Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best Music of 2009: Part 9

One more to go, and of course, it's my album of the year. When I declared this one the best album of 2009 so far in early May, I didn't really think it would maintain its hold on that honor for the entire year. But, while I haven't changed my opinion that this was a relatively weak year in music, I have decided that this album is truly worthy of #1.

Although the year in music wasn't spectacular, those of you who know me personally are well aware that it was a great year for me. So, thanks again for showing an interest in what I have to say, and indulging the part of me that wishes writing was my full-time gig.

Happy New Year to all of you, and here's hoping that 2010 is as good a year for you as 2009 was for me.

1. The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love

As you probably know, I grew up a huge fan of Rush, and that interest evolved into a fascination for the heavyweights of '70s British prog-rock, namely Yes, King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. More recently, I've become a fan of quirky, indie pop, particularly of the variety whose influences can be attributed in part to Neutral Milk Hotel's magnum opus, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. One such band that fits into the latter category, Portland, Oregon's The Decemberists, began to delve into their own brand of prog-inspired chamber pop with the release of The Crane Wife in 2006.

I'm also a big fan of a lot of classic rock, and I particularly love the aesthetic of modern music that pays tribute to the classics. Before I branched out and started proactively seeking out new music circa 1994, I listened to more material from the late '60s and '70s than from the '80s. Up until then, I had an anti-'80s bias—with my main exceptions being R.E.M., The Police, and U2—that I've since moved past, for the most part. One such classic rock band, who weren't necessarily one of my favorites but whose best material ranks right up there, is The Who. Of course, they're well known for the quintessential rock opera, their 1969 breakthrough album Tommy. Along those lines, in my Frequent Spins post about The Hazards of Love, I referred to it as an indie prog-rock opera masterpiece.

So, what I'm building up to here is if I was to play the "name three bands they remind you of" game with The Decemberists' latest, I might go with Yes, Neutral Milk Hotel and The Who. That's quite a compliment, in my book, although I realize that describing a non-mainstream act—The Decemberists—by referencing a band who's even more obscure—Neutral Milk Hotel—is a little questionable. Regardless, The Hazards of Love is, unquestionably, my album of the year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best Music of 2009: Part 8

2. Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer
Spencer Krug was born and raised in Penticton, British Columbia, but both of his bands—Sunset Rubdown and Wolf Parade—are based in Montreal. For the fifth consecutive year, a band led by Krug releases a top ten worthy album, with only Sunset Rubdown's Shut Up I Am Dreaming falling just short at #11 in 2006. In fact, this is the second year in a row that Spencer is a bridesmaid, after Wolf Parade's At Mount Zoomer earned the #2 slot last year. Previously in this countdown, I referred to the Pernice Brothers as a candidate for Artist of the Decade, an award I do plan to hand out in early January. I still haven't made my final decision on that yet, but Krug is definitely one of the finalists.

3. Jay Farrar and Benjamin Gibbard - One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Music from Kerouac's Big Sur
Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard is from Washington, and of course, is the half part of the 4 1/2 Pacific Northwest artists count. Actually, M. Ward is from Portland, Oregon, and considering he's one-fourth of Monsters of Folk, I suppose I could have called it 4 3/4. I didn't select an Artist of the Decade for the '90s, but if I had, Jay Farrar would have won, hands down. His former Uncle Tupelo bandmate, Jeff Tweedy, would have placed a distant second. Tweedy's definitely had a better first decade of the 21st century, but Farrar had one of his best years in recent memory in 2009.

4. Built to Spill - There is No Enemy
Built to Spill is from Idaho. I'm not sure if that's officially the Pacific Northwest, but I'm counting it as such. Front-man Doug Martsch has hinted that this could be the band's final album. When Jay Farrar's Son Volt temporarily called it quits following 1998's Wide Swing Tremolo, I considered it a sad occasion, as they were one of the artists most responsible for kicking off my interest in the alt-country movement in the mid-'90s. Built to Spill was one of the finalists who just missed the cut for one of the last spots on my list of the 40 artists most important to me in my lifetime, because they were among the bands most responsible for the evolution of my music taste in the early '00s. If There is No Enemy is their swan song, it will be a sad moment as well, but they'll have chosen to end on a strong note.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Best Music of 2009: Part 7

5. Monsters of Folk - Monsters of Folk
When I first heard My Morning Jacket's At Dawn in 2002, a year after its release, I was certain that Jim James was destined for future appearances in my top ten. Although his main band has yet to live up to that expectation, this year he more than gets by with a little help from his friends. Conor Oberst has turned out to be my favorite among the three creative forces that make up this super-group, but M. Ward also turns in a surprisingly strong performance as well, with utility man Mike Mogis rounding out the foursome. It's not quite Golden Smog's Down By the Old Mainstream, but an excellent album this is.

