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Best live shows of the year
Best live shows of the year
by Albert Rodriguez, Richard Kennedy, and Jessica Price - SGN A&E Writers

Albert Rodriguez's picks

This year I paid $40 for a cab ride from my hotel to the El Rey Theatre in LA to catch up with Matt Costa, puked in my neighbor's lawn after partying wildly with Switches, landed a front-row spot for Band of Horses at Bumbershoot, nearly suffocated during Jay-Z's set at the Pemberton Festival, and went to my very first Madonna concert ever. I've had another amazing 12 months writing for Seattle Gay News and am already excited about upcoming gigs in January, so thanks to everyone who's read any of my concert previews or reviews in 2008 - I truly loved doing it, really. Here are my top live show picks for 2008.

1) Justice @ The Showbox SoDo, March 24
I've left concerts drenched, parched and with sore feet, but when French dance duo Justice wrapped up their concert at The Showbox SoDo early in the year, I just stood there and demanded more like everyone else. Every song from "Genesis" to "D.A.N.C.E." was high-energy - and just when you thought it couldn't get any better, it got better. This was one instance when I wished my ears would never stop ringing.

2) Jay-Z @ Pemberton Festival (Pemberton BC) July 28
Although Coldplay brought the initial Pemberton Festival to a close, it was Jay-Z's second billing performance that gave the three-day event its biggest sizzle. 40,000 Americans and Canadians were treated to a non-stop party by the rap giant, complete with a horn section and trampy dancers.

3) Death Cab for Cutie @ Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival, September 1
Of the eight times I've now seen Death Cab for Cutie, their headlining Bumbershoot appearance at Memorial Stadium was the group's finest. The set list, highlighted by moving renditions of "Summer Skin" and "Marching Bands of Manhattan," was outstanding, and each member, especially the dapper Ben Gibbard, was in top form.

4) Beck @ Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival, August 30
When rock hipster Beck opened his Bumbershoot show with "Loser," his most-noted single usually found on the latter portion of his concerts, you just knew this was going to be a whopper of a performance - and it was. From the electronic tinkering on "Hell Yes" to a throbbing version of "Gamma Ray," the music chameleon proved he's still got plenty of game.

5) The Blakes @ Chop Suey, February 15
Local trio The Blakes blew me away - and sent me to the chiropractor the next morning - when they drilled Chop Suey early in the year with a blazing performance that had the entire sold-out crowd hopping, sweating and cheering furiously. This dynamite up-and-coming act played like seasoned veterans on a night that earned its place in Seattle music history.

6) Jason Mraz @ Paramount Theatre, November 9
I'd seen Jason Mraz perform at nearly every concert venue in this city, including the midway point of the Space Needle, prior to his first of two sold-out appearances at the Paramount Theatre last month. But this show was beyond anything he'd ever done before; a grand display of terrific songs, full band, smart renditions of known favorites, lots of audience participation, and even a gospel choir.

7) Madonna @ BC Place Stadium (Vancouver BC), October 30
This year marked the popping of my live Madonna cherry by attending the Gay icon's lone Northwest concert in Vancouver. Though the set list was weaker than expected, the thrill of being in the same building with this adored, longtime favorite as she performed "La Isla Bonita" and "Like a Prayer" will go with me wherever I go.

8) Matt Costa @ El Rey Theatre (Los Angeles), May 17
A hometown advantage may have assisted singer-songwriter Matt Costa in giving a packed El Rey Theatre a superb performance with all the quirky-good bells and whistles that have drawn him a gradual following. His effortless take on "Trying to Lose My Mind" and rousing delivery of "Behind the Moon" were nothing short of marvelous, and he did it all with a last-second haircut before going onstage.

9) Coldplay @ Pemberton Festival (Pemberton BC), July 28
Though out-gunned by Jay-Z on the final night of the Pemberton Festival, Coldplay was able to bring the somewhat unorganized event to a stellar close. With a majestic backdrop of snow-tipped mountains and lush green forests, band favorites such as "Trouble," "Yellow" and "The Scientist" were simply drop-dead gorgeous. I knew the moment Chris Martin and company walked onstage that I would marvel at this occasion in the years ahead.

