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Daybreak's highlights of the year: Live music

Daybreak staff

Publication: The Day

Published December 25. 2012 4:00AM   Updated December 25. 2012 4:05PM
Evan Agostini/AP Photo
Kelly Clarkson

EASTERN CONNECTICUT SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Garde Arts Center

What better way to start a new year than with the world premiere of a symphony? The January performance of Ukrainian composer Svitlana Azarova's grand, noisy and thoroughly engrossing symphony "Pure thought transfixed" was a top-shelf event: The composer seated in the hall, the orchestra in top form, and wonderful new sounds to transfix us with a gripping immediacy and sense of discovery. It was also a tribute ECSO Music Director Toshi Shimada who landed this score. Azarova's new works are starting to dot the schedule for such major venues in Amsterdam and Paris. A few years from now, we may get to say, ah, yes, I was there for the premiere...

- Milton Moore

THE BEACH BOYS

MOHEGAN SUN ARENA

Despite decades of infighting that long outlasted the Beach Boys' actual productive time together, the founding and core-band survivors - Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, David Marks and Bruce Johnston - toured on their 50th anniversary and in support of a surprisingly solid new album, "That's Why God Made the Radio." While the cumulative toll of the years were raggedly evident at points, the guys sounded damned good overall, and a superb backing group headed by Jeff Foskett helped provide a sun-buttered gloss to Brian Wilson's enduring and breathlessly melodic material. It was like being in the presence of Glory - if Glory wore a Hawaiian shirt.

- Rick Koster

KELLY CLARKSON

MGM Grand at Foxwoods

Few pop stars are as just plain likable as Kelly Clarkson. She's got the down-home charm and the stand-back vocal chops. Her Jan. 13 concert kicked off both her tour and a really great year for the singer. The show here was stuffed with Clarkson hits - loved that she melded "Mr. Know-It-All" and "Miss Independent" - and she powered out notes for "Stronger" that were stunning.

- Kristina Dorsey

TOOL

Mohegan Sun Arena

I wrote that witnessing this intensely great two-hour show, which happened way back on Jan. 31, was like flying into an electric bug-zapper. It's 10 months later and I still get tracer-shocks from that gig. The post-Industrial Light & Magic visual effects were enough to cause humans to develop a sixth sense, and the music and performances were utterly mesmerizing and intoxicating: the "proggy art-metal equivalent of an enraged mathematical genius who shrieks, in an odd time signature, an ongoing succession of prime numbers that never ends."

- Rick Koster

MUSICAL MASTERWORKS

First Congregational Church

This wasn't your father's chamber music concert, not when Brooklyn Rider galloped into Old Lyme for a February Musical Masterworks gig. In casual dress, playing standing up (except for the cellist, of course) and even singing along, this string quartet seemed to redefine an old art form.

Whether performing Brooklyn Rider violinist Colin Jacobsen's sonically surreal setting of the Joao Gilberto song "Undiu" or Beethoven's venerated epic String Quartet in C Sharp Minor, Op. 131, the quartet played with a clear style of direct phrasing and very little vibrato without seeming a bit self-conscious. It was fresh, genuinely exciting and proved the old can always be reborn anew.

- Milton Moore

STEVE KAIKA TRIBUTE

Hygienic Art Park

For the best - and most tragic - of reasons, the turnout of musicians, friends, family and local citizenry on June 15 was perhaps the biggest in the city's history. Reducers bassist/vocalist Steve Kaika had passed away from cancer and New London's decades-long love affair with the band came to an end.

By definition, the Reducers were emblematic of the all-for-one/one-for-all ethic, and this celebration of Kaika's life was a melancholy acknowledgement that, contrary to an enduringly reliable tenet, the band would always be there for us. It was a magical night. (Sadly, in both scope and affection, a memorial for the beloved rock/soul singer Karl Kelly took place Nov. 3 at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. Kelly also died of cancer - and his loss completed a vicious one-two punch for the area at large.)

- Rick Koster

FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE

Mohegan Sun Arena

Florence Welch comes off as a serious, somber soul, but, during her May 11 concert at Mohegan Sun Arena, she was charming and, dare we use the word, playful? The charismatic singer telegraphed sheer joy in performing. Her voice was outrageously expressive, as it reached for banshee wails and softened into whispers.

- Kristina Dorsey

SALT MARSH OPERA "RIGOLETTO"

George Kent Performance Hall

The Stonington-based opera company opened its 12th season in September by aiming high - a big production of Verdi's "Rigoletto" - and scoring a bull's eye, thanks to a dominating performance by baritone Ron Loyd in the title role. There are few meatier roles for a baritone than the alternately affectionate, paranoid, vengeful and ultimately tragic character of Rigoletto, but Loyd embraced the role with a full-body characterization and unfailing vocal power.

- Milton Moore

GLEN CAMPBELL

Mohegan Sun Arena

The idea of forcing Campbell to undertake a "farewell tour" after he'd been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease seemed, when I heard about it, ghoulish. On Feb. 24, though, surrounded by a family band and clearly aware that this was indeed his final chance to communicate through song with his beloved fans, Campbell put on a wonderful and nostalgic show. His singing voice was in fine shape and he displayed a sweet, genuine and self-effacing sense of humor about the evening's slight mental lapses. Anchored by the numerous hits he had with his inimitable arrangements of Jimmy Webb songs, Campbell gave a goodbye recitation of an immortal repertoire of country pop.

- Rick Koster

THE WHO

Mohegan Sun Arena

It's true that, of The Who's various and great projects, leader/songwriter Pete Townshend has believed the band's sporadic attempts to stage "Quadrophenia" have been the most erratic - which says a lot since they're a storied live act. Perhaps this "Quadrophenia" tour is Pete's final attempt to get it right. If so: Mission Accomplished on this Dec. 9 tour stop. Along with vocalist Roger Daltry and a sparkling support band, Townshend negotiated the multi-themed masterwork with the intensity, reflection, longing and joy it has always symbolized and deserved.

- Rick Koster

BéLO

Connecticut College

The Haitian singer/songwriter rocked Evans Hall on Nov. 9 with a dynamic concert, supported by a terrific band. The mix of reggae, jazz and some other musical genres made for a radiant sound, and the show benefitted, too, from BélO's sly humor.

- Kristina Dorsey

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