The Greatest Concerts of 2009
A month-by-month look at the past year’s best live music

Perusing the hundreds of concert reviews posted during the past year on our music-and-culture blog, Heard Mentality, gave me a pretty good idea of what I missed—a whole mess of spectacular shows! There were superstar homecomings, major comebacks, farewell tours and a gaggle of OC acts ripping it up at local clubs. Choosing the greatest concerts of 2009 proved as difficult as answering that damn desert-island-albums question. Here are the performances I finally decided were the most fascinating from each month. Enjoy this look back, then stay tuned to Heard Mentality for the multitude of live reviews and other fun stuff we will be posting throughout 2010.

BOOGALOO ASSASSINS; ALLENSWORTH, Jan. 10, Detroit Bar
Although Huntington Beach’s Allensworth are best known for hitting fans with a bold brand of soul that knocks you on your ass faster than a handle of Jack Daniel’s, they also displayed a tender side, evidenced by Jamie Allensworth’s expressive vocals on “Let It Rain” or the melodic opening chords of “Standing In Line.” The pounding percussion of LA/OC band Boogaloo Assassins delivered a delectable dose of Latin fervor. Whether you were busy showing off your years of salsa lessons, or just faking a two-step during the entire three minutes of “Watusi Boogaloo,” it seemed impossible to not be having fun. (Nate Jackson)

Gwen Stefani and her halo 
with No Doubt at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Aug. 1
Andrew Youssef
Gwen Stefani and her halo with No Doubt at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Aug. 1
Jeff Tweedy—with Wilco at the Fox Theater Pomona—about to smile
Chad Sengstock
Jeff Tweedy—with Wilco at the Fox Theater Pomona—about to smile

Location Info

Map

Detroit Bar

843 W. 19th St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Category: Music Venues

Region: Costa Mesa

The Yost Theater

307 N. Spurgeon St.
Santa Ana, CA 92701

Category: Music Venues

Region: Santa Ana

Chain Reaction

1652 W. Lincoln Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92801

Category: Music Venues

Region: Anaheim

House of Blues Anaheim

1530 S. Disneyland Drive
Anaheim, CA 92802

Category: Music Venues

Region: Anaheim

Verizon Wireless Amphitheater

8808 Irvine Center Drive
Irvine, CA 92618

Category: Music Venues

Region: Irvine

Fox Theater

500 N. Harbor Blvd.
Fullerton, CA 92832

Category: Theaters

Region: Fullerton

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THE BIRD AND THE BEE, Feb. 27, Yost Theater
Singer/guitarist Inara George remained her usual charming self, lending her striking vocals to songs such as “Fucking Boyfriend” from the LA space-pop duo’s 2007 eponymous full-length debut and the absolutely joyous “Love Letter to Japan” from last month’s follow-up Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future. (Albert Ching)

RX BANDITS, March 8, Chain Reaction
Almost 10 years ago to the day, Rx Bandits front man Matt Embree remembered Chain Reaction being the first venue they ever sold out. And at the close of a crazy weekend with two consecutive capacity-filled gigs, it seems things have only improved for the local ska-punk band with the national following. (NJ)

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT, April 29, House of Blues, Anaheim
Wainwright treated the audience to a career-spanning set peppered with longtime fan faves such as “April Fools,” “California” and his soaring rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It was self-indulgent, wonderful and dramatic—after all, it was Rufus Wainwright. His voice rang out into the quiet venue—thrilling, rich, highly emotive. (Vickie Chang)

NINE INCH NAILS; JANE’S ADDICTION, May 20, Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
Rather than close with the dark and depressing “Hurt,” NIN issued a killer “Head Like a Hole,” which became a massive sing-along during the anthemic chorus. Savvy move by Trent Reznor, the reformed drug abuser who nowadays appears as disciplined as all those “pigs” and subservient “fuckers” he screams about. Jane’s Addiction brought jammy, earnest hard rock and the megawatt star power of maniacal Perry Farrell. (Spencer Kornhaber)

WILCO, June 20, Fox Theater Pomona
Jeff Tweedy replaced his typical frown and snark with smiles; cajoled fans to sing along; and even fell to the floor while playing his guitar among flashing cameras, lit iPhones and the outstretched arms of overjoyed attendees. Although Wilco have always been known for their solid shows, the band meshed particularly well with a diverse setlist that spanned their acclaimed 15-year career. (VC)

NO DOUBT, July 31, Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
There were huge expectations for the first of No Doubt’s four sold-out homecoming shows, but the beloved Orange County band rose to the occasion—and then some. Feeding off tremendous crowd energy, No Doubt rocked hits from their nearly two decade-long career, performing with the zeal of an act truly grateful for the global success that started right here. Despite plenty of onstage fun and audience interaction, the focus remained on the music, which sounded as fresh and ebullient as it did when the band launched an OC ska-punk revolution with their 1995 disc Tragic Kingdom. (Amanda Parsons)

JAY-Z, Aug. 8, Honda Center
Jay-Z worked the crowd masterfully, thrusting his mic into the darkness so attendees could finish his lyrics, capping flows a capella and splitting each side of the arena into a roof-rattling shouting competition. After a solid hour of hits, Jay-Z crushed with a final run of classics that included “Hard Knock Life,” “Money Ain’t a Thang,” “Can I Get a . . .” and a pulverizing “99 Problems.” (NJ)

YEAH YEAH YEAHS, Sept. 15, Fox Theater Pomona
There was good reason for front woman Karen O to look so happy during “Zero”—it’s one of the best singles of the year, and it didn’t disappoint live, inviting the listener to truly “shake it like a ladder to the sun,” whatever that means. Their ubiquitous smash “Maps,” which got slowed down to a barely there acoustic affair, made for an excellent encore. (AC)

SUNNY DAY REAL ESTATE, Oct. 10, House of Blues, Anaheim
Emo pioneers Sunny Day Real Estate immediately proved impressive with their renewed musical chemistry. Singer/guitarist Jeremy Enigk slashed out the power chords, and lead guitarist Dan Hoerner interwove grabby riffs, while bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith interlocked as a gnat’s-ass-tight rhythm section. (Andrew Youssef)

THRICE, Nov. 25, House of Blues, Anaheim
Thrice came out of the gate blazing with a firestorm of searing guitar chords on “Silhouette.” “All the World Is Mad” is a textbook example of the Orange County band’s fierce fusion of metal, hardcore and smart sense of melody. The apocalyptic hymn “Come All You Weary” and sweltering “The Earth Will Shake” were fitting encores that still left the sold-out crowd craving more. (AY) 

METALLICA, Dec. 10, Honda Center
Whatever demons plagued Metallica in the past were nowhere to be found when the band performed in front of a capacity crowd at the Honda Center. The iconic metal act fired off lean, riveting, meticulously shifting assaults that swept the awestruck audience into an alternative reality where fast, heavy drum-’n’-guitar forays conquer all. The four musicians—all in their mid 40s—stalked the stage with a youthful sense of determination and glee. (Wade Tatangelo)

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