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A year of refusal

by Ryan Snyder

Morrissey was a charming man in Durham. (photo by Ryan Snyder)

It has been quite a year for the hardworking staff YES!

Weekly’s music division in 2009 and without a doubt, one of its best ever in that arena. We’ve brought our readers the best possible coverage of musical happenings not only in the Triad, but pretty much everywhere within driving distance. They came to the big arenas, to elegant music halls and, occasionally, to neighborhood garages. And then there were the festivals, six of them in all from April to October. While Jordan Green saw dozens of bands play out in his own right while working the lead Tunes story through November, I took on exactly 50 different concert reviews this year from the Wu Tang Clan to the Riders to in the Sky. That’s a lot of music for anyone to see in one year. That said, let’s wind down the year with a look back at the best of the best from those 50.

MORRISSEY — DURHAM PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, MARCH 11

Never will you see men and women alike zealously rushing a stage simply for the sake of putting their hands on a band’s frontman as if doing so could give eyesight to the blind. You will, however, if you go to a Morrissey show. His night at the Durham Performing Arts Center in March confirmed that idol exaltation knows no gender, as several fellows — some of whom were present with significant others of the opposite sex — bum-rushed the former Smiths primary to try and purloin a hug or kiss on the cheek. Strangely enough, the constant interruption never seemed to detract from the show. Morrissey was phenomenal, but his backing band was even more so, utilizing an enormous cache of instruments throughout the show. It might sound trite to say “How Soon is Now” was the highlight, but the resulting marriage of visual and aural precision was worth the ticket price alone.

THE DEAD — GREENSBORO COLISEUM, APRIL 12

Okay, so it may not have been one of the best actual musical performances that we covered in 2009, but the Dead show in Greensboro was of great significance nonetheless. The fact that they played their first gig in five years was huge news itself, but the parking lot scene that accompanied it was like something from Burning Man. RVs were in line at 10 a.m. outside the Greensboro Coliseum and the lot was practically full by 2 p.m. The show itself, however, didn’t start for another five hours. The Dead ended up being adequate, but clearly rusty. After a nine-hour lot binge, however, it’s uncertain whether anyone really minded.

RACHID TAHA — SHAKORI HILLS GRASSROOTS FESTIVAL, APRIL 17

It’s understandable that most had ever heard of Raï music legend Rachid Taha before he played a couple of dates in the Tar Heel State. Most couldn’t even tell you what Raï music is to begin with. His introduction came during a Duke University pairing with folk icon Richie Havens, but the spotlight was all his as he headlined the Friday night main stage at the spring Shakori Hills Festival. Picture a drunken, Middle Eastern Tom Waits fronting the Disco Biscuits, and you might have an idea why the roots and string lovin’ crowd at Shakori Hills had to scrape their jaws off the hillside after Taha was through with them.

Bruce Springsteen — Greensboro Coliseum, May 2 “There’s just something about the North Carolina crowds and Greensboro in particular,” said Little Steven Van Zandt during a May telephone interview with YES! Weekly. The Boss & Co. were only a few weeks separated from what many fans argued to be the best show on the spring US tour: the Greensboro Coliseum date. Even for

an E Street first-timerlike myself, it was clear that there was something special about thatevening and it wasn’t just the awesome cover of the McCoys’ “Hang OnSloopy” that came during request hour. The ageless Springsteen was inrare form and the deluge of affection from the crowd only outpaced hischemistry with the rest of the band. One of the most memorable momentscame during the latter half of the show when Springsteen foraged forrequests signs, only to produce one with a single word that capturedthe essence of the evening. “Steensboro,” it read, saying more in oneshort portmanteau than any full review ever could.

FELICE BROTHERS — THE GARAGE, MAY 24

Tomany, the five country boys from upstate New York stole the night fromMillennium Center headliner Old Crow Medicine Show at a Januaryperformance, so it was inevitable that their own headlining return wasto be much anticipated. Like any good collection of drinking songs,they always sound a little better when the performers themselves arelit and the Felice Brothers went out of their way to make sure theywere at the top of their game.

