We had it good here in 2011. High-profile and acclaimed national acts passed through Kansas City and Lawrence. Rare was the week that lacked a compelling reason to make it out to a venue. Below, we list our 10 favorite performances of the year. (These are all out-of-town groups; drop by next week for a survey of some of 2011's finest local shows.) We invite you to read, reminisce, debate, insult, threaten — whatever you like!
The Aftershock, March 15
After more than a decade's absence from area stages, Fishbone returned to the Kansas City area on short notice on a chilly evening in March. Local promoters managed to lined up a show at a somewhat unlikely venue: the Aftershock, in Merriam. The long-running California ska rockers appeared before a small but loyal crowd. Fishbone quickly got down to the task at hand: rocking the ever-living shit out of each and every ass in that room. The set hewed close to the hits — "Lyin' Ass Bitch" and "Party at Ground Zero" — and the funk seemed to flow effortlessly from everyone onstage. (Fishbone has retained only two of its original members, but you'd never know it.) While the set at Aftershock came as an unpleasant surprise in the days afterward to fans not in the know, those of us who made it out were happily certain of our good fortune.
— Nick Spacek
Jackpot Music Hall, April 11
Phosphorescent came through Kansas City back in early 2010, on a tour with David Gray. But frontman Matthew Houck and his backing musicians were dwarfed by the gingerbread-castle expanses of the Uptown Theater. The "Babylon" crowd was uninterested. The Jackpot proved a far better setting for Phosphorescent's wistful, twangy folk-rock. Though not an emotive performer, Houck seemed loose under the low, red-tinged ceilings of the Lawrence venue. He performed a fabulous cover of Willie Nelson's "It's Not Supposed to Be That Way"; a heavy version of "Mermaid Parade," replete with yearning guitar solos; and, to close the show, the gorgeous, haunting "Wolves." I felt lucky to be there.
— April Fleming
The Granada, May 18
A lot of shows in Lawrence are see-and-be-seen affairs. When Wanda Jackson appeared at the Granada, nobody's eyes left the stage. Jackson gave a performance that belied the rockabilly queen's 74 years. Her voice sounded as strong as when she was recording classics, like "Let's Have a Party," more than 50 years ago. And she demonstrated a naughty streak, talking shit on college students (chiding them for not attending to their finals) and licking her finger after a surprisingly sultry take on Amy Winehouse's "I'm No Good." Here's hoping that Jackson's "second act," as she referred to her current making-of-the-rounds, awards her long-owed success and recognition.
— Nick Spacek
The Uptown Theater, July 18
Helplessness Blues, the second album from Fleet Foxes that arrived earlier this year, is a dark, moody, dreamy folk album whose charms become apparent after only a handful of spins. The band members are drab-looking and generally dress like Communists. (At the Uptown, one of the guys was even wearing one of those green Castro hats.) They specialize in intricate vocal harmonies. Who's ready to party? Apparently everybody. A sold-out crowd endured the demoralizing July heat inside the Uptown to watch six guys bang on acoustic instruments. It was, in some ways, the social event of the summer. Lots of weed, lots of attractive people wearing their earthiest clothes, even some wholly inappropriate glow sticks. And at the center of it all, a band asserting itself as one of the finest folk acts in the world.
— David Hudnall