Top Ten of 2002
1. Supergrass - Life On Other Planets
2. David Bowie - Heathen
3. Paul Westerberg - Stereo/Mono - Stereo
4. Neil Young - Are You Passionate?
5. George Harrison - Brainwashed
6. The Vines - Highly Evolved
7. Tegan & Sara - If It Was You
8. Perla Batalla - Discoteca Batalla
9. The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
10. Lambchop - Is A Woman
There were also a couple of things I heard that weren’t actually released in ’02 that I MUST mention as they were so much a part of my year:
The Jayhawks - They made the new album in L.A. so I was fortunate to hear it as they recorded (studio conveniently located directly between office and home!) then later nabbed an advance that I devour daily. “Angeline” is the one I haven’t been able to get out of my head for months. There is no current group I like better than these guys. What songs, what singers they are! (Album title is Rainy Day Music and street date is 4/1/03)
Visqueen - I was initially blown away then completely obsessed by a dozen songs I received from this new Seattle trio. Some of the best singing I’ve ever heard in a punk-ish rock band. Smart, exuberant songs that are full of hooks. They currently have one 7” vinyl single available (of probably their best song to date, “Vaxxine”) and are reportedly self-releasing a ten song-er any minute now. Look out! (visqueenonline.com)
The White Stripes - Last guy on the block but I finally GOT IT. I’d heard them here and there but never listened carefully. It took a friend of mine e-mailing me about a show he saw in N.Y. that wiped him out, specifically mentioning a cover of Dylan’s “Isis,” to get me to sit up and take notice. To be able to make traditional elements sound this fresh is incredibly inspiring.
Kraig Johnson - The sideman from Run Westy Run, Golden Smog, Jayhawks and Iffy steps out on his own with some mighty strong material. I played a handful of his demos as much as I played just about anything this year. More timeless pop-rock stuff. Live shows in Minneapolis, NYC and Spain (!) with a revolving door lineup (at times including Marc Perlman, Ed Ackerson and Jim Boquist among others) have reportedly been knockouts. Hopefully we’ll see a release in ’03.
Vic Chesnutt The short version of the story is: I’ve been trying to figure out a way to work with this guy for over ten years and I burst with pride to say we signed him to New West Records in ‘02. I spent the lions-share of my listening time this year sorting through demos, then recording his album. I’m utterly humbled by his work, it’s the stuff of genius. (Album title is Silver Lake and street date is 3/25/03)
Live (L.A. unless otherwise noted)
Paul McCartney - Staples Center 5/4 & 10/28, Excel Energy Center (Minneapolis) 9/23 - These were the best concerts I have ever seen in my life. His singing was flat out incredible (almost infathomable), he had a kick-ass rock n’ roll band and the song selection was just about perfect. And he did it all with such grace and dignity that it moved me profoundly. If I had to narrow the responsibility for my lifetime musical fixation down to one single person, it would be McCartney and he justified it all for me with these three magnificent performances. The live album/DVD are fine souvenirs but don’t even scratch the surface of what it was like to experience first-hand.
Bob Dylan - The Wiltern 10/15 & 17 - The two things that really made these shows extra-special were Bob mostly playing piano and the cover songs he did (The Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” Neil Young’s “Old Man,” various Warren Zevon songs etc.) but otherwise, this outrageously fine band line-up just did what they’ve been doing for a couple of years now - played great music.
Vic Chesnutt - Knitting Factory 4/27 - solo & 40 Watt (Athens, GA) 6/14 - with band - both were solid shows; the former was revelatory in that Vic did nine songs, one from each of his albums, in chronological order (two from his most recent, the definitive Left To His Own Devices) which alternately displayed the excellence of those individual songs AND pointed out what a small piece of the Vic puzzle they were. Hearing him do “In Amongst The Millions” (from Devices) was the very definition of ‘gut-wrenching’ (you only need to hear the lyric to get an idea of why); the latter show featured a perfectly raggedy band and primarily drew from the pool of new songs he was getting ready to record. Though a positively petrifying performance of “My Last Act” (also from Devices) might’ve taken the … ummm … cake.
Paul Kelly - Troubadour 4/30 - The competition was mighty stiff here - PK’s Troub show in June of ’98 was one for the history books - but he rose to the occasion. Jennifer and I peeled ourselves off the ceiling some ninety minutes later and wandered out, once again completely stumped as to why this guy (and this band) aren’t global superstars.
The Jayhawks (various cities) - Their singing live completely kills me. To hear them do it all over the amazing, career-spanning body of work they cover onstage these days is like fucking sensory overload. The toppermost of the poppermost of rock bands currently in existence.
Rufus Wainwright - Wilshire Ebell 3/8 - This was the most serious concert I’ve seen him give. The highlight was a masterful reading of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Speaking of singing that kills me …
Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express (various cities) - Consistently one of the finest actual BANDS I saw all year. A tight, five-piece unit firing on all cylinders. Chuck’s guitar playing alone brought me to my knees several times.
Visqueen - The Crocodile 10/11 - Seattle - This was their first gig after a few months off but it kicked my ass nonetheless. They rocked. Bonus points for cracking me up about 27 times during the show.
The Joel Plaskett Emergency 8/27 - Silver Lake Lounge - This Halifax, Nova Scotia trio mesmerized me with their power pop performance, a real ‘show.’
A coupla notes:
- In the “finally got to visit the hallowed halls” department, in June I attended a taping for The Flatlanders on Austin City Limits. I was surprised at how heavy it was to walk into that room for the first time, even just seeing those fake trees was a wow! And The Flatlanders were outstanding - Joe Ely in particular - holy buckets, talk about star power!
- In the ‘unthinkable honor’ department, I received a ‘thank you’ on The Only Ones BBC Recordings (when asked by guitarist John Perry if I had a suggestion for a title I offered Darkness & Light which, to my eternal delight, they used!) The recordings are, of course, brilliant.
- The Stones reissues both tickled and confounded me. Though it’s certainly exciting to hear the clarity of these re-masters, I think I prefer the early ones in mono, they’re much more powerful. But, hey, how come no one’s talking about the fact that “2120 South Michigan Avenue” is like a minute-and-a-half longer than all previous editions of 12X5??!! Shit, I about fainted!
Farewell - Joe Strummer, Mary Hansen, Florian Fricke, Dee Dee Ramone, Timothy White.
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