Best of 2000 (for Crawdaddy!)
1. Bob Dylan - Things Have Changed (from the soundtrack to Wonder Boys) (Columbia) This was the best thing I heard all year by a mile -- one song with an album's worth of artistic weight. The first composition Dylan has recorded specifically for a film since "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" in 1973. A 2/4 acoustic stomp with so many brilliant Dylanisms it's hard to single out just one phrase but, if push came to shove, I'd have to go with:
"Lotta water under the bridge
... makes me smile EVERY time. And what a chorus!:
"People are crazy and times are strange
Such a HUGE song it is incomprehensible to me how unheralded it was, even among astute musichounds. Surprisingly, recorded with his touring band, something Dylan has almost never done. And maybe the best band he's ever had.
2. Neil Young - Silver & Gold (Reprise) A treasure of an acoustic album, S&G contains two of Neil's absolute finest songs -- "Horseshoe Man" and "Razor Love." In a way, this record is as daring as just about anything he's ever done; in it's hushed tone and deliberate, delicate sound. In it's thoughtfulness and unabashed sentimentality. And I swear he's singing better in the last couple of years than he has ever sung in his career.
3. The Jayhawks - Smile (American/Columbia) For me, the most important band in contemporary rock period. Leader Gary Louris has few peers. This is sophisticated stuff. Hook-filled, intelligent, pop-rock. The level of artistry in the writing and the harmony singing is a wonder to behold -- from the straight-ahead, Bread-like pop of the title song and "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" to adrenalin-pumping rockers like "Somewhere In Ohio" and "Queen Of The World." The glossy, modern production is perfectly appropriate. Once again, The 'Hawks defy easy categorization (if people don't stop referring to The Jayhawks as an alt-country band I'm gonna scream!). I played this record constantly all year.
4. Marah - Kids In Philly (E-Squared/Artemis) Another of most the important bands in contemporary music, Marah was the best proof in years that rock ‘n roll ain't never going away. From their signature song - the banjo-driven "Faraway You" to the remarkably credible tale of a Viet Nam vet, "Round Eye Blues," ("I was shakin' like Little Richard/I was sweating like ol' James Brown") these boys meant fuckin' business. The Springsteen influence is even more apparent on this second album but Marah are less jock, less wholesome and infinitely more dangerous if you ask me. Advanced songwriters, dedicated performers and a lead singer to die for. Dave Bielanko's effortless, terrifically exciting vocal phrasing is what most rock singers can only dream of -- and he does it EVERY TIME HE OPENS HIS MOUTH!
5. Chuck Prophet - The Hurting Business (HighTone) I'm permanently awestruck by this soulful rock album. The songs and performances are astonishing. The sound of this record drives me wild, especially the way the vocal is mixed so in your face ... dig those dramatic gasps for air, the chuckling under his breath, the few macho "HUH!"s, the imaginative backing vocals and various other unidentifiable noises ... my hat's off to Chuck and co-producer Jacquire King (who also had a lot to do with the sound on Tom Waits' Mule Variations). This album has two honest-to-goodness perfect songs -- "Apology" ("how can I swallow every little thing she says/she don't even know Elvis from El Vez") and "Dyin' All Young" (with phrases like "Up on the banks of Methodonia/he laid down and closed his eyes" or "If I had it all to do I'd lock you in your room for good this time") ... the latter's a scratchin', rappin', modern day white soul classic with a message that should be all over the radio.
6. Vic Chesnutt & Mr. & Mrs. Keneipp - Merriment (Backburner) Bless Mr. & Mrs. Keneipp's hearts for being catalysts in one of the most unique recordings in recent history. Kelly and Nikki wrote the music and played it. Vic wrote the words, sang them and played some guitar. Odd little ditties. Unusual and imaginative in a spooky, Lewis Carroll, childlike sort of way.
7. The Waxwings - Low To The Ground (Bobsled) Contemporary Power Pop that isn't overly derivative? How can it be??!! Sure, you can hear a bit of Beatles or Kinks or Shoes but, Good God Y'all, these Waxwings from Detroit have a sound of their own. And, along with The Jayhawks, they were the finest harmony singers I heard all year (and also like the ‘Hawks they can pull those harmonies off live). Exceptionally well recorded by Brian Hanna at The Terrarium in Minneapolis.
8. Gingersol - Nothing Stops Moving (Idea Prone) Speaking of pop that isn't too derivative, Steve Tagliere is like an unstoppable songwriting machine that is constantly one-upping himself. He and band member/engineer/ producerSeth Rothschild have created a homemade, poetic, pop rock masterpiece here.