PUBLIC ENEMY — BONNAROO MUSIC & ARTS FESTIVAL, JUNE 12

Whywould a self-avowed Phish fan ever walk away from the band’s firstfestival set in nearly five years? No good reason, to be perfectlyhonest. I’m still taking heat for that one. The excitement of seeingPhish for the first time in years was shot down when they came out flatthrough the first three songs and watching them from afar on theBonnaroo main-stage jumbotrons was simply unfulfilling. Thus, a friendand I made a bold decision: We just left their set. I didn’t getin-depth about it during my post-Bonnaroo recap or the resulting coverstory — my food poisoninginduced death bed at the Johnson CityEconoLodge only allowed for focus on the “last” Nine Inch Nails show.But the chance to secure a good spot at legendary hip-hop group PublicEnemy’s set was impossible to pass up. From the moment the group hitthe stage, it was clear that we made to right choice. The greatestrapper and the greatest hype man alive might have both been pushing 50,but there was no want for adrenaline at this one. Hearing It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back performedin its entirety reminded of just how timeless and effectual a greathip-hop album can be. Chuck D was as menacing and dynamic as he was in1988, while Flava Flav reminded everyone that he’s not merely a realityTV flunky; the dude can actually rap. Not to mention his hype levelmakes Lil Jon look like Mr. Rogers. Between the about-facing of thedesert camo-ed S1W bodyguards and guitarist Khari Wynn’s cold-bloodedshredding, Public Enemy was enough to make me forget about Phishaltogether.

YARD DOGS ROAD SHOW — FLOYD FEST, JULY 24 & 25

Evenat the cost of missing the XX Merge Fest at the Cat’s Cradlealtogether, there was one act at this year’s Floyd Fest that made itall worth it. For such a kid-friendly festival, the Yard Dogs Road Showwas decidedly unfriendly for the wee ones, but a completely mesmerizinglate-night treat for the grownups. The 13-piece cabaret outfit blendedavant-garde theater with titillating burlesque, breathtaking circustricks, sultry jazz and Beefheart-inspired psychedelia to create one ofthe most unforgettable acts you’d ever hope to see. “The World’s FirstGuitar-Playing Redwood Tree,” otherwise known as Eenor, let loose someof the smokiest, nastiest licks you’d ever hear, while the ladies ofBlack & Blue Burlesque made a case for a different kind of wood.The best part? They played twice. Sure, it was the same set bothnights, but no one seemed to care as the crowd had nearly doubled fromFriday to Saturday.

TOUBAB KREWE — THE BLIND TIGER, AUG. 22 & 23

2009was a major turning point for the afro-folk fusionists from Asheville.They’d already achieved a devout national following, so the next stepwas to push their music into uncharted territory. A sweltering Augustweekend at the Blind Tiger allowed them to do just that, as they cycledthrough nearly every piece in their catalog while debuting material farmore adventurous than anyone could have ever expected. The house waspacked with the rowdiest of the rowdy both nights and the band gaveback just as enthusiastically as the heat inside became oppressive. Theweekend didn’t mark a change of direction nearly as much as it wascontinued genre blurring by a band with which the term has becomesynonymous.

SUN RA ARKESTRA — TRINUMERAL FESTIVAL, SEPT. 10

Fora group whose average age would qualify them for Social Securitybenefits, the last place you’d expect the Sun Ra Arkestra to make ahuge splash would be in front of a bunch of spun-out, college-age lotwookies. Then again, space really is the place according Sun Ra. Theircoolness is out of this world, thanks to saxophonist and 50-yearArkestra veteran Marshall Allen, who led the band in their interstellarjazz explorations in front of a pair of decidedly different audiencesback in September. The Duke performances show with the Mingus Big Bandwas typical of their audience, but it was their Trinumeral Festival setwhere the crowd completely lost it. After two days of samplingvirtually every kind of electronic music imaginable, the few hundredwho succumbed to their curiosity were taken aback by both the glitterydashikis and the sheer amount of personnel it took to fly the Arkestra.After just a few minutes of other-worldly jazz, it became clear how the Arkestra fit into the big picture of an electronic music festival.

LEONARD COHEN — DURHAM PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, NOV. 4

Ina year of memorable music all across the state, few events couldapproach the gravity that accompanies a name like Leonard Cohen on amarquee. Seeing the poetic giant in his triumphant return from a15-year North American touring hiatus was a bucket list-worthy item formany and it was simply impossible to leave with a shred ofdisappointment. With brilliant charisma and some of the most impactfulverses in all of modern music, Cohen poured his 75-year old soul out onstage every stop along the way. Many left his date at the DurhamPerforming Arts Center with a common opinion; it was the closest to anoutright religious experience that many had ever been. The angelicvoices of the Webb Sisters and Cohen’s masterful backing band onlyserved to intensify what was already a commanding performance by one ofthe last real charmers in all of music.

Morrissey was a charming man in Durham. (photo by Ryan Snyder)

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