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In The Flesh

Fresh on the heels of the Isis show at Sonar, here's a highlight list of bands I've seen live.
1Isis

Great show, Threshold of Transformation and In Fiction are even more powerful live. And Aaron Turner looks almost exactly like my cousin, Eric. I'm 60% sure it's not him, but I'll ask at the next family get-together.
2Pelican

Opened for Isis. Pretty impressive set. I know the drummer gets a lot of hate, but he seemed capable enough to me. Nothing astounding, sure, but I don't think he detracts as much from the music as some seem to think.
3Coheed & Cambria

I've seen these guys twice, once headlining and once opening (for Linkin Park; the tickets were a gift). Both times they were awesome, and it's always hilarious seeing them fake out newcomers with the false ending of In Keeping Secrets.
4dredg

Opened for Coheed. This was back before I got into them, but this show converted me. I also hear that their new album is a return to form, so I'm pretty excited.
5System of a Down

Energetic show, definitely, and with a good variety of music spanning their entire career. Sugar, ATWA, and Deer Dance are really good live, and they managed to not be nearly as preachy as I thought they would.
6The Mars Volta

Opened for System. Really, this probably wasn't the best display of their skill, since they pretty much totally screwed up Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus. The Widow was good, though, and they also got to do an abbreviated little bit of that bizarre jamming they're known for.
7Opeth

Mikael Akerfeldt is pretty hilarious, urging the crowd to "fuck in secret" during the beautiful Hope Leaves. He even let the people in the front touch his "private parts," holding his guitar out into the crowd. Oh, and the music was in top form, too. Burden, Bleak, and the encore Demon of the Fall were amazing.
8Baroness

Opened for Opeth. I didn't catch their entire set, but I did get to hear Rays on Pinion and Isak, two of my favorite songs. Good stuff. I hear they're playing with Clutch soon, so I might have to check that out.
9Iron and Wine

Good ol' Sam Beam sure didn't disappoint. Sure, he may have been baked out of his gourd, and confused by the fans in the balconies, but he still turned in an excellent performance. The first four or five songs in particular were incredible, featuring only him, his sister, an acoustic guitar, and an occasional chord here and there on the piano. Upward Over the Mountain brought a lot of people to tears.
10Linkin Park

Surprisingly not terrible, these guys were definitely outshone by Coheed, but still played enough Hybrid Theory material to make it a decent show. Even the newer stuff seemed to benefit from the live setting, which gave it a stronger sound than the artificial, overproduced shininess that hindered Minutes to Midnight.
11Rusted Root

I've seen these guys three times now, and each time they're just as brilliant and passionate as any band I've seen. The percussion, in particular, really sets them apart from a lot of other acts.
12Taking Back Sunday

Saw these guys at the Virgin Festival 2008. They played a lot less older material than I would've liked, but it was still an alright set. A Decade Under the Influence was really good.
13Wilco

These guys, on the other hand, blew me away. Their improv-heavy performance of Impossible Germany is quite possibly the best live jam I've ever seen.
14Andrew Bird

Another V-Fest alum, I didn't really know any of his material going in, but he definitely made me a fan. From some sweet violin action to the whistling and banjo and glockenspiel, this was definitely one of the more interesting acts out there.
15The Offspring

Really fun show, basically. They really kept the energy up, and played just as many songs from Smash as their more recent albums, which was nice. A little too much moshing for the sake of moshing, if you ask me, but that's just the restless festival crowd in action, I suppose.
16Foo Fighters

Dave Grohl is the man, really hilarious. I know Foo Fighters aren't exactly the most challenging band out there, but it terms of passion and energy, they give one of the most engaging shows in the biz.
17Nine Inch Nails

Trent Reznor takes the cake for the V-Fest '08, though. The sheer scale of Nine Inch Nails' live show is staggering, from the furious, show-opening pummeling of Wish and March of the Pigs to the restrained melancholy of the Ghosts material, the aesthetics of the show matched the quality of the music easily. And watching In This Twilight at dusk is amazing.
18Red Hot Chili Peppers

From V-Fest '06. These guys are probably the only band to actually give a shout-out to the estuaries in Maryland, which is an interesting distinction to have. They also put on a good show, heavy on Stadium Arcadium material but with a few classics (Californication, Suck My Kiss, Can't Stop) and wild cards (Throw Away Your Television, This Velvet Glove) thrown in to keep it interesting.
19The Who

Even after all these years, the boys can still rock out with the best of them. Sure, some songs had to be dropped a step or two, but that doesn't make seeing Won't Get Fooled Again or Baba O'Riley live any less incredible.
20Bad Acid Trip, Blood Brothers, Wolfmother, Lil' Wayne

And here are some particular duds I've seen. Bad Acid Trip definitely lives up to their name, the most memorable part of their show being the lead singer running around swinging a big black dildo onstage. I know I'll probably catch some hell for including the Blood Brothers, but their set before Coheed really didn't do it for me. And the fact that they had to stop and fix their hair every few minutes really didn't help them, either. Wolfmother basically defines the one-note act, and if that note has already been played in the '70s and imitated countless times since, it's nothing special. And finally, Lil' Wayne was like an hour late for his set at V-Fest, and he only rapped/"sang" select parts of songs when he actually showed up. Also, his attempt to play the guitar was...well, he did try, at least. But really, the best part of his show was Kanye West's two-second guest appearance, which is really just about the right dosage of Kanye before he flies off the handle talking about his genius.
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