6. Modest Mouse - No One's First, and You're Next
Modest Mouse's third consecutive entry into the top ten is technically an EP, but at just over 33 minutes, it's just as long as many shorter full-lengths. One that comes to mind is The Shins' Chutes Too Narrow, my #2 album of 2003. Also, despite being a short collection of newly recorded songs from the sessions for their last two albums, it still plays cohesively straight through to the slightly disappointing album closer, "I've Got it All (Most)." Since I'm revealing the artist whose top ten streak remained alive this year, I should mention the two—in addition to Andrew Bird—whose runs ended. The Flaming Lips' Embryonic had a few promising moments, but those weren't enough to prevent it from earning the distinction of the most disappointing album of the year. Sufjan Stevens's The BQE was a stronger effort than Embryonic, but this classical album didn't really feel like a proper followup to his prior top ten efforts.

7. A.C. Newman - Get Guilty
Allan Carl Newman normally goes by his middle name, except in his solo career, where he's chosen to be referred to by his first and middle initials. He's one of two Canadian artists to land in this year's top ten, but the Vancouver-based leader of The New Pornographers is also part of a strong contingent of Pacific Northwest artists to rank near the top of the list. In fact, 4 1/2 of the top seven finishers are from that region of North America, the half representing one half of a duo. With Washington's Modest Mouse being included in that group, this leaves 2 1/2 still to be revealed in the top four.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Best Music of 2009: Part 6

8. The Fiery Furnaces - I'm Going Away
When I referred to Neko Case as the highest ranking female artist this year, I should have been more specific. That statement wasn't intended to downplay the role of Eleanor Friedberger in The Fiery Furnaces, a band she co-fronts with her older brother Matthew. While Matthew is the primary creative force, handling most of the songwriting and studio instrumentation, Eleanor is the lead vocalist. As I wrote in Frequent Spins, this album was a bit of a comeback for the band, as far as I'm concerned, as they once again showed up on my radar following a few unremarkable albums since 2004's Blueberry Boat. When I wrote that, though, I didn't realize that this was going to be one of those records that I liked even more upon returning to it late in the year.

9. Antony and The Johnsons - The Crying Light
I didn't really expect this one to land in my top ten either. As one of the first albums I listened to in January, it was hard to overlook the fact that it was no I Am a Bird Now. But, that record was an absolute masterpiece, so that's a tough standard to live up to. I rated it highly, but for some reason, I expected it to eventually come down a rung. Instead, it proved to be a second consecutive top ten worthy album for Boy George disciple Antony Hegarty.

10. Passion Pit - Manners
A rare top ten finisher for a Boston-based band, Manners also took an indirect route to this lofty perch. Briefly, it flirted with mid-year contention for the top spot, until it proved to be one of those albums that I tired of a little easily. But, after being shelved for months, I was once again reminded of how much I loved this one in the first place. While not album of the year worthy, I'm happy that this is the record that rounds out my top ten. If I have one piece of advice for you, though, it's to enjoy this one in small doses, being very careful not to let it overstay its welcome.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Best Music of 2009: Part 5

Of course, I like to reveal my year-end list in the countdown format. This year, though, I'm doing it a little differently, in case you haven't noticed. I'm still counting it down, but within each post, the rankings are in ascending order. The reason for this is I realized it reads better that way when the list is complete. 5-4-3-2-1 followed by 10-9-8-7-6, and then 15-14-13-12-11, etc. just seems a little awkward. But, don't you worry, the #1 album will be revealed last. While I'm on that subject, here's my tentative schedule for posts after this one:

#'s 8-10: December 26
#'s 5-7: December 28
#'s 2-4: December 30
#1: December 31

11. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
Going into this year, two bands—The Hold Steady and Drive-By Truckers—hold current streaks of three consecutive releases in my top ten. Since the list used to be just a top ten, I still consider that to be a pretty significant honor. A third artist earned that distinction this year, but it wasn't Andrew Bird. I guess since I'm 100% responsible for putting this list together, I could have bumped him up one place, but I didn't. So, he and two other artists failed in their attempts for a third consecutive top ten release. Bird, obviously, came the closest, and by a long shot, as the other two didn't even place.

12. Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band - Outer South
Only four artists or individuals have made major contributions to two albums that have made my top ten in the same year: Jay Bennett (2002), Ryan Adams (2001), The Del McCoury Band (1999), and Jeff Tweedy (1996). As you can see, it used to be a fairly common occurrence, but hasn't happened in a while. Conor Oberst almost broke the drought this year, but fell a little short.

13. Anders Parker - Skyscraper Crow
Anders is a friend of mine, but that has zero influence on my opinion of his music. He's consistently made my year-end list since Varnaline's A Shot and a Beer in 1997. In fact, only one of seven studio albums he's released as a solo artist, or with his former band, hasn't ranked since I began doing the list in 1996. The only argument you could make regarding my personal bias is that I may have never heard of him if I didn't know him. However, on some level I feel that I would have eventually discovered his talents on my own. On the other hand, that could be a chicken-or-the-egg discussion, because if he hadn't turned me on to Uncle Tupelo back in the mid-90s, I'm not really sure in what direction my taste would have gone.

14. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Returning to the Grammy nomination theme, Phoenix's latest is up for Best Alternative Music Album. Their competition includes David Byrne & Brian Eno's Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, which was released in August 2008; Death Cab for Cutie's The Open Door, which is a 17-minute EP; and the latest albums from Depeche Mode and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I didn't hear either of the latter two, so I can't make comparisons, but it's probably not difficult to understand my preference for Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix over the former two.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Best Music of 2009: Part 4

15. Levon Helm - Electric Dirt
The former drummer of The Band won a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album for his 2007 comeback Dirt Farmer. The followup to that, Electric Dirt, received a nomination this year for Best Americana Album, along with Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel's Willie and The Wheel and the next album on this list.

16. Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
Wilco's A Ghost is Born, of all albums, won a Grammy in 2004 for Best Alternative Music Album. This year they're up against Levon Helm and Willie Nelson for Best Americana Album. But, more importantly to me, they edged out the album that follows them on my list.

17. Son Volt - American Central Dust
This is the highest finish for either Wilco or Son Volt, or anything that members of these bands have done, since Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Jay Bennett's The Palace at 4am (Part 1), I believe. I labored over the decision about who to rank higher between Wilco and Son Volt, but then I realized, regardless of that, Jay Farrar had a much better year than Jeff Tweedy. More on that later.

18. Dinosaur Jr. - Farm
No newbies in this round of honorees, three out of four of whom are Fab 40 artists. In fact, Dinosaur Jr., Son Volt and Wilco are the only such artists represented here, with the exception of a few who made it, but not with the band with which they earned the Fab 40 distinction. Two of them—Joe Pernice and Olson & Louris—have already been revealed. One more is still to come.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Best Music of 2009: Part 3

19. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
Case is the highest ranking female artist this year, not counting a couple of male artists I could poke a little fun at. But, I'm going to resist that urge, because that angle is getting a little old, I realize. Like I said in Frequent Spins, this was the Neko Case album I've been anticipating for some time, and when I returned to Middle Cyclone for the purposes of ranking it among the rest of the year's best, I liked it even more.

20. Patterson Hood - Murdering Oscar (and Other Love Songs)
The Drive-By Truckers co-front man is fast becoming a list regular. I still think when he and Mike Cooley team up for an album's worth of songs, it's generally a stronger set than an entire release of Hood's material, but this is a very good album from one of my current favorite songwriters/performers.

21. Dan Auerbach - Keep it Hid
Besides wondering if this is the first time a solo artist named Dan has made the list, I've found myself pondering why this album did it for me in ways that no Black Keys album has before. To attempt to answer this question, I thought I'd reveal a little of what Auerbach has to say about himself. He describes his self-produced solo debut as a mixture of "psychedelia, soul music, loud and soft guitars." So, I suppose the answer is that Keep it Hid is not entirely about the blues-rock stomp that his main band is, and the variety it offers is just enough to keep things from getting boring.

