June 6, 2003

In the mind of a music junkie: the best of the last four years

I'm not one for teary goodbyes or, for that matter, self-reflection. But it would be a bit strange for me to leave without some sort of official Voices farewell. So here it is: the music and musical events that have meant the most over the past four years-according to me. Looking back on it, I can't imagine how I could hope to sum everything up in a few measly paragraphs. Really, it's impossible. What you have in front of you maybe doesn't represent the best of what I saw or heard, but it is what I remember after being inundated with albums and live shows for four straight years.

The Dismemberment Plan, The Fireside Bowl, 1999 - Touring in support of the just released and now classic, Emergency & I, the Plan turned what should have been a standard-issue indie rock show into a dance extravaganza, the likes of which has not been seen at the venue before or since. The band punctuated the performance with a white-hot, extended funk version of "Back and Forth" as fans mounted the stage to prove that, yes, even jaded hipsters will dance if given provocation. Almost four years and countless shows later, Travis Morrison still claims that this is the best show the band has ever played. He thinks so highly of it in fact that the entire concert is being released on DVD this summer to accompany the band's remix album. It's rather fitting that this show remains the fondest arts-related memory from my college experience since the band that I first heard about during my first year is preparing to embark on their farewell tour. All good things, I suppose, must eventually come to an end.

The Strokes, St. Andrew's Hall Basement, Detroit, Michigan, 2000 - The Strokes were supposed to open for Doves on this particular night, but a holdup at the Canadian border caused enough of a delay that the Strokes wound up as the evening's headliner. Of course, given that the Strokes still had a relatively low profile, the concert-goers were told that they must proceed to the bar area in the basement if they wanted to see the band. Needless to say, only about 50 people of the assembled 200 to 300 bothered to stick around. I imagine those who left must be kicking themselves now. Although on a purely technical level, this was probably the weakest of the four Strokes shows I've seen, there was something undeniably special and important about the evening. Even then, back when "Trying Your Luck" was still called "This Life," you could sense that the Strokes were on the verge of something incredible. The songs were there even if Casablancas and the rest of his band looked a little bewildered and unsure. Any shred of doubt would be erased in the following year with the arrival of Is This It, a disc that defined and signaled the beginning of the new garage rock movement.

Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, (Nonesuch) - Nothing says Chicago quite like Wilco and no album encapsulates the past four years in this city better than this one. I'll spare you the post-9/11 parallels and critical posturing and simply say that this CD will probably remain my closest connection to the city long after I'm gone.

Doves, Lost Souls, (Astralwerks) - 2000 wasn't the greatest of the four years for music in general, but it did yield two of the best albums. While Kid A is the popular favorite from 2000 and certainly deserves the praise in hindsight, I still maintain that the real masterstroke was this fully formed debut. After years of commercial indifference and mediocrity, the members of the British dance collective Sub Sub rechristened themselves as Doves and put out a guitar rock record. The American version boasted a staggering 15 tracks, each one a testament to production wizardry and their keen understanding of melody. Both the follow-up, 2002's The Last Broadcast, and their live performances never quite delivered on the promise of Lost Souls, but nonetheless, three years later, it's hard to deny the unfettered brilliance on display throughout this disc.

Pavement, Vic Theatre, 1999 - Not too long after I saw the Dismemberment Plan (or maybe it was the other way around), I had the privilege of seeing one of Pavement's last shows on American soil. Thankfully, any signs of the impending breakup were undetectable, as Malkmus and Co. strung together a knockout setlist that covered almost any song a Pavement fan could have asked for-from the blistering anarchy of "Two States" to the more understated genius of "Major Leagues." This was one of the rare shows that managed to convince me that an album I hated (Terror Twilight) maybe wasn't anywhere near as bad as I thought.