Best Live Bands/Shows of 2009

I saw three shows a week in 2009, on average, most of which I never got around to writing up. Here are some of my favorites, or in some cases, favorite live bands. It’s a loose list this year.

Pete & the Pirates | CMJ 2009
Pete & the Pirates were so good at their first show of the week (10/21 at the Bell House) I ended up seeing them three more times during the course of CMJ. The band are so tight, so tunefull, so entertaining to watch (and not in a showy way) that I don’t know how you could go away unimpressed. The Bell House show was the closest P&Ps did to a full show. They headlined, the crowd was genuinely pumped to see their first NYC show and seemed to know all the words, and we stomped and clapped until they sheepishly came back for an encore. But the best gig was probably at the Brooklyn Vegan day party at Pianos on Saturday (10/24) where they played with no monitors and almost in the dark. But again, the crowd was so into it, Pete & the Pirates lit up the room with their own energy.

JEFF the Brotherhood | Death By Audio + Cake Shop + Mercury Lounge + Bowery Ballroom, etc

I probably saw JEFF the Brotherhood more times this year than any other out-of-town band. Jake and Jamin never fail to bring it, four-on-the-floor face-melting power jams that drive like a brakeless trucker on steep incline. The shows at Death by Audio were the craziest, usually involving smoke machines and once I got hit in the chest with a bottle rocket. Which wasn’t exactly cool, but not the sort of thing you forget.

Phoenix | Music Hall of Williamsburg | 6.18.2009
Phoenix were a powerhouse in 2009 that could not be stopped, and that included the live setting. Their late-night show at MHoW was a knockout, from the opening “Listomania” (any other band would save that for the encore) to show-closer “1901” they had the whole crowd going bananas. Plus: for a pop band, they have a BEAST of a drummer. 

Wild Beasts | Joe’s Pub + Mercury Lounge + Union Pool | September 2009

Wild Beasts’ magic is in the interplay between the four members, and it’s best just to think of them as one slithering unit. Vocals exchange between Flemming and Thorpe like twins, and the guitar lines snake around one another, bass pulses and ebbs, while drummer Chris Talbot (the band’s secret weapon) gives most songs a tribal feel — lots of toms, not so much cymbals. Nobody stood still for a second, Thorpe and Flemming swinging and swaying, hooting and howling. A bit more “rock” than the versions on new album Two Dancers (Talbot plays a little more four-on-the-floor live) but if it’s subtleties are missing, it’s made up in a mesmerizing group performance.

Todd P/Woodsist Party | Austin, TX | 3.22.2009
South By Southwest generally has you running all over Austin, jumping from one venue to the next, band to band. But Brooklyn DIY scene maestro Todd P (and label Woodsist) organized a killer, all-day show featuring most of the worthy bands in the new garage scene. And it was free. Highlights: Nardwaur’s antics during The Evaporators’ set; seeing The Fresh & Onlys for the first time; the batshit craziness that was Wavves’ performance. How’re they gonna top it this year?

NYC Popfest 2009 | May 15 – 17, 2009
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image from
From the amazing opening night event featuring The Radio Dept., Cats on Fire, and Liechtenstein through to the all-day-and-night closer at Cake Shop with Suburban Kids With Biblical Names and the debut show of The Drums, the 2009 edition of NYC Popfest was a total success, with endless good vibes and snappily dressed folks. And great band after great band. 

Jarvis Cocker | Music Hall of Williamsburg | 7.30.2009
Jarvis held the top spot on my Best Shows of 2008 and 2007, and he fell a bit here because it felt like a retread of the previous year. (2008, his second album hadn’t been released but he performed most of the songs.) Still, a lesser Jarvis show is better the most other act’s best-show-ever, consummate entertainer that he is.

Think About Life | Arlene’s Grocery | 10.27.2009
Think About Life // Arlene's Grocery
“… the time Think About Life took the stage, Arlene’s Grocery was packed and the crowd was ready for fun. As good as they were playing a very, very early opening set at the Brooklyn Vegan showcase at Music Hall of Williamsburg the night before, the band clearly is fueled by the audience and the crowd was eating it up. It was easily one of the top five sets I saw at CMJ this year. It doesn’t hurt that their new album,
Family, is awesome — loaded with stick-in-your-head jams, including “Sweet Sixteen” and “Young Hearts.” Also, adding singer Caila Thompson-Hannant (of Shapes & Sizes) gives frontman Martin Cesar someone to play off of, which just makes them all the more fun.” [from my write-up at Brooklyn Vegan]

The Soft Pack | Union Pool | 1.17.2009
matt lamkin
I think I saw The Soft Pack (aka The Muslims) play about 10 times in the space of a year, capped off by this great show at Union Pool, which is probably the best place to see them in NYC. It was definitely the most fun, my unofficial birthday party with out-of-town friends in attendance. Despite the single-digit temperatures, the packed house was all in party mode, and stuck around for what turned into a rather hedonistic afterparty. A birthday to remember.

Girls | Mercury Lounge | 6.25.2009
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It was the day Michael Jackson died, and Girls covered “Heal the World” — a real you-are-there moment, but the show woulda been just as good if such a thing hadn’t happened. Girls have become a really, really good band in the last year. Credit new drummer (all loosey-goosey Keith Moon fills) and a nimble-fingered lead guitarist for the transformation. Christopher Owens and Chet White have always had the songs, mind you. In a lot of ways Girls are the ultimate San Francisco band: the laid-back vibe, the folky jammy-ness that has always been present there, as well as the neo-psych scene that has popped up over the last ten years. But Girls are working on a whole other plain of dreamy, hazy beauty and noise.

After the jump, videos from some of these shows…

Here’s Nardwuar’s band, The Evaporators, at the Todd P/Woodsist party…

And Pete & the Pirates doing “Little Gun” @ Crash Mansion (CMJ)

And this was them at the Brooklyn Vegan day show. Seriously, people were going nuts for them…

Phoenix – “1901” | Music Hall of Williamsburg | 6.18.2009. How nuts is the crowd? It was like that the whole show.

Wild Beasts – “The Devil’s Crayon” | Union Pool | 9.11.2009. Super grainy, but they sound great.


Here’s Cats on Fire doing “Tears In Your Cup” during NYC Popfest…


The Fresh & Onlys doing “Fog Machine” at the Todd P/Woodsist party during SXSW…

Here’s Girls doing “Ghostmouth” at Cake Shop a couple days after the Mercury Lounge show.

Think About Life doing “Young Hearts” at the M for Montreal showcase during CMJ…

One Comment

  1. That's a great list and some fantastic clips. Thank you. Re. Nardwuar – a guy who I enjoy tracking so eventually I stopped misspelling it – our linked post offers his recent Kid Cudi interview (where Cudi bizarrely runs out without saying goodbye to end it) and I also highly recommend Nardwuar's Mars Volta interview, which is linked there.

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