22. Joe Pernice - It Feels So Good When I Stop
I'm certain this is not the first time a solo artist named Joe has made the list. It's also the highest I've ranked Mr. Pernice since his two #1 albums in the early years of this decade. Despite the fact that, in the six years that have passed since, he hasn't really come close to making a record as great as The World Won't End and Yours, Mine & Ours, he's still a candidate for my Artist of the Decade.

23. Mark Olson & Gary Louris - Ready for the Flood
Olson left The Jayhawks following their 1995 album, Tomorrow the Green Grass, one year before I began compiling a year-end list. I thought they would never be the same, but I was wrong. Louris turned out to be a more than capable songwriter and band leader, taking them in a more pop-oriented direction than their prior alt-country efforts. Three top ten albums later, they called it quits...or went on hiatus, I'm not sure which. 2009 was a good year for their fans, though. In addition to this reunion of the two former leaders of the band, The Jayhawks released the excellent anthology Music from the North Country.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Best Music of 2009: Part 2

I sometimes struggle doing these brief write-ups about the artists in my countdown, partly because I've already written something about them in Frequent Spins. I have a few different basic formulas: reference the artist's history with respect to my annual "best-of" list, talk about how I was turned on to them or what they mean to me, or just write about what I previously said about the album. A newer angle I've decided to work into the mix is simply sharing what the artists have to say about themselves. Since I don't really claim to be a music critic, who better to inform us of what they're about than "they" to speak.

Back to the list...

24. Clem Snide - Hungry Bird
In Frequent Spins, I wrote about not being sure whether this was their comeback or their swan song. I still don't know for sure, although I'm leaning towards believing the former. They did tour briefly this year, but their web site is sorely lacking in information about their future. Nevertheless, a pleasant surprise this album was, and I'm sure we'll be hearing from front-man Eef Barzelay in some way, shape or form in the near future.

25. Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career
This Scottish quintet consists of four guys and two gals. In a short film on their myspace page, they individually refer to themselves as "a collection of misfits," "six different people who shouldn't work together...but collectively things come together" and "a non-profit making organisation."

26. Beirut - March of the Zapotec / Realpeople - Holland
Last year, Centro-Matic and its alter-ego South San Gabriel released a split-CD titled Dual Hawks. Each was a full-length on its own, and I really liked the Centro-Matic half, so I considered it as a separate album for the purpose of this list. This year, Zach Condon's main band and his side project released this split-EP. On their own, they're just two good, but short, EPs. Considered together, they're an album almost worthy of my top 25. So, call me inconsistent. I can live with it.

27. Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel - Willie and the Wheel
For a few years now, I've been giving my father one or two CDs from the current year as one of his Christmas presents. Since authentic country is really the only genre where our individual tastes meet, and since he turned me on to the western swing of Bob Wills, this collaboration between old country outlaw and the band that recorded a tribute to Wills on the occasion of what would have been his 100th birthday, is this year's selection.

28. Those Darlins - Those Darlins
These ladies describe themselves on their web site as "...a pop group, if they are any one thing, which doesn't mean anybody with ears can't hear the country and rock 'n' roll in their sound and stance." They are part of the previously mentioned Paste Magazine Sampler 55 group, but I'm pretty certain they were an eMusic discovery, and my biggest one this year at that.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Best Music of 2009: Part 1

I could have pulled together a top 40 for 2009, but I just didn't think the albums that would have rounded out the list were truly worthy. Besides, that would have meant the list would have basically consisted of every album I wrote up in Frequent Spins this year, which would be kind of anti-climactic. Not that there's a whole lot of suspense hanging over these announcements, but you get the idea.

So, I thought 33 would be a good number for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it's a fraction short of the music format that I grew up listening to. Plus, I believe it will allow for every album on the list to be represented on my two-disc year-end compilation. That's a little more complicated than it sounds, though.

This is one of the biggest moments of the year for me. In the past, I sometimes pondered how much of my time is spent thinking about this list throughout the year. At one point, I estimated that, if you pieced it all together, it would take up about an entire month. Since I sleep almost one-third of my time, that would mean that over 10% of my waking hours were devoted to this seemingly pointless exercise.

