1. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band,
Oct. 20, the Spectrum. The sixth and last of Springsteen's '09 Spectrum shows was the best. Trust me, I saw them all. The Boss' last night in town stood out, from the ultra-rare "The Price You Pay" opener to the "Save the Last Dance for Me" and "Higher and Higher" encores. The
Darkness on the Edge of Town
performance the previous week was the one I was stoked for, but that show was topped with ease by the
Born in the U.S.A.
night, when Springsteen reminded fans that his 1984 blockbuster can stand with his best work, and rose to the occasion with a 31/2-hour sweatathon that matched the momentous occasion.
2. Leonard Cohen, May 12, The Academy of Music. It was a good year for old men. I caught the 74-year-old Cohen twice this year - once at the Beacon Theater in New York, and again at the Academy. Though the shows were identical, they were also identically remarkable: elegant three-hour evenings in the company of a genteel song-poet and philosopher of love and death who nimbly skipped on and off the stage and fronted a knockout band whose musicianship was matched by its sartorial splendor. Watch the Live in London DVD.
3. Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, May 29, World Cafe Live. Black Joe Lewis, the 27-year-old soul shouter and guitarist from Austin, Texas, who fronts the hard-driving, horn-heavy Honey Bears, played on a remarkable Friday night during the Non-COMM radio convention at which the Avett Brothers, Rhett Miller, and Tre Williams and the Revelations also played. Lewis' Tell 'Em What Your Name Is! album is good and gritty, but only hints at the garage-soul mayhem the group unleashes on stage.
4. Pearl Jam, Oct. 30, the Spectrum. I almost got crushed to death on the concourse on the next-to-last night at the Spectrum. So maybe it was that happy-to-be-alive euphoria that animated Pearl Jam's penultimate show at the South Philadelphia arena. More likely, the Seattle band didn't have the burden to carry that it did the next night, and was free to cut loose. The raucous reception was unmatched by any during the Spectrum's final year of shows, particularly as the grunge survivors fired away with "Jeremy," "Alive," and The Who's "Baba O'Riley." "We've played a lot of shows here," Eddie Vedder said. "And this is the crowd we've been waiting for."
5. The Duke & the King, Aug. 3, First Unitarian Church Chapel. If this were the 2008 list, I would have included seeing the Felice Brothers in Frank Furness' tiny chapel, which is the smallest of the three venues at the always all-ages church. That was a killer show from the Upstate New York family band. This year, Felice brother Simone made a singer-songwriter move with one of the year's sleeper albums, The Duke & the King's Nothing Gold Can Stay. During his August show, Felice and his bandmates raised a gospel ruckus, and brought his tender and intelligent tunes down to a hushed whisper in the coolest room in town.