10) Weezer "Hootenanny" @ Vera Project, June 21
To be among 200 Weezer fans in an intimate setting was unique, but to also participate in an actual recording session surrounded by French horns, flutes, kazoos, cymbals, guitarists and the band itself was a once in a lifetime thing. We stomped our feet to "Beverly Hills," loudly sang the chorus to "Pork and Beans," and swayed our heads from side to side during "Islands in the Sun," and had fun all the while.

Richard Kennedy's picks
2008 was a fantastic year for all genres of music. With the latest British invasion, pop music even stepped it up a notch with hot artists like Duffy, Estelle and Natasha Bedingfield topping the charts. Huge acts like Kanye West and George Michael made their way to Seattle, while Madonna finally made a Northwest visit to Vancouver, giving me my greatest concert memory as I saw my idol look right down at me from the catwalk she strutted down. Thanks to all the Seattle music fans and SGN readers who shared the following concerts with me - I'll never forget any of them!

1) Bettye LaVette @ Dimitriou's Jazz Alley, March 18
This legendary soul singer gave a performance I will never forget in one of the most intimate settings in Seattle. From raw and heartbreaking songs of torment and lost love to the celebratory announcement of her first Grammy nomination after 40+ years in the music business, she took her audience on an emotional rollercoaster that she commanded. No dancers, no spectacle, and not even a band during her final number, which she belted a capella. A night of live music at its finest.

2) Madonna @ BC Place Stadium (Vancouver BC), October 30
The dance diva pulled off a high energy show focusing on new material, but managed to pull out some surprising fan favorites that kept the night pulsating and thumping. From old school hip-hop to an '80s style laser-infused rave for its closing, she showed no signs of slowing down at age 50.

3) George Michael @ Key Arena, July 2
In spite of all the excessive fun this Gay pop superstar has had in the bushes, he masterfully pulled off a perfect greatest hits tour. After making stateside fans wait 17 years for a return, the hot 45-year-old proved his vocals and moves were still in fine form, giving Gay boys and straight girls that same rush he did back in the '80s.

4) Kanye West w/ Rihanna @ Key Arena, April 16
Mr. West continued his groundbreaking streak of originality with a completely unique stage that created an outer space theme, while the hip-hop megastar rapped hits in a thematic journey through the universe. Seeing Rihanna open was the icing on the cake.

5) True Colors Tour @ WaMu Theater, July 1
It was perfect timing as Pride Weekend was rolling down. The lineup was top notch, highlighting Rosie O'Donnell, the B-52s, Carson Kressley and of course, Cyndi Lauper. The closing song, "True Colors," featured all the stars on stage for a heartfelt version of the hit.

6) Jill Scott @ Paramount Theatre, February 7
Forget Beyonce, Jill Scott was the epitome of fierce, as she belted out her newest hit "Hate on Me." She looked like a million bucks strutting in her stilettos, going from sexy ballads to angry breakup jams.

7) Alicia Keys @ WaMu Theater, September 20
The girl proved this year she has staying power with an awesome live show, pulling '60s and '70s soul right into the new millennium. Powerhouse vocals, slamming R&B and a tight selection of new material showed why this singer-songwriter is unstoppable.

8) The B-52s @ The Showbox Market, May 7
It had been a long time since the Bs hit the road, and they had the whole place dancing the night away. Even the new material featured some standout crowd pleasers, but it was the classics that reminded everyone why they are THE original party band.

9) Dolly Parton @ WaMu Theater, August 8
In spite of some lackluster new material, the country icon charmed and joked her way through her entire set. Fans were more than pleased to hear some classic surprises like "Baby I'm Burnin'" and "Shattered Image."