I'm nowhere near that obsessive anymore. Either that or I have more of a life now. Regardless, I really enjoy the compilation of this list and I get pretty excited about its gradual unveiling.

I don't have the time this year to write as much about each entry as I have in years past, but I'll do my best to keep it interesting. Besides, it's the countdown that really matters, so here goes...

29. Holopaw - Oh, Glory. Oh, Wilderness
This late November release is the only album to appear here that wasn't previously featured in Frequent Spins. The third record from the Florida-based indie country band is quite possibly their best, and might have ranked higher had I allowed myself to spend a little more time with it.

30. Justin Townes Earle - Midnight at the Movies
I'll have to do some digging to determine if Justin and his dad are the first father-son combination to make my list. I know both Roseanne and Johnny Cash have, but at different times. Regardless, although Steve Earle has been here several times, and he did release an album this year, unfortunately he still can't boast of making it in the same year as his son.

31. Art Brut - Art Brut vs. Satan
Fast becoming the kings of witty, tongue-in-cheek art punk, Art Brut's third album was produced by former Pixie Frank Black, and is their second consecutive release to make the final cut.

32. Fanfarlo - Reservoir
Last year, The Rural Alberta Advantage were my big eMusic discovery. This year, I became a fan of Fanfarlo thanks to Paste Magazine Sampler 55. Three artists still to be revealed were also on that sampler, although that wasn't how I was turned on to them.

33. Buddy and Julie Miller - Written in Chalk
The first of a trio of duos to make this year's list, the alt-country husband-and-wife team are the only male/female combination among the three.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Best Comments of 2009

I hadn't really thought about this until recently, but this was the first year since I started writing this blog that I posted consistently throughout the year. So, the process of sorting through all of its comments for 2009 was a little more difficult than I imagined it would be. Of course, that's a good thing, as it means there were more comments than I realized, even looking past the fact that a considerable number of them were my own.

But, I still managed to compile a list of my five favorite comments of the year. When I first had this idea, I thought it would be about the most humorous comments, but as it turned out, that wasn't my major focus.

5. In what was probably the only time he read this blog, New Paltz, New York writer Terence wrote this in response to my September 7 post about local brew pub the Gilded Otter:

"Nice to see what non-locals think of the Otter. I agree that the food is excellent, but my taste in beer is fairly narrow (a limited selection of wheat beers tickle my tongue, but nothing else elicits excitement) so I've never been sure if they had decent beer or not. Next time you're in town, stop into Bacchus if you just want a selection of a hundred or so old familiars - they don't brew, but they have plenty on tap and in stock."

But, the part of his comment I really liked was this clever description of the difference between "hippy" and "hippie:"

"Incidentally, if you had typed 'hippy' you would have been saying something about the IPA's pelvic width rather than its social philosophy. I'm a writer living in New Paltz, so I need to know the difference between 'hippy' and 'hippie' for reasons of survival!"

Thanks, Terence.

4. In response to my November 5 post, "That Old Familiar Feeling," which of course was about the Yankees' World Series victory, Casey wrote:

"The Yankees make October more interesting. I hate them, and you know that. But last October just wasn't the same without them. I guess it is that I like seeing the Yanks lose on the big stage."

In a certain way, this really put it in perspective for me, and made me realize that it would have been that much better had the Yankees defeated the Red Sox in an epic seven-game ALCS on their way to the World Series, giving me hope that there still is something to root for. Casey then went on to say:

"Congrats to the Yanks."

That kind of sportsmanship is pretty unique in the world of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

3. I love nostalgia, so I thought it was great when Joey Pants made this nostalgic connection to my June 30 post, "The Pride of Dutchess County," in which I wrote about the discovery of a monument to Hall of Famer Dan Brouthers in his hometown:

"Great post. As a Wappingers Falls native this is very interesting to me.

"I grew up playing Little League in Wappingers. Where exactly was Brouthers Field? We played on a field down Channingville Road, less than a mile away from St Mary's.

"Looking at the picture it doesn't look like the field I played on. Shame that it's gone."

