew a largely female audience. In fact, the shear volume of screaming of ladies during the first 15 minutes had the place resembling a Jonas Brothers event more than a rap show. Still, Drake delivered very grown-up rhymes on Best I Ever Had and Fancy. A “free Weezy” montage and a guest appearance by Birdman on Money to Blow were big moments, though Drake referred back to a childhood Disney classic on that one: “On records I am Captain Hook and my new car is Rufio.” On the whole, Drake proved to be a clever, personable entertainer and rapper and an aspiring singer, one with a big future ahead.
Vampire Weekend, Oct. 12, Jannus Live: Before we were barraged by Christmas-appropriate single Holiday in television ads this season, Vampire Weekend gave us the hifalutin’ Afro-pop goods at a sold-out show at Jannus Live in October. The nods to Paul Simon’s Graceland were abundant, as were the lessons in punctuation and preppy attire. You didn’t have to wear your best Lacoste, though, as VW’s energetic mix turned out to be unpredictably unsnobby and inviting to all. Show-goers danced politely to electro-tinged White Sky and the twinkly Horchata, (that’s a Mexican rice beverage, obviously) off of 2010’s Contra. The only competition facing VW’s Ivy League mélange of indie pop, world beat and African folk was a Rays playoff game. Fans checked phones and consulted the back bar TVs for score updates (gloomy ones at that). But these pasty Columbia boys stayed the course, rounding out a solid “Rocktoberfest” (the term we’ve used to describe one of the best concert months we can remember).
Toots and the Maytals, April 13, Bourbon Street; and Nov. 19, Jannus Live: If you’ve ever considered reggae a “subdued” genre, it’s time you experienced Toots. No, there’s no flatulence involved here. We’re referring to the hardest-working man in reggae, soulman and teacher Toots Hibbert. Hibbert delivered two passionate local sets this year. During the first, the normally dark, metallic (and now defunct) Bourbon Street in New Port Richey was converted into the Baptist church of reggae, a place where you’d be eager to fill the collection plate each week. During the second, the 64-year-old singer praised St. Pete’s fist pump skills and reminded us that “we’re all beautiful.” The bathroom attendant at Jannus Live told me she particularly liked Hibbert’s rendition of Country Roads (where he subs “West Jamaica” for “West Virginia”). I agreed. Overall, whether he was encouraging folks to let their “love light shine” or to fly “higher and higher,” Hibbert injected a much-needed dose of optimism into Bay-area air. Lesson learned: Two Toots is twice as nice.
Marksmen, Nov. 26, the Ritz Ybor (opening for Underoath): I chose Tampa’s Marksmen as one of the best live bands of 2010 for a couple reasons. First, their shows bring you back to to good and natural fun. They don’t use any out-of-the-realm antics to impress their crowd. They don’t throw F-bombs out to get the crowd fired up. They only use their music and energy, which is enough to produce a great live performance. Marksmen have a unique style of music and seeing them live is a must.
The Casualties, Oct. 8, the Ritz Ybor: The Casualties blasted into The Ritz Ybor in October with Gwar. I always loved old-school punk, and it has been a while since I’ve seen a true punk band on stage. That said, The Casualties floored me. Maybe it was just the nostalgia of the music, or my biased love for punk rock, but it was such a powerful show. One song after another, they ripped through the crowd and left everyone with the punk experience.
Suicidal Tendencies, Nov. 9, State Theatre: I cannot do ST justice by writing about their show. It truly was the best show of 2010, and maybe one of the best I’ve ever seen. They were a band that I grew up listening to, and to see them 25 years later, still grinding away, was an early Christmas gift. They played all of the old favorites and the sound was perfect. And you can tell Mike Muir is so in love with playing live. He welcomed his fans onstage after the show and took the time to take pictures and sign autographs with anyone that approached him. The State Theatre staff definitely worked for their money this night.
Black Eyed Peas (Feb. 10, St. Pete Times Forum): Despite being the nutritional equivalent of a sack of Ring Dings, the club-jumpin’, humpbumpin’ Black Eyed Peas are actually healthy for you. The L.A.-born quartet offered sugar-spun escapism, songs serving the id, the caboose, no thinking required. Use your brain, and the deal is off. The highlight: Will.i.am freestyling rhymes using only real-time texts from fans, the dizzied height of improv.
Taylor Swift (March 4, St. Pete Times Forum): In the very first show of her very first headlining tour of the United States, pop princess Taylor Swift could have honked a tuba with her left nostril for two hours and the sold-out crowd of teen girls still would have shrieked and swooned as if the St. Pete Times Forum were handing out free unicorns at the door.
Best show? I’d say Ray LaMontagne opening for Levon Helm at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Nov. 5. Other faves:
Evan Dando, Feb. 12, Crowbar: He was pretty remarkable — he never took a break between songs, and played for at least an hour and a half.
Blind Boys of Alabama, April 23, Skipper’s Smokehouse: A beautiful treat.
Ben Harper and Relentless7, May 1, the Ritz Ybor: Three sets, and one hell of a dynamic.
Henry Rollins, March 20, Capitol Theatre: Although he didn’t perform music, he talked for three hours straight — without taking a breath of a sip of water. Damn impressive.
Neil Young, Sept. 23, Ruth Eckerd Hall: Young traversed the stage from guitar to organ, and delivered a haunting set as a one-man band at Ruth Eckerd Hall.
Roger Waters, Nov. 16, St. Pete Times Forum: Roger Waters’ The Wall performance — I’ve never seen such a theatrical concert in all my life.
Photo: Luis Santana, tbt*