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The top concerts of '09

By Rick Koster

Publication: The Day

Published December 28. 2009 4:00AM   Updated December 28. 2009 9:53AM

From the House of Blues in Boston to the Oasis Pub in New London, The Day's music critics caught some interesting acts in 2009. Here's a list of their favorites:

Rick Koster's picks:

1. PORCUPINE TREE, House of Blues, Boston, September You don't know how much I wish I could say something besides Porcupine Tree. Actually, I DON'T want to say that. Why would I? This band is worlds above anyone else right now. They did the entire 55-minute song cycle from "The Incident," took a 10-minute break, and came back with a dazzling second set of cleverly selected tunes from deep in their archive ("Russia on Ice") as well as a head-clubbing arrangement of "Anesthetize" from "Fear of a Blank Planet."

2. TERRANCE SIMIEN AND THE ZYDECO EXPERIENCE, Hygienic Art Park, New London, August Kudos to Rich Martin and Ken Kitchings for bringing acts like Simien to their "Nights in the District" concert series. Simien and band turned Bank Street into Mardi Gras North - and citizens you'd never expect to see dance in a million years left the place sweaty and joyful and fully converted to the music of southwest Louisiana.

3. JESSE COOK, Garde Arts Center Oasis Room, New London, April The Canadian guitarist brought a virtuoso five-piece band and launched flamenco guitar and repertoire into the new century with gorgeous technique, heart-melt songwriting and affable wit. Probably destined to toil in obscurity due to the non-commercial appeal of his music, Cook is nonetheless a guitar god for the ages.

Milton Moore's pick:

EASTERN CONNECTICUT SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND PETER SERKIN, Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1, The Garde Arts Center, November. In a season that saw Connecticut Lyric Opera prima donna Jurate Svedaite shine in "La Traviata" and Musical Masterworks assemble a string sextet that was as good as it gets, the performance of the year belongs to the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra.

Reborn with a new music director, the affable and formidable Toshi Shimada, the orchestra headlined its biggest-name soloist in years when pianist Peter Serkin performed Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1. In a November concert that included a re-animated performance of a Hindemith warhorse and a sonic journey through Jennifer Higdon's "blue cathedral," Serkin and Shimada made the vast concerto feel like a duet, the piano in Serkin's hands and the orchestra in Shimada's.

Stephen Chupaska's picks:

1. M.T. BEARINGTON, Oasis Pub, New London, October M.T. Bearington, who incidentally were great at the I AM Festival, owned New London that night. First, the New Haven quintet played what they called a "mellow" show for Connecticut College students at the Cro's Nest, then drove down the hill to Bank Street and blasted everyone at the Oasis to pieces with their jittery pop-rock. See them open for Quiet Life on Dec. 31 at the Oasis.

2. FREE ENERGY, I AM Festival, New London, September I had several disagreements with members of the New London rock cognoscenti over Free Energy's performance at I AM. Some were bored by the band's '70s-FM guitar rock. Bad, they said. More like Badfinger, says I. Much to my electric guitar loving delight, Free Energy effortlessly tossed out tune after tune of power pop crunch and punch. The band's full length is supposedly due in the new year.

3. MORRISSEY, MGM Grand, Mashantucket, March 28 Those at the show might remember the abrupt ending, when Morrissey, annoyed at an on-stage power failure, ended the set sans encore. Before that, the former Smiths front man and his crack band offered his ex-band's stunning "Death of a Disco Dancer," and the hot single from 2009's "Years of Refusal," "Something is Squeezing My Skull," which features a new classic Moz quip, "I know by now you think I should have straightened myself out / Thank you, drop dead."

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