2. In a September 22 post, I reminisced about a team I admired from afar, only to realize that one of my regular readers (Dan Day) had an up-close-and-personal experience with the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers, affectionately known as Harvey's Wallbangers:

"I'm a little late to be reading this post (and a number of others) but I thank you for it. Our young family was living in Milwaukee then, and I remember the series vividly. Somewhere in a shoebox I have photos of the Goodyear blimp making its way along the shore of Lake Michigan as it flew past our neighborhood on the way toward County Stadium.

"I'm pretty sure that Brewers logo was designed by a fan in a contest. Curiously, back then I thought it was kind of a cheesey (Wisconsin pun not intended) rip-off of the Montreal Expos logo (m-e-b, as in Montreal Expos baseball).

"Now, I am delighted whenever the Brewers wear the old-style pinstripe uniforms with this old cap.

"Thanks for dredging up some good memories."

Thanks again for sharing this memory, Dan.

1. In what was probably my favorite comment of the year, Lee called me out for referring, in my April 11 post about the new NESN guy, to New York Yankees' broadcaster John Sterling as a yahoo:

"Now wait just a goddamn minute...

"John Sterling's a lot of things, but he ain't no yahoo. Pompous? Sure. Effusive? OK. Bloviative? Of course. Blind-as-a-bat? Totally.

"It's dangerous to compare other broadcasters to Sterling, because he's not really a "broadcaster" in any common sense of the word—he’s about as objective as a silly straw. If you're tuning in to Sterling/Waldman for a description of the game, you're a lot better off with MLB Gameday."

Hilarious, although you might have to be familiar with Sterling to really appreciate it. Thanks Lee, and thank you to everyone who has commented on, or simply read, my blog this year.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Best of 2009

Before I begin the countdown of my top albums of the year, I thought I'd try something a little new. I'm going to hand out a few awards, by which I mean some "best of" designations in categories related to this blog. That's the important point here. To be eligible, there had to be some discussion of the award winner right here, on this blog, at some point this year.

So, without further adieu...

Best Brewery - Despite visiting some excellent brew pubs in Portland, Oregon in August, I'm going back to February and giving this award to Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, New York's fine purveyor of Belgian-style ales.

Best Beer - Although Ommegang Abbey Ale, Southern Tier Pumking, and several Oregon brews were contenders, Portland brew pub Old Lompoc's LSD (Lompoc Strong Draft) was the best new beer I tasted this year. It's too bad I don't know when the next time will be that I'll get a second chance to enjoy some.

Best Ballpark (Majors) - The new Yankee Stadium was great, but it really was hard to think about it in terms of how I usually feel my first time at a new park. It's pretty overwhelming, and although I arrived two hours early during my first visit, it was still very crowded and, therefore, difficult to take it all in. Rangers Ballpark in Arlington was everything I look for in a new stadium, and it was definitely my favorite of the four major league parks I visited this year.

Best Ballpark (Minors) - Since I called it "...the nicest minor league park I've ever visited," it goes without saying that the Portland Beavers' PGE Park wins this award.

Best Concert - According to this blog, I only count six concerts that I went to this year. It's possible there were a couple that I didn't write about, but that's still a pretty low number. There was a time when six in a month was closer to the average. Anyway, even in a year in which I showed further signs of slowing down, The Flaming Lips put on a show worthy of concert of the year status.

Best Road Trip - KJ and I went on a lot of great road trips this year. Plus, it's hard to imagine there could be a better trip than one that included attending a baseball game every night. But, although I sometimes took liberties with my definition of road trip here, our late May vacation in Georgia and South Carolina, particularly the Savannah part, gets the nod in this category. Just to set the record straight, it wasn't my favorite just because it was legal to drink in the streets, although that certainly didn't hurt. Probably the biggest reason was that, of all the trips we took this year, this one was to a place that was new to both of us.

I've got one more "best of" post in me before getting started on the countdown of the year's best albums. That post is going to be where I honor a few of my readers with a list of the best comments of the year. It should be an enjoyable look back at some moments that have either made me laugh, or simply appreciate what you've had to say.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Ordinary Event on Hamilton Place

Local radio station WFNX dubbed last night's Spoon/Phoenix/Passion Pit show at the Orpheum Theater "Miracle on Tremont Street." I suppose this was intended to be a play on "Miracle on 34th Street," it being Christmas season and all. Well, the Orpheum is actually on Hamilton Place, just off of Tremont Street, and in reality, the show was nothing special.