9. Wilco & Billy Bragg - Mermaid Avenue Volume II (Reprise) Another album where the sound is a significant part of it's greatness. Like "Feed Of Man" for instance - put that song on and crank it up and tell me that ain't what rock ‘n' roll's all about! I prefer this to Volume I.
10. Travis - The Man Who (Epic) Tuneful, catchy and ridiculously-sincere-without-being-drippy pop music.
Supergrass - (3rd album - U.S. Release in 2000 on Island) Supergrass had to jump labels in America after Capitol passed on putting this third album out stateside (fools!) which delayed it's domestic release 7 months and which also gives me an excuse to put it on my ‘Best of' list again this year. While the first two records are unquestionably superior, this one has a permanent place in my heart as well. I'll say it again, Supergrass are truly one of the great rock bands of our time. They make smart, uplifting, finely crafted rock music. Buy this record. Buy the other two. Tell all your friends. Listening to Supergrass will make you a better person.
Captain Beefheart And The Magic Band - I'm Going To Do What I Wanna Do (Live At My Father's Place 1978) (Rhino Handmade) Some of the most challenging (and funny) music ever made. He's a true giant in the rock field and all serious musichounds should own everything the man ever recorded. Along with Dylan and Cohen he's one of the most creative and truly poetic lyricists on earth. The Captain's between song dialog is worth the proverbial price of admission alone.
Neil Young - Road Rock (Reprise) An eighteen minute version of "Cowgirl In The Sand" to kick things off? Bring it on! A great souvenir from an earth-shattering tour. Surprise highlight: for someone who worshipped those early Neil Young records, the backing vocals by (sister) Astrid and (wife) Pegi Young were jarringly accurate.
- Neil Young - The Greek Theatre 9/12 & 14 From keeping tabs on the internet concert reports I knew it had been a pretty static setlist for most of the tour. I knew "World On A String" was supposed to follow "Harvest Moon" so, on the first night, when Neil unexpectedly struck the opening chords of "All Along The Watchtower" I got so excited the top of my head actually went numb ... possibly the single greatest musical moment of 2000 for me.
- Supergrass - The Roxy 5/22/00 The completely over the top performance (I finally got to see Supergrass lose their composure!), the impeccable sound, the career-wide set list, the artful lighting ... it was as close to a perfect rock show as I have ever seen. There's a lot going on in their songs, it's pretty complex stuff some of the time but, bottomline, these guys play rock ‘n' roll music ‘cos it's fun and that's downright contagious.
- Bob Dylan - Bakersfield Centennial Garden - Bakersfield, CA 3/12 To see him perform "Things Have Changed" was monumental, the harmonica break on "Tangled Up In Blue" was pure feel, the guitar solo he did on "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again" was so rock ‘n' roll it cracked me up. Witnessing my normally reserved pal Cameron periodically leaping out of his seat and whooping was inspiring. Seeing Bob Dylan experience another heyday onstage in these last few years is a privilege I don't take lightly.
- Rufus Wainwright - Largo 11/22 & 29 I was sort of giddy at the sheer spectacle of two things: his melodies and his voice. Then you toss in the piano playing, a dazzling batch of new songs all happening in a place not much bigger than the average living room, and I was borderline hysterical. When he took one hand off the piano and put it to his heart reaching for a vocal note on the phrase "not my fault Danny boy" I found myself on my tip-toes rooting for him to make it (which he did!). And very significantly, Rufus finally has a great band. I kid you not, these shows made me think of McCartney, Brian Wilson and Harry Nilsson ... pure genius, natural musicality.
- Marah - Theatre Of The Living Arts - Philadelphia, PA - record release party 3/24/00 I just HAD to see them in their beloved Philadelphia and it was more than worth the trip. They got a hometown heroes welcome and rewarded the lot of us with one of the most spine-tingling rock ‘n' roll shows I have ever witnessed by anyone anywhere. The finale was a real spectacle: a sensational surprise rendition of The Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait" into Little Richard's "Keep A-Knockin" into Oasis' "Acquiesce".
- The Jayhawks - The Baked Potato (acoustic show) 4/5* The Troubadour 6/12 Best live harmony singing I'd heard since The Cowsills dynamite Troubadour show last year. Primary singers Gary Louris and Tim O'Reagan along with new member Jen Gunderman are one 1st class vocal act. Bassist Marc Perlman is as good as they come. Auxiliary member Kraig Johnson does much to fill out the sound (and FUCK, he looks cool!).
