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Friday, December 26, 2003


For all the whining people do about our city missing out on all the coolest, most exciting tours, 2003 suggested that it may be time to check the concert calendar before you whine.


Camper Van Beethoven (Jan. 23, Rosebud): What could have been a nostalgia trip turned into a show that seemed as offbeat and relevant as it was back in 1988. Camper thrilled its faithful with everything from beguiling Turkish stomps to straight-up punk-rock thrash. (Scott Mervis)

Kathleen Edwards (Feb. 22, Club Cafe): We came expecting fine songwriting and pure, pretty vocals from the 24-year-old Canadian alt-country singer. We got that, plus Crazy Horse-inspired jams, a heavy metal cover and a performer with personality to spare. (Mervis)

Legendary Shack Shakers (Rosebud, April 19): You had to stand back to avoid being spat upon by Col. J.D. Wilkes, but his energy still hit the back of the room. He led this band from Nashville's "Lower Broadway" through a set of backwoods psychobilly that was frantic and just a little frightening. (Mervis)

Dave Matthews Band (June 26, Post-Gazette Pavilion): Sometimes it's difficult to discern what it is about the Dave Matthews Band shows that works fans into a near-religious fervor -- but not on the first of the DMB's two nights here. The DMB winningly reinvented tunes from "Under the Table and Dreaming," dropped hits like "Where Are You Going" and "Too Much" and took the epic "Bartender" into the melodic stratosphere. (John Young)

50 Cent/Rock the Mic Tour (July 2, Post-Gazette Pavilion): Missy Elliot and Busta Rhymes barely got enough stage time to register and Jay-Z played a rambling headlining set. But, 50 Cent, while plagued by technical difficulties, proved why he became the most bankable act of 2003. At turns tuneful, chilling, flashy, arrogant and angry, 50 Cent was never less than arresting. (Young)

Blue Man Group (July 12, Post-Gazette Pavilion): The most unusual rock show ever to play Pittsburgh was also one of the best. Blue Man Group's Complex Tour, a rock 'n' roll extension of the long-running stage show, included percussion-heavy alt-rock attitude and a Pink Floyd-quality light and video show as the silent, blue-painted front men led a dangerous eight-piece band and showcased quirky singers. (John Hayes)

Chris Isaak (July 17, Chevrolet Amphitheatre): "You can go to Paris or New York, but it's all just a tune-up for Pittsburgh," Isaak told the crowd. Utilizing ironic humor and retro cool, Isaak put on a wildly funny and engaging show. All of which would be for naught, of course, if it weren't for Isaak's smart, deceptively dark 1950s-style pop songs. (Young)

David Gray (July 21, Chevrolet Amphitheatre): On the simplest level, this was an evening of great songs performed by an outstanding singer-songwriter. Hits like "Babylon" and "Please Forgive Me" clearly resonated with the crowd. Best, though, was the old track "Gutters Full of Rain" with its provocative refrain about "never noticing the war 'til it's right there at your door and suddenly your hands are bloody." (Young)

Aerosmith (Aug. 21, Post-Gazette Pavilion): Somehow, being paired with Kiss drove Aerosmith back to the basics for a set that found Tyler and Perry grinding out blues riffs like they were playing in a bar again. (Mervis)

DMX (Sept. 19, Pavilion): Following lighter performances by Chingy, Nas and Missy Elliott, Darkman X hit the stage like a pit bull and never let up, barking and growling through a set of hits with brutal themes and pummeling beats. (Mervis)


We were practically drowning in cool, exciting tours this year. And if you saw them all, then you, my friend, are clearly blessed with either too much time or too much money, maybe both. I missed several shows that may in fact have made this list, including Cat Power, an act whose name you'll find at the top of my album list, Aerosmith getting in touch with its down and dirty roots in Burgettstown and My Morning Jacket's triumphant return to the area at Rosebud.


Club Laga, Feb. 4

I was so completely blown away by this performance that I ended my review on Feb. 6 with the frankly ridiculous claim, "If there's a better show this year, I only hope I'm there to see it. But I doubt it's gonna happen." Ten months later, here we are. This show had everything you wouldn't have expected from the former new bohemian. She rocked the Cleopatra Jones look, brought her boyfriend, Common, out to join her on "Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop)" and lost her wig to end the show on a truly unexpected high note, stage-diving not once but three times. More in keeping with the earthy vibe of "Mama's Gun" than her debut, it was a sexy, assertive and soulful performance that ranged from soft, seductive cocktail funk to hip-hop to the Family Stoned euphoria of "Penitentiary Philosophy."


