A Cultural Manifesto: Top 10 live shows of 2012

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Public Enemy at the Vogue

I remember growing up in Indianapolis during the '90s. Back then, catching a live performance by a favorite band usually required hopping on the highway for a quick journey to Chicago or Cincinnati. That's not so these days. While Indy's live music scene may not yet rival Chicago's, there's now a respectable choice of live music options.

The scene is growing at a rapid pace with the development of important new venues like Carmel's Palladium and Downtown's Deluxe at Old National Center, along with the emergence of Fountain Square and the Lafayette Square Corridor as major centers of live music.

The following list complies a few of my favorite local music performances of 2012.

1. Public Enemy - Vogue, Dec. 4

Public Enemy issued their first LP twenty-five years ago. Entering the Vogue I wondered how much the group's incendiary sound had dulled since that landmark debut release. Fact is, it hadn't dulled at all. Bolstered by live rock band instrumentation, Public Enemy delivered one of the most ferocious musical assaults I've ever witnessed. Chuck D was electric, spitting his fire and brimstone sermons with the revolutionary fury of Malcolm X. Two-decade old PE classics like "Can't Truss It," "Fight the Power" and "Don't Believe the Hype" sounded even more relevant in the over-corporatized, over-militarized world of contemporary America.
A brief interlude by PE's DJ Lord featured a jaw-droppingly impressive turntable performance, as Lord completely deconstructed Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in a web of scratch acrobatics. Add it all up and you have a textbook example of what hip-hop should be: inspired, intelligent, funky, at times dark, always dangerous and completely overflowing with creative energy.

2. Santigold - Deluxe, May 10

A small but intensely devoted audience gathered at Deluxe to witness underground-pop icon Santigold's debut Indy performance. The singer-songwriter effortlessly demonstrated why she's hailed as one of the most visionary figures in contemporary popular music - from her distinct aesthetic vision to her unmatched ability to seamlessly mesh a broad range of styles (a jarring mix of indie rock, dub, bubblegum pop, new wave and electro). Backed by two dancers and a three-piece band, the singer delivered a big sound and an impressive visual presentation. In testament to her creative prowess, Santigold had a hand in every aspect of the performance, including the brilliantly awkward choreography and hilariously low budget haute couture costumes.

3. Fatoumata Diawara - Lotus Festival, Sept. 21

Fatoumata Diawara's soulful exploration of Malian music made my 2011 best of album list; I was pleased to discover she's a masterful and charismatic performer too. Diawara gradually built intensity onstage, exploding in a dramatic maelstrom of rhythm and dance, sweeping the audience to their feet in a joyous celebration of African culture.

4. Drummers of Burundi - Palladium, Nov. 2

The legendary African percussion ensemble filled Carmel's Palladium with their steady, hypnotic beats and powerful, athletic dance maneuvers.

5. Chucho Valdés - Palladium, Oct. 24

Founder of Cuba's renowned jazz-funk ensemble Irakere, Valdés wove a tapestry of grand, ethereal, dream-like piano improvisations over a bed of santeria inspired Afro-Cuban grooves.

6. Erykah Badu - Murat, May 11

Any performance by hip-hop's funky jazz diva is a can't miss performance. Effortlessly flawless, Badu's stage presence is awash in the sort of grace one associates with old Hollywood legends like Audrey Hepburn or Josephine Baker.

7. Os Mutantes - White Rabbit Cabaret, Dec. 2

Founding Mutantes member Sergio Dias lit the White Rabbit on fire in a blaze of psychedelic guitar virtuosity, as this newly reformed version of the Brazil's legendary Tropicalistas ably animated the band's majestic sound.

8. Vampire Weekend - Egyptian Room, July 13

Playing to a packed Egyptian Room, the four-piece Vampire Weekend impressively recreated their trademark baroque-afropop sound, while also demonstrating they can rock pretty hard too.

9. Sweet Poison Victim - Broad Ripple Music Festival, Oct. 13

This is the performance where everything came together for Naptown's afrobeat-rockers, as master Ghanaian drummer Kwesi Brown emerged as the band's frontman. Brown captivated the audience with his traditional Ghanaian footwork, while the group brought the house down with a funky, psychedelic version of the Congolese classic "Kwassa Kwassa."

10. 3Ball MTY - The Venue, Mar. 6

Mexico's teenage tribal music sensations hit Indy's Westside for one of 2012's largest and most entertaining electronic music concerts.

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