Fuse Rock Feature: Ten Best Live Shows of 2014

Many superb live shows over the past year — but there were some that were memorable, including those by The Figgs, Dumptruck, The Strypes, Robyn Hitchcock, and Tanya Donelly.

Tanya Donelly give two live performances in the Boston area this year.

Tanya Donelly give two live performances of her visionary songs in the Boston area this year.

By Brett Milano

1: The Pipeline! Shows, various venues through October and November: The local music event of the year was the kind we’re not likely to see again anytime soon, a six-week stretch in which three generations of Boston’s greatest bands walked and rocked among us once again—and surprisingly, many of the dates were undersold. If I could pick one set that stood above the rest, it would be Dumptruck at the Regent Theater; they were moody, shimmering and impeccable as ever.

2: Guided By Voices at the Paradise, July 12: Robert Pollard and his famously disorderly crew were in their glory at the Paradise, playing 50-odd songs in two hours with the usual mix of big-guitar bravado, classic pop melody and boozy camaraderie. For an encore, they broke up two weeks later.

3: Adrian Belew at Sinclair, October 25: His former band King Crimson got more attention when they hit town a few weeks earlier, but I have to say I got more out of Belew’s show. Not only was he the best songwriter Crimson ever had, he can sling riffs and shift tempos with the best. Each of his two sets amounted to a dizzying suite in which dozens of songs got visited for a verse or two, making way for the next idea.

4: The Dot Wiggin Band at the Lilypad, April 5: Wiggin was the singer/guitarist of the Shaggs, the sweet but downright unclassifiable Fremont, NH band who confused plenty of listeners since their brief run in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s (and were famously declared better than the Beatles by Frank Zappa). With her sister and fellow ex-Shagg Betty Wiggin sitting upfront, she turned the Shaggs favorites “My Pal Foot Foot” and “What Are Parents?” into a grand campfire singalong.

5: The Strypes at Great Scott, March 20: Whether they turn out to be the next big thing or a flash in the pan, these impossibly young Irish kids proved that the spirit of Dr. Feelgood and the Yardbirds is in good hands.

6: Raw Oyster Cult at the Narrows Center, August 28: Only a New Orleans band would dare choose a name like that, and nobody but Crescent City rockers could conjure the steamy, swampy grooves that these guys brought. Not to be confused with any other Cult, this band was born from the ashes of the Radiators, who broke up three years ago; the new lineup allows more room for the deeply soulful vocals of frontman Dave Malone.

7: Throwing Muses and Tanya Donelly at the Sinclair, March 10 : Alone and together, both have done their share of visionary work over the past three decades. This show was notable for featuring mainly new material, with the Muses playing most of their concept album Purgatory/Paradise and Donelly drawing from her Swan Song Series. That’s not to say we didn’t get teary when they joined forces for songs from the Muses’ 1985 debut.

8: Robyn Hitchcock and Tanya Donelly at Somerville Armory, November 12: Donelly strikes again, this time in the company of the ever-imaginative Hitchcock. The latter’s set included some deep and thoughtful new songs of his, but the real treat was their joint mini-set at the end, which culminated with them strolling through the audience and busking “Are You Experienced?”

9: The Bevis Frond, Dump and Barbara Manning at TT the Bear’s, April 2: Another college-radio show, this one put together by WMBR’s Jon Bernhardt, the gathering featured the gentle psychedelia of UK vets the Bevis Frond (whose leader Nick Salomon himself does an MRR show by remote) and a shot of abstraction from Yo La Tengo spinoff Dump. But the standout set belonged to Barbara Manning, long one of indie rock’s unsung heroes.

10: The Figgs at Lizard Lounge, December 13: We saw loads of great shows by locally based bands this year—for starters, John Powhida, Dennis Brennan, Jenny Dee, the Lyres, My Own Worst Enemy and Muck & the Mires are never to be missed—but this show from last weekend was a moment of glory for this Albany-bred band (whose singer/guitarist Mike Gent now resides in town). Rejoined by original guitarist Guy Lyons, they blasted through the entirety of their 20-year-old debut album Low-Fi at Society High, along with a set of newer material, all their original youthful bluster and all the refined melodic sense they’ve since picked up.

Brett Milano has been covering music in Boston for decades, and is the author of Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting (St. Martins, 2001) and The Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock & Roll (Commonwealth Editions, 2007). He recently returned from New Orleans where he was editor of the music and culture magazine OffBeat.

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