Three Rivers Arts Festival, June 21

Midway through a set of darkly gorgeous pop, Jeff Tweedy joked, "We're playing a lot of upbeat numbers for this festival-like atmosphere," then deadpanned, "So this is a song about killing the person you love." And it was, as he launched into "Via Chicago." Other than the playful Pavement pop of "Heavy Metal Drummer," the show was as downbeat and arty and poignant and achingly beautiful as those with the patience to truly appreciate the majesty of "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" would've hoped. And the new songs suggested the makings of another masterpiece.


Metropol, April 27

Nearing the end of the set, on a stage full of people in animal costumes, Wayne Coyne took a break from all the popping of balloons, the throwing of confetti and the dousing of his head in fake blood to talk about the silliness that comes with any Lips show as a temporary shelter from the storm of people's real-life tragedies, a shelter they would never want to leave. And sure enough, the whole thing felt like New Year's Eve as planned by Andy Warhol, Sid and Marty Kroft and someone really weird. On acid.


Byham Theatre, March 25

The Icelandic impressionists practically faded in with a haunting piano figure on a bed of strings, its melancholy minimalism preparing the way for the almost childlike vocalese of Jon Thor Birgisson to break your heart in a language you don't have to understand to know how sad it makes you feel. But in the end, if Sigur Ros' reputation rests on works of devastating beauty, the band was just as capable of rocking out, with Birgisson using a bow to coax a cacophonous wall of noise from his guitar.


A.J. Palumbo Theatre, Nov. 26

Squeezing out some of the trashiest, flashiest, sexiest, most electrifying, armor-piercing lead guitar since Jimmy Page was last seen wearing dragon pants, Jack White treated fans to an hour and change of retooled classic-rock guitar heroics while behind him Meg White pounded out the primal Bam-Bam-meets-the-Velvets sex groove. While it did lose some momentum toward the end, this show found rock 'n' roll's most recent hope at the top of its game (and ready for an even bigger room).


Three Rivers Arts Festival, June 15

I went in wondering what a toned-down, family-friendly version of this band would sound like. And I still don't know. They hit the ground running with "Bull in the Heather," a song that found Kim Gordon purring, "Tell me that you wanna whore me" over the just-shy-of-deafening throb of her bass as the band's three guitarists constructed a massive wall of blissed-out noise. And after a detour through the jangle of "The Empty Page," it just got noisier and more intense from there.


Rosebud, Oct. 28

It was Tuesday night, but E joked that he'd give the fans a Saturday performance, and he did. It started, in fact, with E being walked through the crowd on someone's shoulders as he played harmonica. And while he wasn't shy about promoting "Shootenanny," the set list ranged from a cover of John Lennon's "I'm a Loser" to a savage "Dog Faced Boy" to his unlikely pop hit from the Modern Rock years, "Novocaine for the Soul."


Club Laga, Feb. 3

The pride of Philly hip-hop took the genre-defying approach that made "Phrenology" a hit and ran with it in a set that effortlessly raised the bar for hip-hop as a live experience. Whatever style the band approached, the groove was king. And while ?uestlove and Black Thought were clearly the stars of the show, human turntablist Scratch, who was missing in action when the group returned a few months later, was a crowd-pleasing genius.


Station Square Amphitheatre, July 9

With hair to shame a young Ted Nugent and epic guitar jams that went for the jugular more than they noodled while the singer effortlessly nailed those notes Neil Young is always straining for, the unsung pride of Louisville, Ky., opened the Foo Fighters show with a set that could have blown the retractable roof off the Civic Arena in the days when classic rock was just called rock.


Mellon Arena, Jan. 10

The set drew heavily on "Let It Bleed" and other mid-period classics -- exactly the sort of material the band excels at, even after all these years. Mick Jagger seemed a little stiff at first, but by the time he got to "Midnight Rambler," it was on. And Adams made it worth your while to show up early with a set that outrocked all the records he'd release before the year was out.

Honorable mentions: Christina Aguilera; Neil Young; Alice Cooper; Raveonettes; Datsuns; Phish; Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band; Sondre Lerche; N.E.R.D.; Spiritualized.

Ed Masley can be reached at or 412-263-1865.

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