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It was the best of times: the top concerts and live performances of 2011

Oracle Music Critic Brad Lanphere has seen approximately 135 bands in the last two years, including 22 individual concerts and six major music festivals just in the past year. Here are his picks for the most outstanding music shows in the year of 2011.

Arcade Fire

4/24 UIC Pavilion

The show opened with Arcade Fire’s fellow Lollapalooza 2010 alum, The National, by hitting the audience with a hard guitar and lead singer Matt Berninger’s baritone voice. Next, Arcade Fire came on with one thing on their agenda: to make this one rocking Easter Sunday. The whole band exuberated energy, and each member took their turn interacting with the audience, infecting the crowd with excitement. This show was no visual spectacle like some other concerts, but the music left me speechless.

My Morning Jacket (MMJ)

6/17 Auditorium Theatre

The crash of a gong and a hard keyboard comes at you, refusing to stop until you hear the voice of a rock god. After the opening song “Victory Dance” ended, the feeling of great expectations was going through my body as I awaited the next song. MMJ played a 25-song set of pure rock anthem that could have gone longer without protest. People may think I’m crazy, but after that show I can say that MMJ is THE best live band out there. Period.

The Flaming Lips

7/7 Aragon Ballroom

At night one of two sold-out shows at the Aragon, the Lips performed one of my all time favorites, The Soft Bulletin, in its entirety. Strobe lights greeted the band as they appeared on stage and began to play. Throughout the show gigantic balloons and massive amounts of confetti were launched, turning the event into what felt like a huge New Year’s Eve party. Not only were the lights amazing, but the music also didn’t disappoint.

Phish 8/17 UIC Pavilion

After attending the first two nights of Phish’s Chicago stint, I was wondering how the third night would compare and hoping to hear some songs I’d never heard Phish play live before. While the first set contained many of my favorites, the second set brought a twist with a range of classic Phish tracks and covers. While it seemed the band crammed many of their longer jams into shorter bits to fit more songs into the set, it still turned out to be an awesome show.

Deadmau5 10/23 Aragon Ballroom

I  was lucky enough to see Deadmau5’s performance with openers Feed Me and Excision, but with an amazing light show topped with excellent electronic jams it was Deadmau5 that had the place up for grabs. You couldn’t close your eyes without feeling as if you were missing part of the stellar light show. Deadmau5 kept me amazed for the duration of the concert and left me wanting more.

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