Passion Pit is pretty much the undisputed hottest local act in Boston right now. The winners of four "in Boston" categories in The Phoenix's Best Music Poll for 2009 (Best Album, Local Act, Male Vocalist and Song) opened last night's show with a highly recognizable set of songs from their award-winning album Manners. Their brand of '80s inspired synth-pop played out almost as good live as it does on record, but the sound left a little to be desired—as it often does with opening bands—and their set was somewhat brief. I do have one piece of advice for Passion Pit front-man Michael Angelakos, though. If we've learned anything from Jon Anderson, it's that male lead vocalists should either play an instrument or else have a knack for on-stage performance. Otherwise, they just come across as a little...let's call it less-than-manly.

Phoenix's performance was the highlight of the evening for me, although when they opened with "Lisztomania," the opening track from their latest album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, I was afraid I was going to have to suffer through an entire set of singalongs with the annoying college girls to my left. A couple songs later, though, I really came to appreciate "Lasso" as one of the show's highlights and possibly the best track on the album. My favorite moment of the whole night turned out to be a surprising one, and somewhat contrary to what I said a couple of sentences ago. I returned from getting KJ a bottled water as the band played their final, and most recognizable, song. Listening to the crowd chant the chorus to "1901" in unison, I suddenly felt overcome with the desire to go out and buy a Cadillac.

Spoon's set was solid, but there was something about it that just seemed less than inspired. Honestly, I came away from the show realizing that this is a band that was meant to play rock clubs. There's a certain pecking order to the Boston concert scene, and once an artist graduates from the Paradise/Middle East downstairs level—venues with capacities in the 550 to 650 range—they’re generally not worth seeing after that, although it sometimes takes a show like last night's to drive that point home. I'm sure I've made that statement, or something similar to it, quite a few times before, so I'll refrain from harping on it.

Overall, I give last night's show a respectable B-minus. It's just that, for such a highly anticipated triple-bill, it fell considerably short of being worthy of comparison to one of the most successful Christmas movies of all-time.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Common Misconceptions, Part 2

Back when I was playing intramural softball in college, there was a situation that involved a rule that, surprisingly, very few people seem to be aware of.

I was on third base with less than two outs, and the batter hit a routine fly ball to left field. It was easily deep enough, so I tagged up and scored on the play. However, the left fielder bobbled the ball, giving the impression that I hadn't tagged up properly, because technically I left the base before he completed the catch.

Our opponents appealed the play, and I was called out, as my teammates offered words of consolation, indicating that it was a tough break that the fielder bobbled the ball. But, I knew better.

I took up my case with the umpire, informing him that the runner is entitled to leave his base as soon as the ball is touched by the fielder. Unbelievably, he pulled out the rule book, looked it up, and changed his ruling. If I recall correctly, we were winning by five or so runs in the final innings of the game, so it didn't turn out to be a pivotal call. But, of course, I felt kind of smug about it.

Obviously, the rules of professional baseball and amateur softball are not identical, but I'm positive the baseball rule is the same. Interestingly enough, I can't locate this technicality in the major league rule book. Here's what I found:

7.08 Any runner is out when—

(d) He fails to retouch his base after a fair or foul ball is legally caught before he, or his base, is tagged by a fielder.

7.10 Any runner shall be called out, on appeal, when—

(a) After a fly ball is caught, he fails to retouch his original base before he or his original base is tagged.

Neither rule makes mention of any exception to the requirement that the runner wait until the ball is caught before leaving the base. This, of course, is another example of the confusion caused by the vagueness of the rule book. Regardless, I know I'm right, and this has been confirmed by a few subsequent experiences. Besides, if a fielder could bobble a ball and fake a runner into leaving a base early, why wouldn't it be a more common occurrence?

This one seems like a no-brainer, but it's happened so seldomly over the course of my 30-something years as a player, spectator and umpire that I'm not sure if the scenario has crossed most people's minds. So, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that, each time this has occurred, there have been witnesses who were fooled into thinking that the runner was guilty of leaving early and, therefore, out on appeal. As far as you're concerned, if you didn't know this already, now you won't need to see it to believe it.