THE YEAR IN MUSIC

By JASON BRACELIN

LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

It was a year of fresh starts and vintage pleasures.

With a spacious new Joint opening at the Hard Rock Hotel in April, the Las Vegas concert scene got a boost of energy in the spring that carried through much of the year, culminating in a packed slate of fall shows that saw legends such as Leonard Cohen and Stevie Wonder hit town along with the rare stadium gig, with U2 returning to Vegas.

But who was the best of the best? Read on and find out.

1. LEONARD COHEN — To see this tower of song at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in November, on bended knee, giving voice to tunes that practically define the vocabulary of love and loss was a thing of almost as much beauty as the man’s repertoire itself. Unforgettable.

2. NEON REVERB — Akron/Family’s kaleidoscopic folk; The Warlocks’ mesmeric drone; the unbounded indie pop of locals Pan De Sal and Kid Meets Cougar — there were so many highlights over the latest two installments of this rising music fest, held at various venues across town in March and September respectively, that the only thing more patience-draining than narrowing them all down is waiting for the next Neon Reverb to get here already.

3. U2 — Too much is never enough — that’s pretty much the ethos that defines this city, and you could say the same thing about U2 and its tour stop at Sam Boyd Stadium in October. Whether it was setting new cuts such as "Magnificent" ablaze or leading the crowd in earth-shaking singalongs of favorites such as "I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For," U2 proved once again that the stage can never be too big when it comes to these dudes.

4. JAY-Z — Jay-Z’s command seems effortless — you get the sense that the act of breathing is more laborious for him than taking control of a concert hall. He commits none of his rhymes to paper, and live at The Pearl at the Palms in July, his barbs and boasts were delivered with such unstudied nonchalance, he may as well have been reciting the alphabet.

5. SUMMER SLAUGHTER TOUR — It felt like it was raining sledgehammers at the House of Blues in June when the best extreme metal bill of the year laid waste to the place in a 10-band tornado of robot-armed blast beats, hyper technical shredding and, in the case of Ensiferum, bare chested dudes in kilts. Ridiculous. Great. Ridiculously great.

6. NINE INCH NAILS/JANE’S ADDICTION — If this concert at The Pearl in May was indeed Nine Inch Nails’ last Vegas show, as the band has quit the road, then NIN went out with the kind of big bang that normally results in the creation of a new galaxy. Somehow, a reunited Jane’s Addiction held their own. When bassist Eric Avery locked in with drummer Stephen Perkins, it was like two tectonic plates colliding.

7. ALLMAN BROTHERS — The fireworks that lit up the night sky between sets at the Allman Brothers’ gig at the Red Rock Resort pool in May seemed anticlimactic compared to the explosiveness onstage, as guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks turned smoldering embers of Southern soul into unabridged readings from the gospel of the six-string.

8. METALLICA — They eased up on the pyrotechnics a tad, saving the fire for their songs at the Mandalay Bay Events Center earlier this month with an athletic, in-the-round, in-your-face set. Though 5-foot flames did shoot up from the stage during the combat shock of "One," for the most part, it was Metallica themselves who brought the heat.

9. UNDERWORLD — They were literally giving tickets away at The Joint box office in August come showtime for these Brit electronica pioneers, but Underworld still performed like they were playing to a packed stadium, with frontman Karl Hyde spinning himself dizzy, harnessing a shape-shifting wall of equally buoyant and coruscating beats into one big, sweaty bear hug with the spare crowd.

10. ERIC CLAPTON AND STEVE WINWOOD — These two former Blind Faith bandmates reunited at the MGM Grand Garden arena in June for a night of rubber wristed blues jams, reminding everyone why chestnuts such as Big Maceo’s "Tough Luck Blues" and Jimi Hendrix’s "Voodoo Chile" remain the towering statements that they are.

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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