- Iris DeMent - Royce Hall UCLA 5/4 On record or onstage, Iris DeMent is ALWAYS one of the highlights of any year for me. Though she's been plagued with an often talked about writer's block (her last album was released in ‘96), she did one fabulous new song alongside many of her now classics -- from "Let The Mystery Be" to the-almost-too gut-wrenching-to-experience-in-public "Easy's Getting Harder Everyday." Iris DeMent's singing is one of my favorite things in life.
- Travis - El Rey Theatre 4/10 My wife Jennifer and I were mesmerized by this performance and a little deafer afterwards -- not only ‘cos the band played loud but also ‘cos of the people in the audience screaming! Even singer Fran Healy seemed genuinely taken aback by it, saying when they first walked onstage, "Are you sure you're here for the right band?" And we couldn't figure out how everyone already knew all the words to "Why Does It Always Rain On Me?" when the album had just been released. They certainly rocked way more than we expected too! Jim Walsh from The St. Paul Pioneer Press said it best when, describing Fran's voice in concert, he wrote, "It was almost as if God was showing off."
- The Waxwings - The 400 Bar Minneapolis 6/10*Spaceland 6/17 & 9/23 Though they sometimes seem to have a penchant for playing too loud and obscuring their incredible harmonies I loved how exacting and determined their sets were.
- Tegan & Sara - Luna Park 7/10 19 year old twin sisters from Calgary, Alberta who I knew almost nothing about before they walked onstage. They captivated me instantly with their intensely smart, folky-poppy-rappy, acoustic music and sisterly banter. I thought about this show for weeks.
- Brian Wilson - Hollywood Bowl 9/24 Doing all of the Pet Sounds album and assorted other songs with his accomplished band and a symphony orchestra was literally like some kinda dream come true. The Van Dyke Parks conducted introductory overture was a thrill I'll never forget.
- Wilco - The Fillmore - San Francisco 7/29 & 30 In the first part of both sets, during the 7 or 8 Woody Guthrie songs in a row, they played with such authority and Jeff sang with what looked to me like a combination of pride, reverence and ease that it really moved me. Kinda made the big, sloppy rock finales of the sets seem a little forced. But I so respect this band and their "we'll try just about anything" attitude that I'm not really complaining.
- Perla Batalla - The Getty Museum Auditorium 2/19*Pecan Street Alehouse - Austin, TX 3/18*Bryant Lake Bowl - Minneapolis 6/7*Largo 10/18 Perla sings like an angel right here on earth and all of these shows had heart-stoppingly beautiful moments. Observing Leonard Cohen listening and watching attentively at the Largo performance was oddly heavy.
- Slim Dunlap Band - The Turf Club Minneapolis 8/26 No new songs to speak of but Slim and his fun loving band of many years really made me miss living in Minneapolis in a way I'd never felt before.
- McCartney Tribute - "The Solo Years" various artists from the L.A. Poptopia scene, The Wondermints and others. - The Morgan Wixson Theatre - 4/12 - I'm not sure what I was expecting this evening but it turned out to be heartwarming. Seeing Morris Tepper (from Captain Beefheart's latter day Magic Band) sing "Rock Show," copying every ooh and ahh and yelp that McCartney did on the original recording was a scream! Though, I must say, the later part of McCartney's output was criminally unrepresented.
- Tim Easton I generally avoid including artists I'm involved with directly (Tim records for New West Records where I work) but Tim Easton was such a huge part of my live experience I had to mention him. I probably saw him 25 times over the course of the year. He's a skillful, seasoned, charismatic, fun, folk/blues/rock performer. And his songs are so good I love seeing him even on his off nights.
In a category all by itself
- Supergrass - taping for the Craig Kilborn Show - CBS Television Studios 11/8/00 Jennifer and I felt fortunate just to be able to go to the taping but, when the CBS page unexpectedly ushered us into the Green Room where the band and their crew were, it was almost more than we could handle. We all sat around and watched election returns on CNN! The band couldn't have been nicer. We all walked to the stage together and one of the techs put us in a prime spot to watch. The band proceded to do a muscular and wonderfully fresh rendition of "Moving." To meet these guys we revere so much and have them be as charming as we'd imagined, not the least bit full of themselves and the textbook definition of "cool" was a wonderful thing.
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