10) Kids In The Hall @ WaMu Theater, May 15
Twenty years after their revolutionary sketch show, these guys were as hilarious as ever. Half the fun is seeing the devoted fans who've followed their entire career screaming for all of the familiar characters they created.

Jessica Price's picks
While it wasn't exactly the most groundbreaking year for new music, there were a handful of records worth their salt in my book. Proving that sometimes older is wiser, Nick Cave finally released something with a pulse with Dig, Lazarus Dig!!! and Madonna gave it to us with Hard Candy. The Raveonettes' Lust Lust Lust is a definite keeper, as well as the out-of-left-field pick for me, the multi-faceted Great Vengeance and Furious Fire by British band The Heavy. All in all, not bad for a very low-key musical year; but from what I saw, live performances were the real achievements of 2008. Surprisingly solid concerts from artists I thought I'd never see again put me in my place all year long. And now, my picks for the top 10 live performances of 2008.

1) Madonna @ MGM Grand (Las Vegas), November 8
An experience like this - front-row seats in fabulous Las Vegas to the Hard Candy tour - will never be topped in my lifetime. The one and only Madonna proved herself as dynamic and relevant as ever. She made time stand still for a thrilling, two-hour performance. This tour was a huge success not only professionally, but personally as well. Madonna triumphed over a very public divorce as well as the publication of a nasty tell-all book written by her very own brother. These personal setbacks are more than the average person could handle, let alone deal with in the midst of a world tour. She's the best there is and my 2008 top pick.

2) Marilyn Manson @ Paramount Theatre, February 18
Admittedly, I went to the Paramount as a bit of a curious tourist. What I discovered was the spooky patron saint of teen shock-rock is actually a megawatt performer. This concert had heart-shaped glasses, flaming Bibles, religious picketers, and a Eurythmics cover all in one night. Aces! I wanted to see it again.

3) The National @ Moore Theatre, September 19
Brooklyn by way of Cincinnati band The National's sold-out show at the Moore was a benefit for farming co-ops, a noble cause if ever there was one. This was one of the best of the year because every single song was 100% mesmerizing. Tearing through almost all of Boxer and Alligator, there wasn't a single track left out that was on my wish list.

4) The Atomic Bombshells @ The Triple Door, April 1
"Nightfall in New Orleans" was the most inspired burlesque show I've seen, hands down. A loving tribute to their hometown, these peelers made a sultry concept even hotter. Anyone who can pull off a burlesque ode to A Streetcar Named Desire deserves some serious appreciation.

5) The Raveonettes @ Neumos, March 9
The Raveonettes' performance at Neumos was a standout due to the sheer fun of seeing how far they've come. They've really matured with their newest release, Lust Lust Lust.

6) Radiohead @ White River Amphitheatre, August 20
I've been more than a little skeptical of Radiohead's hugely overblown reputation. I wasn't particularly impressed with current release In Rainbows, either. But with an amazing stage set featuring 50 eerie tube lights, and absolutely flawless sound, I started to warm to them again in a major way. Perfection.

7) The Jesus & Mary Chain @ The Showbox SoDo, July 16
One of my favorite bands of all time reformed and played Seattle one enchanted evening - I never thought I'd see the day. Not only that, but the notorious Reid brothers pulled out an all-star cast with a backing band made up of former members from Lush and Ride.

8) French Kicks @ Chop Suey, May 16
French Kicks played a low-key and not so well-attended show at Chop Suey, but won my heart with their simply beautiful songs and doubled-up vocals. In hindsight, this show really kicked off the summer for me, as the club was warm and the music perfect for a balmy night.

9) The Black Angels @ Neumos, June 11
I love The Black Angels, it's true. But what made this a special occasion was the fact that it was a sold-out, two-show benefit performance for local charity Noise for the Needy. The Warlocks opened, which upped the ante for the year's best double bill as well.

10) Spiritualized @ Neumos, September 14
Sometimes space-rock can be a giant live headache, but Spiritualized not only gave birth to the genre, they took it back and proved they do it better than anyone else.

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