Rock of the Arts Best Indie Shows of 2010

2010 was a great year for independent music, as many indie rock artists broke into the top ten sales charts without the aid of major labels or mainstream radio airplay. The Internet, via social media and indie music blogs, paved the way for a new approach to DIY promotion that leveled the playing field for many artists.


Locally, the closing of Madison’s Smart Studios signaled a changing of the guard, as the availability of low cost laptop-based recording software eliminated the need for large studios.

On the Rock of the Arts front, we saw over 150 indie shows in 2010 including multi-day stints at South by Southwest in Austin along with Pitchfork and Lollapalooza in Chicago. We wanted to come up with a list of our favorite shows. It was hard to narrow down the list to ten shows, but here we go:

#10 Wilco/Califone at Overture Hall in Madison

Wilco performed a spot-on show at Overture Hall in February that satisfied die hard and new fans alike. The chemistry between Jeff Tweedy and company stoked the sold-out crowd made up of a large contingent of Chicagoans. Jeff Tweedy’s complaint about not receiving a key to the city started an avalanche of publicity that made headlines in Pitchfork and the local media. Say what you want, Wilco puts on an extremely entertaining show with a lyrically rich repertoire. The additon of Califone to the bill was just icing on the cake.


#9 Zola Jesus and Julian Lynch with Somni at the Project Lodge in Madison

This was the local show of the year as three of Madison’s most eclectic artists shared a stage in the city’s most DIY-infused venue. Zola Jesus and Julian Lynch, with a back-up band of who’s who in Madison music, gave us a taste of why Stereogum would name them the best new artists of the year.

The capacity crowd of local hipsters saw the first and probably the last time that Zola Jesus and Julian Lynch would share a stage in Madison. With the recent surge of Zola Jesus mania across the United States and Europe, years from now, everyone in town will say they were at this show.

#8 The National at the Orpheum Theatre in Madison

The somber mood of The National’s songs took on an almost upbeat tone as the band came off the high of playing President Obama’s Democratic rally in Madison earlier in the day. With more on stage chatter than we saw at the band’s Lollapalooza performance, you definitely had the feeling that this show was a one-of-a-kind effort.

#7 Middle Brother (MG&V) at SXSW in Austin

The best part of attending SXSW is discovering new artists in small clubs around Austin. In some cases, you can see one-off shows that truly are remarkable. Middle Brother (better known as MG&V) performed for the first time at the Ale House in Austin during SXSW with little promotion beyond a couple of mentions on indie music blogs. Deer Tick's John McCauley, Matt Vasquez from Delta Spirit and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes with Griffin Goldsmith on drums and Kellie Winrich on keyboards dazzled the crowd of 200 with a debut performance that reminds us of why we love SXSW. 

#6 The Black Keys with Kurt Vile at the Riviera Theater in Chicago

We saw the Black Keys twice in 2010 and this show in Chicago was our favorite. Was it because it happened before the release of their breakthrough “Brothers” album? Or was it the fact that The Black Keys sold out two shows at the Riviera, proving why they would become even bigger in 2010? We can’t be sure, but their bluesy guitar riff-based sound draws you into a trance that never lets go.

The Black Keys

#5 Band of Horses at SXSW in Austin

Band of Horses electrified the crowd with new material from their “Infinite Arms” album that was a precursor to their Grammy nomination and subsequent success in 2010.

#4 Arcade Fire at Lollapalooza in Chicago

We joined 50,000 people at Grant Park to celebrate the band’s number one album ”The Suburbs” and long overdue recognition as one of the best live indie groups in the world. The downtown location with the Chicago skyline in the background remains etched in our memory, as Arcade Fire delivered a stunning performance that was the highlight of Lollapalooza.

#3 Broken Social Scene at Pitchfork in Chicago

We also saw Broken Social Scene twice in 2010. Their first gig at SXSW in March was a little shaky with some of the more keyboard laden new material from “Forgiveness Rock Record” needing to be road tested. By the time the Pitchfork Music Festival rolled around in July the band was tight and humming on all cylinders. Despite some minor sound system issues, the band put on what we considered to be one of the best headlining performances of the festival.

#2 Titus Andronicus with His & Her Vanities at the Project Lodge in Madison

Take Titus Andronicus, a sold-out crowd, mix in some crowd surfing with a total collapse of the sound system and you have our number two show. It was so memorable that Patrick Stickles mentioned it during the band’s Pitchfork performance in July. Reminiscent of a basement punk show, the energy and sheer abandon was seldom matched by any other performance that we saw in 2010.

#1 Daytrotter Barnstormer Three - Delta Spirit/Nathaniel Rateliff/Ra Ra Riot/Free Energy/Pearly Gate Music in Elkhorn, WI and Maquoketa, IA

While the music will always be the focus of a live show, one of the trends we saw in 2010 was the yearning by indie fans to see bands in unique venues. Daytrotter’s Barnstormer tour gave music fans an opportunity to see upcoming artists in barns across the Midwest in a communal-like environment where you could meet and hang out with the musicians.

A true bonding experience that brings live music performance to the next level. Even the bands fed off the energy of this new approach. These very special performances brought us truly incredible music, great friends and memories that will last a long time. When Delta Spirit returned to Madison in November, it was like a homecoming with Barnstormer fans from across the Midwest descending on the High Noon Saloon to renew acquaintances. Many in attendance would agree that Barnstormer Three was the best show of the year!

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