I’ve been a “music journalist” for about half a decade now and I’ve gone to around 100-concerts-per-year for well over a decade. I’m a bit jaded, to put it mildly. I still spend several nights a week at the likes of Kung Fu Necktie and Johnny Brenda’s, taking in whatever is seen as being “the next brilliant act.” But there are only so many 6-piece Nu-folk outfits from Canada or Noise Pop duos from Brooklyn to be seen before it all kind of starts to sound and look the same. In my presently jaded state I am beginning, once again, to appreciate the seemingly-superficial (although-actually brilliant) notion of a “performance,” or a “show.” This is not to say KISS’ choreography or use of (more like, “reliance upon”) video and pyrotechnic work, but on artists who have actually constructed live environments that are potentially satisfying… and not by accident. This is why the majority of Philthy’s phavorite live performances of 2012 are not terribly pretentious, but performances that were conceptualized enough to make you shake your ass, raise your fist, shed a tear, or balletically shove or makeout with the person next to you.
10. Swans @ Union Transfer (10/13)
Okay, so Swans are the antithesis of performers… In fact, audiences often look on-edge, worried that if main man Michael Gira catches them looking at him, he’s going to go all medieval on their ass (I’m not so sure he wouldn’t.) But there’s something beautiful about the experience of a Swans anti-performance… You certainly come out feeling as if you’ve just experienced a ritualistic cleansing of sorts. And the 30-year-old post-punk/post-rock/post-apocalyptic art rock outfit seem to have, somehow, finally gained some popular attention for their hyper-confrontational craft. The two-and-a-half-hour gig had them bring to life the nightmarish soundscapes of their latest triple LP, The Seer. Within the first five minutes their sheer volume caused the venue to shower the audiences with dust, debris, and paint chips formerly housed on the ceiling.
9. Ash @ Johnny Brenda’s (11/19)
To celebrate the band’s twentieth anniversary, Ash’s founding trio hit the road for their first US tour in seven years, finding themselves in the smallest rooms they’ve played in well over a decade. At their local stop the Northern Irish Power Poppers managed to pack a full-blown rock show into the 300-capacity Johnny Brenda’s. Highlighted by painfully infectious 90s alt rock classics like “Jack Names the Planets,” “Girl From Mars,” and “Goldfinger,” their set managed to be as nostalgically joyous as it was totally badass.
8. The Octopus Project @ North Star Bar (10/5)
A friend of mine once said that he didn’t think instrumental bands should be allowed to play live. I generally agree. I’ve seen Explosions in the Sky and it certainly wasn’t a transcendent experience… although seeing The Octopus Project may be. It’s a multi-sensory experience that is a bit like IMAX on acid. Their electronic, theramin-driven, psychedelic pop and DIY, super-budget stage set transports you into a candy-coated world of everything that can be postmodernly beautiful about “the synthetic.”
7. The Coathangers @ Kung Fu Necktie (6/1)
R5 and the-Philadelphia-music-community-in-general’s dear friend, and head of security at Union Transfer, Wes, once described The Coathangers live by saying, “They sound like they stepped onstage and someone just handed them instruments.” However, I find that to be their very beauty. These four Atlanta post riot grrrls orchestrate chaos like no one else and embody what it is to be punk better than any other band currently in existence. They embrace rambunctiousness and juvenility in the most artful way. They’re your best friend’s amazingly cool and hot older sister who you can’t even believe exists but, also, frequently scares the fucking bejesus out of you.
6. The Dandy Warhols @ The Trocadero (5/30)
“I think The Dandy Warhols may be the most gracefully aging hipster mega-band of all-time… and I mean that in the best possible way. The Dandy Warhols are The Rolling Stones of hipsters… At their recent stop in Philthy, they didn’t seem to be so bent on selling their latest work but, simply, on putting on a performance that their longtime fans would enjoy. They weren’t shoving-down-the-audiences’-throats their latest output, but focusing on the neo-psychedelic indie pop “hits” that had gained them such an audience over their 18-year career.” (Read my full-length review here.)
5. The Faint @ The Trocadero (12/7)
How, on Earth, were The Faint not my favorite band in highschool. During their recent performance at the Trocadero, I came to realize that they were everything 16-year-old Izzy had loved: elegant electronic eroticism pitted against explosive youth angst. With a frontman (Todd Fink) with better moves than any living honky short of Dennis Lyxzen and a live spectacle that is equal parts Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode, I can’t help but be annoyed that I was dumb enough to ignore this band for well over a decade.
4. Morningwood @ The Trocadero (3/7)
“I’ve often described [Chantal Claret’s] performance style as being ‘Seemingly indebted to Divine’s nightclub act in Female Trouble… except sexy as fuck.’… She appeared as an anti-Venus onstage, in a skintight houndstooth cocktail dress, contorting herself in the haphazard fashion of punk-performance-art and banging her head in a violently exorcised fashion. At one point she found herself climbing speakers to stalk the balcony of the century-and-a-half-old theatre. At another, she found herself taking a piggy-back ride through the audience on the back of the venue’s largest security guard.” (Read my full-length review here.)
3. The Ting Tings @ World Café Live (4/13)
(See #1, except half the length)
2. Deer Tick @ Union Transfer (4/21)
“Now Deer Tick aren’t necessarily ‘mind-blowing’ performers. [John] McCauley and crew aren’t exactly ‘charismatic’ in the traditional sense of the word… And they certainly haven’t caused anyone to re-evaluate the criteria by which they consider live music… But that kind of seems to be the point. And, that being said, they’re pretty much the greatest and least lame of all American ‘blue collar’ Rock’N’Roll bands… And spending the night getting drunk, loud, and rowdy with these five guys is likely a much better time than getting drunk, loud, and rowdy with anyone programmed into your cell phone.” (Read my full-length review here.)
1. The Ting Tings @ The Trocadero (4/13)
This anti-pop duo out of Manchester might have a better grasp on “the art of the live performance” than any other band in the world. Drummer Jules De Martino lays down the phat beats while guitarist/bassist/vocalist Katie White plays the role of riotous chanteuse, MC, and anti-cheerleader (equipped with 1970s gym shorts). Every song they’ve ever written is an anthem and their live performances are a bit like pep rallies for the willing-to-admit-to-fun-but-still-slightly-pretentious.