Music News & Reviews

2010's top 10 live music performances couldn't have been more varied

It Was a Very Good Year.

Wasn't that the hit Frank Sinatra so wistfully reminisced with during the mid-'60s? Think he would have felt the same way about 2010?

We are about to say goodbye to a mixed bag of a year — a year when the music industry evaporated further while the consumers who strived to save it worked off of tighter budgets than ever before.

Then again, it also was the year of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, perhaps the biggest non-musical event ever staged in Lexington to trigger so much extraordinary music around it. Yet, when looking back at the months before and after WEG, we discover that 2010 was an all-around rich and diverse year for popular music.

In Sunday's Life + Arts section, we get cracking on the cool sounds on tap for 2011. But today is New Year's Eve, and we have one last chance to reflect on 10 arresting performances that made 2010, indeed, a very good year.

1. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings at Buster's Billiards and Backroom (September): The blasts of vintage soul (I Learned the Hard Way), doo-wop-ish charm (Mama Don't Like My Man) and fervent, brassy boogaloo (When I Come Home) were all enticing enough. But it was the divine Miss Jones, a tirelessly spirited R&B entertainer of the first order, who set the whole funky mix on fire. The Dap-Kings might have set the groove in motion, but Jones was the uncontested queen of this ball.

2. Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue at Spotlight Lexington (September): The first and most lasting highlight of Spotlight Lexington, the downtown performance arm of WEG, was the local debut of this rising New Orleans star. A versed trombonist, trumpeter, band leader and all-around entertainer, Troy Andrews also proved to be a family-friendly act for the festival by igniting a gorgeous fall evening with serious Crescent City soul. Best of all, the concert revealed the kind of vital outdoor concert atmosphere that can thrive on a downtown street corner.

3. Chris Isaak at the Singletary Center for the Arts (December): Known primarily for a 20-year-old retro-pop hit called Wicked Game, Isaak came armed with a flexible but razor-sharp band, an encyclopedic command of vintage rock, pop and country, and a sense of audience-involving performance immediacy that had to be witnessed to be appreciated. He saved the best for last, though, with a 45-minute encore that crammed in nearly a dozen roots-rock classics before his own Blue Spanish Sky brought the show to a hushed, ultra-cool close.

4. The Black Eyed Peas at Rupp Arena (February): In a Rupp year that went heavy on the same country-pop acts that rotate through every available concert venue in the region on a near-annual basis, the Black Eyed Peas, in their only regional concert appearance, seemed like an oasis. The group's immensely audience-friendly show embraced glowing pop, funk, hip-hop and DJ culture, defining a new age of arena rock in the process.

5. Joe Lovano at the Singletary Center for the Arts (January): One of the craftiest jazz minds anywhere, Lovano navigated all kinds of fertile, boppish waters with his Us Five quintet. Soloing on tenor sax, the clarinet-like tárogató and the mutant aulochrome (essentially, two soprano saxophones fused together and played through a single mouthpiece), Lovano also worked off the varying tempos of two drummers, a sense of improvisational resourcefulness that never let up and a continually lustrous tenor sax tone.

6. Peter Brotzmann and Hamid Drake at Gumbo Ya Ya/Bar Lexington (April): The finest 2010 offering by the revitalized Outside the Spotlight Series brought German free-jazz giant Brotzmann to Lexington for his second performance in a little more than two months. This one teamed the saxophonist with Chicago drummer Drake for three lengthy improvisations built around blues-tinged outbursts, ripe duo dynamics and sheer musical physicality. Staging it all at the now defunct Gumbo Ya Ya on Main Street, where any curious downtown patron could peer through the windows, made the show all the more inviting and important.

7. Peter Case at Natasha's Bistro (July): What a treat. For more than two hours, song stylist Case offered a mere handful of patrons a stroll through folk-blues originals new and old, expert roots-savvy covers of tunes by Mississippi John Hurt, Leadbelly and Bob Dylan, and readings from his 2006 book, As Far You Can Get Without a Passport, that detailed a pilgrimage to the Summer of Love taken several summers too late. It was all performed with a stage demeanor as leisurely as it was authoritative.

8. Acid Mothers Temple at Cosmic Charlie's (April): In a complete departure from the norm, Cosmic Charlie's offered this springtime blast of Japanese psychedelic prog-rock. As always, AMT founder/guitarist Kawabata Makoto was the performance catalyst. He introduced melodies as meditative, minimalist themes (as on the lengthy jam pieces Pink Lady Lemonade and Speed Guru) that would build and ignite into metal-esque fervor. No other 2010 concert was remotely like this.

9. Billy Bragg and Wanda Jackson at the Kentucky Theatre (September): An active year for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour, which broadcast its 600th show this fall, came to a head with this cross-generational summit between British folk/punk activist Bragg (in his Lexington debut) and the return of rockabilly queen Jackson. The pairing was so cool that the program doubled each artist's performance time to produce two broadcasts.

10. The Branford Marsalis Quartet at the Singletary Center for the Arts (November): Playing Lexington for the first time in 21 years, saxophonist Marsalis offered playful Thelonious Monk standards (Teo, 52nd Street Theme), a ballad by quartet pianist Joey Caldarazzo (The Blossom of Parting) that worked itself into a John Coltrane-inspired boil, and a vital ensemble sound fueled by the wildly industrious playing of 19-year-old drummer Justin Faulkner. It was a jazz feast.

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