I saw a lot of good music elsewhere this year, at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. And then there was that particularly raucous Hank Williams III show in Asheville, N.C. But never mind out-of-town sounds. Let's keep it local.
1. Sufjan Stevens at the Academy of Music. Folk-baroque indie songwriter Stevens turned his sound inside out on the epically ambitious, hit-and-miss The Age of Adz. But he put it all together with a 14-piece band, face paint, and flying beach balls at this November show at the august, perfect-sounding venue that Stevens said made him feel he was inside Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
2. The Roots and John Legend, Trombone Shorty, Meyer Hawthorne, and Ike Reilly at World Cafe Live. But not Cyndi Lauper, who was also on the bill on a Friday night in June at the Non-COMM Convention, doing misguided Memphis blues material. The Roots and Legend served up a sumptuous sampling of their Wake Up! covers album, soul-man Hawthorne showed off his peppy old-school R&B moves, New Orleans star-to-be Trombone Shorty ripped it up, and Dylan-y wordslinger Reilly rocked out.
3. Erykah Badu at the Tower Theater. Janelle Monáe's opening set was unfocused and marred by bad sound, but Badu showed how it's done on her "Out My Mind, Just In Time" tour. The Texas funkstress' June show in support of her 2010 New Amerykah Part Two luxuriated in mid-tempo restraint and was a master class in less-is-more rhythmic dexterity. Plus, she did "Window Seat," with the help of the Roots' Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson and James Poyser, though she did not strip naked, as she does in the video.
4. Roger Waters at the Wells Fargo Center. I'm still not sold on The Wall as a musical über-masterwork. Too many ham-handed songs about poor old Roger's inability to get along with women. But as a feat of grand-scale rock-and-roll staging, The Wall Live attains a rare level of majestic emotional resonance, as Waters impressively turns his story of personal loss into a truly operatic and empathetic experience about a century's worth of senseless casualties of war. I've never been a huge Pink Floyd fan, but after seeing this show at the Izod Center in North Jersey in November, I needed to go see it again a few days later at the Wells Fargo.
5. Titus Andronicus and Free Energy at the First Unitarian Church. For journalistic purposes, this year I saw Free Energy eight times, I think, and the Fishtown power-pop band never once let me down. This hometown show in September was hot, sweaty, and good - particularly because of the Glen Rock, N.J., history nerd-punks known as Titus Andronicus, who were explosive on stage, and hooked up with Free Energy for a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm Goin' Down" to mark the Boss' birthday.