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Five Bands Worth Checking Out Live

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At the age of 23, I already feel like an old man. I never really go out and I’m bitter at the new generation because my generation was obviously the best one in the history of mankind ever.

I am also a half music snob, especially when it concerns live music. I will not pay to see just anyone live. Nowadays, with so many bands sounding alike, why even bother? There are certain bands I will actually go out and support, and this is where this list comes in. It is in no particular order, but for all you people who are always skittish about seeing live music (which aren’t many but bear with me!), these are the acts you should make an exception for. Without further adieu…

1. Gogol Bordello (Official Website) – led by Ukrainian Eugene Hutz (who famously played Elijah Wood’s guide in Everything Is Illuminated), this NYC-based band plays what can be best described as “gypsy punk”. Although based in America, many of the members (there are nine total) are from other countries including Russia and Israel and all these different cultures mix together to form something truly unique. Live, they are probably the most energetic band in the United States, if not the entire world. From start to finish, Hutz and company are going full throttle, putting everything onto the stage. Their musicianship is second to none and their two female percussionists play anything from the cymbals to the washboard. Watching them is like watching a block party in another country, and you can’t help but suck in that energy and spend their whole set dancing away.

Best Live Song: “Baro Foro” by far. Usually played last, it’s a ten minute epic gypsy punk song that also mixes in another song called “Indestructible”. It starts slow and slowly crescendos, being about 90% instrumental. Everyone dances up on stage and the female percussionists have a tendency to surf the crowd on a giant bass drum. If you want insanity that is actually fun, this is where you get it.

 

2. Foxy Shazam (Official Website) – this Ohio-based band is poised to break out this year, named as one of SPIN Magazine’s "Ten Artists to Watch in 2010," and with good reason; if Queen was still around today with a slightly more funk sound, they would be Foxy Shazam. Eric Nally, their lead singer, is short in stature and looks like he has never seen food before, but the man is a giant ball of energy. He flails around the stage with reckless abandon, dancing around, screaming into people’s faces, eating cigarettes, he’s a total showman from head to toe. The pianist, Sky White, sports a crazy looking beard and his facial expressions are intensely entertaining.

Best Live Song: “The Rocketeer”. Usually played second (although once their new CD Unstoppable hits shelves April 13, it will probably change), this is where Eric goes into full throttle and the fun starts to begin. Youtube any live clips of The Rocketeer being played and just watch the guy flail around like a fish out of water, and I guarantee you’ll wish you still had that kind of energy.

 

3. The Aquabats (Official Website) – Since 1993, The Aquabats have been putting out music that is both kid friendly, but also impressive on a pure music lover level. Never taking themselves seriously, The Aquabats just aren’t some group with a clever name: they are a superhero ska/pop/electronic band, complete with costumes and arch nemesis. Their live show is like a television show. They’ll play a few songs, then have to fight off villains to keep the show going, breaking for commercials (which play on the projection screen behind the drummer), and have a constant loop of random video clips to enjoy in the background as the band does their thing. Taking their cues from bands like Oingo Boingo, they have created their own niche, with a cult audience that lives or dies by their music and their “universe”. I should know, for I am a card carrying Cadet (their Fan Club) member. Although they may not be as impressive as other bands in the music department, they make up for it in creativity and creating a live experience unlike most others. As an added bonus, when not fronting the band as MC Bat Commander, founder Christian Jacobs also finds time to create and run a kids show. You may have heard of it: Yo Gabba Gabba.

Best Live Song: “Pool Party”. Played towards the end of their set, this song invites all the villains and side characters they met earlier in the show onto the stage for a giant pool party extravaganza complete with beach balls and pool toys. MC Bat Commander makes a habit of jumping into crowds and putting the mic into people’s faces so they can sing along with the band through out their set, but it gets to a fever pitch here as I’ve seen people invited up there to do the “rap” that occurs in the song.

 

4. The Leftovers (Official Website) – This four piece band from Maine is one of the newer bands on the scene, but they have carved out their own niche, mixing elements of Queers-style pop punk with music from the 60s to create their own kind of sound. They could easily be put into any old Frankie and Annette surf movie and it would not stick out whatsoever. Their music is just as catchy as their lyrics, and they sound just like they do recorded, which is a rarity in these overproduced times. They have great stage presence and they should hopefully hit it really big someday. On a pure music level, this band is worth paying the money to see.

Best Live Song: “Dance With Me”. It’s a quick three minute song (most of their songs barely break the three minute mark to be honest), but you can’t help but do what they ask when it hits. It’s a danceable catchy tune that will have you thinking of The Wonders from That Thing You Do. They also do a really fun cover of “Wooly Booly” for an added bonus.

 

5. The Phenomenauts (Official Website) – If I didn’t make it obvious that I love bands that put on a stage show rather than just sit up there and regurgitate their music when I mentioned The Aquabats, then I’m going to make it really obvious by talking about The Phenomenauts. They are a rockabilly band from the 33 1/3 century who has come to present day to rock us, and rock us they do. Much like “Man or Astro-man?” did in the 90s, they infuse an old style with the sensibilities of 50s cheesy sci-fi to make their own way into the music world. Their first song, which is always “The Year 2000”, starts off with a countdown and once the song kicks in, billows of smoke emanate into the audience to simulate the launch of a space shuttle. From there, it’s cheesy space jokes, songs about aliens and robots, and the audience sings and rocks along. Towards the end, they even bust out a toilet paper shooter, unrolling many rolls into the adoring audience. It’s good rockabilly musically, but it’s made even better by the stage antics and their own slant on the style.

Best Live Song: “Earth is the Best”. Their ode to their home planet being better than the rest in the solar system is like a patriotic call to arms. In the middle, they bring out a giant inflatable Earth and throw it into the crowd and when the music break goes back into the full song, it explodes, causing confetti to rain down on the audience. Not only do you get to exclaim how awesome Earth is, but you get confetti! Rip Taylor would be pleased right down to the tips of his giant mustache.

 

There are other excellent bands you should check out of course, and definitely a few I forgot (*cough* Sleepytime Gorilla Museum *cough*), but these are the five that are absolute musts. Great music, great showmanship, and worth the price of admission every single time, I guarantee it.

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About Jonathan Sullivan

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/cindal-lee-heart Cindal Lee Heart

    I am in absolute agreement with everything you have stated in this article.
    Right down to the first paragraph, as I too am a 23 year old with a huge chip on my shoulder, and I treat life like it has already gone by.
    I admit, that I do the same with my music/concerts. So I certainly appreciate this list, you have drawn my attention.

    Cindal L. Heart

  • http://www.filmcalamity.com Jonathan Sullivan

    I’m glad someone else feels the same haha, I always feel awkward that I’ve got friends my age partying and acting like teenagers, but here I am paying bills and acting like I’m hitting 40. You should definitely check these bands out live. The best part is with The Leftovers and Phenomenauts, they aren’t as well-known so you don’t even have to spend a lot of money to see them. Definite bang for your buck.

  • Kevin Gustafson

    The Phenomenauts are a live band. I bought one of the earlier albums and it sounded weak and not close to their live performances. You need the visuals to like them. They have a big following in SF.

  • http://www.filmcalamity.com/ Jonathan Sullivan

    The visuals drew me in, but I also love their music recorded too. I’m a sucker for rockabilly and they have some really good songs.