Editor's Choice: Best Live Music Experiences of 2011

This year's most memorable live music.

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click to enlarge Trey Anastasio at Bear Creek Music Festival, Saturday, November 12, 2011. - Phil Bardi
Phil Bardi
Trey Anastasio at Bear Creek Music Festival, Saturday, November 12, 2011.

I see a lot of shows. In 2011, the number was somewhere in the ballpark of 50. What follows is a breakdown, in no particular order, of the ones I enjoyed and appreciated most. Links to the original reviews (with all of their photos) are included.

The Bright Light Social Hour I saw the young Austin-based foursome play four times in 2011 (twice at The Hub, twice at Crowbar) and in just under a year, witnessed their growth from a great band into a fantastic one. BLSH serves up a blazing blend of Southern rock, funk, psychedelia, blues and soul with sexy swagger, infectious high-powered energy, and the sort of confidence and stage presence you see from bands with far more experience. Doesn’t hurt that all four members are superb musicians, and that three of them also happen to be pretty goddamn good singers, too. Read original CL reviews here and here; 2010 story here.

Hangout Music Fest The second annual Hangout Fest in Gulf Shores, Ala. added up to a spectacularly good time — live performances by some of my favorite artists directly on the Gulf shores; a comfy condo boasting a stunning panoramic view of the water and a 15-minute walk to the fest site; the laid-back vibes and general sense of contentment that pervaded the place; and a solid group of friends to share the experience with. Next year's fest is set to occur May 18-20, 2012. Read original CL review here.

Primus This show didn’t get a Best of the Bay award for nothing. Primus brought their A-game, delivering an idiosyncratic mix of dark and heavy thrash-funk and progressive alt metal in the loudest and sonically weirdest show I’ve seen at Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall yet. Read original CL review here.

Antiwarpt Music Festival With more than 60 bands spread out over eight venues in downtown St. Pete, it was virtually impossible to see everything, or even a half of everything. Local and regional acts like Infinite Groove Orchestra, An Introduction to Sunshine, The Pauses and Auto!Automatic!! showed our town proud with the night’s most memorable performances. The Sunday after parties — The London Souls at Ella’s, BLSH at The Hub — were simply icing on the Antiwarpt cake. Read original CL review here.

Langhorne Slim Casting a ray of indie roots and folk rock sunshine on my hump day slump, Langhorne Slim played with willful abandon to a room of 100 or so attentive fans at his Crowbar show, lifting spirits each and every one. He commanded the stage with a combination of effervescent energy, easy-going banter and anecdotes, creative pheromones and the sort of quirky-charismatic showmanship that only really special singer-songwriters possess. Read original CL review here.

TV on the Radio The popular art rock outfit from NYC hit Jannus Live in October and delivered a set that was aggressive and full of noisy experimentation, waves of sonic explorations and loops carried on propulsive rhythms and marked by fuzzy key/synth textures, funky bass grooves, the dissonant wailing strains of trombone, and the always strong vocals match-up of guitarist Kyp Malone and frontman Tunde Adebimpe, his a deeper and more alt-soulful howl against Malone's eerie falsetto. Read original CL review here.

Battles If you missed the Crowbar show, you should be kicking yourself with steel-toed boots as Battles put on a wild, balls-to-the-wall show complete with moshing (or slam-dancing, or whatever the kids are calling beating the shit out of each other in a 'dance' setting these days), crowd surfing, and lots of heavy, propulsive math-prog-experimental explosions that kept it all going. Two tall LCD screens glowed with dazzling light or ambient album-related visuals or virtual guests for the vocal tracks, Gary Numan's dark and gripping gaze staring out at the sold-out crowd during "My Machines." Check out original photo review here.

Bear Creek Music Festival I spent the second weekend of November enjoying the stunning sights, delicious sounds, mellow vibes and easy camaraderie of the fifth annual fest at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak. Among the musical highlights: Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey’s tight and overall powerful presentation of their Race Riot Suite, a mind-bending horn-screaming piece inspired by the Tulsa race riot of 1921; a heart-squeezing, uplifting and overall high-spirited two-and-a-half hour set of prog-jazz-pop rock by Trey Anastasio Band; a groovin’ foray into outer space by post-jazz trio Medeski Martin & Wood; and two separate but distinct afternoon performances of electro-experimental jazz rock by keys master Marco Benevento. Overall, another magical experience to add to the memorybooks.

Sondre Lerche The Norway-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist delivered a 15-song solo set with only a few guitars and his strong, clear and buttery smooth vocals to fill up the majestic Capitol Theatre. Despite the stripped-down set-up, he held us captive with his charming wit and engaging personality. His tender vocal melodies coiled up to the rafters accompanied by impeccable fretwork, energetic strumming and foot-stomping or tapping, and clever vocal and instrumental trickery made up for more lushly arranged, harder-to-translate and psychedelic parts of his songs. A relentlessly sweet and poignant evening with a most charming performer. Read original CL review here.

My Morning Jacket The Kentucky band led by Jim James usually puts on an adrenaline-pumping rock show with poignant moments scattered amid all the Southern psyche jams. This show at Hard Rock Live in Orlando was no exception. The band dished out older material ("It Beats 4 U," "The Way That He Sings") and new ("Holdin on to Black Metal," “Victory Dance”), breezing through the songs with their usual dynamic vigor and ending on an ecstatic note. Read original CL review here.

Phish I won’t tell you just how many times I saw this band play in 2011. Let’s just say it was enough to break the bank and worth every lost penny.

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