Between column space, music previews and picks, I touched on roughly four shows a week in Gambit's pages in 2010. It's a modest, manageable number — until you multiply by 52. Examined in aggregate, the list reveals a lot about New Orleans' year in live music. For example: 43 of the concerts — more than 20 percent — occurred at a single venue, One Eyed Jacks, which wrested the king's crown from Tipitina's and the House of Blues soon after opening in 2004. More shocking is that there were as many as 43 other locales represented. They range from solo appearances by the underground Koenji and NOLA Art houses (the latter of which was raided after Gambit's January cover story) to 26 by my second-favorite place to see bands this year, the underdog Circle Bar, which more than doubled up Tip's and the House of Blues (12 apiece).
Those numbers don't tell the whole story, though. There were many memorable gigs: at Jacks, a genre-crossing June homage to Harold Battiste Jr. and burlesque dancers denuding during an October appearance by Portland, Ore., punk rockers the Thermals; at the Circle Bar, New Orleans' prodigal son Paul Caporino (aka M.O.T.O.) making a triumphant return in March and unseen knockouts from veterans (Dex Romweber), rookies (White Hinterland), locals (Jean-Eric) and visitors (The Love Language). But it was in less-frequented corners of the city that the best happenings lurked. Preservation Hall followed its superb February compilation, Preservation, by hosting a trio of the year's most unexpected midnight gigs: Bonnie "Prince" Billy, My Morning Jacket and Haitian legend Manno Charlemagne. Tulane University capped a strong fall (shows by Local Natives, Ruby Suns, Ratatat and Dr. Dog) by welcoming the great Van Dyke Parks, who embarked on his first nationwide tour at age 67. The Mother-in-Law Lounge, sadly K-Doe-less for the first year ever and now closed, embraced a younger, louder audience with record-release parties for decibel-busting acts Caddywhompus and the Pharmacy. And Carrollton Station and the Blue Nile were the delivery rooms for two heirs of New Orleans' nascent pop lineage, Big History and Empress Hotel.
All that said, this may have been the year in which our recorded output surpassed its live incarnation. Joining Preservation Hall in the compilation junket was Air Traffic Control's Dear New Orleans, an eclectic assemblage of 31 diverse local and national artists spanning Paul Sanchez to the Wrens. Brass icons Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and Kermit Ruffins broke out in a big way, appearing on HBO's Treme and climbing Billboard charts with respective albums Backatown (Verve Forecast) and Happy Talk (Basin Street). With Lil Wayne behind bars, underground hip-hop seized the national spotlight, from bounce queens Katey Red and Big Freedia to stoner-rap sensations Curren$y and Jay Electronica. Here are my picks for the top area releases of 2010:
10. Rough Seven, Give Up Your Dreams (Upper Ninth Records)
9. The Pharmacy, Weekend (Park the Van/Don't Stop Believin')
8. Steve Eck & the Midnight Still, Drag It Out, Burn It Down (self-released)
7. Brass Bed, Melt White (Park the Van)
6. Hurray For the Riff Raff, Young Blood Blues (self-released)
5. Caddywhompus, Remainder (Community Records)
4. Lovey Dovies, self-titled (self-released)
3. Generationals, Trust (Park the Van)
2. Curren$y, Pilot Talk/Pilot Talk II (BluRoc)
1. Preservation: An Album to Benefit Preservation Hall & the Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program (Preservation Hall)