The 20 Best Live Acts of the Decade (2000-2009)

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[Above: Photo by Ken Bachor]

15. Wilco

Like the Grateful Dead before them (except with a whole lot of Sonic Youth-esque noise excursions and ingratiating Beatlesque pop melodies sprinkled throughout), the members of Wilco are so in tune with each other onstage that they play as if fingers on a hand—at their best, taking on the form of some mythical hydra-headed pop-rock beast. Now sober, more clear-headed and more comfortable in his own skin, Jeff Tweedy has grown into a charming frontman. And after so many classic albums, the band’s catalog runs deep, filling every set with a feeling of endless possibility. Steve LaBate


[Above: Photo by Sean Edgar]

14. Sufjan Stevens

In the span of a few years, Sufjan Stevens went from performing as a quiet singer/songwriter to leading a band dressed as a cheerleading team to fronting an orchestra decked out in bird costumes. His theater performances were spectacles, and the band’s stunning compositions proved that they belonged on a bigger stage. Kate Kiefer


[Above: Photo by Jonathan Jackson]

13. The Avett Brothers

You could probably watch video of an Avett Brothers live show with the sound off and still get a pretty good idea of what’s going on—the flying hair, the shredded strings (on Scott’s banjo, Seth’s guitar, cellist Joe Kwon’s furious bow), the uplifted hands and the closed eyes. Not that you’d really want to, ‘cause these boys sing so darn pretty. Whether it’s a crowd of thirty or three hundred (or even more, given the year they’ve had), they play like their lives are on the line, and we hope they never stop. Rachael Maddux


[Above: Photo by Stephanie F. Black]

12. Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings

On the surface it’s just two voices and two instruments performing folk songs, but there’s an arresting intimacy between Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. Their magical harmonies can silence rooms and festivals. Kate Kiefer


[Above: Photo by Sean Edgar]

11. The Hold Steady

Frontman Craig Finn and his Hold Steady bandmates torch one stage after another with their hi-octane performances. As I recently wrote in Spokane, Wash., alt weekly The Inlander: “Flailing around in sneakers, pleated khakis and thick-rimmed glasses, ranting in his trademark sing-speak about novel-worthy characters like Hallelujah, Hard Corey and a horse named Chips Ahoy!, Finn leads the group as it unleashes one blistering guitar-and-keyboard anthem after another. The Brooklyn-via-Minneapolis band’s willingness to simultaneously, unselfconsciously revel in and shatter rock ’n’ roll clichés is what makes it so damned essential in today’s music world, where most artists are hard-panned to either self-serious earnestness or over-the-top irony. The Hold Steady—like their hometown heroes The Replacements before them—can deftly toggle between the two or blend them at will.” Night after night, they do just that. Steve LaBate

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